Tuesday, February 14, 2012

“When I played against Jeremy Lin”

Last week I went on vacation with my family, and apparently some guy named Jeremy Lin became fairly popular in my absence. It wasn’t the first time I had heard of the guy. Back before his name was more (or less?) than the principal element of a headline pun, or a part of any headlines at all, Lin was rumored to be an NBA prospect after four strong if unspectacular seasons at Harvard. He was never the Ivy League MVP, but his quickness, efficiency, and yes, his race, was turning heads nationally.

Around that same time, I had just started HoopSpeak and did an interview with Cornell’s Chris Wroblewski and Aaron Osgood, two rotation players on Cornell’s 2010 Sweet 16 team. As a toss-in question that went unprinted, I asked about Jeremy Lin. The two players clearly saw Lin as a rival and enemy, and though they respected his game, they didn’t think he was an NBA player.

Almost two years later, Jeremy Lin is on top of the NBA following a blistering five game stretch. Aside from the underdog story, what I’ve found so compelling is that before this moment, Lin gave little evidence that he was “undiscovered.” He just wasn’t that good. Some combination of very hard work and enough royal jelly to drown Shamoo and we’ve got ourselves a starting point guard playing All-Star caliber ball.

I circled back to Wroblewski, who is finishing his senior campaign with the Big Red, to get his impression on Lin’s fantastic rise.

I’m the first to say that I am not the quickest of foot or even that long or athletic enough to disrupt anything defensively. I was given the task along with a couple other of my teammates to shadow Lin all over the court, and my sophomore year when we played Harvard at home we held him to 16 points on an awful shooting night and 8 turnovers in a 30 point rout. Judging the kid based on that game and our other encounters, which to be honest he didn’t have a ton of success against us, I did not think he was going to be able to compete at the sport’s highest level.

The concerns I had were that he wouldn’t be able to take the best athletes in the world in the NBA off the bounce and get to the basket like he did in the Ivy League. I mean he could barely shake me or the other Cornell defenders, and we’re nowhere near NBA athletes. The other concerns I had included his inconsistent shooting and the fear that he wasn’t a true point guard and couldn’t guard NBA 2 guards.

These criticisms mirror the outlook of scouts around draft time; Lin doesn’t even merit a scouting profile at Draft Express. What’s so impressive is that Lin has come to embody the proto-point guard of coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense, one the thrives on multiple closeouts created by a crafty distributor. But like Iman Shumpert, Lin emerged from college a “guard”– not necessarily a point guard, and certainly not the type of player we’ve seen in the last week or so.

Like everyone else, Wroblewski is blown away by Lin’s emergence:

He has clearly made the transition into a point guard role and has excelled. He noticeably makes the Knicks a better team, and it is obvious the team moves the ball a lot better and all of that is because of Lin’s impact on the game. Any concern of mine about his ability to get to the hoop was erased quite quickly, as he is making a lot of NBA guards look bad.

Clearly, Lin put in work. As Wroblewski notes, Lin has shored up his shooting a bit and has been able to wind his way to the basket (almost always going right) at will. Lin has developed valuable skills and instincts through dozens of D-League games and his own relentless training.

If Lin was this good last year with the Warriors, he failed to show it in ample opportunities. Had he played one game as well as his last five with the Knicks, there’s no doubt he could have avoided couch-crashing with his brother.

So along side all the smart discussion over mainstream perceptions of Asian-Americans, there’s also a lesson to be learned here about opportunity in the NBA. Mike D’Antoni’s system combined with an improved Lin on a hot streak at the perfect time to rescue the Knicks season and make Lin a household name. But one suspects that Lin is hardly exceptional in this sense, and that there may be something to all those stories about very good players who never made the big time because they just never got the right opportunity.

Just look at some of Wroblewski’s Cornell lauded teammates from his Sweet 16 season, who Wroblewski says he “would take on my team 7 days a week over Lin,” though none of whom are in the NBA today: Louis Dale (Ivy MVP 2008) is averaging 13 points and over 30 minutes a game in Germany, Ryan Wittman (Ivy MVP 2010) has bounced around the Italy, Poland and the D-League, and seven footer Jeff Foote almost made the Blazers in December and now averages 15 and 8 for the Springfield Armor.

Says Wroblewski, “I guess this is just a testament to the fact that a lot of players have this kind of potential, they just need the right situation and environment to thrive.”

That may be selling Lin’s acheivement a little short. If–after his moment as a flaming, catapult-flung stone smashing through Asian-American stereotypes–Lin doesn’t amount to much more than an average NBA starter, he’ll still be considered one of the best 30 point guards in the world. And it won’t be because he was just in the right place at the right time, but because he became the right player at the right time.


Anonymous said...

Great article. Great perspective.

Anonymous said...

Clearly, the scouts discounted the level of talent in the Ivy League. I hope Foote and Wittman get another look.

