We all knew it was never going to last. After Jeremy Lin set scoring records for a first-time starter, led the New York Knicks to a 10-3 charge after taking over the offense in early February, made the cover of magazines and became a global obsession, it was only a matter of time before his insane production slowed down a bit. No one goes from NBA reject to Michael Jordan in a matter of weeks.
But when Lin was dominating the NBA back in February, did we see failure coming so quickly in March?
The New York Knicks have lost six straight games, and seven of their last eight. They now own a 18-24 record. If the season ended today, the Knicks would not make the playoffs. On Monday night, the Knicks lost to the team with the NBA’s best record, the 35-9 Chicago Bulls, on the road, 104-99. No shame in that, except that Chicago outhustled New York in the fourth quarter. The Bulls grabbed offense rebound after offensive rebound — they just wanted the game more.
How much is Lin to blame for New York’s misfortune? It’s not all on him. The Knicks have returned to their annoying habit of napping on defense. Carmelo Anthony’s inefficient (21 points on 21 shots against the Bulls, 39% shooting during the losing streak) and dispiriting (he sulked when not getting the ball against the Bulls) play is more of a culprit. Sure, Lin shot 48% from the field during his February heyday, and he’s now at an ugly 39% during his winless month of March. Not including the Feb. 3 game in which played seven minutes against the Boston Celtics, Lin averaged 22.3 points per game last month. During the six-game losing streak, he has scored 16.2 points per game. His assists are down (from 9.0 to 7.3), but so are his turnovers (5.3 to 3.8).
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For a starting NBA point guard, 16.2 points and 7.3 assists per game is pretty nice production, though Lin’s shooting percentage must improve. Lin is really a liability on defense. He withers when a player sets a pick on him. Lin has faced four elite point guards over the past few weeks. Deron Williams scored 38 points against him. Boston’s Rajon Rondo recorded an amazing triple double: 18 points, 20 assists, 17 rebounds. Tony Parker of the Spurs repeatedly blew by Lin, and erupted for 32 points. Last night, Derrick Rose lit up Lin and the Knicks for 32 points too. These players all heard the Lin hype, and relished crushing it.
Studying last night’s game against the Bulls, there’s still plenty to like about Lin. He explodes to the basket, and his block of a Rose layup showed off his athleticism. Lin will never be a pure shooter, but he can knock down an open jumper. On the fast break, he’s really good at tossing long passes down the court.
But if you’re a Knicks fan, some signs are worrisome. Lin seems a bit bothered by pesky defenders. Against Miami before the All-Star break, for example, Heat guard Mario Chalmers pressured Lin full court. On Monday night, Rose almost flew out of his shoes, he was so eager to bother Lin from the beginning of the game. The point guard got off to a pretty silent start.
Lin is prone to unforced errors. Against the Bulls, he almost almost threw one easy side-to-side pass into the stands. He’s prone to leaving his feet with no set plan, and making up his mind to shoot at the last possible second. Lin missed a couple of those confused attempts last night. His left-handed dribble is still weak. At a crucial moment in the fourth quarter, took a few left-handed dribbles before firing a shot. The move didn’t look confident, and it gave him not power going into the attempt: Rose had plenty of time to leap across the court and contest it. It never had a chance.
Bothered, confused, weak: not words you want attached to your point guard. But it’s still way too early to write of Lin. Or to regret getting caught up in his story. His unusual Harvard tale deserved the attention, because he performed beyond all reasonable expectation. Sports is all about getting caught up in surprises. Lin’s “crash” isn’t nearly as shocking.