G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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A few people have asked my thoughts on Jeremy Lin, the Asian-American point guard and Harvard alum who has played well over the past five games for the struggling New York Knicks. I’ll mention up front that my strange title ties in at the very end of the post.
My quick thoughts on this topic which speaks more about the interaction of the internet with the real world – what with everyone scrambling to make sense of Lin’s rise:
Lin is gaining attention for a few reasons. He has surpassed every expectation ever placed on him in a very short period of time. He is a frontrunner now, and will forever be remembered for churning up excitement and momentum in an increasingly complex league.
If Lin had one game where he scored 20 points, he’d gain attention for it. He’s now had five in a row. Playing in New York is a part of this. If Lin was on the Milwaukee Bucks, he wouldn’t be receiving much attention. The New York Knicks have had very high expectations placed upon them. If any year within recent history was going to be The One, this was supposed to be it as Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire were supposed to make the Knicks contenders. The team has played below expectations so far this season, and Lin has stepped in to not only play very well but to also help the Knicks win five games in a row (they were 8-15 before Lin became a starter and are 13-15 now). If the Knicks had lost a couple of those games, fans would not be as Linsane as they are today. It is worth mentioning that Lin’s scoring rampage is partially due to the Knicks’ being without their two high scorers – the aforementioned Anthony and Stoudemire.
But Linsanity speaks to the psychological tendency of fans to get drawn in by streaks and runs. People love streaks and runs; it allows fans to play off between achievement and failure. It is edgy; we all know that the good thing will end, and this draws us in. As many have mentioned, this is what drove Tebow-mania.
So now the question is “is Lin a fluke?” Being able to get to the hole is a talent that is hard to replicate. If Lin can get to the hole and put up 38 points – as he did in one game – he will always be someone who can score and will always be an asset to whichever team he plays for. My guess though is that he will be a decent role player who might average 10 points a game over his career.
What is troubling in Lin’s statistics is his penchant for turning the ball over. This somewhat diminishes Wright’s argument laid out above about Asians’ non-myopia. Lin has recorded decent assist statistics during his streak – 7, 8, 10, 7, and 8. At the same time, he has a less-than-mediocre assist-to-turnover ratio – a key metric used to gauge the ability of point guards to do what they’re designed to do: create scoring opportunities for teammates. Lin has already recorded one 8 turnover game and two 6 turnover games within his short streak. For non-basketball enthusiasts, this is a relatively high number of turnovers. Two comparisons: first, Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash – during his first season with Lin’s current coach – run-and-gunner Mike D’Antoni – had a few bad games as well. But even cherry-picking Nash’s ten worst turnover games, Nash still had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.87 which is better than Lin’s five game ratio of 1.74.
We should make apples-to-apples comparisons as Lin is pretty much a rookie which brings the attendant lack of experience. Comparing Lin to other rookies – past and present – leaves us with mixed feelings. In comparison to rookie point guards drafted in 2011, Lin fares relatively well. His overall assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.87 is higher than two highly-touted picks – Kyrie Irving (1.60 ATO) and Brandon Knight (1.27). The ratio is less than Kemba Walker’s (1.92). Lin has outscored these players over the course of his five game streak, and since he has been a starter. But on this important metric – and just cherry-picking to provide more comparison points – Lin underperforms a few other older players at similar points in their careers. Two good players – Chris Paul and Steve Nash – has an ATO of 3.52 and 2.43, respectively, during their first two seasons. Two mediocre players – Sam Cassell and Nick Van Exel – had ATOs of 2.24 and 3.11 during their first two seasons.
If Lin is benefiting from some anti-Asian bias – if, as Jordy Nelson and other white receivers in the NFL experienced, there is a tendency on the part of the majority black players in the league to disrespect non-blacks’ ability – then his turnover numbers are especially curious. If Lin has been able to score because his defenders aren’t defending him as closely as they might, then his turnover stats are especially alarming.
So basically, my synopsis is that Lin has done the right thing at the right time at the right place. His legacy is forever cemented. To bring in the title of the post and to harp on the importance that New York plays in all of this, I’ll make a comparison between Lin and the Son of Sam. Though there have been more prolific killers, David Berkowitz captured the nation’s attention during 1976 and 1977 because he murdered six people in relatively quick and serial fashion in the nation’s largest media outpost. The people of New York were gripped by this streak, and that mirrors the Linsanity we see throughout the nation today. And, yeah, the expectation ceiling placed above Lin due to his being Asian – which he has burst through – has something to do with all of it.