There’s no need to rehash exactly how Jeremy Lin has risen to superstardom in the past 10 days. Basically the Knicks PG recently known to most fans as “that Asian kid from Harvard” has blown up five games in a row, going for the incredible averages of 27 ppg, 8 apg, and 2.0 spg, all while shooting a stellar 52% from the field and using his innate aggression to get to the free throw line 8.4 times a night. With team “superstars” Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire sidelined, the Knicks have reeled off five consecutive victories in the only five games that Lin has played meaningful minutes. The many similarities between Lincanity and Tebow-mania are obvious, so the question we all asked a couple months ago that needs to be asked now is: Can this last?
Beyond the common sense answer of “Of course not since Anthony and Stoudemire have their own agendas that often detract from team success,” let’s look at some places where the statistics indicate that Lin, and by extension the Knicks, will come crashing back to reality soon.
1. His turnover totals are really high. Over the past 5 games, Lin has turned the ball over 23 times, with 20 of those coming in 3 of the contests (6, 6, and 8). Those are a terrible amount of turnovers, and those three games happen to be the ones in which New York didn’t face the horrendous Wizards or Nets (so we’re talking about the Jazz, Lakers, and T-Wolves). Those 3 clubs are a combined 43-41 and none of them are very good at forcing turnovers; they’re simply the better three overall defenders of those five clubs, and Lin had a disastrous 23-to-20 assist-to-turnover ratio against them. As fun as it is to watch him fly into the paint after curling off a high screen, it’s clear he often isn’t sure who he’s passing it to by the time he gets near the basket if it’s being defended well (regularly trying to find a teammate after he’s already jumped). Considering even I can spot this problem, you can bet every teams’ scouts know this as well and will force him into poor passing decisions in traffic as much as possible. And it’s not like he has a history of strong decision-making with the ball. Over his junior and senior seasons in the severely underwhelming Ivy League, Lin racked up 250 assists and 196 turnovers, a very poor 1.28 ast/to ratio. Last season when he played regularly in 20 contests for the Reno Bighorns in the D-League, Lin’s 1.61 ratio (87 assists to 54 turnovers) was far worse than those of Aaron Miles (3.31) and Donald Sloan (2.68), the club’s other two point guards.
2. Lin’s mid-range jumper has been hitting at an astronomically high rate, and we know that won’t last. On the season, he is attempting 4.4 shots per 40 minutes between the 3-point line and 10 feet from the rim (sorry, don’t have the data just for the last 5 games). That’s one-quarter of all his shots—a percentage that is abnormally low and will only increase as teams start to close off the rim to him—and he’s currently hitting 56% of his shots between 10-15 feet out (league average: 40%) and 63% of shots 16-23 feet from the hoop (league average: 38%). There is no way those numbers stay anywhere near that high over the long run. How do we know? Most of the very best shooters in the league are in the low- to mid-40’s from those distances, and Lin is not a great shooter. His free throw percentage isn’t particularly good for a guard (77%), his 3-point shooting is terrible (17%), he’s shooting poorly from 3-9 feet (32%), and his 2010-11 numbers from those two particular distances were far worse (25% and 27%). As defenses cut off his lay-up opportunities and force him to take more jumpers, the mid-range numbers will get worse, deflating his overall shooting stats to something fairly mediocre that we all expected.
3. There is no way he’ll continue to get to the rim at will. Lin is currently attempting half of his two-point shots at the rim, a really high percentage usually inhabited only by centers. His aggression and shiftiness look good, but keep in mind he’s faced defenses that rank 11th (LAL), 12th (Min), 20th (Utah), 25th (Was), and 30th (NJ) in the league during his stretch. Lin has gotten this extraordinarily high rate of shots at the rim on nothing but his own dribble-drives (something better defenses usually prevent); we know this because he’s been assisted on only 7% of those attempts. To put this in obviously-won’t-continue perspective, basket-attacking point guards like Derrick Rose, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, and John Wall are all assisted on 20-25% of their shots at the rim. Once Lin plays some better defenses (and teams that have had time to actually scout him) and is no longer living off easy dunks and lay-ups, he’ll be forced to either throw up more shots from the mid-range—which won't be good—or to pass out of the paint, which he’s already bad at.