A 'Linsane' journey!

Luck, opportunity and circumstances have conspired to make Jeremy Lin the hottest property in NBA.

lin as in win: Rejected by many coaches, Jeremy Lin (left) finally found a taker in New York Knicks and the Taiwan-American hasn’t looked back since. New york times

Mike D’Antoni can recall exactly how he felt the first time Jeremy Lin played meaningful minutes for the New York Knicks.

“Kinda neutral,” D’Antoni said. “I wasn’t excited.”

It is hard to conceive of it now, but there was a time when Jeremy Lin’s name was spoken without exclamation points, when he was fourth on the Knicks’ depth chart at point guard, when the word ‘Linsanity’ had not entered the NBA lexicon and Knicks fans were praying for Baron Davis’ herniated disk to get healthy.

It was another time, another era. Twentyseven days ago to be precise.

The Knicks were in Houston and struggling against the Rockets. Carmelo Anthony was out. D’Antoni needed a spark, and he turned to Lin in the third quarter – the earliest Lin had appeared with a game on the line. He played 20 minutes and produced a solid line: nine points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Teammates quietly marvelled at how Lin was able to penetrate and make timely passes, unlike the Knicks’ other guards. But the offense never quite sparked that night, and the Knicks lost their third game in a row.

“I just thought that he has a point-guard mentality,” D’Antoni said, looking back. “He can get to the basket. He didn’t finish well. But you could see the pick-and-roll, or at least penetration, getting the ball into the paint. It was kind of like, ‘We’ll see.”'

Lin, the first Taiwanese-American in NBA, played in two of the next three games, sparingly and without fanfare. No one anointed him a saviour or made T-shirts with entertaining puns.

No one could see what was coming next: Knicks running up a streak of six straight  wins and Lin slotting in 20 points or more with regularity.

And no one can blame the Knicks for a lack of foresight. If you gathered everyone who overlooked or underestimated Lin over the last several years, you could fill Times Square.
Hundreds of Division I coaches declined to offer Lin a scholarship. All 30 NBA teams passed on him in the draft – some of them twice. And two teams cut him, albeit reluctantly, in December.

The Golden State Warriors waived Lin because they were clearing payroll room to chase DeAndre Jordan, a budding center. The Rockets waived Lin because they were clearing payroll room to sign Samuel Dalembert.

Both teams liked Lin, for his skills, his smarts and his work ethic. Both hoped to re-sign Lin, if he cleared waivers. Neither one realised what it was giving up.

“We always felt there would be some chance he’d be a backup point guard,” said Larry Riley, the Warriors’ general manager. “I have egg on my face in telling you that I did not think he was going to become a starting point guard with a good team. He’s doing that right now.”

The Rockets’ general manager, Daryl Morey, was even blunter, declaring on Twitter: “We should have kept (@)JLin7. Did not know he was this good. Anyone who says they knew misleading U.”

The Rockets are known for identifying and developing hidden talent, from Chuck Hayes to Aaron Brooks to Chandler Parsons. But Lin slipped away.

“This is not a science,” Morey said in an interview. “We try to make it as scientific as possible, but it’s not.”

The challenge is harder when a prospect is playing outside of the major conferences, as Lin did at Harvard. He produced solid statistics – 16.4 points and 4.5 assists per game as a senior – but scouts had few chances to see Lin play against elite competition.

One personnel director said that Lin’s talent was not evident until his post-season workouts. Even then, Lin did not make a lasting impression until he outplayed John Wall – the No 1 pick in 2010 out of Kentucky – in the fourth quarter of a summer league game.
The Warriors signed Lin based largely on that game, and they had him for a full season.

But they had two dominant ball-handling guards, Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis, and little playing time to offer.

The Rockets were similarly well-stocked at point guard, with Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic. Had Lin stuck, he likely would not have gotten the playing time that allowed him to blossom.

Then again, had either team realised that Lin was capable of 20-point, 10-assist games, they would have found a way to keep him. That kind of foresight requires more than scouting – it requires a time machine. “To see him at these heights is something that is nearly impossible,” Morey said.

This is the part of the Lin story where luck, opportunity and circumstances take over.
The Knicks liked Lin when he worked out for them in 2010. They called the Warriors about him last year. But when they claimed him off waivers, on December 27, it was largely because Iman Shumpert, their prized rookie guard, had been injured. They grabbed Lin as a low-risk, low-cost emergency player, to provide insurance behind Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby.
Lin arrived with the same question marks that hovered over him coming out of Harvard.
“We didn’t know if he could defend well enough,” D’Antoni said. “We didn’t know whether he could finish well enough. And we didn’t know if he could shoot outside well enough. We did like his playmaking ability. We liked his ability to get in the paint. We liked that he was unselfish. We liked that he was smart. We liked that he had all the intangibles of being a point guard.”
Because of the compressed season, there were few practices to evaluate a newcomer.

When they did practice, the Knicks gave most of the repetitions to Douglas, who showed promise last season; to Bibby, who was their only established veteran; and to Shumpert, a talented rookie. Lin was an afterthought.

But Douglas regressed. Shumpert surged, then faltered. Bibby looked older than his age (34).

In a burst of desperation and faith, D’Antoni turned to Lin on February 4. Linsanity was born.

Now Lin is darting in and out of the lane like a young Steve Nash, flinging perfectly timed passes to Tyson Chandler and Steve Novak and making a lineup of misfits look cohesive.

Some reasonable doubts persist. Lin has mostly thrived against poor teams. His jump shot remains spotty. An Eastern Conference scout, who considers himself a fan of Lin’s, predicted, “He will come back to earth quickly as teams game-plan for him” and once Amar’e Stoudemire and Anthony return to the lineup and “take the ball out of his hands.”

But the statistics cannot be denied or diminished. Lin has thrived against two elite guards, Deron Williams and Wall. D’Antoni’s offence looks fluid and graceful again. Role players like Shumpert, Novak and Landry Fields are suddenly thriving.

“He’s what we needed, the whole time,” Jared Jeffries said.

Lin’s production will inevitably dip, but as D’Antoni has noted, his intelligence, court vision and athleticism are not going to disappear. Morey said it was wrong to dismiss Lin’s breakout as a fluke.

“I don’t agree with that,” he said. “It’s just not easy to do what he’s done. He’s made a significant impact on the outcome of NBA games.”

Morey concluded, “The reality is he has done more than all 30 teams thought he would do.”

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