The “quest” begins today when Harvard faces Holy Cross. And no, the game’s not on TV. There won’t even be Internet video. In fact, the only thing available is streaming audio.
Or, you can follow my live-tweet of Jeremy’s game at http://twitter.com/nbalivetweet.
At first I wanted to use the cliche headline “the good, the bad, and the ugly”, more just to get attention, but I’m old enough and been-there-done-that enough to know that if you take a step back from all this, there’s really no “ugly”.
This Asian-American young adult is the coverboy of this year’s Harvard Basketball Media Guide. He did it! Harvard is a bonafide Division-1 program in a league whose champion gets an automatic NCAA Tournament bid, whose head coach developed under a living basketball legend.
A famous college town near Boston is fiercely loyal to an Asian-American hoop star in a leadership position. Jeremy Lin is Harvard Crimson basketball. We could stop right here and be ultra-proud.
But I just wanted to temper the “man-crush” with an honest evaluation of Jeremy’s game (the good and the bad), as well as explain further why it will be doubly hard for him to make it into the NBA (the so-called “ugly”).
Let me preface by saying that this is the first real blogpost about Jeremy Lin. Also, this is one of my trademarked (bemoaned? abhorred? rambling?) loooong posts, but filled with relevant information, I assure you. The first two posts on this site were really just to lay down the gauntlet once and for all and declare him, admittedly without much evidence revealed, a bonafide NBA prospect — a first-rounder at that, if it weren’t for fate.
Let’s get right down to it, except I’m gonna list it as follows: bad, good, ugly.
Here’s what’s wrong with Jeremy’s game and let me not make any excuses. No ifs, ands, or buts.
First of all, his shot is unorthodox and doesn’t necessarily go in all the time. He tends to shoot the ball at an angle, so that his body is slightly tilted toward his dominant right hand. The release of the ball is to the right of his forehead and, as a result, the kick of his leg is a little more pronounced than need be. Totally not textbook.
Developing a shooting stroke is one of basketball’s toughest aspects. I know from personal experience that it can take several years of tweaks and iterations. Jeremy’s still young. There’s still time to change his shot. And in my opinion, it should undergo a complete makeover, although it’s not all that bad, as-is.
Also, he needs to jump to get his shot off. In the NBA with the stripe at 23′9″, it is not advisable unless you possess rare human prowess like Ray Allen does, to do a jumpshot as your three-pointer, particularly if you are a player who does other things than shoot, and might require the energy involved in a jumpshot for some other facet of the game. In fact, even Michael Jordan adjusted his approach so that he took the trey as a set-shot rather than a jumpshot.
Jeremy won’t win a dribbling contest, at least not yet. As far as ballhandlers go, to simplify the world, there are two types. One is the “Skip To My Lou”, between-the-legs, behind-the-back, shift you left, shift you right, break your ankles type. The other is of the keep-your-body-between-defender-and-ball mold, attack him with your shoulder, go North-South type. Jeremy is of the latter. The latter is not flashy, nor will it likely bail you out when surrounded by two or three defenders.
Jeremy is not necessarily super-quick laterally a la Brandon Jennings. It just seems like that’s the expected standard for the NBA these days. I will resist the tempation to say but.., so I’ll let you think of other NBA roster point guards who are not super-quick laterally. You’ll notice the list will get longer and longer.
On defense one-on-one, Jeremy is not one to pick the ball from you, and he might be prone to being stop-and-popped on or crossed over to the hole. Again, there are two ways the average baller defends a dribbler one-on-one. Way #1 is to use your long arms and hands, perhaps your lateral quickness, to poke the ball out or at least frustrate the ballhandler with pressure up top. Way #2 is to always keep your defender in front of you.
The drawback of Way #1 is that, when implemented, it’s a gamble and the guy might blast past you, especially if he uses his body correctly. The drawback of Way #2 is if you keep your man in front of you, he could stop-and-pop in front of you. Let me also submit that Kobe Bryant is borne of Way #1 and has almost mastered Way #2. The only masters of both Ways are in the company of MJ, Scottie Pippen and Gary Payton, whose origins are actually with Way #2. These days people, both the defenders themselves as well as scouts, have forgotten about Way #2. That’s why it has somewhat frustrated me that Kobe has won so many All-Defensive awards, although he does deserve them because… it’s all relative!
