Perhaps the heights of Linsanity were too bizarre and the situation too perfect to recreate. An expectation-laden Knicks team struggling with injuries to Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire suddenly found hope in the undrafted guy from Harvard. Jeremy Lin got 35 games of pure, ridiculous excitement as he put New York on his back and provided a little bit of magic before running into the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh buzzsaw in Miami.
Lin’s brilliance during that stretch briefly raised expectations for what his career could become. The big numbers in the box score (both good and bad) were somehow all positive indicators. The points and assists? Obviously All-Star caliber. The high turnover rate? Secretly a sign that he wasn’t even hitting his ceiling yet.
Only after the season, when he was poached by a crafty Rockets’ front office – leading to one of the most bizarre and desperate stories in free agency history as the Knicks, aware that they could not keep Lin, tried to hide from Rockets’ officials to avoid receiving his offer sheet – did the expectations wane. At the time of the signing, it was expected that Lin would be given the reins to the Houston offense, while fellow free agent signing Omer Asik was left to protect the rim and veteran Kevin Martin provided wing scoring.
Fortunately for the Rockets, but probably not Lin, they swung a deal to send Martin and several other pieces to Oklahoma City in the now-infamous James Harden deal. That left Lin as the secondary ball-handler in his own backcourt, and he never adequately adjusted to the role. This past offseason, after two years of mediocre numbers in Houston, he was shipped out to L.A. to create cap space for a Bosh signing that never came to pass.
With the Lakers he was again relegated to playing 2nd fiddle, this time to Kobe Bryant. With that, his slide into irrelevance became complete. No one gives a crap about the guy next to the guy making the headlines. And Kobe can make a headline. From his inefficient, shot-happy start to his kind-of tragic, left-handed finale, Kobe was, is, and will be the only reason anyone pays attention to the Lakers this season.
But maybe that’s all for the best. There, in the surprisingly obscure post-Kobe wasteland that is the Lakers’ roster, Lin can thrive. For the first time since Melo returned from injury to wrest control of a suddenly-surging Knicks team from Lin’s hands, he’ll have a shot at showing what he can accomplish as the primary ball handler on the wing. Sure, he’s going to be passing to Ed Davis, Robert Sacre, Jordan Hill, and a washed up Carlos Boozer, but at least he’ll have the ball…when he’s on the floor – he’s already coming off the bench behind Jordan Clarkson.
Hidden in his newfound obscurity is the fact that Lin is a pretty good point guard. He’s good for about 15 points and 6 assists per 36 minutes under normal circumstances, and with added responsibility he could easily eclipse those numbers. His shooting has steadily improved each season, with his 36% mark from long distance placing him right around the league average, an improvement from his bricky early days.
Lin is only 26, and this is his 5th season in the NBA. He probably won’t get much better than he is right now, but for the first time in ages he might at least have the opportunity to put his full talents on display. There are precious few reasons to tune in to a Lakers game these days; for my money, seeing Lin get his chance is probably the most compelling one.