1:10 pm Dec. 28, 201111
The New York Knicks, though blessed with perhaps the best front line in the N.B.A., have a point guard problem.
Starter Toney Douglas, still unfamiliar with many of the basics of running the position, took more shots than any other Knick in Sunday's win over Boston. Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, it is safe to say, were not acquired to watch Toney Douglas miss shots.
Former standout Baron Davis is still some time away from a return to health, with no guarantees that his back will hold up once he does recover.
Talented rookie guard Iman Shumpert, already a problematic fit at the position due to a skill set that doesn't include running an offense, is out for the next two-to-four weeks with a knee injury sustained in the opener. And Douglas' nominal backup, veteran Mike Bibby, is largely a spot-up shooter at this point, with his own health issues.
As a result, the Knicks signed point guard Jeremy Lin on Tuesday to serve as depth at the position. At first glance, this would seem to be a relatively inconsequential basketball move. Lin, after all, was only available because he'd been waived by the Rockets, just weeks after he'd been waived by the Warriors. Chris Paul, he isn't.
And yet it's a big deal. Lin, who who happens to be the first Asian-American to suit up for the Knicks since Wat Misaka back in 1947-48, and a Harvard graduate with a degree in economics, may be a perfect fit in New York.
What can he do well? For one thing, despite being 6'3” and 200 pounds, Lin is deceptively quick, particularly with his first step. This should allow him to get into the lane regularly, creating opportunities for the other Knicks scorers. He's also a better finisher than Douglas, so his drives won't result in a succession of teardrops clanking off the side of the rim. And he's got good passing skills, giving the Knicks the legitimate offensive operator they've been missing from their roster.
On the defensive end, Lin is extremely good at forcing steals, which should create stops before a leaky Knick defense is forced to operate in the half-court set. And his size allows him to stay with most larger point guards, blocking more shots than a typical player at his position.
Interestingly, Lin's weaknesses—the aspects of his game that have kept him from finding regular N.B.A. work since graduating from Harvard in 2010—might not be as much of a problem with the Knicks as they would be on other teams.
Lin is not much of a shooter away from the basket, in the mold of a Rajon Rondo. (In fact, Rondo is the most similar player to him, according to Pro Basketball Prospectus 2011-12.) But the Knicks don't want a point guard to be shooting—neither Lin, nor Douglas, should ever come close to leading the team in shot attempts in any game.
Lin also has some trouble staying with the smaller point guards, but having Chandler behind him to swat away the attempts of those smaller players should help there, too.
And Lin has been susceptible thus far, in limited minutes, to aggressive defensive pressure that leads him to turn the ball over more than he should. But it is hard to imagine most teams will try and pressure Lin, if doing so leaves a member of the Knicks' front line wide open. It make take a while for New York to find out just what Lin is capable of doing for them, since it's not clear yet how much playing time he'll get. Coach Mike D'Antoni declared Lin to be the team's third point guard entering Wednesday night's game against the Warriors, behind both Douglas and Bibby in the pecking order.
“If somebody wakes up with a cold, he’s playing a lot,” D’Antoni told the Times Tuesday. “If not, we’ll see.”
Maybe D'Antoni was being coy, or maybe, in fact, it's going to take a bout of illness for Lin to get into the game in a significant way. But with the shortcomings of other players on the roster, it shouldn't be a surprise of he proves to be much more useful to the Knicks than he was to the teams that let him go.