NBA Handicapping: Jeremy Lin
by Trevor Whenham - 12/14/2012
I’m not sure that there has been a more interesting story in the NBA in a long time than Jeremy Lin. He was a total unknown who exploded onto the world scene and became a megastar almost overnight. Just as quickly, though, the hero worship turned into indifference, and then, in many circles, into varying levels of contempt. Along the way he landed a ridiculously big contract and immense pressure, and so far all he has been able to deliver is middling performance - the Rockets sit at 10-11 and would not be in the playoffs if they started today. Because Lin has been such a unique story he presents a unique challenge for handicappers. Here are four factors to consider when trying to determine how to deal with the point guard now and into the future:
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Last year wasn’t going to last - Looking back on “Linsanity” from even less than a year away makes it seem almost impossible that it could have happened. It was really the perfect combination of factors - novelty, team need, a league in need of feel-good stories, a coach looking to save his job who had a perfect system for the player, a team that was lacking their offensive key players when Lin joined, and so on. Anyone with an ounce of objectivity would have known that it wasn’t going to last. Heck, it didn’t even last through last season. A lot of the disappointment around Lin’s play last year is because people were expecting what he couldn’t deliver. If you look at him for what he really is - an inexperienced player who wasn’t highly touted and who has bounced around from team to team - then his production this year is solid. The less realistic you are about him, though, the more disappointed you are likely to be. It’s not a surprise that the public had skewed expectations, though. The media coverage was insane last year. And the Rockets paid well above the market for Lin, so it was easy for people to be misled about what was possible.
Chemistry hasn’t happened yet - The Rockets took a big gamble in the offseason by bringing in Lin and then trading for James Harden to create what they hoped would be a dynamic duo. They are a team with strong faith in statistical analysis, and they felt that the two would be a great combo. So far, though, that hasn’t turned out to be the case. They have not been comfortable with each other, and they have not made each other better so far. In fact, the team is actually scoring fewer points per possession when both players are in the lineup, or when just one of them is, than they are when they are both on the bench. Earlier this week Lin had his best game of the year - 38 points against the Spurs. Just two problems, though - the team still lost, and Harden wasn’t playing do to a minor injury. If the two guys can’t find a way to work together and become better than the sum of their parts the team isn’t going to go anywhere. It’s not really a surprise that the guys have struggled in their role. Lin isn’t used to being an everyday starter, and Harden has been in a secondary role throughout his career but has to be the primary star now. There is not yet a reason to believe that they can’t get on the same page, but they certainly haven’t been so far.
Public is off the bandwagon - For a while last year it was cool to be a huge Jeremy Lin fan. Then it seemed like he was forgotten about. Now the media, and the public by extension, seems to be taking pleasure in being negative about Lin and by suggesting that they knew all along that this was how things were going to turn out. When the public turns against a team or a player it has the potential to be a good thing for patient handicappers with a long-term view and a sophisticated sense of the game. The public won’t jump back onto Lin’s bandwagon until he makes a huge splash. That means putting up bigger numbers and winning some games. But he can make subtle improvements and really help the team. The team is a not-horrible 9-11-1 ATS on the year, so Lin would only have to get a little better for this team to become a profitable bet. If he could do that while staying off the radar then it could be a goldmine for astute bettors until the public notices, so Lin and the Rockets are definitely worth paying attention to.
Still inexperienced - I’ve touched on this before, but it’s so important that I will mention it again. Lin has played in 85 career games. That means that he is essentially just in the beginning of his second year as a player in the league, and he is still in the equivalent of his first year as a starter. He’s not consistent, his outside shooting is shaky, and his play is too predictable, but the same flaws could be identified in the games of many young point guards - especially guys who didn’t come into the league as highly-touted top draft choices. For example, he’s no worse than Tony Parker was at the same point in his career, and the Rockets - or almost any other team, for that matter - would be thrilled to have what Parker has turned into.