The Knicks' point guard had a fantastic weekend against the Lakers and the Timberwolves, proving that his recent success is not a mere fluke.
Let me first say: I was wrong.
Last week I said that while New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin's start had been a superlative thrill ride, the best he could become as an NBA player was "a serviceable point guard/poor man's J.J. Barea." As enamored as I was by the Harvard grad's amazing story and sensational, Internet-exploding week, I simply didn't think he had the chops to light up the NBA's better defenses. His great games had come against three teams with a combined record of 28-55 who were all in the bottom 10 in team defense.
So I watched the Knicks host the Lakers on Friday night and head on the road to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday—two of the NBA's top 10 defenses. What's more, Lin would be facing the Timberwolves' Ricky Rubio, a rookie point guard from Spain known for his defense and ball-handling skills. Two wins, one epic 38-point, seven-assist, outdueling-Kobe-Bryant performance and a last-second, game-winning free throw later, I am ready and willing to eat crow. Lin sent the Lakers packing with his 38-point barrage, then hit the go-ahead foul shot with 4.9 seconds left in a 100-98 win over the Timberwolves and rookie point guard phenom Ricky Rubio. Lin may not be the second coming of Derrick Rose, but his play bears a striking resemblance to another MVP-winning point guard (more on that later).
For those of you who've missed Lin's Tim Tebow-like emergence onto the sports scene, check out his backstory here. For those who missed this weekend's action or haven't seen him play yet, here are a few thoughts on Jeremy Lin's game.
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The kid can shoot. Lin's stats during his remarkable run are eye-popping: 27 points and eight assists per game, a 57.7 percent true shooting average and a Player Efficiency Rating of 25.91, good for fourth overall in the NBA. That's ahead of Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and Dwight Howard, to name a few superstars. But on shots outside the paint, Lin was below average in his first three games, and the Lakers' defensive strategy against him was simple: Make him shoot jumpers. But Lin displayed the outside touch he was known for at Harvard, knocking down several long jump shots when the Lakers cheated under Tyson Chandler on pick and rolls to prevent Lin from driving to the basket. Late in the fourth quarter, Lin found himself guarded by seven-foot power forward Pau Gasol. Unable to match Lin's foot speed, the Spaniard wisely played several feet off Lin, daring him to shoot from long range. Lin obliged, nailing a 22-footer that sent the Madison Square Garden crowd into hysterics. Though Lin struggled with his shot the following night against Minnesota, he will create matchup nightmares for the NBA's slower point guards if he can establish a mid-range jump shot in the long term.
He's not afraid to get hit at the rim. Again and again Friday, Lin ventured into the reach of the Lakers' two seven-foot behemoths, Gasol and center Andrew Bynum. Rather than shy away from contact, he attacked the hoop with a fervor reminiscent of Phoenix's Steve Nash, a two-time MVP winner and future Hall of Fame point guard who is among Lin's many admirers. Like Nash, Lin does not pick up his dribble unless he has to and can finish through contact, converting several "and one" opportunities over the weekend. He also shares Nash's preternatural body control. When Bynum, Gasol or Minnesota's Kevin Love stepped up to block Lin's shot, he was able to jump and twist away from them, square his upper body to the basket while in the air and make the contested 5-10 foot shot. The paint area may not be so accessible once Amare Stoudemire returns to action, but Lin has shown he can create his own space around some of the NBA's biggest big men.
Lin's also shown he's physically and mentally tough. Despite getting his chin split open on Wednesday by Washington Wizards' guard John Wall, Lin continued to invite contact with his aggressive play. With 41 seconds left against the Lakers, he drew a charge on Matt Barnes to all but ice the win and unleahsed a guttural yell that resonated with every diehard Knicks fan in the sold-out MSG crowd.