Over the four games in the Western Conference 1st Round Playoffs against the Portland Trailblazers, Jeremy Lin is averaging a pedestrian 9.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in 28.5 minutes per game. While those numbers don’t seem that bad, the bigger issue is his shooting percentage (36.4%), 3-point field goal percentage (16.7%), and most critically, his propensity for mistakes during the final minutes of the game.
In Game 2, after James Harden hit a 3 pointer to bring the Rockets to within 3 with just over 30 seconds left in the game, Lin committed a foul on Damian Lillard, a career 85.9% FT shooter, who promptly hit 2 free throws to ice the game. Whether Lin was instructed to commit the foul by Rockets coach Kevin McHale rather than defend for a final shot seems uncertain, though it appeared that a few Rockets teammates were upset at Lin for committing the foul.
In Game 3, Lin missed a critical lay-up with 48 seconds left in regulation, then failed to get back on defensive in enough time to stop a Nicolas Batum transition three that tied the game–in essence, a 5 point swing. In overtime, Lin partially redeemed himself by hustling for a loose ball and finding a wide-open Troy Daniels for a game-winning three. However, on the two offensive possessions prior to Daniels’ heroic shot, Lin had turned the ball over, and missed a make-able 3 point shot. Had the Rockets lost, much more would have been made of Lin’s mistakes in Game 3.
Which of course brings us to Game 4. With 33 seconds remaining in regulation and the Rockets up two, 104-102, Lin rebounds a Nicolas Batum miss under the Blazers’ basket, and rather than call timeout or pass to a more capable ballhandler, he proceeds to dribble up the sideline (despite being flanked by Blazers defenders) and lose the ball on a great defensive play by Mo Williams. Williams then feeds the ball inside to Wesley Matthews, who misses a contested layup. The ball comes loose, Lin manages to get a hand on the ball, but unlike at the end of Game 3 he is unable to secure it, and instead Damian Lillard comes away with the prize. Lillard kicks the ball out to a wide-open Mo Williams, who promptly head-fakes an overzealous Jeremy Lin and proceeds to swish a game-tying three pointer. Prior to this key play, Lin had also missed a driving layup similar to the one missed in Game 3. The Rockets go on to lose in overtime, with Lin sitting on the bench for most of the extra period.
Now despite how critical this piece sounds, I want you to know that I am a huge fan of Jeremy Lin. I followed him since his Harvard days, when I first heard about him during his Junior year. After Lin went undrafted and got cut by his hometown Warriors, then by the Rockets, I never expected him to make it this far and this long into the league. I never doubted his ability, but I never thought he would get the opportunity in a sport that, let’s face it, has unfairly stereotyped Asians and Asian-Americans.
As a fan and a lifelong lover of the game of basketball, I really, really, REALLY (get it yet?) want Lin to succeed. I want him to be the player he showed himself to be during Linsanity–and more. I want him to lead the Rockets deep into the playoffs and possibly a title. However, a few things have become apparent during his brief 2 seasons here:
1. He and James Harden cannot really coexist on the court.
2. He and Coach McHale are not a good fit, either.
3. He still hasn’t learned to shoot a consistent mid-range or 3 point jump shot.
4. He still hasn’t developed a consistent left hand dribble.
5. He has lost a lot of his confidence and “recklessness” that brought him his contract and global spotlight.
All in all, it’s hard for me to see Lin remaining in Houston next year, especially with a $15 million dollar price tag weighing on the minds of Rockets’ management. Even if Lin bounces back and leads the Rockets deep into the playoffs, he might still be gone next year, as the game of basketball is a business first. Where as points 1 and 2 can be fixed with a change of scenery, I’m concerned about points 3, 4, and especially 5. Lin’s inability to consistently hit an outside shot severely limits his effectiveness on offense, as defenders can simply play him to drive most of the time and go underneath on screens or picks. Most disconcerting is that he seems to be over-thinking things and making mental mistakes that he normally wouldn’t make. Maybe it’s due to the pressure of living up to a big contract, or the fact that both the team’s head coach and number one star, (McHale and Harden) seem to lack trust in Lin. Or maybe it’s because he has something to lose, which he didn’t during his stint with the Knicks pre-Linsanity. Overall, something just isn’t right with Jeremy Lin, and he may be running out of time to fix it. The league has a short memory, and is not kind to backup point guards with big contracts.
As Lin said himself in an ESPN interview during his breakout run with the Knicks: “You can’t prove yourself one time, you can’t have one good game and everyone one be like, ‘He’s the real deal.’ It has to be over and over and over again.”
Game 5 is Wednesday night back in Houston.