NOTE: This is Part 2 of 4. Part 1 posted yesterday. Part 3 will post tomorrow.
The game action
At Columbia, on the court Jeremy Lin did what he had to do to put away the underdogs. The right-handed shoulder-leading drive that knifed into the gut of the defense could only be contained so much by Columbia’s zone. And Jeremy showed off a double-spin move, which he capped with a dump-off pass to a wide-open Keith Wright for an uncontested layup.
Before the half ended, Jeremy had the ball with the clock winding down. Usually he takes the last shot, but this time, he drew a couple of defenders and dished off to Brandyn Curry, who nailed a three-pointer as time expired.
After Harvard took the floor in the second half, they soon gained control of the game and routed Columbia. Jeremy subbed out with about 12 minutes to play, and there wasn’t a subsequent situation which warranted him checking back in. The guys sitting next to me suggested that he was going to be saved for Cornell, but I didn’t necessarily agree because I have seen Coach Tommy Amaker put Jeremy into games in which Harvard had a twenty-point lead. However, in this game, none of the opportunities to put him back in made sense, and he spent the rest of the game on the bench. He tallied 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting in only 24 minutes of play.
At Cornell, Harvard came out nervous against the Big Red’s 1-2-2 three-quarter court press, despite Amaker starting senior Doug Miller ahead of Ivy League’s recently named rookie-of-the-week, Kyle Casey, who is a freshman, but also Harvard’s most talented and athletic player outside of Jeremy.
As Harvard kept turning the ball over, Cornell took an early lead that just got worse and worse for Harvard. At a burly 6′8″, Keith Wright was the only Harvard big man capable of providing any defense against Cornell’s 7-footer Jeff Foote, giving up four inches in the process, but Wright had expended all but one of his personal fouls by mid-second-half.
Fellow 6′8″ frontcourt teammate Pat Magnarelli, a scrappy and difficult-to-displace power forward who plays like a center, was out with a foot in a cast, and the only remaining frontcourt presence was 6′8″ Andrew Van Nest, a three-point specialist who is too skinny to guard any post player at this point in the freshman’s young career.
At times, 6′7″ small forward Casey was Harvard’s biggest body and had to cover Foote. Foote’s deliberate yet versatile array of drop steps, crossover steps, jump hooks, brute-force putbacks, and the ability to recognize teammates cutting to the hoop and delivering out of the double-team, turned into a nightmare for the weaker Harvard frontline. Here’s hoping Magnarelli will return in time for the second meeting against Cornell.
Harvard stuck with a man-to-man, probably because on paper, zone wasn’t going work against the tall Cornell outside shooters, who all managed to have a solid game shooting. In retrospect, after Cornell got up by 20, Amaker should have figured it couldn’t get any worse and switched to a 2-1-2 zone (you know, pyschological warfare) — although going against the grain like that is very hard to do in the heat of the moment.
I would even suggest that next time, he start his quickest, most mobile lineup (Jeremy and six-foot Curry and Oliver McNally along with Casey and Wright) and press the Cornell guards. Inasmuch that Harvard’s players were shredded one by one, Amaker didn’t show much innovation or risk-taking after it appeared clear that Cornell would be the dominant team, both physically and mentally, that night — well, outside of Jeremy, of course.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Amaker is a great psychologist and motivator for young ballplayers. He is brilliant when it comes to his positivity and the best thing about him is, he’s always composed on the sidelines and rarely complains to officials, rarely gets worked up about things that are out of his control. But when you play a monolith like Cornell, you better win in the X’s-and-O’s department. Every single facet of the game counts against them. Preparing for Cornell literally requires military strategy, especially when your troops are at severe disadvantages.
NBA Draft prospecting
We’ve definitely got to talk about Foote. Like Jeremy and perhaps all past, present, and future Ivy Leaguers, it remains to be seen at the Portsmouth Invitational how Foote stacks up against better competition. Earlier in the season, Foote held his own against consensus lottery pick and fellow 7-footer Cole Aldrich of Kansas. However, just when you felt Foote asserted his dominance over poor Harvard, he’d be called for traveling, end up airballing a jump hook, or pass it out when he should’ve attacked one-on-one.
So I’d have to say, perhaps he’s not quite there yet in terms of mental toughness, otherwise the one-off airball or slip into passiveness goes away. He really doesn’t need to fix that much to become an up-and-coming NBA prospect. When you’re 7-feet, you just need to convert when you’re one-on-one and deliver the ball to the open teammate when you’re double-teamed. Pretty simple (the rest, you figure, can be drilled, taught, or corrected). That night against Harvard, he did this most of the time, and still only against a far physically inferior defense.
The other detracting aspect of Foote is that he may be too slow to execute or defend the NBA’s high-pick-and-roll style of play. I could be wrong, but I cannot recall Foote participating in any high screen situations for Cornell. Not that he needed to. In the college game and with the personnel that they have, Cornell is better off with Foote near the basket on every possession.
Ryan Wittman is a different story. Contrary to Foote’s game, it’s a lot harder to evaluate a non-post-up player after just one game, but if Wittman has been consistently taking ill-advised catch-and-shoot jumpers with a hand in his face this season, as he did that night against Harvard, then I’m afraid he’s either going to have to start hitting more of them or he’s not going to find a job in the NBA.
