This preseason exhibition in China vs. Clippers is not just another preseason game for Jeremy Lin. He admitted as much in one of his interviews after practice. In a sold-out crowd, where all eyes were on Lin, there was a lot of pressure to give the crowd their money’s worth. And Jeremy Lin did not disappoint. Lin finished with 16 points (he had 10 points in his first 12 minutes on the floor) on 6 of 12 shooting with 4 assists. He and Zeller lead the Hornets in scoring and Lin lead the team in +/- with a +23. Hornets had seven players in double-digits!
Before I get to Lin’s performance, I just want to say that I’m liking the contrast between the no fucks given bowl cut look (which I can’t stand, by the way) on non-game nights and the no fucks given Super Saiyan Mohawk (which I love) on game nights. All kidding aside, wearing the hair differently on game nights I think does get his mind psychologically ready to compete. It’s like how warriors put on war paint when they’re getting ready for battle. I was really hoping that he’d spike up his hair tonight like he did during media day, so was glad to see it. Hope he continues this ritual.
What impressed me tonight was not just Lin’s stats. It was his controlled aggression. Pretty much every time he had the ball in his hands, he was looking to make something happen, yet he wasn’t forcing anything. He didn’t waste any possessions. He was also playing very fast, but under control and injected the team with lots of energy when he was out there. +/- is not always a good indication of a player’s effectiveness, but for Jeremy Lin tonight, it was very telling. He definitely was a big factor in the Hornets taking care of business (106-94 win) against a very talented Clippers squad (albeit without their main guy Chris Paul).
Lin didn’t waste anytime going to work tonight. He immediately got back-to-back points the moment he stepped on the court. Lin didn’t start tonight, but he did finish with the most minutes on the team with 27:44 minutes played. I’m sure part of this has to do with pleasing the crowd, but I think Clifford is really trying to test Lin out in different situations, because he wants to see whether or not it’s a good idea to start Lin or if Lin is needed more with the second unit. I think Coach Cliff is still conflicted. But if Brian Roberts continues to surprise like he has been, then Lin’s probability of starting increases.
The big concern with Roberts is that he needs to show that he can be a distributor. So far, he’s looking more like an undersized shooting guard that’s a very good ball handler, but not so much a willing passer, who can make plays for others. Not knowing Roberts’s game, I’m guessing that he’s ball hogging, because he feels pressured to prove himself in the preseason to earn more playing time, because I think he does have passing abilities. He’s just choosing to hog the ball to prove himself and so far, I think it’s working for him. I’m hoping that Coach Cliff feels comfortable enough with Roberts running the second unit that he’ll start Lin. We’ll see. The only thing is, I like the chemistry that Lin has with Hawes and Zeller, who are also very unselfish players. So if Lin starts, he’ll have less time with Hawes and Zeller. But that’s not too big of a deal. I’m sure Lin can develop chemistry with the starters, as long as they play unselfishly. We’ll see.
One thing I’ve been noticing from watching Lin’s clips during practice and in this game is that Lin’s shooting stroke has improved. It’s smoother and he is actually looking to shoot now, rather than being hesitant to shoot. I hear that Lin tweaked his shooting motion slightly during this off-season, so I think he’s feeling much more confident with his stroke. Tonight, Lin didn’t hesitate to shoot the ball and, early on, he was 5 for 6 from the field. I hope his confidence with his shooting continues. If so, Lin ‘s pretty much unstoppable, because if the defense is up too close, he’ll blaze by the defense and if they give him room, he’ll shoot the ball. Lin had a play tonight that reminded me a little of the famous Raptors game during Linsanity. There was a little over 24 seconds left in the 3rd quarter and Lin dribbled out the clock and nailed a dagger beyond the arc with seconds left on the shot clock. Lin was very confident tonight and that shot was emblematic of it!
