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The New York Knicks have finally gotten their act together, thanks to… Jeremy Lin? Huh?
Yeah, that’s right folks – not Carmelo Anthony – not Amar’e Stoudemire – not even Tyson Chandler for that matter. Rather, it is the little known, bench-warming, former NBA D-Leaguer and un-drafted Harvard graduate, Jeremy Lin, that has all of a sudden been the difference for the underachieving 13-15 Knicks. In just five games – and five wins, mind you – “Lin-Sanity” has come into fruition, and has officially become the latest frenzy to reach the NBA.
It became well-documented that the Knicks’ struggles and poor fluidity on offense was due to mediocre production from the point guard position. But in the blink of an eye, Lin has provided the Knicks with a big sample of what they have so desperately needed.
What becomes of Lin-Sanity from this point forward remains to be seen. As we know, in the absence of the Knicks’ two superstars, Carmleo Anthony (groin injury) and Amar’e Stoudemire (personal matters), Lin has excelled to lead the Knicks to five consecutive victories against the Nets, Jazz, Wizards, Lakers and Timberwolves.
As a team, the Knicks are playing the best basketball they have played this season. Most would probably argue they are even playing better than they did all of last year also, even prior to the Carmelo trade overhaul. It is obvious that the Knicks are a better team when they focus their offense around ball-movement and dribble penetration, as opposed to the stagnant, isolation-heavy way it had been.
Carmelo and Stoudemire are two of the most isolation-aggressive players in the league – and neither one has produced respectable scoring percentages in isolation situations. Stoudemire in particular, is not the type of scorer that can create his own shot too often. His scoring and effectiveness is reliant upon ball movement and floor spacing, so it should be a smooth transition when Stat gets back to action. After all, it is no secret that Stoudemire’s best years were during his pick-and-roll glory days with Steve Nash in Phoenix, under D’Antoni’s system. Now Lin is playing the role of Nash, and has been nothing short of incredible in doing so.
But what about Carmelo? How will his presence on the floor affect what Lin can do? That is the more pressing question for the Knicks, as Carmelo is still undoubtedly the go-to player on the team. But because of how well the Knicks have done without him, Carmelo will be asked to make a consolidated effort to limit his shot aggression and isolation tendencies. That is always tricky to ask or demand of any superstar, but if Melo does truly care about winning and getting deep into the playoffs, he should manage to leash his ego and make the necessary adjustments to become more team oriented. Carmelo has shown signs of efficiency when he does facilitate and distribute, instead of creating an isolation matchup only to force up a low-percentage, highly contested shot. It will be essential for the Knicks to get Carmelo in that frame of mind in order to maintain the overall improvements on offenses. How he adapts to these changes can make or break the Knicks. But if he can adjust, the Knicks should be in position to make a run for toward the top of the East.
Lin’s biggest impact might be the vastly improved play we have have seen from the other Knicks regulars. Steve Novak, most notably, for his hot three-point shooting, but even Jared Jeffries, who actually seems to have a clue on offense, which is something incomprehensible to all Knicks fans. Tyson Chandler, another offensively limited talent, has become an asset in the pick-and-roll game with Lin, and is now leading the league in field goal percentage. Landry Fields and Iman Shumpert have had their scoring averages increase, as they both seem to be more at ease with their roles in D’Antoni’s system.
What you see here, in my mind at least, is a collaborated effort by a group of role players, that have been fulfilling their designated roles adequately – which is part of the formula, for a team of any caliber, to become a consistent winner. But Lin is the key, as he has shown an uncanny ability to play to the strengths of his teammates, maximizing their rate of offensive production.
It now comes full-circle with D’Antoni. Just as he appears to be a few more losses away from getting fired, he finds the player that he has essentially been searching for since he became the Knicks head coach. D’Antoni’s reputation as an offensive genius is predicated by having the perfect point guard for his unique up-tempo system. Lin is by no means the perfect point guard, which is largely why he has been an unknown every stop along the way until now – but, what he is – is the quintessential point guard prototype that D’Antoni needs for his offense to really click – as we’ve seen it do these past five games.
What I am getting at here is not that Lin can all of a sudden be dubbed the next Nash (like a lot of ignorant people are already doing. Can we give it a few more years, or games for that matter?) But, even if he can become a close resemblance to Nash on a nightly basis, Lin-Sanity will prevail and the Knicks will continue to flourish.