But I digress. Honestly, that’s it. There aren’t gaping holes in Jeremy’s game. Jeremy is a complete player and the stats are there to back that up.
It’s time to the turn the “ifs, ands, and buts” switch back on. I have basically criticized him in three areas, the first of which (shooting) is unfortunately very noticeable, the second of which (dribbling) doesn’t prevent him from being a good ballhandler as-is and can be improved upon, and the third of which (one-on-one defense) is greatly outweighed by the positives of playing team defense, as you’ll read below.
Let me start with my favorite subject: defense. I mean, this kid just gets it. You don’t see this in many basketball players, be it the highest Asian American tournament levels where you have ultra-smart players who never had the athleticism – Jeremy K. Lee of UC Irvine fame or Benny Hoang of Cal-State LA and Alpine come to mind as “getting it” — or be it the general basketball population! Seriously. Flip on ESPN2 one of these weeknights and show me a smart, team-oriented defensive player in the NCAA.
First of all, let’s talk about man-to-man defense. Sure, every summer you can find Jovan Harris doing his Allen Iverson impersonation and going to the hole or stopping-and-popping on anyone he chooses, Jeremy Lin included, in the SF Pro-Am League. However, Jeremy’s been the only one who can keep a guy like Harris in front of him. Jeremy’s ability to retreat in the defensive stance is very impressive. It’s too bad the Pro-Am doesn’t keep hustle stats, because Jeremy will always tally at least two or three blocked shots on Harris, despite Harris with his stop-and-pops inevitably ending up with 25 or more points scored.
As far as the team defense concept is concerned, Jeremy knows when a teammate might be at a disadvantage, and knows when to help. When on the weakside, he can also sense when the team defense has shifted and there’s all of a sudden a big man kind of getting open underneath. Jeremy will sacrifice himself and drop down to cover that big man. I don’t even think most NBA players are willing to do that, these days. Sometimes in the Ivy League, that will leave a shooter on the opposite wing, and last season Harvard could get torched by that. But he’s not going to leave a big man open in the key. You just can’t teach that.
Oh, and he’ll of course take the requisite number of charges during the season. Guaranteed. Definitely a team player when it comes to defense.
Whichever NBA team ends up with Jeremy, I hope maybe you have read this before signing him. Because you are going to love this part of him. And he’s coachable, he’s smart, he listens, and he executes. Jeremy belongs in the NBA if not only for his incredible grasp of the concept of team defense.
Alright, let’s move onto offense. I’ve said before that he’s a Poor Man’s Jason Kidd, maybe even Steve Nash, but I think he’s more like Kidd because he can rebound and doesn’t have the jumper that Nash has (yet?). Now, Kidd threw up some downright Hall Of Fame numbers not only in the NBA, but also in college. Jeremy’s not quite as history-making, all the while playing in a conference far, far inferior than Kidd’s Pac Ten back in the day. Still, there’s a resemblance. Jeremy makes his teammates better. He rebounds. And he runs the fastbreak, quite frankly, fast and he delivers the ball.
If Kidd is a 10 on the Kidd Scale of 1 to 10, I’m putting Jeremy at 7 or 8 right now. Maybe Jeremy’s just not as blazing fast. Maybe he doesn’t have Kidd’s behind-the-backs. Maybe Jeremy doesn’t have that third eye on the back of his head that makes Kidd a legend. But Jeremy’s got his own traits too. He’s got a lot more fluid look to his half-court offense than Kidd does. The way he can take the ball to the cup is more ballet compared to Kidd’s military attack.
You gotta wonder. What would Kidd have done if he were confined to the Ivy League? Fewer alley-oops? Fewer behind-the-back passes? Do you think Kidd’s numbers would have been as great as those he put up? Are we even comparing apples to apples?
