Jeremy Lin’s struggle to find his game is mostly mental

I want to stress that it’s still very early, but in the first three pre-season games, Jeremy Lin hasn’t been himself, or at least the player fans love to see play last season. In the first two games, he still did a pretty solid job. My biggest criticism has been that he isn’t being aggressive enough–especially in creating for himself. Lin’s hyper-aggressive play, which does produce a higher number of turnovers, has been what has made him exciting to watch and also effective as a point guard. So far, Lin has played very passively–especially for his standards.

If I were to speculate on the underlying reasons for his not being himself on the court, I think it’s predominantly mental. I know there’s been some talk about him still not 100% recovered form his knee surgery. That may be a small part of it, but I don’t think it’s the predominant reason.

Overall, I think Lin’s got way too much on his mind. He says that he doesn’t pay attention to all that stuff off the court, but I think you’d have to be a robot to not think about all those things. All the hype and expectations, etc. I think the media’s relentless questions about him being the face of the franchise and him doing everything he can to deny that has affected his game. I’m going to start doing some major speculation, here, so I totally understand if readers completely disagree with what I’m saying. I have no basis for my speculations and am fully ready to accept that I’m wrong if it turns out that I’m way off base. I want to just get that out of the way.

Now onto the wild speculations. I think Lin really got self-conscious about all of the talk about him being the face of the franchise. In interviews, he confessed that he’s embarrassed seeing big billboards of him all over Houston. As a result, I think he may have made extra effort to seem insignificant at the start of training camp, so that his teammates wouldn’t think he has a big head. And when he took to the courts during scrimmage and such, he purposefully didn’t play hyper-aggressively and chose to pass to his teammates and be more of a traditional point guard so he wouldn’t seem like he’s trying to be a star, trying to score the ball. Some of his teammates may have seen Lin for the first time and their first impression was that they’re not very impressed and deep down felt that he’s all hype. So they weren’t going to concede any leadership role to Lin. As training camp went on, Lin might have started to realize that he needs to start playing his game, but I think at that point, it might have been a little late to change the dynamics that he created. And once the pre-season games started, he hadn’t had enough practice playing his hyper-aggressive style of play that he is having a momentary lapse in finding his game. I think in the first pre-season game, he was okay with playing passively and feeling things out. But I think he has tried to play a little more aggressively in the last two pre-season games, but he’s not able to get into that rhythm, because he hadn’t done it in so long. Also, his teammates haven’t given him the role as an offensive leader on the court, because he hasn’t earned it. And I think Lin really needs to be the offensive leader on the court to play his game, because he needs confidence to direct the offense and the liberty to create for himself.

In the pre-season against the Spurs, Lin missed a lot of good looks, including an open trey to end the half. All these misses have to do with lack of confidence or thinking too much. When he went into the locker-room, I could see Lin visibly frustrated. In fact it’s the most frustrated I’ve seen Lin, since I’ve watched him play. I think missing the open buzzer beater trey before the half really got to him, because he’s normally pretty good at buzzer beaters.

Lin really tried hard in the Spurs game and it amounted to his worst pre-season performance. In the other two games, I don’t think Lin tried very hard to be aggressive and play his game. He was just feeling things out. But in the Spurs game, I could tell that he felt it was time for him to start playing his game again. He tried to be less unselfish and it didn’t work out too well, so I think he’s really concerned about that. During the second quarter, when he realized that he just didn’t have it, Lin would just immediately pass the ball to one of his teammates right when he crossed the half court line on a lot of possessions. Now, I’m not sure if that’s by design, because they’re setting up a play that didn’t involve him. Could be, but it didn’t look like it to me.

I think right now, Lin has a lot on his mind and is working through all of it. He’s realizing, much as I’m, that Lin might not be needed to go Linsane in Houston. So I think when he’s on the court, he’s constantly battling between whether or not he should go Linsane or play passively. In sports, indecisiveness is a killer. The ideal is to be in a state of flow, where you’re just doing and not really thinking about what you’re doing. This was Lin during Linsanity. There were no expectations. He was just free to play his heart out. There was no one demanding the ball. He could just do whatever he wanted with the ball. There was no fear of turning over the ball, since his high turnovers hadn’t become a “thing” yet.

