Monday night’s loss at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs bore the most significant results of the season. The team didn’t earn a victory, but observers came away with proof of something far more valuable.
In scoring 38 points in his first outing without James Harden, Lin put to rest any doubts regarding his overall ability. It just simply is not possible that that performance (against the league’s best team) and last year’s Linsanity stretch were flukes. It just cannot be. One cannot achieve such heights in such a manner, in that many instances, by mere luck or random chance. These games are indisputably probative of actual ability. Jeremy Lin is not elite, but he can be a very good, game-changing player in this league.
The focus now turns to circumstance and identifying, if not a lack of ability, what it is that’s kept Lin saddled all year with pedestrian numbers. With Harden back in the lineup last night, Lin scored just ten points, while shooting 4/8, going back to his passive ways.
Each star’s drop in statistical production with the other on the court has been well-documented, most notably by ESPN’s John Hollinger. Through the eye test, alongside Harden, Lin has barely been involved, almost playing the ’08 Rafer Alston role in bringing the ball up, handing it off to his partner, and then waiting for spot-up 3’s. Spot-up shooting is not Lin’s strength.
What is the solution? For one, the coaching staff could stagger the pair’s minutes, maximizing time for each with the other on the bench. But there’s only so much of that that can be done.
Management could also look to trade Lin, an unlikely scenario, but one which our staff will explore next Monday. Even if that avenue makes the most basketball sense, it’s not probable that ownership would allow such a course of action.
In my opinion, the solution is simply handing the team over to Lin. In a recent game, for whatever cause, with Lin actually allowed to attack, and Harden operating as a conventional ‘2’, the offense looked its smoothest and most potent. This is for the simple reason that Harden can do what Lin can’t which is be productive without a live dribble.
There is now enough proof that Lin thrives off adrenaline. He’s at his best when emotions fuel his actions, when he doesn’t have to think about deferring and can simply just play. Harden is the far better player, but to maximize the abilities of both, barring a trade, Lin must be allowed to play his natural point role. Harden must take a step back from the all-everything position he is currently playing.
Of most importance, though, should be a commitment to sorting this out. On recent nights, an ineffective Lin was benched in favor of Toney Douglas to close out the game. I had no qualms at the time because it still wasn’t clear if Lin was even capable. But now, after Monday’s performance, because of the circumstances under which it was delivered, those doubts go out the window. Lin must never again be benched down the stretch. He and the team must be given a chance to figure this out, in a year where the results don’t really matter.