Author: Jack McHenry (Sports Columnist)
Since his breakout start against the Nets on Feb.4, New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin has altered the landscape of the NBA and American sports pop culture. With a litany of puns, racial controversy and debates over his ability trailing in his wake, Lin has steadily continued since that impressive start against the Nets to be the top story in professional basketball. With so much said about what he has already accomplished, the great unknown for Lin is his immediate future in the league, and whether or not he will continue to be an impactful player.
It is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the Lin Experience, or as some are calling it the “Linsanity,” over the last month. All of this commotion can be distracting to the most interesting plot of all; Lin’s ability, or lack thereof, to continue his excellent play and carry the Knicks to the playoffs. Many speculate on whether or not teams will be able to figure out his game.
First and foremost, Lin must cut down on turnovers. He averages 3.6 turnovers per game, making him seventh in the NBA in turnovers. However, if one looks at Lin’s February statistics, the only month in which he has played meaningful minutes, he averages 5.3 turnovers per game. To put that in perspective, the league-leading turnover average is 4.2 turnovers per game. Lin is an intelligent player with good ball handling ability and he has the potential to be an efficient point guard. But as teams continue to watch Lin and game plan for him, pressure defense will be something Lin will have to face in order to prove he can take care of the basketball.
The game against the Miami Heat on Feb. 23 showed how a team can exploit Lin’s weaknesses. Faced with more defensive pressure, Lin shot 1-11 from the field, managed only eight points and three assists and turned the ball over eight times. The Heat have a great team, but the Knicks have an extremely difficult schedule after the All Star Break, so Lin must adjust to stepping up against high level competition. While Lin struggled against the Heat, that performance will not be indicative of the rest of his season because he has the basketball IQ and on-court skill set to evolve, cut down on turnovers and become a better player.
Another big question mark for the success of Lin and the Knicks is the return of Carmelo Anthony from injury. Anthony is one of the most talented scorers in the NBA, but prior to his injury the Knicks were unsuccessful as a team and Anthony’s performance was abysmal. He played below his potential, lacked intensity and was the quintessential ball stopper on offense. Lin’s emergence as a star coincided with Anthony’s absence, and the Knicks thrived playing a team game with Lin at the helm.
Before the All Star Break, the Knicks were 1-2 with Lin and Anthony starting together, including a loss to the sub-par Nets. Lin has the skills and mentality to improve his game and become a legitimate starting point guard. He has the tools to be a full blown star in the NBA, not just a flash in the pan sensation. However, the on-court chemistry between Lin and Anthony is problematic. Anthony is a star that needs the basketball in his hands. The offense needs to run through him. Lin is a consummate point guard, and when the offense runs through him he can get good opportunities for his teammates as well as himself.
These two styles of play cannot coexist. If the Knicks are going to succeed, it will come down to one decision by Carmelo Anthony. He can either adapt his game, let Lin run the offense and put winning first or he can continue to play as he has all season. Throughout his career, Anthony has chosen to play on his own terms and he will most likely continue to do so.
With the team thriving with Lin at the point and coach Mike D’antoni running his ideal offense, Anthony’s “give-me-the-rock,” black hole style offensive game has no place in New York. The Knicks would be better suited taking advantage of Anthony’s market value and trading him for quality pieces to put around Lin, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler in order to make a serious playoff run.
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