The longstanding and undeniable lure of playing in Los Angeles, particularly for the Lakers, seems to have been lost on this year’s batch of free agents. The Clippers were able to sign Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar, but the Lakers struck out on everyone. They managed to re-up Jordan Hill and Nick “Swaggy P” Young, but the only free agent they could convince to leave his former team to don the Laker purple and gold was Ed Davis - not exactly what you would call making a splash in free agency.
Somehow, the chance to play with Kobe Bryant coming off two major operations, a 40-year-old Steve Nash, bench-warmer extraordinaire Robert Sacre, and Julius Randle’s questionable foot wasn’t a sweet enough deal for the LeBrons or Melos of the world. Heck, it didn’t even convince the Lances or the Isaiahs.
The Lakers weren’t completely dormant during the player movement frenzy, however, as they were able to grab Jeremy Lin from a Houston team trying to cut salary in order to clear room for Carmelo Anthony (who re-signed with the Knicks) or Chris Bosh (who went back to the Heat). The “Linsanity” days are a distant memory at this point, but Lin has quietly become a valuable player over his last two seasons in Houston and could be poised to shine under LA’s bright lights.
His continuing development as a player will forever be overshadowed by that month-and-a-half that he lit New York on fire, but it shouldn’t be ignored. His averages of 12.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.0 steal per game last year were his lowest since we learned who the heck he was, but were largely due to a role reduction. A closer look at his numbers actually shows that he has made strides in improving in important areas over the last few years, despite being somewhat of an afterthought in Houston.
Two areas, in particular, where he has displayed steady improvement are in efficiency and ball control. He may not be scoring as many points these days, but he’s certainly doing more with his possessions.
His field goal percentage has stayed relatively steady over the last three seasons (I’m ignoring the 285 negligible minutes he played for the Warriors in 2010-11), but he has improved his long-range accuracy each year. Considering that a career-high 34.6% of his field goal attempts were from deep last year, the added accuracy did wonders for his advanced efficiency splits. His 50.8% effective field goal percentage (weighted two and threes) and 57.2% true shooting percentage (weighted twos, threes, and free throws) both represented career highs.
As for ball control, he’s lowered his turnover average in each of the last three seasons. There has been a fair bit of minute and role fluctuation over that time, but the diminishing turnover percentage (estimated turnovers per 100 possessions) tracks the improvement well. For what it’s worth, his 18.4 rate last year is lower than all but one of Rajon Rondo’s seasons and lower than Steve Nash has hit in a decade.
He might not be putting up “Linsane” numbers on the surface, but he has quietly become a more efficient player. His offensive rating (points his team scored per 100 possessions while he was on the floor) is vastly improved as well, climbing each of the last three years to a career high 107.2 this past season.
Linteresting Defensive Developments
As a defender, Lin is certainly not going to make an All-Defensive team anytime soon, but he’s not quite as bad as some would have you believe. He lost minutes to Patrick Beverley this year because it became necessary for the Rockets to pair James Harden, a notoriously bad defender, with a lockdown perimeter stopper.
Lin didn’t fit that bill as well as All-Defensive honoree Beverley, but he has gotten marginally better in that area without anyone really noticing. In fact, the Rockets had a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 102.0 last season with Lin on the floor (third best of anyone who played over 1,000 minutes for the Rockets last year) and dropped to 104.3 when he was off. He’s not quite there yet, but he’s not getting blown by nearly as much as he used to, at the very least.
Linvading the Lane
Of course, regardless of any incremental improvement in efficiency or defense, Jeremy Lin’s calling card will always be the way he utilizes his speed and athleticism to penetrate and attack the rim. He might not be the top story on SportsCenter anymore, but he’s still doing that regularly.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Lin’s 57.9% shooting on drives last season was second among players who took a minimum of 7 attempts, trailing only LeBron James at 63.8%. That style should work perfectly fine with the Lakers, who were seventh in the NBA in drives per game last season with 18.2 per game.
Linputting Him in L.A.
That said, the Lakers are still without a head coach, so it’s a bit tough to know exactly how Lin will fit into a system that’s not yet in place. Even so, our nERD metric - which estimates how many wins a team would finish a season over .500 if said player was in its starting lineup with four league-average players - is higher on Lin than anyone who played point guard for the Lakers last season.
Even at a relatively average 0.1, Lin’s score was better than those of Jodie Meeks (-1.0), Steve Nash (-1.1), Jordan Farmar (-2.5), Steve Blake (-2.6), and Kendall Marshall (-4.9). With Jordan Hill actually being the only Laker to have a nERD score above 0.0 last season (at 2.6), it’s not hard to call the acquisition of Lin a net positive for the Lakers. In terms of win shares, his 4.4 last season would have ranked him second on the team as well, trailing only Jodie Meeks at 4.5
So there you have it. Jeremy Lin is not likely to rekindle the “Linsanity” madness from his New York days in LA (nor should he be expected to do so anymore), but his driving abilities and steady improvements in efficiency, ball control, and defense make for a nice package nonetheless.
As a player who embodied the words “hype” and “overrated” for the better part of his young career, one could even say that he’s heading to LA as a slightly underrated player - something one rarely gets a chance to say about incoming Lakers. In what has been a decidedly lackluster offseason for the purple and gold, the possibility of Lin continuing his upward trajectory next season is a reason for at least some optimism in La-La Land (at a minimum, that’s what people should be telling Kobe). Worst case scenario, he's only got one year left on his contract and the Lakers will have a chance to re-evaluate him next offseason.
For now, bring on the awful puns!