Jeremy Lin is still Underrated


Written by Nick Agar-Johnson (@NBAJohnson) on 17 March 2017   

Jeremy Lin did not receive a single Division I college scholarship to play basketball. It sounds ridiculous in hindsight, but Lin has flown under the radar since long before his Linsanity days. Despite being named to California's First Team All-State, no Division I school thought he was worth any more consideration than as a potential walk-on.

Lin instead went to Harvard (a school without athletic scholarships) and excelled in every facet of the game. After being named to the Second Team All-Ivy League as a sophomore, he caught fire in his junior year. Lin was 10th or better in the Ivy League in scoring (third), rebounding (10th), assists (second), steals (first), field goal percentage (sixth), free throw percentage (ninth), and three-point percentage (eighth). He also was 11th in blocks per game, and easily made First Team All-Ivy League.

Lin received another First Team All-Ivy nod as a senior and was one of the 11 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award for best college point guard. Lin played fantastic basketball in the two biggest games of his college career, leading Harvard to an upset win over #17 Boston College as a junior with 27 points, eight assists, and six rebounds and nearly leading the team to victory over the #12 Connecticut Huskies while putting up 30 points and nine rebounds. 

Overlooked in the NBA

Once again, however, Lin was overlooked by everyone at the next level. He went undrafted after his senior season but secured a contract with the Golden State Warriors after showcasing an effective floor game for the Dallas Mavericks in the 2010 Summer League. Lin played 29 games for the Warriors in 2010-2011 in between D-League stints with the Reno Bighorns before being waived in the offseason. 

Lin was signed by the Houston Rockets on December 12, 2011, only to be waived shortly afterward without playing in a single game. He was signed by the Knicks on December 27 but played only 55 minutes prior to February 4. Out of desperation, the Knicks were forced to start Lin because basically all of their other guards were injured. He put up 25 points, seven assists, and five rebounds, and started the Linsanity craze that captivated the nation.

Still, the Knicks allowed him to go to the Houston Rockets in free agency. This was Lin's second stint in Houston, and he started all 82 games in his first full season as a member of the Rockets. Although he was not as successful as he was in New York, Lin was still a more than capable starter for a Houston team that made the playoffs.

Daryl Morey spoke about Jeremy Lin in part of his interview with Michael Lewis for Lewis' most recent book "The Undoing Project" and was shockingly candid about his views on Lin's abilities: "He lit up our model," said Morey. "Our model said take him with, like, the 15th pick in the draft. A year after the Houston Rockets failed to draft Jeremy Lin, they began to measure the speed of a player’s first two steps: Jeremy Lin had the quickest first move of any player measured. He was explosive and was able to change direction far more quickly than most NBA players. "He’s incredibly athletic," said Morey. "But the reality is that every person, including me, thought he was unathletic."

Lin spent a fruitless year in Los Angeles for the Lakers after the Rockets effectively traded him to unload salary. He signed a two-year deal with the Charlotte Hornets for $4.2 million, with the goal of rehabilitating his value around the league. Charlotte quickly realized that they had found a bargain.

Hornets Before and After Lin

The Charlotte Hornets were supposed to be a bad team last season. The Westgate book in Las Vegas set the over-under for their wins total at 32.5 prior to the start of the season. They were expected to win with their defense, but star defender Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played in only seven games. Courtney Lee, another solid defensive piece, played just 28 games in Charlotte.

Instead of falling apart, the Hornets shocked the league by going 48-34 and finishing in a four-way tie for third place. Everyone heaped praise on the star backcourt of Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum and lauded the bounce-back season from Marvin Williams.

Jeremy Lin might not have received as many accolades as those three, but he nonetheless was a huge factor in Charlotte's success last season. He had a Net Rating of 2.7 — better than every bench player on the roster besides Jeremy Lamb and Al Jefferson per NBA.com. His Defensive Rating of 100.4 was also better than the team's overall mark of 101.8 despite playing many of his minutes with Jefferson, a notoriously bad defender. Lin allowed 0.878 points per possession last season per Synergy Sports, exactly league average.

