Injuries and inconsistent play eventually opened up a spot for Lin on the roster, and he made the most of that opportunity, to say the least.
Lin scored 25 points and recorded seven assists in the team’s first win of February of that year. He put up 28 points with eight assists two nights later against the Utah Jazz. Against the Los Angeles Lakers, Lin produced 38 points and seven assists and then turned in 28 points, 14 assists and five steals against the then-defending champion Dallas Mavericks.
In March, Lin came back to Earth, and would find himself on three different teams over the next four seasons. His last stop, with the Charlotte Hornets last year, was a bit of a resurgence, where he averaged 17.5 points and 4.8 assists in 13 games as a starter, prompting him to look for another starting gig.
“I want to see how good I can become,” Lin told reporters. “I’m 27, and an athlete’s prime … or at least in the NBA, your prime is usually 27-30. That’s when you kind of peak physically [and] mentally and that’s where most players perform their best. So I’m going into my prime and I want to see how great I can be as a player, and that’s my purpose in free agency — so I’ll just exhaust every opportunity to see which one will be the best for me.”
What’s best for Lin may not be in the best interest of the team that signs him, because although Lin had a solid season in Charlotte, he still hasn’t shown he is ready to be a starting guard in the NBA.
Lin averaged 11.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Hornets during the regular season and picked up his scoring a bit in the playoffs (12.4 points per game), but that doesn’t mean we are witnessing the second coming of “Linsanity.” For example, when Lin was out on the court as a starter for the Hornets, the team outscored opponents by just .9 points per 100 possessions. As a reserve, that margin jumped to 3.2 net points per 100 possessions. A year before, those numbers with the Lakers were minus-13.7 as a starter, minus-0.9 as a bench player.
Looked at another way, his value over a replacement player in terms of wins produced has declined in each season since “Linsanity” reached its peak in 2012-13, making him a shaky starter, at best, ever since.
And it is because of that risk that teams should not be willing to overpay for Lin this offseason.
Based on what teams must pay replacement-level players (approximately $1.3 million per player), the amount a team spends above and beyond those minimum contracts for a 12-man roster ($76.7 million), and the number of wins it takes to go from replacement-level to league average (25), each win above replacement a player can contribute to a team is worth $3.1 to $3.8 million, depending on the final salary cap. That would value Lin’s performance between roughly $4.2 and $5.1 million for the 2015-16 season. That’s more than double what his $2.14 million salary paid him but not nearly enough to justify what a starter is about to get on the open market.
It’s unknown how much Lin is looking for on his next contract, but as we see above, even after taking into account the rising salary cap due to a new influx of television revenue, he isn’t worth much more than he was already getting paid.
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