I think at this stage, there’s just so much on Lin’s mind when he’s on the court that he hasn’t been able to just play. If I were his coach or in his inner circle, I would recommend he see a therapist or Tony Robbins. He needs help letting go of all the clutter in his mind that’s holding him back from playing his game. Hope the people around him realize this sooner rather than later. Or I hope he’s mentally tough enough to overcome this psychological hurdle. He has shown himself to be very mentally tough, so if anyone could do it, Lin could.

What I’ve written above is the bad case scenario (the worst case scenario and least likely scenario is that Lin’s knee is still very weak and there’s a good chance it could get re-injured and that’s why he’s been so tentative). The best case scenario is that Lin is just finding his role on the team and the problem for his struggles is a tactical one, rather than a psychological one. He’s got a bunch of new teammates and it’s the pre-season, so he’s just feeling things out, just like his fellow teammates. I hope this is the case, but considering all the things Lin has to deal with, I think his struggle has to do with something much more than this.

Of course it’s still very early to make much of Lin’s struggle. After all, he only really struggled in the game against the Spurs, who is a well-oiled machine. In that game, his teammates, such as Parsons, also struggled to play their game. So we’ll wait and see how Lin handles things once the season starts. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Machado, who’s an undrafted point guard the Rockets picked up, pulls the Linsanity on Lin? I know it’s blasphemy for me to make that statement for Lin fans, but thought I’d just throw it out there.

Machado was one of the few players on the Rockets who looked good against the Spurs. He’s expected to go to the developmental league once the season starts, just because they want him to get more playing time under his belt. But I fully expect him to be back with the team at some point in the season. I think he’s got incredible court vision. He didn’t play in a big time school, but he lead all college players in assists, I believe. I think something like that is hard to ignore and it’s got Linsanity written all over it.

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  • MrPingPong

    I would like to add another wild speculation. After reading Rocket Man on GQ (http://www.gq.com/sports/profiles/201211/jeremy-lin-gq-november-2012-cover-story), I can’t help but think that Jeremy Lin left his heart in New York and hasn’t gotten it back. Without the heart, there is no mind.
    My apologies to Jeremy Lin and his fans, should I am completely off about this.

  • sam

    Anyone here?

    • Yes. How can I help you? (I’m the author of this blog, even though I have a different screen name).

  • hkau

    Looking forward to seeing your conclusions.

    Cheers

    • No conclusions, just yet. We’ll see how things go once the season starts. Last night, Lin had a good game and showed some signs that he’s trying to be more aggressive in getting his own shots. He also nailed 3 of 4 treys. From an interview I saw of his shooting coach over the summer, I had expected to see improvement to Lin’s shooting game and his shots did look very good, yesterday. Hopefully, yesterday was the breakout game that Lin needed.

      Maybe Lin’s struggle is just due to the fact that he still doesn’t have all of his explosiveness and it’s just starting to come back. That’s why he has been playing so passively and is just starting to play like he used to. If this is the case, then that’s good news, because that’s very normal and expected of any NBA player. After surgery, it usually takes some time to get everything back to the way you were pre-siurgery. You might be 100% in terms of being healed, but it takes some time playing NBA-caliber games to get your rhythm and everything back the way you had it.

      During these pre-season games, at least, Lin has found ways of helping the team win games, despite struggling to score himself. This shows that Lin does a lot of valuable things on the court, besides scoring. So Rockets fans should be encouraged by that. Hopefully, Lin will come out of this shooting slump once the regular season starts, but I suspect it will take a month or so. If his struggle isn’t mental, then it’s really nothing to worry about for Lin fans. All NBA players go through shooting slumps. Even great scorers, like Carmelo Anthony, have shooting slumps that last for months.

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