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Ditching Jeremy Lin Has Finally Turned NY Knicks into Real Contenders

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 26:  Jeremy Lin #7 of the Houston Rockets celebrates a play on the court during the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Toyota Center on January 26, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2013

Jeremy Lin re-instilled hope into the New York Knicks franchise, and then his departure did exactly the same.

When faced with the decision to match a steep proposal for Lin put forth by the Houston Rockets or moving on, New York chose to move on. The Knicks traded for Raymond Felton, watched Lin walk out the door and never looked back.

And where has it brought them?

Within reach of an NBA title, that's where. 

Whether you harbor resentment toward New York for the way it treated Lin at the end or whether you agreed with the team's thought process or not, denying that the Knicks are legitimate contenders is foolish.

Lin's exit did more for the Knicks than his rise to prominence ever did and more for them than his continued presence ever could.

I could point to the point guard's prosaic averages of 12.2 points and 6.1 assists on 43.1 percent shooting per game as a burden New York is thankful to be without. I could point to his ongoing struggles with defense and his seeming inability to play alongside a ball-dominating swingman as weaknesses the Knicks couldn't afford to stomach. I could even point to his inexperience as a reality New York's veteran syndicate couldn't accommodate.

While each of the aforementioned actualities contribute to why the Knicks are better off without Lin, they don't tell the whole tale.

New York couldn't predict with absolute certainty that Lin would struggle in every facet of the game this year.

The Knicks knew him as the floor general who not only aided in salvaging their season, but also averaged 14.6 points and 6.2 assists per game en route to posting a PER near 20. They knew him as a relentless rim-attacker who purportedly made his teammates  better.

They also knew he wasn't the right fit for what they were attempting to assemble.

The Knicks are a team predicated on depth, experience and, most importantly, leadership. Mike Woodson and company couldn't afford to house a work-in-progress like Lin and genuinely expect to contend.

Lost in the anomaly that was Linsanity was the underwhelming impact he had on the Knicks in the long run. He was lauded for his offensive prowess, yet New York barely scored at a higher rate when he was on the floor. That's not what a championship team needs in a point guard.

Buried even deeper were the struggles of certain players when Lin was in the lineup.

Carmelo Anthony averaged 25.6 points on 44 percent shooting per-36 minutes when Jeremy was on the bench. With him on the court, those numbers dipped to 18.4 and 40 percent, respectively.

But Anthony can't play alongside point guards, right? His movement-killing tendencies aren't conducive with distributors who like to drive-and-kick, right? 

Tell that to Felton.

This season, Anthony is averaging 27.7 points on 47 percent shooting per-36 minutes with Felton on the floor. He's also converting on 45 percent of his three-point attempts in those instances as well.

Once Felton steps off the court, Anthony is still scoring 26.3 points per-36 minutes, yet his efficiency from the field drops considerably; He shoots at a 42 percent clip overall and hits on just 35 percent of his three-point attempts.

Sold?

I don't expect you to be. Given Melo's tumultuous history alongside point guards, this could merely be a coincidence. So I point you to Amar'e Stoudemire.

In STAT, we have a player whose career was essentially built with the assistance of point guards. He thrived off the pick-and-roll next to Steve Nash and was equally as dominant alongside Felton. Much of the same should  then be said for Lin.

Or should it?

Stoudemire averaged 18.3 points and 14.4 field-goal attempts per-36 minutes with Lin on the floor. Upon Jeremy sitting, Amar'e actually received more shots (16) and upped his point-total to 19.7.

Stoudemire is currently dropping 26.7 points on 65 percent per-36 minutes alongside the point guard, compared to the 20.8 and 56 he averages without him.

Is that a big difference? Not necessarily, but it's huge when you consider that  Lin wasn't able positively impact the production levels of New York's two best players.

How could he lead the Knicks toward contention when STAT and Melo were actually better off without him?

He couldn't. And he wasn't going to.

Of all the grievances the Knicks supposedly had with Lin, his inability to be a catalyst was the greatest. Contending teams are built on cohesion, on players' ability to successfully perform off one another, and yes, on a point guard's ability to adequately fuel the offense.

Just like Felton has.

New York's offense is 7.4 points more potent per 100 possessions when Felton is on the floor. And it shows. Like really shows.

Lin directed the Knicks to the tune of 106.6 points per 100 possessions last year. This season, without him, they're at 111.5. They committed turnovers 17.8 percent of the time with him on the floor, yet cough it up just 11.2 percent of the time this year, the best mark in the league.

These are not onslaughts of happenstances. They're a collective representation of how Lin became more of an obstacle than an asset. His inexperience and his strategic ignorance were an encumbrance, a championship hurdle the Knicks couldn't clear.

Now they don't have to.

He's been left to his raw devices in Houston, and New York has been left with a true point guard and an outfit of leaders who not only respect each other, but also are better because of each other.

The Knicks are contenders because they have Felton. Because they have Melo. Because they have Stoudemire. Because they have Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler.

But also because they don't have Jeremy Lin.

 

*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted. 

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