Today marks both the official end of the first round of the NBA playoffs for some teams and the official start of the second round for others. Among the teams that saw a postseason end early this year are the New York Knicks, with had a bizarre up-and-down season that was mainly disappointing with the exception of the Jeremy Lin experiment. The Knicks underperforming isn’t anything new or remarkable, but the Linsanity thing is definitely worthy of some sort of final re-examination.
For about two weeks in early- and mid-February, Jeremy Lin was basically the only story happening in sports. He was the first three segments on Sportscenter every night and I don’t have the numbers on this, but I’d imagine that Jeremy Lin jersey sales in that time had to have set some kind of record for short-term sales. The Overnight Success story is very rare in pro sports any more. Media can see talent coming from the mid-high school years and guys with pro ability are pegged early and watched under a close microscope until they actually succeed.
Everyone knows the Jeremy Lin story: he sort of barely made the Golden State Warriors roster for a season where he got kind of a little of playing time for a few games and then got cut and subsequently signed by the Knicks, where he exploded and was genuinely one of the best players in the league for about two weeks. He came out of nowhere. And he wasn’t just some kind of fluke, he was insanely good. It didn’t last that long, but it was legit. He went from nothing to everything for a few weeks and settled on slightly better than average for the last month of the season
Now the season is over for the Knicks and Lin and there’s a lesson to learn. It’s not a lesson about the way the pick and roll maximizes the potential of a young guard or a lesson about some kind of inspirational magic that comes from the city of New York or any of that. Typically I’m the type to suggest that it’s reasonable to think the NBA rigged the system to let Lin succeed and draw in all the money that comes with attracting the Asian market, but I don’t even think that’s what happened in the Jeremy Lin case.
Do you want to know what really happened with Jeremy Lin? He’s really, really insanely good at basketball and he has been ever since he got into the NBA. Everyone who plays in the NBA is insanely good. Not just hits-open-jumpers good or built-like-a house good, but could-score-20-points-any-night-against-the-world’s-best-competition good.
Every single player in the Association is better at basketball than anyone reading this post will be at anything for the rest of their lives. That’s how good they are. And it’s not just that they’re that good a couple of games each year, they’re always that good. There’s just only so much usage to go around on a team. When a guy like Lin steps into a team with usage to spare (injuries to their Carmelo and Amare), it’s a great opportunity to make plays and collect stats.
What we really learned is that everyone in the NBA – even the players that get cut from bad teams – are outrageously talented at basketball. And they don’t go through waves of talent peaks and valleys, they’re always insanely good all the time with inevitable minor ups and downs. They might look different on different teams, and some of that is due to how they fit into a system, but a lot of that is due to different usage rates.
We might forget this when we see Blake Griffin dunk over someone or Rajon Rondo pick someone’s pocket and make a fast-break dunk 30 feet ahead of the nearest defender. But those instances happen and in the big picture, we only appreciate them because they are so rare.
The Jeremy Lin explosion was something we haven’t seen in a while and something we probably won’t see again for a long time. It was enjoyable to watch when it was happening, but it’s over now. The good news is that Jeremy Lin will still be around next year and we all learned to appreciate the quality of players in the NBA. The bad news is that the Lin puns will never stop. The pun-ability of his last name is at least 50% of his total package moving forward and that will continue to get worse as succeeds. Sorry.