The other thing I really like about Lin tonight is that he was in control the entire time. This is an aspect of his game that he has really continued to develop. He’s able to keep his dribble alive and wait for a play to set up, rather than force situations. He did that a lot tonight when he was playing PG, which wasn’t as often as he should have been. Would dribble through the lane, looping behind the basket, trying to see if something would set up, while keeping his dribble alive. This is something that would have earned him a seat on the bench in Houston, so I’m glad Lin feels free enough to do this here. This is something that he did during Linsanity and is something that a lot of great point guards, such as Chris Paul and Steve Nash, do regularly. I have a feeling we’re going to see Lin do a lot of this this season, which is a sign that Lin is allowed to play his game with the Hornets.
I’m hoping that Coach Cliff is letting Brian Roberts handle the ball a lot during the preseason to see whether or not Roberts can handle being the primary PG for the second unit so he can start Lin. We’ll see. But if Lin continues to be a backup shooting guard, I would NOT be cool with that. Walker and Lin should be the primary ball handlers for this team–especially if Lin is not going to start!
Here’s the most comprehensive highlight reel I’ve found of the game (Note: it’s in Mandarin):
My favorite play of the night was on a broken play where Lin faked shooting a three only to pass it to Hawes down low, who immediately did a wrap-around pass to Williams for an easy bucket (at 4:00 market of above video). I love the unselfishness of that play on the part of Hawes. Hawes was near the basket and could have tried to score himself, but by making the extra pass, he made it an easy bucket for the Hornets and that’s what team ball is all about. Making the extra pass. Another great example of sharing the ball last night involved Lin, Hawes and Zeller, who have great chemistry together, because they’re all unselfish players. The play occurred in the middle of the fourth quarter, when Lin dished it to Zeller down low, then Zeller immediately passed it to a cutting Hawes, who immediately gave it back to Zeller for an easy dunk.
Hawes didn’t have a good shooting night (4 of 14), but he was effective tonight, grabbing 13 rebounds and did a lot of the little things that don’t go on the stat sheet. I felt like he knew where to be on the court and helped spacing and setting screens, etc. Also, although he did attempt the most field goals (which is surprising to me), I thought he played unselfishly. Cody Zeller was the other star of the night for me, going 6 for 6 from the field and finishing with 16 points, which ties Lin for the team high. Zeller also had a lot of energy and had good connection with Lin. One of the memorable plays between Lin and Zeller is a no-look pass to Zeller for an easy bucket at the rim. Walker also showed a lot of energy tonight. I think he really wanted to give the Chinese fans a show. He played very aggressively and tried to make things happen whenever he got the ball, just like Lin. He finished with 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting and 5 assists. And, Brian Roberts continues to surprise, finishing with 12 points on 5 of 7 shooting and 4 assists. Lamb started off poorly, but did much better in the second half and finished with 12 points on 4 of 8 shooting and 4 assists. So the guards on the Hornets as a whole are continuing to shine in the preseason.
I don’t know anything about Roberts, but I hope what he’s doing is sustainable, because Hornets really need a solid backup PG, which is what Roberts can be (again, he just needs to work on being more of a distributor). I see Lin and Walker starting as combo guards. And I’m hoping Coach Cliff sees this, as well. Lin is a starter in this league and belongs in the starting lineup. Also, starters have a much better chance of playing big minutes and finishing games. For this Hornets team to have a chance at making the playoffs, they need big minutes from Lin and they need Lin to finish games. So I think the best way for this to happen is for Lin to start. Walker and Lin need to share PG duties on the floor. To me, this is the best solution for the Hornets. We’ll see if Coach Cliff can figure this out.
I’m still expecting Lin to start in the second game in China. If Cliff really wants to see how Lin and Walker play together, then China is the perfect opportunity for him to start Lin and test out this lineup. I think Coach Cliff is a little reluctant, because Lin and Walker haven’t played together in practice and Lin may have more chemistry with the second unit, since he practices with them. I don’t know. My concern is that Cliff will start Lin in the next game in China and Lin has a let down game, causing Cliff to give up on the idea of starting Lin. I just hope Cliff is wise enough not to give up on the idea of starting Lin/Walker after only trying it out once or twice. We’ll see.