By Alex Kennedy
Senior NBA Writer
The Development of Jeremy Lin
Jeremy Lin just turned 25 years old last month and he’s entering only his second season as a full-time starter in the NBA. Over the course of his three-year career, he has started just 107 regular season games – less starts than fellow up-and-coming point guards Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight among others.
Because of everything that has transpired over the last year and a half, and because Lin is mature beyond his years, it’s easy to forget that the point guard is still a work in progress. Even though Lin has experienced more in his youth than most people – even most professional athletes – do in their lifetime, it can’t be ignored that he’s a relatively young player who still has a lot of growing to do.
Lin understands why he’s held to a higher standard than other young players, but he’s still amused by the heightened expectations and ridiculous criticism directed at him.
“It’s so funny; I guess it’s all about expectations, right?” Lin said with a laugh during a phone interview. “People forget that I’ve started less games than Chandler [Parsons]. I’ve only played in a little over 100 games. I still feel like I’m really young in my career.”
Throughout the course of that brief career, Lin has experienced both ends of the fame spectrum – the rise and the fall, the love and the hate, the praise and the criticism.
He’s had tremendous highs – graduating from Harvard with a 3.1 grade-point average, living out a childhood dream of playing for his hometown Golden State Warriors, becoming an overnight global icon with the New York Knicks, signing a lucrative contract with the Houston Rockets and traveling the world to spread his message of faith and interact with his supporters.
He’s had frustrating lows – being virtually ignored out of high school, going undrafted after a successful four-year run at Harvard, being released by the Warriors and Rockets, playing in the NBA Development League before making it in the NBA, enduring constant criticism in New York and Houston and suffering horribly-timed injuries that kept him sidelined during the last two postseasons.
However, through everything that Lin has been through, he remains the same down-to-earth person. The same person who is extremely humble and faithful. The same person who, despite everything that has happened since Linsanity became part of the national lexicon, appreciates that he’s able to do his absolute favorite thing for a living and inspire people in the process.
“I’ve seen everything,” Lin said. “I’ve seen the top and I’ve seen the bottom. I’ve seen the whole Linsanity thing and I’ve seen the D-League and getting cut. For me, I think having that wide scope of perspective helps me stay more balanced and stay more even keel through ups and downs. It also keeps me from taking anything for granted. Every day, I’m able to appreciate that I’m able to play in the NBA. I realize that this is a gift from God. I think that’s the most important thing.”
While Lin has done a fantastic job managing all of the responsibilities that come with being a global icon, he’s not a fame-seeker. In today’s society, where it seems people will do just about anything to become a semi-celebrity and get their 15 minutes of fame, Lin wasn’t a fan of being the center of attention. At the height of Linsanity, he rarely left his apartment. When he was being offered thousands of dollars to make appearances at clubs, he laughed at the notion of showing up.
When the Rockets signed Dwight Howard this offseason, Lin was obviously ecstatic. He’s excited to play alongside a superstar center, who could help Houston contend in the Western Conference. But that isn’t the only reason that Lin loves the move. He’s equally thrilled about the signing because it means there will be less attention on him in the upcoming season.
“I think it’s going to help because there’s going to be less focus on me,” Lin said. “I think that’s going to give me some space to grow and develop as a player.”
At this point, developing as a player is Lin’s primary focus. He has heard the criticism about his game. He knows that there are some people who believe Patrick Beverley should replace him in Houston’s starting lineup. He realizes that he must play well for the Rockets to reach their full potential.
Lin has been working hard all offseason, and he’s ready for the challenge at hand.
“For the first time in my career, I’m going back to the same team that I was on the year before,” Lin said. “To be able to have that consistency and continuity, that can only help. I don’t know if I’m going to have a breakout year or whatever, but I definitely want to see improvements in my game. Obviously, having Dwight just makes us so much more versatile of a team. For me, I’m going to have to shoot and be efficient. My efficiency is going to have to be at an all-time high next season.”
As Lin pointed out, he must become a more efficient player. Last year, he averaged nearly three turnovers per game and a had an efficiency rating of 14.94, which is just below the league average of 15. Lin mentioned that he has also been working on his “defense, three-point shooting and left hand” this summer. Lin recently traveled to Aspen with Howard to work out with Hakeem Olajuwon and other Rockets coaches, but he has also been training hard on his own for the entire offseason.
Lin’s job should be easier this season now that he has a year of chemistry with most of his teammates and Howard down low. When Lin looks at Houston’s roster, he sees all of the necessary components for them to be a very good team.
“All of the best teams are the ones that have multiple options and multiple weapons,” Lin said. “I think, for us, we have a nice combination. We have a low-post presence, who is probably the best center in the NBA. We have possibly the best shooting guard in the NBA. We have Chandler, who is a shooter and slasher that doesn’t command the ball a lot and plays really well off of other people. Then, I’m also a pick-and-roll guy, who can be on the other side of James so that we’re able to attack both sides of the floor. I think if we do it right, if we draw it up right and if we bind, it’ll really be a well-balanced attack.
“Right now, we’re feeling pretty good, but the end of the day being good on paper doesn’t mean anything. There have been teams in the past that have looked really looked good on paper, but haven’t materialized. For us, we understand that this is just the beginning of the battle and that we haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
Last season, Lin averaged 13.4 points, 6.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 82 regular season games for Houston. However, the postseason was incredibly frustrating for the young point guard. Lin was ineffective in the first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, totaling just 16 points and eight assists. He bruised his chest in Game 2 – an injury that limited him in Game 3 and kept him sidelined for Games 4 and 5. He tried to play in Game 6, but scored just three points in 13 minutes off of the bench. For the second time in two years, an injury ruined Lin’s playoff experience (he missed the 2011-12 postseason with a meniscus tear in his left knee).
“That’s obviously the most frustrating thing,” Lin said. “You work so hard throughout the whole season and then you have to sit on end of the bench in a suit come playoff time, when it really matters. It was frustrating, to say the least. But next year, if we hopefully make playoffs, maybe I’ll be able to appreciate it a little bit more. I’ll also be able to experience being fully healthy during the playoffs. That’s something that I’m really looking forward to.”
That is, assuming Lin is still on the Rockets’ roster come playoff time. Lin’s name surfaced in trade rumors earlier this offseason, shortly after the team acquired Howard. The franchise was reportedly listening to offers for Lin and Omer Asik, gauging interest in the two players they signed to poison-pill contracts last offseason.
While Rockets general manager Daryl Morey recently took to reddit to defend his starting point guard, there’s still the possibility that Lin could be dealt before the trade deadline. Morey is known for wheeling and dealing just before the deadline, and he’ll pull the trigger if the right transaction presents itself. Lin, for his part, isn’t worried about the trade rumors.
“It’s just part of it,” Lin said of the trade rumors. “We’ve all had to deal with it, the guys who have played in the league, except for a select few. For me, I’ve dealt with it for my whole career. I mean, I’ve dealt with rumors about being cut so I can deal with trade rumors.”
“I still remember what it was like being on the edge of my seat and wondering if I was even going to be on a roster tomorrow,” Lin adds with a laugh, “so this is nothing.”
Lin may carry himself like a wise veteran and consummate professional, but he’s still just a kid. Let’s not forget that when evaluating him as a player. As he’s quick to point out, he has seen everything throughout the course of his journey. However, there’s something that we haven’t seen: Lin realizing his full potential and becoming the best player that he can be.