For a number of years one of the things associated with Jeremy Lin was bad defense. Some of it was true, most of it was simply people repeating what they heard without actually watching the progress he’s made. Anyone seeing him play defense for the Charlotte Hornets this season can’t come to that conclusion anymore.
The Hornets give up 97.1 points per 100 possessions with Lin on the floor, 100.3 points per 100 possessions overall, placing them at 10th in the NBA. Obviously, one player’s defensive stats don’t mean he’s doing everything on his own, and he isn’t, but add that to the eye test, which helps people see Lin isn’t just great at getting into passing lanes and putting his hand on a ball when a player he’s marking is about to try and go up for a layup, and you get a transformed defensive player, at least when you compare to it to his earlier days.
While Lin, like even the best of defensive players, might end up losing someone from time to time, it’s simply hardly happens anymore. Lin’s much better footwork and especially upper body strength helps him stick with guys who used to blow by him on strength alone. Speed and a first step were never an issue for Lin, which he has shown throughout his career on offense, but on defense, experience and that elusive thing called awareness came to him with time, and probably a lot of offseason work.
With 23 blocks this season in 30 games, Lin leads all point guards (yes, even better than John Wall and Michael Carter-Williams) in blocks per 48 minutes. Wall has the same number as blocks as him, but he’s doing it in 10 more minutes per game. This is a new aspect in Lin’s game, who never averaged 0.5 blocks a season before in his career, while posting 0.8 per game this season. He’s a little bit down on steals (0.7 this season, 1.2 for his career), but there’s a good explanation.
Lin plays a lot closer to the players he’s guarding now, which comes from the reasons we described before. Not giving point guards a step or two does make him a better on-ball defender, but slightly takes away his opportunities to do some basketball kind of linebacking and jump into passing lanes. It’s something he did very well for the Los Angeles Lakers and also earlier with the Houston Rockets, but he’s a much better defender now, even if the steals numbers don’t show it.
In 2016, with hopefully this minor injury behind him, Lin has a lot more to achieve. It seems the Hornets have realized the kind of minutes he deserves to be getting. Next it’s up to them to give him more time with the ball during those minutes, but obviously, it’s also up to Lin. He’s shooting just 42.8% from the field this season, consistent with his slight drop from last season. His 3-point shooting took a little tumble as well to 33.3%. Getting that issue sorted out can make a huge difference for both the Hornets and especially Lin, who is in the right place, but needs to make more of the opportunity he’s been given this season.