Lin led a Charlotte bench that was 9th in the NBA in scoring in 2015-2016. Whether he was playing with starters or bench units, he used the explosive speed that Daryl Morey discussed to drive to the rim. Once he sliced his way through the defense, he could score effectively or find teammates cutting to the rim through the space Lin had created:

Lin opted out of the second year of his contract in Charlotte to sign a bigger deal with the Nets as a presumed starter. Charlotte has not been the same since his departure. Despite Kidd-Gilchrist returning to the lineup and Kemba Walker making the leap to All-Star status, the Hornets are just 29-39 in 2016-2017.

Although Cody Zeller's absence for much of the season damaged their big man rotation, the biggest issue for Charlotte this season might be their backup point guard rotation. Ramon Sessions, signed to replace Lin, is shooting 38% from the floor. Brian Roberts has somehow been worse, shooting 36% from the floor. The Hornets have a 2.7 Net Rating with Kemba Walker on the floor but a disastrous -6.8 Net Rating with him on the bench. While Briante Weber has been effective in his limited minutes thus far in Charlotte, the team overall suffers dramatically when a backup point guard enters the game. The team played just as well with Jeremy Lin on the floor last year as they have with Kemba Walker on the floor this year, but somehow Lin's name rarely (if ever) comes up when discussing Charlotte's fall from grace.

Brooklyn With and Without Lin

The Brooklyn Nets are 7-16 this season with Jeremy Lin in the lineup, equivalent to a 25-win team in 82 games. Without Lin, they are just 6-38, which would be equivalent to an 11 win team if projected out to an 82-game season. The Nets are 4-7 since the All-Star break when Lin returned from his second hamstring injury.

While Isaiah Whitehead has been surprisingly solid for a second round rookie and Spencer Dinwiddie has been a success, neither of them is anywhere near as effective as Lin is at running the offense.

The Nets had hoped to form a killer pick-and-roll tandem with Lin and Brook Lopez. So far, Lin has lived up to his end of the bargain when healthy. 43.2% of his possession come as the pick-and-roll ball handler per Synergy Sports, and he is in the 85th percentile in pick-and-roll scoring. Brook Lopez adding a three-point shot has made the duo even more deadly, as Lin is in the 95th percentile on high pick-and-rolls and is averaging 1.25 points per possession on those plays per Synergy Sports. Lin's quickness allows him to dart through the small windows of space that Lopez generates with his screens:

 

If Lin cannot score himself on those drives, he can kick out to Lopez when he pops out behind the arc:

 

Lin's impact on Brook Lopez's offensive game is almost impossible to understate. His ability to effectively drive the lane forces defenses to collapse on Lin instead of double-teaming Lopez. Prior to Thursday's win over the Knicks, Brook Lopez had a True Shooting Percentage of 62.9% with Jeremy Lin on the floor but a True Shooting Percentage of just 57% with Lin out.

In addition to boosting the Nets' offense, Jeremy Lin has been a stalwart on defense this season. Although he has a tendency to get caught on screens, his speed allows him to hang with most point guards and his solid 6'3" frame makes him hard to shoot over and hard to push out of position. Lin ranks in the 85th percentile on defense this season per Synergy Sports, despite playing for a Nets team that is third to last in Defensive Rating per NBA.com.

The play of the Charlotte Hornets without Jeremy Lin this season, combined with his massive impact on the Nets this season, indicate that Jeremy Lin is an incredibly important factor in his team's success. While Charlotte's downturn cannot be entirely attributed to Lin's absence, his numbers in Brooklyn show that he is arguably worth 10 wins on his own.

Jeremy Lin might never recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle performances from his Linsanity days with the Knicks. Ironically enough, however, that magical run may contribute to why he is so underrated today. People are disappointed with anything less than his incredible hot streak in New York, so they dismiss the remarkable impact that he has had on the team across the East River in Brooklyn.

Then again, people might simply be underrating Jeremy Lin because he is Jeremy Lin. After all, this would not be the first time that people failed to appreciate his basketball brilliance.


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