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Steve Clifford: Hornets will miss Jeremy Lin ... on defense

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In an interview with the Charlotte Observer, Hornets coach Steve Clifford said among lost free agents, the team is most likely to miss Jeremy Lin, mostly because of his versatility ... on the defensive end. Clifford said the new Nets point guard can defend both point guards and shooting guards. It was one reason, he said, the Hornets finished top 10 in defense last season.

It wasn’t the first time Clifford had praised Lin’s D. At the end of last season, he told the New York Times that Lin had a "terrific year." and specifically accented his defense.

"He’s a much, much better defender than people realize," Clifford said. "He competes hard every night, and he’s a very serious player."

So where does he stand?

Defense has always been a rap on Lin, going back to Linsanity with the Knicks. And just this summer, the New York Post quoted a Knicks source as saying New York wasn’t interested in Lin because his defense was "too gaping."

Lin ranked No. 20 among point guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus last season, ahead of Kemba Walker and way ahead of Jarrett Jack who ranked last in the NBA —40th — before he went down. So, that’s already an improvement.

Beyond his coach, there are those who noticed Lin’s improvement last season. Scott Rafferty of the Sporting News wrote in June...

[Lin] turned himself into an impact player on that end of the floor by using his speed and quickness to his advantage. He’s not necessarily going to shut down the Stephen Currys or Damian Lillards of the world, but he’s proven the ability to hold his own.

Rafferty included a number of videos, like this one, to prove his point.

One underrated part of Lin’s defense is blocked shots. Last season, he was second among point guards in blocks per game and per 36 minutes, behind only John Wall. Don't underestimate that stat. Jason Kidd and Dwyane Wade regularly led the NBA in that category.

Defense will be key to the Nets success. Kenny Atkinson, who played a big role in the Hawks’ defensive improvement the last two years, has said it. During his talk with CNLS, the Celtics blog, Ian Eagle noted that Atkinson is a big believer in team D. "Trust me," Eagle said, "that will be a major, major point of emphasis for this team."

On offense, Clifford also told Rick Bonnell of the Observer, "The one thing we’ll lose without Jeremy is a lot of penetration. That’s why he was a good fit for us." Offense, or at least penetration, has long been seen as a Lin’s strength along with his BBIQ and toughness.  Defense not so much.