Anonymous said...

Lin does it again. Just making the haters sound worse and worse. But I guess that's what a winner does.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Lin is a winner? What titles did he win in college? In fact, his team improved after he left.

But kudos for him in the NBA. He's playing great. But he didn't win anything in college.

Anonymous said...

Well, I guess fortunately for him, his college career has been eclipsed by his NBA career. I don't think that anyone is looking at him (except ivy league enemy) and saying...you know what that kid didn't win a thing in college.

Let's get over it people. Enough energy, anger, envy, and head scratching has been dedicated to this kid on OUR board. Let's get back to talking about CORNELL basketball.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy Lin is proof that the 2010 cornell team was overrated

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

"Jeremy Lin is proof that the 2010 cornell team was overrated"

Interesting argument, but not following your logic.

Please explain further.

Anonymous said...

A single player is proof that a whole team was overrated? Curious logic.

Kudos to Jeremy. He is having a remarkable start in a league that resembles 80's Harlem Globetrotter basketball. Zero defense, zero team ball.

CBB- Lin has won 4 out of 5 games against the worst teams in the NBA. That makes him a winner, I guess...

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Lin is playing really well (aside from his turnovers and perimeter shooting).

But I just don't feel the need to change my opinion on him after we have his work product from his entire rookie season and some of this season before his sudden 5-6 game explosion in February of 2012.

I am enjoying watching him play. He is a good story, a guy totally overlooked by everyone in America.

And he plays for the Knicks now, not Harvard, so I have no problem with his success. So good for the Knicks and for Jeremy.

I think we'll get a better idea 2-3 years from now as to how good he really is in the NBA (or elsewhere).

Anonymous said...

"But I just don't feel the need to change my opinion on him after we have his work product from his entire rookie season and some of this season before his sudden 5-6 game explosion in February of 2012."

I hope you remember that the opinion you're still reluctant to change is, "Lin is a circus act who is only in the NBA as a Asian-American marketing stunt, and is not a real NBA player."

Anonymous said...

Yes, excellent article, super interesting to get Wrobo's perspective. Steve Nash was just some kid from Santa Clara until he got put into D'Antoni's offense. Then 2 MVPs. Definitely need the player to fit the system and vice versa. This is exactly why Wittman didn't catch on. He didn't arrive with a reputation like a Rip Hamilton or even Kapono. Not a lot of teams are looking for pure jump shooters in today's dribble-first environment. I actually think Dale has NBA potential as a smurf point guard. Lots of them succeeding right now with new non-physical defense rules.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

The fact that various outlets are making posters, t-shirts, songs, videos etc about a guy that had 5 great games further justifies the original beliefs.

Jeremy is becoming pop icon not just because of his basketball skills. We all know this to be true. There are other factors in his popularity. And this makes it at least in part, a circus.

Anonymous said...

Remember that Steve Nash was an All-Star in Dallas before ever playing for D'Antoni.

Anonymous said...

Do you expect people to not notice the double standard when you insist that Foote is an NBA player whenever he goes for 14 and 9 in the D-League, yet you still won't give Lin any credit?

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Not following the argument of a double standard.

Foote has been dominant in the D-League since the day he arrived. So, he is a legit All Star in his minor league. It is not like he played 5 or 6 good games, but the rest of his time he was on the bench.

Anonymous said...

Is there a Harvard board/forum somewhere that could please give Lin some credit so these people can move on??

Go Big Red.

Anonymous said...

Nash went from 3rd team all-NBA (good) to 2-time MVP of league (great).

Anonymous said...

For our purposes here on this blog, the most hilarious aspect of Linsanity is the timing. Check the post for Tuesday, February 7. There is a long thread in the comments section in which CBB argues that Lin is only a circus act while posters note that, by the definition of him drawing an NBA paycheck, Lin is an NBA player.

That thread was only EIGHT DAYS ago. It's almost as if Lin read this blog and said to himself, "Hmmm. . . . Okay, I'm going to take this thing from regular hype into the stratosphere level.

If our objective and requirement for happiness as Cornell fans is that no other Ivy team ever do well, including individual players -- I think we're gonna be miserable most of the time.

Anonymous said...

Harvard was more talented than the 2010 cornell team and they have the professional players to prove it. Cornell had 2 lucky games against harvard and had some home town refs

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Harvard fans are some funny dudes.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being the only place I've seen willing to point out that a huge part of athletic success (as with success in the rest of the world) depends on not only being talented, but being in the right situation at the right time.

It's so annoying when people write off analysis from both sides and anything suggesting that maybe a player actually wasn't good outside of a certain situation as "being a hater."

Not only are there situations to consider, but some players just get better later than others. I remember beating a kid in tennis in high school, then, within a year, he was able to beat even my coach handily - I probably wouldn't have been able to take a game off of him if I'd played him a year later.

