The last time Jeremy Lin started for the Charlotte Hornets he played extremely well, and obviously got benched for the next one. This time, the opposite thing is happening. He played one heck of a game in Boston, and now gets to start in the regular season finale against the Orlando Magic, “thanks” to Nicolas Batum being injured, or simply resting.
Batum, either way, won’t be playing vs the Magic while Cody Zeller might be missing the game too. The Hornets have a fifth seed to play for, but does it really matter where they finish? They’re still going to play on the road in a best of seven series, facing someone they’ve had their ups & downs against this season. But an opportunity for Lin in the lineup is often a chance to see how wrong Clifford is about him, while the Hornets shuffle to make up for Batum not playing.
Despite the “inspiring” campaign, it’s hard to see Walker winning the Most Improved Player award. While he certainly took his game forward by adding the three point shot, it’s not like he was a scrub before. The leap C.J. McCollum had just beats anything else we saw this season. He didn’t just get more minutes. He has become a borderline star in this league, not letting his per minute numbers get hurt while his usage ratios skyrocketed.
Back to Charlotte? Whatever happens in the game with Orlando, the playoffs will offer a challenge to everything Clifford has believed in this season, at least offensively. In a parallel world, maybe he makes Walker a points-only kind of player coming off the bench. He can still play 30 minutes a night and maybe more, but it defines his role in a different way, and makes him an off the ball shooter instead of one who has to have the ball in his hands all the time, hurting team play at times, especially when the iso and one-on-X players action isn’t called for.
In another parallel world there are Jeremy Lin and Walker starting in a backcourt together. Lin as the point guard, Walker as the shooting guard, or the one who doesn’t play floor general or offense conductor most of the time. On defense they switch. But those are parallel worlds. It works in science fiction, in the universes of DC Comics and Marvel. But not in the NBA. Coaches like Clifford don’t change, and probably don’t experiment this late in the season, although he’s had hints and clues that turning this team into a less star-oriented one in its offensive philosophy could work out quite well. Just a reminder: In a non-parallel, very real world, this might be the final regular season game Lin plays in Hornets uniform.
But without too much pressure on them for at least this game before the real season begins, there’s at least hope for some more of the free flowing, fast basketball the Hornets showed during their incredible second quarter against the Celtics. It came from fantastic defense and one paralyzed opposition. But that run didn’t come from one player taking the ball, turning a blind eye to everything around him and shooting his way to points. There was defense, creativity and the kind of basketball Lin thrives in. That’s the basketball that’s better for the Hornets. Maybe we’ll get to see it again one more time before the playoffs begin.