Indulge me for a moment. Let’s pretend that Jeremy Lin didn’t go to Harvard. Pretend that he wasn’t undrafted and that he isn’t Taiwanese. For our purposes, his background is an abstraction.
Likewise, pretend Linsanity™ never happened. Not the games, only the surrounding phenomenon. Pretend that the maelstrom his rise produced never occurred.
For a moment, let’s just focus on the basketball.
As a NBA basketball player, this is what we know about Jeremy Lin. It’s pretty much all we know. And, frankly, it’s really good. Even during his rookie season, when he barely played, the limited sample foretold a good player. Most point guards his age and with his level of experience don’t typically perform nearly as well, even ones that go on to become great. Don’t believe me? Check out how Steve Nash performed in his early 20s in the NBA. Or Chauncey Billups. Or Gary Payton.
Better yet, check out some of the players on the free agent market that folks have been suggesting are better options than Lin is: Raymond Felton; D.J. Augustin; C.J. Watson; John Lucas III. When you actually look at it, even had it been possible to sign one of these players (it wasn’t really), the idea that the Knicks should choose any of these guys over Lin is exposed as preposterous.
A number of stat-oriented analysts have already observed that point guards that perform as well as Lin has at the same age typically go on to become NBA stars. Check out John Hollinger’s closest comparators for Lin. Or Bradford Dolittle’s. Or Carl Bialik’s.
I’m not asking anyone to accept that Lin will become a great point guard. Personally, I think there’s a decent chance, but who knows? But I am asking, why is he so controversial? Why does the idea that it’s possible he’ll be great offend so many people? And why are people so up in arms about Lin, simply playing by the rules under the CBA, getting the same contract as the Rockets gave to Omer Asik–an offer that the Bulls are rumored to be seriously considering matching? (Asik averaged 3 points and 5 rebounds in roughly 15 minutes per game last season. Like Lin, for the 2014-15 season he’s going to be paid $15 million. True story.) Asik’s contract sparked about an hour of guffaws on twitter. Fans and reporters have been obsessing over what Lin will be paid for weeks. It’s silly.
But I think the answer is obvious. It’s because Lin went to Harvard. And because he was a twice waived, undrafted free agent. He’s Taiwanese. And yes, it’s because his unusual story and a bizarre confluence of events sparked a worldwide obsession over Linsanity™.
But to get to Lin, the NBA basketball player, you have to forget all that crap. And you have to accept that it’s at least possible that the entire industry missed on a great player. You have to accept that a lot of people, whose jobs revolve entirely around identifying and procuring the best basketball talent in the world, misjudged Jeremy Lin’s ability. And it is possible. It happens all the time in other sports, if only infrequently in basketball. But it looks like this might be one of those times.
Ask yourself: If Jeremy Lin had been a high lottery pick and performed this well, how would you feel about him?
Forget the story. Just focus on the player.
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