So the regular season has been under way. I’ve been pretty much in a wait-and-see mode with regard to Jeremy Lin, since it’s a long season and plenty of things could happen. But thought I’d post some of my initial thoughts now that we’ve seen a few regular season games.
So far, the Hornets have pretty much met my expectations in terms of the games they’ve won and lost. The blowout of Chicago was the only big surprise. I expected the Hornets to have a rough start, because they have one of the toughest opening schedules in the league. So them starting out 0-3 wasn’t a big deal to me. It was pretty much expected. Them losing to the Spurs tonight was also expected. In the near term, I expect them to win plenty of games as their schedule eases up, so they’ll be an above .500 team in no time. I have no doubt this Hornets team will make the playoffs.
I’m not worried about the Hornets, but I am concerned about Jeremy Lin. He has looked like a totally different player from the pre-season. In pre-season, I had so much confidence in Jeremy Lin. Pretty much every shot he put up, I expected it to go in. Lin’s handles were good, he played at different speeds, had iso-moves like step-back jumpers, hesitation moves, he drove with a purpose and a plan, he exhibited controlled aggression and was decisive. The Jeremy Lin I’ve witnessed so far in the regular season is a lot closer to the Lin I’ve seen in LA and Houston than in pre-season. He is indecisive, not looking for his shot, not varying his play, and his shooting form no longer looks smooth. In short, Lin is not playing loose and free like he did in pre-season and I think I have an idea as to why.
I remember coach Clifford, after either the first or second regular season game saying something to the effect that the Hornets don’t really have star players so they need to rely on their organization on the floor to be successful. I think this is a good comment by coach Clifford, who has shown me to be a very knowledgeable coach. But this statement also tells me that Clifford doesn’t see Lin as a star player, which is very understandable. So I don’t fault Clifford for this. I fault McFale and Byron “the tank commander” Scott. Those two turned Lin from a star player into a backup so now most in the league see Lin as just a backup and Clifford is no different. Lin is pretty much stuck in that role now unless something drastic happens to jolt people out of this perception.
I think because Clifford doesn’t see Lin as a star player, he likely put restrictions on Lin’s game once the regular season started. In pre-season, I think Clifford was feeling his new guys out and so just let them play. But I think once the regular season started, Clifford may have put more restrictions on Lin’s game by telling him that he needs to keep the ball moving and not hang onto the ball too much. I think those instructions have had a big negative impact on Lin’s game.
Again, I can’t really blame Clifford for this, because that’s good coaching in general. You want guys to dribble less and move the ball more. But, unfortunately, I think a big part of Lin’s game is keeping his dribble alive so that he can probe the defense and see what the defense will give him. This is what Lin did constantly during Linsanity and during pre-season. And this is what coaches allow great point guards to do. But because of McFale/BScott, Clifford is not fully allowing Lin to be THE floor general.
In pre-season, Lin penetrated the defense and kept his dribble alive, looking for plays either for himself or his teammates decisively, because he was just playing his game. It looked like the shackles on Lin were finally off and he was just enjoying playing his game. But now, I think he’s thinking about what he’s doing more, because he doesn’t want to be seen as hanging onto the ball and not keeping it moving. So whenever Lin has the ball now, he’s torn between whether or not he should play his game or move the ball. So he’s not decisive out there. But, unfortunately for Lin, only star players in this league are allowed to hang onto the ball like that. On this team, guys like Kemba and Batum have license to hang onto the ball, but not Lin.
I think this constant struggle between wanting to hang onto the ball and play his game vs. keeping the ball moving is the thing having the biggest impact on Lin’s game. Because of this, he’s thinking way too much out on the floor and not playing loose and free. He’s constantly concerned about whether or not he’s hanging onto the ball for too long. The other thing that may be negatively impacting his game is that I’m sure coach Clifford made a big deal about limiting turnovers after Batum had like seven in the opening regular season game. So I think Lin is being less aggressive than he did during pre-season, because he concerned about turning the ball over. The paradoxical result is that he makes tentative passes and decisions that end up turning the ball over. In pre-season, Lin took risks, but didn’t turn the ball over nearly as much, because he was very decisive and wasn’t timid at all. He exercised controlled aggression. Now, Lin is playing more not to lose than to win, because he’s more concerned about making sure he limits his turnovers.
