With Lin-sanity sweeping the nation, as well as a fair amount of discontent with the Blazers' guard play as of late,** many of you fine people here at Blazers Edge are wondering about the possibility of signing Jeremy Lin away from the Knicks after this season, and whether or not Lin is just a flash in the pan.
**I'd like to take this opportunity to point out the Blazers' guard play has not been as bad as everyone is making it out to be. Yes, the Blazers' record in close games is horrific, but not because the Blazers' guard play has been bad. Last week I looked at why the Blazers are losing close games and how they can fix the problem, and it has nothing to do with needing new players.
The "steak or sizzle" question is much easier to answer than the possibility of signing Lin. The answer, ultimately, is no one knows. Daryl Morey (the Houston Rockets GM who cut him before he signed with the Knicks), admitted that anyone who says they knew Lin was going to be this good is lying. And he is right, every team had two or three chances to draft Lin and none of them did; if a GM had known he was going to be this good, he would have been drafted.
But that doesn't answer the question of if Lin is just a flash in the pan, or if there is steak behind his sizzle. His numbers to this point provide some clues to his potential. Here is a look at Lin's stat line for his last 5 starts:
26.8 PTS, 8.0 AST, 2.0 STL, 4.6 TO, 8.4 FTA, .515 FG%, .176 (3-17) 3P%, .738 FT%
A couple of things jump out: first off, the kid can score, but he's not a particularly good shooter. He scores his points inside the three point line with layups, pull up jumpers and by getting to the free throw line. Second, he turns the ball over. A lot. His 4.6 TO is more than Felton (2.9), Matthews (1.1), and Crawford (2.2). Even his turnover percentage (an estimate of TO's per 100 plays) is very high at 17.7%. For comparison, Felton's is higher this season (19.8%), but Matthews (7.9%) and Crawford (12.9%), both have lower percentages. For as good as he has been so far, Lin has a dirty little secret: he can't go left. When teams try and force him left, he either stubbornly spins and then goes right again. He is either going to have to learn to shoot a mid-range jumper or learn to finish on the left side of the rim.
Lin's most telling statistic up to this point may be his usage rate. He is tied with Dwyane Wade for the third highest usage rate in the game amongst guards at 31.5%, behind only Kobe (37.7) and Russell Westbrook (33.2). At least some of his TO's can be attributed to the how much he has the ball, as can a lot of his points. He's become the star for Knicks team starting Jared Jeffries, Bill Walker and Landry Fields, so of course he has shouldered the scoring load up to this point. He also probably feels he has to try and do more than he can, What is going to be interesting to watch is what happens to his usage rate when Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony come back.
The person who will benefit most from Amar'e's return is Lin. Amar'e is an excellent high pick-and-roll player, and teams will be forced to choose who to defend. For the Knicks to be really successful Lin will have to get better at passing out of situations when he gets trapped, instead of turning the ball over or forcing up a contested shot. For as high as his AST% is (47.7% - second in the league to Steve Nash; for comparison Felton's is 30.6%, 20th in the league), he can be a bit of a black hole. If he learns to make better decisions with the ball, he'll be a much better player.
The more pertinent question surrounding Lin for Blazer fans is if the Blazers should attempt to sign him at the end of the season. The Blazers currently have $24,245,440 mil committed to five players for the 2012-13 season (LA, Wesley Matthews, Luke Babbitt, Elliot Williams and Nolan Smith). The salary cap for next year will be approximately $56-59 mil (it is $58 mil this year, and thanks to the new CBA it should not fluctuate too much next season). Let's assume it stays the same next year. Marcus Camby, Felton, Crawford, Greg Oden, Craig Smith, and Armon Johnson all have expiring contracts worth just north of $25 mil. Crawford has a $5 mil player option for next year, which he will probably exercise (he won't be getting a better offer, he's not playing well enough), which puts us at $29.2 mil. Kurt Thomas has a non-guaranteed contract for the veteran's minimum next year, so assuming the Bazers don't wave him, our salary cap number will be about $30.4 mil. Gerald Wallace has a player option for $11.4 mil which he intends to walk away from**, leaving the Blazers with roughly $28 mil in cap space next year.
**Again, this is NOT because Wallace wants to leave Portland. The new CBA only allows him to sign a two-year extension and he is looking for a 3-4 year extension for his last big contract. Personally, depending on how long a contract he wants and how much he wants, it may be worth letting him walk.
The biggest question the Blazers have to answer this off season is what to do with Batum, Felton, Wallace and Oden. Ultimately depending on who the Blazers resign and let go, it's conceivable there will be enough cap room to go after Lin. He will be a RFA next year, and the Knicks already have $59 mil committed to 7 players for next year, so if a team offers Lin a contract for essentially anything more than the minimum, it will be extremely hard for the Knicks to keep him.
Bottom line on Lin: he is five games into his NBA career. This is such a small sample size to draw from, it's pure speculation as to whether he can keep this up or not. We know what he can do, he's a slasher/scorer, but he's also a good passer. We also have a decent idea of what he can't do. He needs to be a better shooter, be able to go left, and cut down on his turnovers. If he can do those things, he might be worth going after in free agency. But at the end of the day we have really have no idea what his career arc is going to be, so we just have to wait and see.