Right Field

Despite First Loss of Jeremy Lin Era, Knicks Shouldn’t Panic

What is it about overlooked Harvard-educated athletes this year? First, Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Buffalo Bills (his third team, after the Rams and Bengals had given up on him) to a surprisingly hot start, earning himself a hefty new contract in the process. Now, undrafted Jeremy Lin has set the NBA world ablaze after leading the New York Knicks on a winning streak in his first seven starts. We call it Linsanity

Lin suffered his first loss as the Knicks’ starting point guard last night as the Knicks fell to the New Orleans Hornets. Lin’s rise has been meteoric and, in a struggle to brew up storylines and something to disagree about, a small minority of the sports media have been predicting a swift fall.

There is a point to be made. Lin broke Shaquille O’Neal’s record for most points in his first five NBA starts. He has also set the record for most turnovers, an important weakness of Lin’s that was highlighted last night as he turned the ball over nine times.

The argument goes that, akin to a a rookie major leaguer getting hot his first time around the league, defenses will figure out Lin’s holes and quickly render him ineffective.

Lin has real weaknesses: He’s an unbalanced ballhandler, much better at going one way than the other; he’s an overconfident passer, which results in his high number of turnovers; and he doesn’t have the athleticism of many other young players, often making him a liability on the defensive end of the floor. Nonetheless, the haters are clutching at straws. Jeremy Lin is very good at basketball, and just might hold the keys to the Knicks’ future.

Lin has shot the ball well so far, but his quickness, ballhandling, finishing ability, and penetration are what has made the Knicks’ resurgence believable. The way he threatens defenses on ballscreens was dissected well by Sebastian Pruiti.

It could still be that Lin is a flash in the pan. Milwaukee’s young point guard Brandon Jennings lit up the NBA with a string of games early in his rookie season before having his weaknesses exposed and settling in as a middle-of-the-pack young point guard. But the skills that Lin has displayed outside of merely scoring the ball portend more success for the young Ivy graduate.

The previously sad-sack Knicks have now surged into playoff contention behind the play of Lin, and it’s been done in the absence of Carmelo Anthony, one of New York’s two high-salary stars. This has led to speculation that the Knicks’ renaissance won’t continue once Anthony, renowned for being a ball-stopper, returns to the lineup. Luckily, we’ll get a chance to test this theory, as Carmelo is due to return tomorrow. Melo has played with good point guards before without a problem, and he’s a high-IQ player. It’s unlikely that his return will have a negative impact on the Knicks.

A dark cloud of gloom has hung over the Knicks for years. For the most part, the town is appropriately excited that they finally have a competent point guard to run coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense and two complementary superstars who can power them to the playoffs. Have fun on the ride, New York – by all appearances, Linsanity is here to stay.


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