With the fourth or even third place in the Eastern conference still in reach and a difficult stretch just beyond another game with the Philadelphia 76ers, Jeremy Lin should be getting a bit more rest to his aching back, while the Hornets have an opportunity to do some experimenting in that game and learn a little bit more about themselves.
Lin missed the road win over the 76ers with back pain, something that’s troubled him this season although the ankle, ballooning to huge fruit sizes at times, has been more of a problem. Lin has on and off back problems dating back to his days with the Rockets, although he hasn’t missed significant time because of anything this season, playing in 70 of the Hornets 74 games. In any case, with the rest leading up to that game at home against Philly (three days apart) and then two more until their road trip begins, Lin should be resting up a little bit more.
And what is there to experiment about? Two options: Either Steve Clifford trying to tell or teach Kemba Walker about moving the ball to others when he isn’t hitting shots (was just 5-for-19 from the field in the win against Philadelphia along with two assists), or maybe try some different trios that include Nicolas Batum and Courtney Lee. Maybe a Batum-Lee-Lamb-Williams-Zeller/Jefferson lineup? At least for a few minutes? It can’t do too much damage, can’t it?
Why Lamb and not Walker? He’s also a shot-first, and actually shot-only kind of player who doesn’t do much defense. However, with Batum and Lee (or Lin when he’s healthy) used to cover for Walker on the defensive end, maybe Lamb can fit a bit better in the team play. He’s not going to put up the same numbers as Walker, but as we’ve mentioned, it might be nice having a player who relies on the team flow and ball movement, instead of almost playing a parallel game by himself, having no effect on what’s going on. Lamb isn’t going to handle the ball as much as Walker, although it could put a bit more pressure on Batum as the only real ball handler in that lineup. Maybe Jorge Gutierrez gets a bit more than 12 minutes, although that’s a bit of a stretch.
Who knows. Maybe Walker can change. It’s not like he hasn’t had games in which he sees he’s cold and stops his shooting at 11 or 12 shots and starts taking advantage of the attention defenses give him and use it to find open players. Walker isn’t an elite passer or too willing at times, but he can see the floor and especially likes moving the ball to Marvin Williams. It’s just that so many times, when things aren’t working for him, he keeps on shooting needlessly. He’s only 36.4% from the field over the last nine games, taking 16 shots a night. His eFG% is much better in that stretch at 53.4%. But against a team like the Sixers, how much Walker scores seems to have very little impact.
And that’s why it’s so important for the Hornets not just to make sure Lin doesn’t carry any injuries into the postseason. Lin makes a difference, for good and bad. Unlike Walker, when he misses shots, the bench seems a lot closer, which often kills his rhythm and games. Clifford has to start getting out of his mold, because Walker will probably get his points one way or another. Getting players like Lin going means a lot more to a team that hungry for playoff success, and only needs to be smarter about using their players in order to taste it.