Jeremy Lin had some week.
In his first four NBA starts, New York’s new point guard scored 109 points, dished out 33 assists and now has the red-hot Knicks riding a five-game winning streak.
The Knicks — and the rest of the teams that passed on Lin — clearly had no idea what they had in the undrafted Harvard graduate taking up a seat at the end of the their bench. But with a deadline for a guaranteed contract looming and several key injuries opening up playing time, the Knicks decided to see what the kid could do. And, as everyone knows, Linsanity ensued.
Now instead of releasing Lin, the team should be looking to lock him up for the long haul.
“His expiration date was coming up,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni told the New York Times last week. “We had to evaluate to see if there was something there or not.”
Lin’s contract for the rest of this season — which kicked in the day after Lin’s first start against Utah — will pay him $788,000 for the rest of the season. After that, he’ll be a restricted free agent, which allows the Knicks to match any offer he might receive on the open market. The team can use its midlevel exception, which is higher than the average player salary, to re-sign Lin. And if Lin maintain his hold on the starting job, you have to figure the team will do everything within its power to keep him.
The more immediate question is how well will New York’s offense perform when Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony return? Will D’Antoni be forced to rein Lin in to allow the team’s stars to get their shots? Or will Melo and Amare be told to go with the flow and let Lin continue to run the team?
Few expect two superstars — with similarly supersized egos — to simply fall in line behind Lin and morph from the main attraction into a supporting cast. Anthony and Stoudemire will take the ball out of Lin’s hands when they return, forcing the point guard to be more a distributor and less of a scorer. But with his ability to get to the rim, Lin has shown he’s more of a scorer than the last point guard to succeed in D’Antoni’s uptempo offense — perennial All-Star Steve Nash.
“I probably don't look to finish as much as I once did, but he's a terrific finisher,” Nash told Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amick last week. “It helps that Amare and Melo are out and everything is going through him, and you've got to try to create opportunities on pick-and-rolls and get penetration. That's helping, but you've still got to put the ball in the basket. He's making shots. He's getting to the basket and finishing, and getting to the line.”
It’s hard to argue with the results. The Knicks are playing their best — and most exciting — basketball in some time, and Jeremy Lin is the reason why.
And as far as D’Antoni is concerned, things will only get better when his big guns return. Stoudemire, who has been in Florida following the death of his brother in a car crash, was expected back for Monday’s practice. Anthony’s projected return from a groin injury is still unclear.
“I only see it helping. I don’t see it as a problem,” D’Antoni told ESPNNewYork.com. “There will be some adjustments on both people’s parts. I see it as a big, big plus. I see it when Amare comes back, there’s another pick-and-roll guy, maybe the best in the game. I see that as a big plus. (Both Lin, Soudemire and Anthony) have never played together so we can’t make that conclusion until we see it then we’ll adjust to it. I can’t wait to get those guys back.”
As for Lin? He’s just going to keep doing his thing.
“I’m not playing to prove anything to anybody,” he said in an exclusive interview with the San Jose Mercury News. “That affected my game last year and my joy last year. With all the media attention, all the love from the fans (in the Bay Area), I felt I needed to prove myself. Prove that I’m not a marketing tool, I’m not a ploy to improve attendance. Prove I can play in this league. But I’ve surrendered that to God. I’m not in a battle with what everybody else thinks anymore.”
More from Washington Post Sports:
Mike Wise: For Lin, anything seems possible
Wizards Insider: Wizards witness the Jeremy Lin show