It wasn’t long ago that Jeremy Lin had forged an NBA career completely independent of his star-turning tenure with the New York Knicks.
“Linsanity” was never going to last. That was clear from almost the very beginning of Lin taking the basketball world by storm with the New York Knicks in 2011-12, and affirmed to a national audience three weeks after the start of his meteoric rise when an extra motivated LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat forced him into 1-of-11 shooting and eight turnovers. He struggled relative to both expectations and the extent of his role with the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers over the next three seasons, with his once-ironclad grasp on a rotation spot growing tenuous.
After signing on the cheap with the Charlotte Hornets in 2015, though, Lin rejuvenated his fading reputation, emerging as one basketball’s most dynamic backup guards, parlaying that reality into a thee-year, $38 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets the following summer. Lin had his moments that first season in Brooklyn, even reaching career-best marks in accuracy and frequency from beyond the arc, but it’s better remembered as the start of a series of injuries that three years later has left him lurking on the league’s fringes, waiting for a call:
“Free agency has been tough because I feel like, in some ways, the NBA has given up on me,” he said, fighting tears, during a recent appearance on Taiwan’s GOOD TV. “And I always knew that if I gave anybody a reason to doubt that they would.”
As the 2019-20 season grows closer by the day and Lin remains unsigned, below are three teams who would benefit from keeping his NBA hopes alive.
The Sixers don’t lack for ball handlers.
Ben Simmons ranked fifth in touches per game last season, per NBA.com/stats, and figures to shoulder more of a scoring load going forward given expected incremental growth. Josh Richardson was overstretched as something close to a primary option with the Miami Heat, but certainly has the goods to run second side ball screens, push in transition, and attack gaps in the half court. Tobias Harris figures to do a lot more ball handling with Jimmy Butler gone, playing a role closer to the one that propelled him to the best basketball of his career with the LA Clippers. Al Horford will definitely do a lot of playmaking from the perimeter, and Brett Brown will even likely experiment with both he and Joel Embiid running inverted pick-and-rolls.
Even so, Philadelphia is lacking dynamic ball screen operators, especially for a team with championship aspirations. Though backup point guard Raul Neto has been underrated throughout his career, he’s just not that type of player. Lin is a streaky shooter at best and doesn’t have high-level court sense when penetrating, but would nevertheless address the team’s need for another guard who can get down hill and manipulate the floor in ball screen situations – assuming he still has the burst necessary to get all the way to the rim, of course.
Any team in the league would be thrilled to have a point guard depth chart of Jamal Murray and Monte Morris. The former is poised for stardom if he makes strides as a finisher and manages more game-by-game consistency, and the latter is one of the game’s steadiest, most reliable backup floor generals, even as confidence in his jumper comes and goes. Those guys aren’t even Denver’s top playmakers, either. That distinction belongs to Nikola Jokic, a top-five passer who followed up a First-Team All-NBA regular season by taking his game to another level during his first playoff appearance.
Murray is an iron man, and Morris played all 82 games in what was effectively his NBA debut. Will Barton, Gary Harris, and even Malik Beasley are varying levels of effective with the ball in their hands, too. But Murray is arguably most dangerous playing off the ball at this stage of his career, and the unknown nature of Michael Porter Jr.’s status means the Nuggets might ask their guards to frequently play up a position again this season.
Enter Lin, who could fill in at backup point guard in an injury pinch and is a perfect fit for Denver’s uptempo, perfectly spaced offensive attack.
It’s barely a stretch to submit the team that many believe will enter this season as championship favorites is without a true point guard on the roster. That’s a clichéd label, of course, and Patrick Beverley has made enough subtle progress as a table-setter that it probably applies to him anyway. But otherwise, the Clippers are a collection of ball-handling wings, sweet-shooting off guards, and microwave scorers.
Lin wouldn’t be a perfect fit. His relative struggles from deep would allow defenses to commit extra attention to Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Lou Williams, and he’s a more limited defender at this stage of his career than ever.
Still, LA could do worse with one of its final roster spots than an experienced lead guard with positional size, not to mention a built-in fan base in Southern California.