February 13, 2012

Liao: The Rise (and Fall?) Of the Lin Dynasty

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Being a Chinese person, it makes sense that I’m contemplating naming my first son after Jeremy Lin, but being a Cornell student, it also makes sense that I hate anyone remotely connected to Harvard. This puts me in quite a unique situation in the middle of this Lin-sanity/the Lin Dynasty/[insert bad Lin pun]. I’ve had so many voices in my head trying to make me pick a side that I’ve started to wonder about my own sanity. As a result, I feel I am in a perfect position to analyze Lin’s past week objectively and determine how good he really is.

In the first game of his incredible run, everything appeared normal for the Knicks; Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire were both playing, the offense looked lethargic and Lin was super-glued to the bench. However, the Knicks were playing on the last game of a back-to-back-to-back against the Nets and Iman Shumpert was playing like the rookie that he is. Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni — who, by the way, should feel like a lottery winner after being all but fired before this stretch — tossed in the last guy on the bench for a few minutes at the end of the first to buy some rest for Shumpert.

Lin played decently enough, playing smart and making good decisions — nothing spectacular — all while building up some confidence. D’Antoni thought, “Hey, what the heck, everyone else sucks,” and kept playing him in the second, when he started to excel, making tough, twisting lay-ups and finding open cutters to the basket. A big reason for his success was the terrible defense the Nets played. For most pick-and-rolls, they would go under screens and play several feet off of Lin, even at the free throw line, allowing him to shoot open free throw jumpers. When the Nets adjusted, they completely left Chandler open on the roll, leading to easy passes for dunks. He had a great game, but I was left unconvinced of his abilities, simply chalking this one up to a smart, slow point guard abusing a terrible defense.

The next game against the Jazz, Stoudemire and Anthony were both unavailable. The team was suddenly left in the hands of a player who was about to be released only a few days ago. Instead of cowering from the spotlight, he embraced it and played a similar game to his first, making good decisions, knocking down shots and converting off-balance layups. However, in the second half, the Jazz started pressuring him and forcing him to make decisions quicker than he wanted and as a result, he turned the ball over eight times in the second half. At times, he looked like a player who was simply given too much responsibility and didn’t know what to do with it, but numbers don’t lie. Lin finished the game with 28 points and eight assists and a win against a tough opponent.

The Wizards’ game was very similar to the Nets’ game in that neither team could defend a high school team. The Knicks won again, 107-93, behind Lin’s 23 points, 10 assists and just two turnovers. Obviously, at this point, it was clear he was way better than a fourth-string point guard, but was he being too hyped up by the media?

I began to think: Was the reason behind all this Lin-sanity because of his talents and abilities, or because he’s an undrafted Asian-American from Harvard playing under the bright lights of New York? Do people remember — or, frankly, even care — that Anthony Morrow, also an undrafted guard, in his rookie season (remember, Lin’s in his second) burst onto the scene in 2008, scoring 37 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in his first start and then following it up with another 25-point effort? Would things have been different for him if he were Chinese and graduated from Columbia?

Morrow never achieved stardom, but has carved out a niche in the NBA as a dead-eye complimentary shooter, scoring 13.7 points a game this year for the Nets. However, this precedent doesn’t tell us anything about how Lin will turn out.

The Lakers game helped answer this question, when he led the Knicks to victory, 92-85, in primetime against the Lakers at Madison Square Garden, scoring 38 points and dishing seven assists. The most impressive part of this game was Kobe Bryant personally taking the responsibility of guarding him for the final six minutes … and Lin playing like Steve Blake was guarding him. On this night, he was the best player on the same court as Kobe, who is now fifth on the all-time NBA scoring list.

However, the game that taught me the most about Lin was not the Lakers game; it was the Knicks next game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. When Lin’s confidence is high, legs are fresh and shot is falling, he can play at an All-Star level, but what if those things aren’t happening? What separates a good player and a great player is his ability to leave an impact on a game when he is not playing his best.

This happened against the Timberwolves. After scoring 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting in the first half, Lin looked confused, rattled and contained in the second half, scoring just five points and missing 11-of-12 shots. However, even after his terrible performance in the second half, he had enough confidence to take the shot in the Knicks’ last possession. Lin drew a foul and knocked down the game-winning free throw. Despite his struggles, Lin trusted himself and his teammates trusted him. This is the sign of a star. Despite my best efforts to remain impartial in this time, Lin has convinced me that Lin-sanity is not the result of media hype; it is the result of his talent and hard-work. Even with the imminent return of Anthony and Stoudemire, Lin will continue to have a huge impact on the rest of the season.

Original Author: Albert Liao