Let me put it this way: at times it seemed like he was gunning for the NBA and not necessarily a Cornell win. Being an effective role-playing off-the-bench shooter in the NBA doesn’t require you to hit 6-for-7 treys, all in people’s faces. It requires you to hit 2-for-2 if you only got two opportunities. Granted, if you’re hitting 6-for-7 in people’s faces three nights in a row, then you’ve convinced me that you’re just a cold-blooded sniper and you’ve won a spot in my regular rotation of 8, but doing that in the NBA is kind of a super-human feat (ask Jason Kapono). But who knows, maybe NBA scouts don’t look for the same things that I do.
So anyways, I can understand Wittman’s need to put up shots, but he wasn’t making them that night, nor has he been lately, per ESPN’s game log. Come Portsmouth, I think he needs to just make the open ones and not jack them up so much.
Compare that to Jeremy’s shot selection. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time Jeremy forced a bad shot this season. And no, I don’t equate his attempt to draw free throws against Foote by faking a jumper then drawing Foote’s contact and throwing it up — which Jeremy amazingly made late in the 2nd half, against a 7-foot body hurtling into him! — as a bad shot. (By the way, the ref did not call a foul on that play and I’d be curious to see the replay.)
In other words, Jeremy’s shots are all calculated gambles or, quite simply, meaningful attempts — most of them layups, mind you. I’ve seen enough adult men’s basketball at all levels to know that it is very hard for a human being not to take a bad shot throughout an entire game. It may be a shot that’s too early in the shotclock, it may be a selfish shot because your teammate failed to pass you the ball when you were open last time down, or it may be (as Doc Rivers coined for Rajon Rondo two years ago) a “hero” shot.
When people talk about Jeremy, that’s where people get it wrong. He’s not a “shooter”. A shooter is someone, a la Kobe Bryant or Ray Allen or Reggie Miller, who will take a shot in your face as a way to dominate you. Jeremy’s not like that. Therefore, speaking as a basketball purist, I’m okay with people saying that Jeremy is a “scorer” as long as they recognize his contributions as a table-setter for his teammates. He’s a facilitator. He delivers the ball to the basket, one way or another, but it’s typically not with long jumpshots.
Notice how he took zero three-pointers against Cornell, which may indeed be a testament to Cornell closing out knowing that Foote has their backs, but how many “streetball” players do you know, how many potential NBA Draft-pick guards, would have jacked up a trey trying to catch up in this game?
And that’s why he could be a fantastic point guard in the pros. His discipline and overall game plan is truly amazing for a 22-year-old.
Perhaps that’s why so many people don’t think he’ll make the NBA. Perhaps the litmus test is, can he take over a game like Brandon Jennings, who will not only scissor the defense but also show off an array of step-back three-pointers in people’s faces and just light it up in that way? I’ve said it from Day One: Jeremy Lin is like Jason Kidd. Have you ever seen Jason Kidd “light it up”? Sure, he can take over a game, but not with his perimeter outside shooting. Jeremy is similar.
Also, the difference between Jeremy and the average college player is that he can get down low in attack mode and use his shoulder to create a seam between defenders. In this era of basketball players, most guys who attack like Jeremy are well over 6′3″ — Damion James of Texas and Evan Turner of Ohio State come to mind.
I’m not sure that most NBA Draft evaluators are even self-conscious of this aspect of the game, the secret sauce which ultimately made Michael Jordan the most perfect player we have seen in history — check the videotape and play MJ in slow motion. Incidentally Kobe and Dwyane Wade subscribe to MJ’s style of attack, whether they know it or not (I’m sure they do).
When you see a point guard shorter than around Jeremy’s height, you expect him to have blazing lateral quickness and a stocky frame that can absorb contact when the defender recovers from the lateral move. Tim Hardaway would be a good NBA example. In more modern times, think Jonny Flynn, Derrick Rose, or Sherron Collins of Kansas.
When you see a point guard taller than around Jeremy’s height, you expect him to have long limbs that can step around defenders and deliver the ball with passes that go around other bodies. Magic Johnson would be a good NBA example. In more modern times, think Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Ricky Rubio, or Manny Harris of Michigan.
Just put all these guys I mentioned in slow motion. Advance the video, frame by frame. You’ll see that most players don’t get their bodies at that a sharp an angle which makes them difficult to stop when they attack. Even Kidd doesn’t really play that way (he uses more of a bulldozer-like power). Wall relies on his lateral length, side-to-side jukes, and big first step. Collins relies on beating you to a spot and using his bulk to create space (a la Kidd). Thus far, in my limited scope of college basketball observations, I’ve only seen one other top table-setter who attacks like Jeremy: Iman Shumpert of Georgia Tech. (Perhaps Evan Turner also has it amongst a huge repertoire of moves, but I need to see him play more.)
I think part of the reason why Jeremy’s draft stock isn’t as high as it should be (among a few other glaring things such as the fact that he plays for Harvard and has an unorthodox jumper) is that people aren’t used to seeing this style of play, which I believe is the most reliable and effective in basketball, in a 6′3″ 200-lb body.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 3 of 4: “Back to the vaunted Cornell team” and “Jeremy Lin, warrior”
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