Is Jeremy Lin a Pro?
Ivy Leaguer hopes to find his place in the League.
by Colin Powers
In the modern era of college hoops, it’s not often we visit the Ivy League with anything resembling intrigue or excitement. The backdoor cuts of Pete Carrill’s now aptly named Princeton Offense that brought down mighty UCLA in the early 90s are long gone. The brief reign of UPenn as a perennial contender to spring an upset during the years that followed Coach Carrill’s retirement have also acquiesced into history. As far as hoop goes, there has been very little to bring us to any of the hallowed halls of academic achievement that mark the Ivy League landscape in recent years (beyond of course my boy Chris Skrelja killin’ it for Brown). Until this year.
Cornell has built on the buzz of its recent past and matured into a very dangerous team. They play determined, principled defense and stretch the floor with a collection of dangerous 3-point shooters. Stocked with upperclassmen who have ‘been to a rodeo or two’, they are a squad bearing all the markings of a potential Cinderella. They should have beat Kansas…in Lawrence, and it was far from a fluke performance (as Kansas coaches and players acknowledged).
There is also an individual player generating some whispers of hype here and there and occasionally showing up on some NBA scouting radars. His name is Jeremy Lin, the 6’3 combo-guard for the Harvard Crimson. The senior out of Pala Alto, California jumped into national consciousness after dropping 30 on UConn, following it up three nights later with a 25 point performance against my alma mater, Boston College. And while BC and UConn have clearly seen better days, UConn at least still boasts two of the most explosive guards in the college game (Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson), giving further credibility to Lin’s game. And while these kind of outbursts may have surprised some, I’m sure it didn’t surprise Lin, who has been filling up stat sheets for the past three seasons (12.6ppg, 4.8rpg, 3.6apg as a sophomore, 17.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.3 apg as a junior, 16.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.4 apg this season).
This past Saturday, I watched Lin in person for the first time, and was certainly not the only interested observer in attendance (a Magic scout was amongst those credentialed). Harvard was over in Jersey to take on the Princeton Tigers in the final game of both team’s regular seasons. In the spacious, airplane hangar-esque arena with nothing of any tangible significance on the line, the two teams went at it. Maybe they’re playing for the unofficial right to address the opposing institution as a “safety school” for the following year if victorious, I don’t know.
Lin played off the ball for most of the game, a curious decision by Coach Tommy Amaker given that he is clearly Harvard’s best option to break down the defense off the dribble. Brandyn Curry is no slouch, but playing Lin at the 2 within Amaker’s offensive philosophy did not get Jeremy all that many touches. Indeed, when Lin did get the ball in a position to do something with it, three times he calmly caught the ball of a screen before using his quick first step and immediately sweeping low and exploding past his man baseline. In the small sample size of this one game, he seemed to prefer attacking to his left, and did not usually have a difficult time shedding his one on one defender. He showed impressive strength and confidence around the basket, challenging bigger men to get a bucket or a trip to the free-throw line (for the season, he took 190 FTs in 28 games). Also, on those few occasions when Lin received an outlet off a Princeton miss and directly took the lead in Harvard’s transition game, he displayed his point-guard acumen and vision to find the best shot available off the break.
Lin was also fairly active on defense and did a quality job of denying his man the ball and staying in front when matched up. Additionally, his help-side positioning was fairly sound throughout the evening, and his hands were consistently active around the ball.
Now, there are also a number of holes in Lin’s game, at least on Saturday. Despite being the most talented player on the court, he seemed very passive at times and never fully imposed his will on the run of play. He drifted a lot on offense, catching and moving the ball to the next man without really looking to challenge the defense. Lin needed to be getting into the lane all night for Harvard to be dangerous, but for the most part, he seemed content to blend in. Perhaps his lack of assertiveness can be blamed on the foul-trouble he negotiated for the majority of the game, but nonetheless, Lin was far from dominant out there. Furthermore, when he did look to penetrate, twice Lin left his feet without knowing where he was going with the ball, turning the ball over and leading to Princeton run-outs (and was also lazy on a few post entry passes).
Another major worry for me is his jump-shot. Though he has compiled pretty solid percentages this season (35% 3FG, 52% FG), his mechanics are less than ideal. His release point is almost behind his head, requiring him to cock the ball back and slowing the whole process down a bit. In general, the more motion there is in a shot, the more room there is for something to go wrong, leading to inconsistency. That said, some shooters can get past these kinds of technical errors through lots of work and repetition, and Lin may very well be capable of that. It will make stretching his range out more difficult, however.
As a synopsis, it is complicated evaluating a player when he is not surrounded by the appropriate talent necessary to really give credence to such an evaluation. This is one of the reasons drafting high school players yielded such unpredictable results. It’s tough to determine prospective success at the NBA level when basing such a judgment on how a player is performing at a much lower level of competition. In the case of Jeremy Lin, playing in a game that doesn’t mean anything for a post-season future at the standard of the Ivy League, it is not overly surprising he did not shine as bright as he might have otherwise. Whatever the explanation though, I still have a hard time seeing him in the NBA. He’d be at most average sized for a PG at the next level, but does not quite have the cat-quickness of those similarly smallish players. Further, playing off the ball as he did for the large part of the game, I was not able to establish if his handle was quite up to the standard of the El. He did flash a quick, low crossover on one occasion, but that was just about it. Without that handle, or truly dead-eye shooting from the outside (and he may very well have a tough time with the NBA 3-point line because of his mechanical hiccups), I have a hard time seeing Lin making it through a training camp next autumn.
Only time will tell though…if a player can find the right situation at the right time, sometimes that’s all it takes to latch on and become a fixture in the League.