Leave it to the Harvard guy to be prepared for the biggest test of his career.
Jeremy Lin passed — literally — with flying colors after he put up 25 points, seven assists and just one turnover in Saturday’s 99-92 win over the Nets on Saturday night.
You could say he made the Dean’s List, as Mike D’Antoni assured he’d continue to give Lin important minutes “because he gives us something we’ve been without.”
And important minutes may come tonight since Lin will start against the Utah Jazz at Madison Square Garden. What Lin has consistently proven in spot minutes before the Nets game and then in 35 minutes against New Jersey was that he can get the offense moving with his dribble penetration and vision to make passes to the Knicks talented bigs.
“When you can get a guard in the paint, it makes the defense react,” Tyson Chandler said.
Of Lin’s seven assists against the Nets, six of them went for finishes at the rim, according to HoopData.com. He has 24 assists so far this season and 12 of them are “at-the-rim” baskets. In comparison, only 20 of Toney Douglas‘ 58 assists (34 percent) were finished at the rim.
D’Antoni admitted his hesitation to give Lin meaningful minutes at the point guard position with the starters had a lot to do with defense. Douglas and rookie Iman Shumpert have struggled leading the offense, but both are more than capable defenders.
While the Knicks have struggled with their offense this season, they have slowly become an above average defensive team. And there was some concern about sacrificing defense for offense, especially if the experiment failed as the team desperately needed a win. So after D’Antoni gave Lin a look in the first half in Boston on Friday, he went back to Douglas in the second half.
But Saturday against the Nets, despite the desperation for a win, D’Antoni held his breath and sent Lin back into the game in a tight second half.
“I had my doubts, but we stayed with it,” D’Antoni said. “He has some of the qualities we needed. I just didn’t know about his defense.”
To his credit, Lin quelled his coach’s concerns by applying a skill that made him a proud Harvard man: Good study habits. Lin studied the scouting report, which is provided to every player before every game, and knew what to expect when guarding a star like Deron Williams: Force him left, don’t go under the screen and don’t help off him.
These sound like simple, elementary principles, but it’s amazing how preparation can breed confidence.
And encouragement from your teammates helps, too.
“Everyone was giving me advice . . . all the veterans were giving me advice along the way,” Lin said.
They all knew about his offense. They all believed he had something that could help. Even Douglas, who stands to lose minutes from Lin’s emergence, was cheering from the bench and giving Lin an earful during timeouts.
And though the stars on the team haven’t had much experience playing with Lin in practice, they’ve seen his handiwork in scrimmages after practices and shoot-arounds, which generally involve depth players who need to keep up their conditioning.
“When they go and they play three-on-three and we watch, he kills,” Chandler said. “He’s a problem. He’s tough to stay in front of and we always give the guards a hard time. But then it became a trend, it wasn’t just one guard.”
Lin credited assistant coach Kenny Atkinson, a heady point guard who had a 10-year pro career in Europe, for working with him since he arrived on Dec. 27. And, of course, there was the couch that teammate Landry Fieldsprovided Friday night.
“I didn’t have a place to stay last night, so I slept on Landry’s couch,” Lin said. “I think I might just move in with him.”
He may need to find a place of his own for a while. Coincidentally, Lin initially appeared to be the likely cut the team would make if it signed a player, such as J.R. Smith, with its room exception. Now, however, Lin has a chance to solidify his spot on the roster — and in the rotation — if he can continue to be effective in the offense. And remain prepared on defense.
“If he keeps it right there,” D’Antoni said, “he can be a valuable piece.”
It’s a piece the Knicks thought they would add in veteran Baron Davis, once he is ready to play. It would be a major bonus if the Knicks can also get it from Lin on a consistent basis — which is Lin’s next challenge — because then the team won’t have to use assets to make a trade for a backup.
Amar’e Stoudemire rushed to join his family in Florida this morning after he received the devastating news about a car accident that claimed the life of his older brother, Hazell, early Monday morning.
Amar’e will not play tonight against the Jazz and it is uncertain if he will be back with the team to play the Wizards on Wednesday in D.C.
Our prayers go out to the Stoudemire family.