So, you ask Poor Man’s Commish, how can we compare apples to apples? What if you evaluated Jeremy in a setting where there were other players of his caliber or even greater, like Kidd had on a day-to-day basis? You can’t be making all these accolades when you’ve never seen Jeremy in the right context!
Oh, but I have.
I can’t really talk about it, but I’ve seen him in closed scrimmages. The players at the scrimmage below include two future first-round lottery picks — okay, I’m speculating, but it’s not me that’s saying that, and after watching those guys I would have to agree with those who said it. There was also a starter on the #1-ranked team in college right now, as well as some other guys I don’t wanna talk about just yet. It was Fight Club, although I like to call it “Flight Club”. Rule #1 and #2, ya know? Here you go…
You can see why when people discuss with me, “Who’s the best full-blooded Asian-American baller you’ve ever seen?”, to me it’s a no-brainer. Guys will reference Robert Toloy, Rex Walters, Conant Chi, and the list goes on. To me, there is no comparison, yet I’d call all of them, Toloy, Rex, and Co, my friends, so I mean that with the deepest respect. I’ve played alongside Toloy and Co, and also against all three. In all instances, they were the best players on the court. But Jeremy’s better, plain and simple.
So yeah, he had two dunks (“flush” = dunk) in that scrimmage. He was the best backcourt player on the floor.
I happened to be positioned at the baseline of Jeremy’s frontcourt basket in the 2nd half. I had a clear view at about that 6:05 mark into the tape of the 2nd half. He took his man hard right baseline, so one of the future lottery picks — let’s call him Baby Amare — came to help, and to my incredible astonishment, Jeremy made a bounce pass between the legs of Baby Amare, into the key, to an open teammate right under the hoop. His teammate actually missed the layup (the help interior defense of this scrimmage averaged 6′10″, so I don’t necessarily blame Jeremy’s teammate for missing it), but who cares. You can’t teach that pass!
Jeremy’s got a sneaky way of delivering the ball. If you’re a defender, he’ll get you thinking he’s gonna do one thing (e.g., shoot), but then all the while he’s setting you up for something else. That’s a very unique style for a point guard in this era of basketball. Kid’s got a really high bball IQ.
Assuming he has at least as good a season as he did last year at Harvard (let’s keep our fingers crossed!), here’s what Jeremy Lin detractors will say:
- But he doesn’t want to play in the NBA. Silly. If you’re playing in a Division-1 NCAA conference and you make all-league consistently, you are by definition an NBA prospect. At that point, why would you give up the opportunity?
- But he doesn’t have the mental toughness. Wrong. Jeremy’s a silent killer. Sure, he’s as prone to mental mistakes as any 21-year-old NCAA starter, but when he’s on or the team needs him, he’s got that quiet confidence. Actually, I shouldn’t have to explain this. The fact that he led Paly High to the state championship over Mater Dei should clue you in to that je ne sais quoi.
- But he doesn’t have a jumpshot. Umm, he’s a point guard, not a shooting guard. Also, let’s take a look at the first-round point guards selected in the 2009 NBA Draft. Tyreke Evans: no jumper, Ricky Rubio: no jumper, Jonny Flynn: suspect jumper, Stephen Curry: hell yes!, B.Jennings: no jumper, Jrue Holiday: [I haven't seen him play enough, so I don't really know, but DraftExpress.com says he has a...] weak pull-up jumper, Ty Lawson: okay jumper, Jeff Teague: good jumper per DraftExpress, Eric Maynor: inconsistent shooter per DraftExpress, Darren Collison: weak perimeter shooting per DraftExpress, Rodrigue Beaubois: nothing special about his shooting.
- But he’s not a point guard. Um, yes he is. Ask the guys at the aforementioned scrimmage. Just because he’s forced to play the 1, 2, and 3 at Harvard doesn’t mean he isn’t an NBA point guard. See also: Evans, Tyreke.