This indecision and tentativeness is affecting the rest of his game and may possibly be affecting his shooting form, as well. I don’t know. The shooting form is a bit of a mystery to me. In pre-season, his form looked really good. But since game 1 of the regular season his shooting form changed and hasn’t looked smooth at all. It’s a mystery to me how your form can deteriorate so suddenly. But it could be that his indecisiveness in general is causing him to be hesitant in all aspects of his game, because it’s causing him to constantly think out on the court rather than just playing loose and free and acting on his instincts. One clue this could be the case is that in the Spurs game, the only time Lin’s shooting form looked good was in garbage time, when the game no longer mattered and he may have been less anxious so his motion was a lot smoother like it is in practice.
Lin is, once again, in a tough situation. This time, though, for a coach who is well-meaning. Coach Clifford doesn’t have bad intentions for Lin, he’s just trying to do what’s best for the team. And I don’t blame him. The way Lin has played, it’s hard to blame coach Clifford for not trusting Lin. I hate to say it, but it looks like Lin is still not allowed to play his game in Charlotte. At the end of the day, Clifford doesn’t see Lin as a huge piece of the puzzle, so Lin is not given free reign to play his game, despite what Lin may have been promised when he was signed. So as much as I like coach Clifford, Lin is still in a tough situation.
It looks like Lin is going to have to pick his spots in terms of when to attack and play his game and when to move the ball. I think what would help is if Lin decides ahead of time when he will hang onto the ball and when he will move the ball. He also needs to continue to move without the ball to set himself up for situations in which he can surprise the defense and put himself in situations where he has simple decisions to make. Situations where he doesn’t have to break down the defense himself. Once he does this and shows that he is a big factor in winning games, then he can start to hang onto the ball more and more as he gains coach Clifford’s trust. It’ll take time and we’ll see if it happens. Also, Lin has said that coach Clifford understands his game and that he feels comfortable talking to coach Clifford, so I hope Lin is proactive in going to coach Clifford and having a talk with Clifford about his concerns, etc.
In this Spurs game, the one bright spot I saw is that Lin was being more aggressive and looking for his shot a little more, up until he got called for the offensive foul. So I think Lin is fully aware what’s negatively impacting his game and trying to figure it out. That gives me some hope, because at least Lin appears to be aware of what’s going on. But unfortunately I don’t think things will change much for Lin until he can clearly show that he is a big piece of the puzzle. That will take lots of convincing, though. Lin is probably going to have to play out of his mind in order to make it very clear that he is a big factor in winning for the Hornets and it’s not going to be easy doing that from the bench with limited minutes.
I’ve said all along that Lin needs to start if he’s going to be able to have an impact on this team, because he won’t get the minutes he needs if he doesn’t start. So far, Lin’s minutes situation with Hornets is even worse than what I thought it would be from the bench. I had expected Lin to average around 28 minutes, because I thought coach Clifford would play Lin a lot from the bench. But so far I think Lin’s maximum minutes has been around 27 minutes and his average minutes is well below this. Admittedly, the data is skewed somewhat due to limited sample size and the blowout game vs. the Bulls. But I thin it is likely that Lin will continue to receive well under 27 minutes, due to the emergence of Jeremy Lamb. Also, Lin is no longer guaranteed to close games, like I thought he would be. Lamb may have also taken Lin’s spot at closing games, so I expect Lin to close fewer and fewer games and average around 24 minutes if Lamb lives up to his new contract. With 24 minutes, it’s going to be damn near impossible for Lin to really show what he can do and get a good contract in the off-season. And by “good contract”, I’m not just talking about money, I’m also talking about situation (e.g., starting PG position).
I’m still in a wait-and-see approach with Lin, but significantly less optimistic than I was in pre-season. So far, Lin hasn’t done enough for coach Clifford to want to play Lin more. I do believe that if Lin plays like he did in pre-season, which is going to be difficult given his limited minutes, he will get more minutes (it’s a catch 22). So there’s a tiny chance Lin can get more minutes, but he somehow needs to figure out how to play loose and free out on the court, which is basically impossible given his situation. It’s not going to happen overnight. He’ll just have to build up to being able to play loose and free by, again, putting himself in situations where he can be decisive or deciding ahead of time whether or not he’ll hang onto the ball and just execute his plan without hesitation. Just pick his spots on when he’ll hang onto the ball and then hang onto the ball without hesitation. All of this, of course, is easier said than done. All I can do is just watch and see how Lin handles this challenge.