Whenever anyone analyzes Jeremy Lin's ability, the number most ignored is 75. That’s how many starts he’s had in three years as an NBA player, two thirds of them coming this season as a member of the Houston Rockets.
“Linsanity” was fun and exciting, but it also brought unprecedented exposure and expectations to a 24-year-old point guard with a limited skill set. A year later he's still struggling with his inconsistent shot and inability to run a smooth half-court offense—though that's probably due to the Rockets' ridiculously fast pace.
The expectations were unreasonable, and to some degree they still are.
Lin is a maturing, evolving player who’s slowly shown improvement on both ends of the court, so keep his age and his minimal experience in mind when you discuss who he is and where he’s going.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey didn’t guarantee $25.1 million to a point guard who averages just 3.3 free-throw attempts and 6.1 assists per 36 minutes. But there are signs throughout Lin's game that he can one day soon become the game-changing talent on both ends of the court that Morey thought he'd be getting.
Getting to the rim is perhaps Lin’s best skill, but for whatever reason his free-throw numbers just aren’t where they were last year, when he averaged 7.0 attempts per 36 minutes. Yet this is probably just a small sample size fluke; he's still getting to the rim a bunch, averaging more shots there per game than Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, Al Jefferson and Rudy Gay.
His ability to use the pick-and-roll has been awesome, and it’s an area in today’s game where point guards need to excel if they ever want to sniff "elite" status.
According to Synergy, 25.4 percent of Lin’s possessions end as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, and he’s shooting 49.2 percent on his attempts. Most of his made baskets come when he uses the screen as a launching pad towards the basket.
With the ball he's shown improved decision-making skills, and his turnovers per 36 minutes have dropped from 4.8 last year to 3.3 currently.
Perhaps the most underrated part of Lin's game is his above-average defense.
He guards in isolation, blows up pick-and-rolls and uses his quick hands to cause deflections several times a game. Guarding opposing point guards in today's NBA isn't easy, but Lin more than holds his own. He's second in the league in total steals and has exceptional lateral quickness to go with his lightning quick hand speed.
The most notable criticism on Lin this season has been a lack of trust Rockets head coach Kevin McHale's shown in him down the stretch.
While Lin's appeared in all of Houston's games, he's been barred from the fourth quarter seven times. It's a truly strange situation for any rotational player, but especially a starting point guard, someone who typically carries significant importance down the stretch in close games.
Lin can't make three-pointers (he was at 28.9 percent before last night's 5-8 performance), and the Rockets love shooting them. It's a problem they're still working on fixing; when he's off the court, Houston's attempts and percentage goes up.
Will Lin ever be an All-Star caliber point guard? It's tough to say, but smart money leans towards no. But that's more an assessment on how talented the field is than Lin's own limitations. What he can be is consistently effective, extremely difficult to keep out of the paint (he already is) and an elite defender at his position.
Most importantly, Lin's ceiling with his current team hinges on how much range he can add to his jump shot. If it improves over the next few years, the Rockets will be extremely happy they plucked him from New York.
Follow the writer on Twitter: @MichaelVPina
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