As we carry on tracking the highs & lows of Jeremy Lin this season with the Charlotte Hornets, the team moves on with its attempt to maybe capture the number 3 or 4 seed in the Eastern conference playoffs which means home court advantage in the first round series, while Lin himself hopes to be a bigger part of this run than Steve Clifford allows him to be sometimes.
Lin isn’t the star of the Hornets. At times he’s their most important player and a key factor in their impressive improvement from last season. But he’s not treated as such a lot of the time by his head coach and eventually, Clifford holds the key to Lin’s minutes, playing time and role. While Lin has shown he’s capable of entering the “shot first” mentality for a while, it’s simply not him. He’s a point guard who needs the ball in his hands and plays best when the tempo is fast and there are options in front of him. Limiting him to the corner, the shooting guard role or a very small set of assignments on offense takes out the sting in his game and everything special and unique he brings to the team.
After a very impressive run of three games in which he averaged 22 points per game against the Nuggets, Spurs and Nets, something familiar happened to Lin. It’s not just a bad game. It happens. But it’s being completely erased from existence. Well, that’s taking it a bit too far, but it takes us back to after the Cleveland Cavaliers game, in which Lin started (his last start by the way) and played a great game of basketball against the best team in the East, with 24 points and 8 assists. It has nothing to do with Linsanity coming back or anything like it. Clifford needed Lin and gave him the ball. He was rewarded with what Lin can do when he’s confident, has minutes and the ball in his hands.
So what happened after his 29 point performance against the Spurs (huge comeback game) and 21 points in the win over the Nets? Back to being punished for every mistake and pushed aside so he doesn’t “interfere” by being a ball handler sometimes. Lin got his shots (2-for-11 from the field) but he’s a player who relies on rhythm and having the ball. He’s not a catch and shoot type of guy, and trying to turn him into one results in bad basketball for the Hornets, as it doesn’t just hurt Lin, but the lineup he’s on. Getting punished for mistakes is one way to approach a basketball team, but it should be treatment everyone receives, not just certain players the coach prefers to see boxed in a certain job on the court.
Lin did look better in the win against the Bucks, but that was one big garbage time game. The next game, on the road against the Sixers, a team the Hornets have beaten twice this season by a combined 45 points, could turn into another blowout, although the Sixers do have something to play for: Finishing with 10 wins or more, so to not tie with another 76ers team, owning the worst record in NBA history (during an 82-game season) at 9-73.
Following that comes the big push and a difficult stretch: On the road against the Cavaliers, Raptors and Knicks, at home vs Brooklyn and on the road again vs Washington (probably still fighting for a playoff spot at the time) and the Celtics before finishing the season at home against the Orlando Magic. If Clifford thinks he’s getting through this without relying on Lin to do the stuff he knows while sticking to his usual Kemba-Batum routine, he’s simply handicapping his own team.
And on a less preachy note and one with another plus to Lin and his huge defensive progress this season, a nice little chart showing how good he’s been at making it difficult for players to score on him. Credit to Dartboard Trader picking up on where Lin is compared to other guards in field goal percentage allowed. Considering he’s doing a lot of defense on shooting guards, it’s even more impressive, demonstrating how far he’s come.