Unless you’re a major proponent of the Byron Scott hiring — which I have my questions about — Jeremy Lin’s acquisition will go down as the team’s best move of the off-season. Using only cap space and the rights to a European player none of us had ever heard of, the Lakers acquired Lin and a first round pick from the cap space hoarding Houston Rockets. The deal was, at its essence, the epitome of getting something for nothing.
Just what did the Lakers get in Lin, though?
From a name recognition standpoint, the Lakers acquired someone fans can really get behind. From the time he burst onto the scenes with the Knicks, thrust into a starting role via a decimated backcourt rotation, Lin turned heads via his game and his backstory. A Taiwanese-American player with the Ivy League education playing phenomenal point guard for the home team in the Big Apple? It was captivating. The Lakers saw this first hand when he buried them with countless big shots.
Since, then, though, Lin hasn’t quite lived up what he showed in that 35 game stretch with the Knicks. That player posted a near 20 PER, showing off a combination of scoring and playmaking skills that only some of the top guards in the league possess. He hit jumpers, got into the lane, and picked out teammates with passes both on time and target. Linsanity was quite real. In Houston, though, it was a bit of a different story.
Lin was still a very good player, but much like his time in New York when Carmelo Anthony was healthy, Lin ultimately found himself paired with another ball dominant player who took the ball out of the point guard’s hands. Lin was still effective, but he was not the guy he was with the Knicks. Still, though, he was probably better than we give him credit for. I’ll let Rafael Uehara of HOOP365 explain:
His role in Houston required him to be a threat off the ball and Lin took a significant step forward in that area. He posted a 60.8% effective field goal percentage on approximately 177 catch-and-shoot attempts in the regular season, hitting 40.5% of his catch-and-shoots from three-point range. Only 17.5% of his three-point attempts were from the corner but Lin hit them at a 45% clip.
These numbers paint Lin as a player who can work off the ball and still be a nice contributor. His work as a spot up shooter will be crucial whenever he’s paired with Kobe and/or Boozer as both will likely do their best work as post up players. Kobe can also play out of the pick and roll and Lin’s ability to space the floor either in the ball-side corner or roaming the weak side as a release valve when the defense collapses will be key in greasing the Lakers’ offense when Kobe (or Randle, Boozer, etc) draw too much attention.
Of course, if all Lin is doing is spacing the floor off the ball, he will be wasted. While he himself said that “Linsanity” is over, that shouldn’t be mistaken for him not being at his best with the ball in his hands. More Uehara:
Lin continues to excel the most out of the pick-and-roll…He has good speed off the bounce, both on straight line drives and when forced to change directions. 28.7% of his attempts were at the rim and Lin finished them at a 63.7% clip, with only a third of his two-point field goals assisted. He does not play above the rim but has great balance in the air and touch to score at basket level, even against length as only 45 of his 293 shots in the restricted area were blocked. Lin also possesses great instincts passing out of dribble penetration, with the Rockets averaging over 10 points per game off his assists last season.
As Lin also stated in his introductory presser, he wants to be a player who is “on the attack” and the numbers above show the Lakers should want that too. While Lin can still be turnover prone, his mishaps are mistakes of aggression and in trying to make plays for others — the types of errors most coaches can live with rather than ones based off indecision or passivity. If Lin is attacking, he can be the type of on-ball threat who makes plays for himself while also ensuring that those who share the floor with him see less defensive pressure. If that can be turned into easier offensive opportunities, Lin will, by definition, be doing a major part of his job as a point guard.
The key in all this, however, is that Lin maintains his aggression even when sharing the floor with Kobe. It’s a given that when Kobe is on the bench and Lin is in the game that he should take it upon himself to be the main creator. But he must also maintain a similar mindset even when #24 is on the court. In order to form a true partnership in the backcourt, Lin must understand that he must use Kobe as a decoy as much as he uses him as an outlet. Both will relieve him of offensive pressure and allow him to be a more effective creator. There will be times where he’ll have to take the heat of making a mistake or of looking off Kobe in a key situation, but that comes with the territory of being a teammate of Kobe Bryant’s. History says he’ll respect you more for belief in yourself than for simply giving him the ball and passively standing in the corner.
Of course there are two sides of the ball and Lin will need to play both. Coming from Houston where he was moved the bench not just because of how he was meshing with Harden, but to also accommodate Patrick Beverly and his stifling defense, Lin comes to the Lakers with a lackluster defensive reputation. And while that reputation probably isn’t fully deserved (the Harden and Chandler Parsons combo was probably one of the weaker defensive wing pairings in the league, so Beverly playing in front of Lin likely had as much to do with the composition of the team’s defense as it did with any Beverly/Lin comparison), Lin will need to be able to hold his own on that end of the floor if the Lakers aren’t going to be a total disaster defensively next season (which, you know, could still happen even if Lin does defend well). Lin offers good size, decent quickness, and is smart enough to be in the right place more often than not. If he can bring good effort and Byron Scott can build a solid scheme, he has a chance to be a net positive on that end.
All of this should add up to a very good contributor for the Lakers this season. Yes there are a lot of ifs. And proving he can operate as a two way player will be a major part of his individual success (as well as whatever success the Lakers have). But, at his core, Lin has shown he can be a good player in this league. I have high hopes that he will remind folks of that again this season.