- But he doesn’t average enough assists. When you pass to a teammate wide open underneath the basket and he can’t get the layup in fast enough, so he pump fakes, dribbles once, then lays it in, that’s not an assist in the NCAA. When you throw a touchdown pass and your teammate isn’t athletic enough to catch the ball in full stride, that counts as a turnover. See, the problem is, Jeremy is the most athletic player not only on Harvard, but in the entire Ivy League. He’s a caged tiger. When Jeremy Lin starts playing with people who can finish, in a more open-court style, you will see his points go down but his assists go up. Way up.
- But he can’t dribble like the other point guard draft picks. I’m not even sure Kidd can dribble like the point guard draft picks of today. But you bashed Monta Ellis on his dribbling and he’s fine now, and Jeremy dribbles way better than Monta, averaged five assists per game on a heretofore below-average team, so I don’t know what the issue is.
- But he played at Harvard in the weak Ivy League. Yeah, and Nash played at Santa Clara. So what? What was Jeremy supposed to do? He blossomed during his junior year, particularly in the muscle mass department. By the time you’re a junior, you can’t really transfer. So he tore up the Ivy League (well, mostly) last season with teammates who were a notch below him.
- But I’ve never seen him play, so he can’t be that good. Well, unless he takes Harvard to the NCAA Tournament, you still won’t see him play, although if you’re in the Bay Area January 3rd, 2010, I’m sure as hell gonna do my best to make sure you do see him (versus Santa Clara University, of all places). Stay tuned to Poor Man’s Commish for the revolution that will not be televised.
- But I’ve seen him play at SF Pro-Am, and he didn’t do much. Well, neither did Adonal Foyle and guess what, who’s Dwight Howard’s backup? The truth is, the SF Pro-Am is completely devoid of post play. It is completely devoid of pick-and-roll play. It is a penetrator and jumpshooter’s one-on-one league, which is why Jovan Harris (who can both slash and shoot) and Tim Kennedy (who can shoot) won the MVP the last two years. The Pro-Am is an ill-suited environment for a table-setter like Jeremy Lin.
- But if he were that good, someone other than you would be writing about him. See Nash, Steve. Circa 1991-92.
- But he can be a great player in Europe. I never said Jeremy had to start or even be in the rotation in the NBA. I said he’d be the first full-blooded American-born Asian to play in the NBA, meaning have a signed contract to be on the roster of fifteen. NBA experts would agree that such position players might be considered interchangeable with the better players in Europe. There’s a reason why Earl Watson is still in the Association (and I believe he deserves to be) and I can tell you right now, Jeremy Lin is better than Earl Watson. If you’ve intently watched NBA Summer League for the past three years and made it a point to remember some of these otherwise forgettable players, you’d say the same thing. Ironically, one of the few Asian-Americans in an influential position with the NBA, trainer Milton Lee of New York, confirmed this on TrueHoop just the other day. Please explain why you are dismissing Jeremy to Europe.
- But he can be a great player in China. Same thing. Why China? Why not the NBA itself? Incidentally, in China, Jeremy would probably be considered one of the two allowable “import” players, for reasons which will become apparent in the next bullet point, which are usually reserved for big men or big-time inside scorers like Bonzi Wells.
- But he can be great for the Chinese National Team and could be great in the Olympics. Imagine him with Yi and Yao! Or the Taiwanese team, for that matter. Well, it can’t be both, we know that, due to the ongoing political chasm between China and Taiwan. To play for China, you’d have to be a Chinese citizen, which means you’d have to renounce your American citizenship. Ask any American-born Asian if they would give up their American citizenship to play on a way inferior team (by Olympic standards) in a foreign country (yes, China is defined as a foreign country for the vast majority of us American-born Asians) and I hope you can now see why playing for Taiwan would be an order of magnitude ridiculous compared to China. Now, it will take Jeremy some time after he proves himself in the NBA (said the Poor Man’s Commish, confidently), and Blake Griffin isn’t even on Team USA, but why not Team USA?
