It’s a bit late in the evening, and I should be in bed, but something truly needs to be said about #Linsanity.
Surely by now, you’ve heard of the multidimensional phenomenon that has quickly become known as #Linsanity. If you have not, I’ll provide a brief synopsis. The New York Knicks’ backup point guard Jeremy Lin, a second year player out of Harvard and of Taiwanese-American descent, has had three very strong games for the Knicks. His contributions have come at an opportune time, with the Knicks’ two stars, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire out, and the embattled head coach, Mike D’Antoni, fighting for his job. In his last three games, Lin has averaged 25.3 points, 8 assists, and just over 3.5 rebounds on 60% shooting in about 39 minutes per game. The Knicks have won all three of these games.
Much has been written about these three games, and the hysteria that has grown around the point guard who has, as the San Francisco Chronicle put it, become the “toast of New York,” is as impressive as it is diverse. For some, the #Linsanity around these three games has placed Jeremy Lin in the same class as Deron Williams, Steve Nash and Chris Paul. For others, it has vaulted Jeremy Lin from “NBA novelty act to Knicks’ star.” #Linsanity has even transcended sports analysis, and crossed into racial and economic analysis. Some have called out the “subtle bigotry” that has informed recent literature created in response. Others have giddily pointed out that Jeremy Lin is now raising the average price of a Knicks’ ticket. The point is, much has been written, in a variety of places, about three games of solid basketball played by a somewhat unlikely player. This is truly a phenomenon, at least in a journalistic and social media sense.
I may have more to add later. I probably won’t. But — if I may — I just bring someone up, who might allow us to view #Linsanity in a slightly different light: Chris Duhon.
For some of you, you’re wondering, “how the hell does Chris Duhon have anything to do with Jeremy Lin and #Linsanity?” For most of you, you’re wondering: “who the hell is Chris Duhon?” I can briefly provide clarity on both those points. Duhon, now a third string point guard for the Orlando Magic who rarely sees court time, once was the starting point guard for the New York Knicks. In fact, he has the distinction of being Mike D’Antoni’s first ever starting point guard whose name wasn’t Steve Nash. The two teamed up in D’Antoni’s first season as Knicks head coach after his ouster from Phoenix. Duhon started for a team with similar talent to the Melo and/or STAT-less Knicks that have taken the floor these past three games. The Knicks got off to a hot start (7-3), before coming back down to earth, and finishing 32-50. The record doesn’t really matter. What does matter is about fifty of those games, when Chris Duhon, career backup, was putting up video game stats.
For fifty games, between November 9th, 2008, and February 28th, 2009, Duhon was arguably among the best point guards in the NBA. As Basketball-Reference shows, Duhon averaged 14.3 points, 9.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game. During that streak, Duhon had some ridiculous games. On December 1st, Duhon put up 12 points and a Knicks’ franchise record 22 assists in a win against (who else?) the Golden State Warriors. He followed that up the next night with a 23 point, 12 assist outing against the Portland Trailblazers. He had a streak where he scored in double digits (with a point total of no less than 13) for 14 out of 15 games, and had a few 14 assist nights. For fifty games, Chris Duhon was pretty good. Then, he got injured, missed about a week, and failed to produce at the same rate as he did before he went down. However, the story is shockingly similar to Lin, who to date, has been good for far fewer games.
What separates Duhon from Lin is that at the time Duhon was putting up big numbers, no one really gave a shit. That’s not surprising. The Knicks weren’t a very good team, nor were they expected to be. The only exultation of greatness (as far as I could find, and admittedly at 1:00 am, I didn’t look that hard) was this retrospectively hilarious Bill Simmons column, where Simmons excitedly glorifies the SSOL offense that turned “a career backup” into “a cross between Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson and Scott Howard during the ‘I Don’t Need to Be the Wolf for Us to Win’ game,” and postulates that Steve Nash was slowing down.
Well, we see how that turned out, for Duhon, Nash, and even D’Antoni. Yet, even if Jeremy Lin doesn’t hit double figures in another game in his life, we’ll always be able to Google “Linsanity,” and there will be a veritable corncopuia of discourse related to a magical three game stretch where Jeremy Lin was the vaccine to the Knicks’ polio. More importantly, at least in my opinion, is that this discourse won’t just be from ESPN — there will be entries from all the major newspapers, and blogs race, politics, economics, academics, and of course, basketball.
After considering Chris Duhon’s brief run of statistical stardom under D’Antoni, I offer four hypotheses about #Linsanity, as it stands after three games.
1. Lots of people have been successful — at least offensively — in D’Antoni systems. Just ask Chris Duhon.
2. Given this, it seems reasonable to conclude that Jeremy Lin is not a big deal because of his stats. He’s a big deal because of his race.
3. It is unlikely that Jeremy Lin is the long term answer to the Knicks’ well-chronicled point guard woes. And, given the way D’Antoni systems have been known to inflate statistics, it is not likely that Jeremy Lin is a starting point guard in the league. He is, however, your answer as (1) a quality backup, which is hard to find in the Association, and (2) a legit trade chip who can produce for your team, and put warm (Asian) butts in the seats.
4. Jeremy Lin — and #Linsanity, as a phenomenon — has only been possible because the Knicks were under a microscope anyways. With the rabid New York media feasting on the carrion that was the 2011-2012 New York Knicks, all attention was on this struggling club, and eager for a new story. Lin has provided that in a big way — for the last five days, at least.
I do not expect Jeremy Lin to keep producing at the level he’s currently performing at. But, I watched Jeremy Lin struggle through his first professional season with the Warriors. Needless to say, it was clear this was going to be a struggle for him. But, if only for three games, Lin has captured the imaginations of NBA fans in Tebow-esque fashion. That always makes for excitement in a slow NBA news week.