The Charlotte Hornets are no longer afraid of playing Jeremy Lin big minutes, even if Nicolas Batum isn’t injured. But how about going even further in order to do what’s right? Benching Kemba Walker and for Lin to start, so there would be no confusion about who the Hornets need handling the ball most of the time? Maybe in some fan fiction novel, not in the Steve Clifford reality.
Walker can score, when he gets hot. He’s hard to stop when he attacks the basket, and when he plays smartly, even without the ball, he commands respect from a defense, which can open up opportunities for his team. But Walker, since his days in Uconn, has been a very narrow kind of player. A point guard who loves the ball in his hands and doesn’t look too much to his left and right. He’s about shooting, scoring, and not really stopping anyone on defense. Maybe it’s just an effort issue or a matter of defensive awareness, but not a lot has changed for Walker except for experience since he led the Huskies to the national title in 2011.
This was good for the old Hornets. The team trying to get in the playoffs, and making it in 2013. But last season, aside from the Lance Stephenson problems, the school of posting up Al Jefferson while Walker takes bad shots didn’t really work out. And in this season, when Walker plays like that (except for those times when he catches fire, which can happen), the Hornets are worse than they can be when the ball moves and things open up on the perimeter. The Hornets have already changed a lot from how they play last season, but maybe, in order to be seriously in contention for some home court advantage in the playoffs (#2-#4 in the East), the Hornets need to go further with their transformation.
With Lin on the floor, the Hornets are better. Better than they are with Walker (if you single out each one of their +/- numbers), although obviously the two also co-exist in the same lineup. It works when Lin gets to touch the ball, it doesn’t when Walker is in his isolation mode. The thing about this kind of mode and players, like Jamal Crawford or Lou Williams, is that they’re perfect when coming off the bench. Second unit basketball works well for players who can put up a lot of points quickly, as teams on both sides usually stray from their usual strategy.
But for the Hornets, who have at least aspired to play a certain kind of basketball most of the time, Lin in the lineup instead of only nine minutes after the game begins, makes a lot more sense. Walker can still get 30-35 minutes when coming off the bench. He can still get his point, his shots. But the Hornets hierarchy undergoing change to put Lin as the man with the keys to the offense (sharing it with Batum) will benefit everyone, and the only thing harmed will be Walker’s ego, not his numbers.
I don’t know if Lin is a better player than Walker. He’s probably inferior when it comes to putting points on the board on his own. But when it comes to defending, Lin (Despite what some people who last saw him play in 2013) is the better defender and the much better passer / point guard / decision maker and you can go on with this list. And if Walker coming off the bench doesn’t hurt his opportunity to put up 15-20 points per game only with possibly less of a substitution-shield and no longer slowing and clogging things right from the start so the second unit can fix it, the Hornets just might turn out to be a better team than before. But that’s in the realms of high fantasy. Steve Clifford isn’t going to do it.