- But if he were any good, he’d have NBA types all over him already. Well, I can’t really talk about this, but I will say this much. An NCAA coach is an NCAA coach is an NCAA coach. And, as fate would have it, Jeremy is fiercely devoted to whomever his coach is (he’s old-school like that). For example, let’s say I suggest something to him. Chances are, I’ll sense that he’s not sure whether or not to accept my advice. Then, along comes any given coach who might suggest the same thing to him (case and point: shooting stroke), and he’ll listen to that coach when I was saying the same thing all along. Incidentally, I do coach Asian tournament teams, but coaching is not my profession. So anyways, sometimes in the holy war between NCAA coaches and the people who can maximize a player’s NBA value, the NCAA coach wins. I’ll leave it at that, for now.
“Discrimination” might be too harsh a word, but something is in there when it comes to the Jeremy detractors.
Let me give you an example of the subtle “discrimination” I’m talking about. There’s an acquaintance of mine whom I just met a couple months ago at a school. I see him every time I go to the school and we now often say hi to each other, and we know each other on a first-name basis, but that’s about it. He’s African-American, dark-skinned, has dreadlocks, and sometimes arrives with headphones on.
Now, when Jay-Z’s Empire State Of Mind first came out, I loved the track so much, I wanted to tell someone about it. But over at the school, it’s just not really an environment where you brag about the hip-hop/rap that you like. For example, I sure as hell wouldn’t feel comfortable about mentioning it to the older-looking Chinese women speaking Cantonese to each other in the corner.
Did I share my enthusiasm with the African-American fellow? No. Why should I? Just because he’s African-American?
If I did mention it, there may even be a chance that he could be offended. It’d be overtly obvious that I assumed he liked Jay-Z just because he’s black. And what if my acquaintance has been listening to NPR on those headphones? Not everybody with dreadlocks automatically likes rap, you know.
People just have to be really careful about pigeon-holing other people. So it’s the same type of thing with Jeremy. It’s not discrimination per se or in the usual context of the word, but whether you like it or not, race is a part of basketball and human beings are just the way they are. Now, no one’s gonna intentionally put down Jeremy because he’s an American-born Chinese and has slanty eyes. It’s those underlying assumptions that are of concern.
By the way, the fact that our race is predominantly a submissive culture doesn’t help, either. We tend to accept things the way they are. Only the most Americanized of us, myself included, will stand up and say, “Hey, wait a minute…”
THE SILVER LINING
In a nutshell: Sun Yue. Why the heck did the Lakers sign Sun Yue? From a pure basketball perspective, it made no sense. From a marketing perspective, it made perfect sense.
I just hope the other 29 owners see it the same way. If anything Jeremy ought to have a slight advantage in getting signed by an NBA team this summer. As a proponent of affirmative action, I’m all for this. But then again, Sun was let go at the end of last season.
The other interesting thing I’m going to predict is that last year’s influx of point guards will, somehow, eventually help Jeremy. This is because when you get to training camp, you’ll have Jeremy head-to-head against a few of these 2009 first-round point guards, and he’ll look more impressive because he’s that good. On the other hand, all of these point guards are currently under contract.
Tommy Amaker may have put it best:
I think the tide is starting to shift. The fact that the media guide now more correctly lists Jeremy at 6′3″ 200 lbs instead of a measly/insulting 6′1″ 180 is a good sign. However, I think he needs to continue to hit the weights until he is 205 lbs, or the size and width of Chauncey Billups.
Fellow community member Rob Rius hadn’t seen Jeremy for awhile and when Jeremy walked by him this past summer, Rob turned and told me, “I didn’t realize he’s so big!”
I gave him my usual answer whenever someone asks me about Jeremy: “Yep.”
Here’s hoping that the NBA is in the market for an old school baller. Someone who can galvanize an underdog NBA niche audience in Asian-Americans. And I hope you will see for yourself how special Jeremy is, in due time.
You might also like:
- What Jeremy Lin’s up against at Portsmouth
- There and back again: Coast-to-coast to see Jeremy Lin (3/4)
- Duggan: Jeremy Lin’s first NBA workout next week
- It’s all on Portsmouth for Jeremy Lin, but…
- Portsmouth prospecting: Jeremy Lin’s hidden numbers
- Malcolm Lee is one less pg in the ring
- Portsmouth prospecting: the assist machine Jeremy Lin
- DraftExpress’s Portsmouth notes on Jeremy Lin