Last year was a new experience for Jeremy Lin. It was his first season as a Charlotte Hornet. (Also his last, at least for the time being.) It was his first season playing off the ball. It was also his first playing almost exclusively as a bench player. More than 80 percent of Lin’s appearances came as a reserve. 2015-16 also saw Lin put up his highest usage rate since his breakout campaign as a Knick back in 2011-12 while setting a career-best turnover percentage mark. His role shrunk, but he used his time more wisely, and though he wasn’t tremendously efficient as a Hornet, Lin showed a level of versatility to his game.
On Wednesday night, Lin entered his first season as a member of the Brooklyn Nets with a chance to build on his previous tenure in, and become one of the go-to scorers on a leaderless and listless team. Brooklyn isn’t going to win a lot of games this season, but that will not prevent Lin from showcasing everything that makes him an effective NBA guard. The Nets also offer Lin the opportunity to shed some of his polarizing stature, and just put his head down and play good ball.
What makes Lin a passable rotation guard at the point or off the ball is what also can lead him into trouble. He is prone to errors that have, in the past, submarined stretches of his play. As one of his old coaches, Kevin McHale, said, “you’ll never have to encourage him to go full-blast, maybe to go a little slower. He’s very aggressive...I think you’ll see the same thing with the Nets.” That aggression has led to an 18 percent career turnover rate and a negative career box plus/minus. But Lin also excels because of how he handles the basketball and offensive possessions.
In Charlotte, he cut down drastically on that turnover rate, though his shot didn’t fall as often as it had in the past. For Lin in Brooklyn, success will come down to melding those two factors. He needs to keep his mistakes in check while being more efficient with his shot from the field. The Hornets asked him to play shooting guard, which he wasn’t accustomed to. The Nets will employ the same flexibility, even if he is nominally the team’s starting point guard, which means Lin needs to hit more than the 41 percent of shots he made last season. As a Knick and Rocket, Lin was up above 44 percent from the floor with an effective field-goal percentage approaching or occasionally surpassing .500. That is the level he needs to be at with Brooklyn.
Lin should expect to see a continued rise in his usage rate since the Nets aren’t exactly flush with scoring options. Fortunately, it seems that he and center Brook Lopez are developing nice chemistry in the early going. Lin also showed his ability to connect from three during the preseason. This is an aspect of his game that has never really come together, but if it does in Brooklyn, all the better. Three-point shooting combined with a great on-court rapport with Lopez will lead to many successful possessions for Lin.
To have a larger impact on the team, Lin will need to improve his defense. He has been prone to gambling for steals in the past while being known as having slower feet on the perimeter than one would want out of a guard. That has led to a career defensive rating of 107 (107 points allowed per 100 possessions) -- he wasn’t terrible on Wednesday night, as a component, just that the Nets collectively struggled far too much on the defensive side of the ball. That won’t cut it on this team. Not if they want to improve on their record from last season.
Lin will be given a chance to lead this club; something he hasn’t seen since his Linsanity heyday. That could be great for his production, or it could lead to a resurgence of bad habits that reportedly led to his joy for the game evaporating. He recaptured some of that on Wednesday night, as he and his teammates put in a full 48-minute effort against the Celtics at TD Garden.
After the game, one in which they made a furious fourth quarter comeback, Lin told the media that he was “inspired” by watching his teammates battle, and wanted to learn from this experience. And that, in the end, is what the Nets need; a leader who has the ability to turn the page, learn and grow from what is bound to be a tough season.