The Jeremy Lin era is dead; long live Jeremy Lin
Rumors of Jeremy Lin's demise following the firing of coach Mike D'Antoni this week were, well, wrong.
On Saturday night, he scored 19 points, pulled down seven rebounds and dished out six assists in New York's 102-88 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers aren't the Miami Heat. But still, Lin turned in this performance against a tough, playoff-caliber team, facing them for the second straight night after beating them 115-100 in New York.
If the league is supposed to adjust to rookies quickly, then it stood to reason that after Lin had posted a solid 13-point, five-assist effort against Indiana Friday night, the Pacers would find a way to stop him on the second go-round.
That's just not how it happened. Lin scored eight of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as the Knicks took control of a game they led most of the way. He handed out a pair of assists, did not turn the ball over, and forced opposing point guard Darren Collison—supposedly the kind of ultra-quick point guard Lin would have trouble defending—into 1-of-5 shooting in the period.
It was never going to be realistic for Jeremy Lin to keep outscoring Kobe Bryant, as he so memorably did against the Lakers. But that wasn't really the plan, either, with Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony returned to the Knicks lineup.
Moreover, a less point-guard-centered system, as played by new coach Mike Woodson, naturally means that the ball is in Lin's hands less of the time than it had been under Mike D'Antoni.
But the new offense still needs a competent floor general, which Lin certainly is. His passing skills, his ability to penetrate and finish at the basket, even his shooting accuracy from two-point range—the real weapon, even during his unexpected rise, that fueled his scoring success—all these skills could prove vital to the Knicks during their stretch run. That they won't manifest themselves in the same kind of total output is no knock on Lin.
Lin has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio in the month of March. He has kept his three-point shooting at a serviceable 33 percent, up slightly from his 32 percent in February. And even his two-point shooting percentage, though down overall this month, has returned to form under Mike Woodson, with Lin shooting 12-for-21 under the coach who was supposedly going to kill his game.
Interestingly, Lin has continued to prosper under Woodson, Amar'e Stoudemire, another Knick whose demise was widely reported, has posted a shooting percentage of better than 55 percent in March, while Carmelo Anthony, the man who was supposedly going to choke the life out of the rest of the team with constant isolation plays, has been shooting at a measured rate while dishing out assists regularly.
The only significant change in terms of outcome has been the extent to which Anthony and Stoudemire buy into defensive effort as a whole, which took a Knicks team that had already been solid defensively—thanks mostly to Tyson Chandler—and brought them into an elite defensive level since the coaching change.
However short-sighted the reasons for making a coaching change, if the Knicks ultimately stay with a similar set of offensive outcomes while dramatically increasingly their defensive intensity, the results are likely to be a change for the better. It may not be as pretty as D'Antoni basketball at its best, but it should be enough to at least get the Knicks into the playoffs.
New York is once again in the playoffs as of today. And incredibly, New York finds itself just 2.5 games behind Boston for the seventh seed, and within four games of division-leading Philadelphia. Last Monday's loss to Chicago left New York 6.5 back with 25 to play, but the week since allowed the Knicks to chop almost half of that deficit in just three games. And with a showdown looming Wednesday in Philadelphia, the Knicks can improbably lay claim to a legitimate chance at the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference—and the home-court advantage against everyone but Chicago, Miami and Orlando—less than two weeks after being left for dead.
That rise comes in no small part from Lin, who never fell.