Again, thanks for providing information that no one else is willing to in their efforts to out-fawn one another over the new kid on the block.

PS - let's also bring up that he's played most of the dregs of the league at this point, with the exception of the Lakers, who are known for their poor PG play. Everyone's excited because the Knicks are worth watching now, but let's not start thinking they're world-beaters.

Anonymous said...

Here is my advice to the author of the Cornell Basketball Blog: show some maturity and admit your statement that "Lin is a circus act who is only in the NBA as a Asian-American marketing stunt, and is not a real NBA player", was very inaccurate. You misjudged Jeremy Lin. There is no shame in that. Many great basketball experts also misjudged Jeremy Lin. Yes, Jeremy Lin is in a system that suits him well. Yes, he is getting extra attention because of his unique background. Yes, his production may tail off at some point. But still, the CBB must admit that Jeremy has shown that he can help an NBA team win games and the statement that he is just a marketing stunt is rediculous. Come on, CBB, admit you were wrong and show the world that you are more than just a partisan hack.

Anonymous said...

2010 - 3 titles, 5-1 against harvard with the one loss by one point. But harvards better??? and Each time Harvard was at Cornell the loss was around 30 points.
Nationally ranked and advanced in the Tournament.
Suck it Lin and Harvard fans

Anonymous said...

Dont know why this hasnt been brought up yet, but Harvard finished 3RD in 2010... Not even 2nd in the league? Princeton was #2. Get outta here with ever comparing Lin and Harvard to 2010 Cornell.

Anonymous said...

The CBB and posters on this blog routinely make predictions about players and how they will perform in the future based on minimal info, bias or hype, and often they are wrong without apology. So, why should Jeremy Lin be exempt?

On this blog, I routinely read wild predictions about who will be in starting lineups and rotations; how freshmen (who have never played against college competition) will be inserted into starting lineups and rotations one and two years down the road even before they have graduated from high school; how coaches will adopt this strategy or that strategy, play this guy or that guy, etc, etc. Some players who have been hyped ad nauseum by this blog continue to be hyped even when their play ultimately does not equal the hype, while others are quickly discounted.

The bottom line is that all of the wild predictions and hype and bias mean nothing. What matters is how a player develops and what he does when given a legitimate chance. Is that overhyped freshman better at the end of his freshman year than he was at the start? Is he better as a soph or when he is a junior?

Jeremy Lin got better and better and has developed into a pro - period. No, he didnt win an Ivy League championship but championships are won by teams and chemistry and great coaches like Cornell had for three years, and great individual players don't always have all of that around them to win championships.

Lin ignored all of the naysayers and "predictors" - and the hype about others who are NOT in the NBA - and focused on his goal and achieved it. He got his legit chance and he has walked the walk. In his first five games as an NBA starter, he has averaged more points and assists than many of the top NBA legends of all time did during their first five starts.

That ain't no circus act. That's a kid who proved that all the talk and bias and hype means nothing. Guys like Lin, and Jon Gray and probably a few others on the Cornell roster thrive off of being discounted and can't wait to prove the predictors and the hypers wrong. Congrats to Jeremy Lin.

Anonymous said...

That was a nice post about the "predictors," just one correction: Jeremy Lin has scored more than ANY NBA player EVER in his first five starts, including Jordan, Bird, Jabbar, West, Billy Ray Bates, Fly Williams, World B. Free, Metta World Peace, et.al...

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

It's a cool stat, but Lin is a 2nd year player, and those players were all rookies.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight - so you're saying the primary difference between Lin and Shaq, MJ, etc. is that Lin is a second year player, and the others were rookies?

Doesn't seem to help your case.

Anonymous said...

The stat is first 5 starts, regardless of player's year - better than anyone, ever. Stats are only confirmed since merger, so they always throw that part in. Think the merger was in 76-77.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

There is some context for the stat:

Virtually all of the guys on the list were rookies when they earned their first half dozen starts.

Lin is a veteran in his second year.

There is a difference.

Anonymous said...

CBB you're wearing me out. Steve Nash started 2 games his rookie year. He started 9 games his second year. He started 40 games his 3rd year (first with Dallas) and averaged 7.9 points per game.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Steve Nash is not Lebron James, Shaq, MJ, Iverson, guys that were superstars entering the league.

Yes, Nash later became a superstar. But he was a mid major player entering the NBA.

Like Lin, Nash had to develop over time.

Anonymous said...

So in the last 10 days, you have gone from calling Lin a circus act devoid of NBA talent to now trying to carefully split hairs on how to compare him to all-time NBA greats. (which is of course hugely premature, 5 game stats notwithstanding).

OK, compare him to only second year players. Anybody have a better start?

Anonymous said...

Let's just keep in mind that, aside from Lin, there may be no better example of player development in recent Ivy history than Jeff Foote. Good players develop, others don't for various reasons, so saying player X was better than player Y in college seems silly.