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The difference maker: Jeremy Lin

Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

We have enough of a sample size to definitively say that the Brooklyn Nets would’ve been so much better with a healthy Jeremy Lin. He’s been a literal game-changer since the moment he stepped back on the court after a series of hamstring pulls.

Obviously the Nets would still have a losing record, since Lin’s February 24 return, they are 4-7. That’s a big upgrade over what the Nets had. They won one…one game without the Harvard graduate from December 28 to February 15, seven weeks.

In case you’re wondering, during that stretch they were a shocking 1-25.

This season, the Nets are 7-16 with Lin, who’s been on minutes’ restriction all season long, and 6-38 without him. The biggest element Lin has brought is his ability to elevate his game in clutch moments, in the fourth quarter, while simultaneously “assisting” those around him. We have seen glimpses of that throughout his previous six seasons in the NBA, but for the most part, his value was dismissed.

Here’s some examples...

He closed out the Memphis Grizzles on the road with 11 fourth quarter points after a forgettable three quarters. He daggered the Knicks Sunday on Biggie Night with multiple late-game buckets and on Thursday night, did it again, this time showing leadership as the Nets came back from a miserable first half.

Now here’s where it gets interesting.

The Nets have been competitive time and again against better rosters with more talented and or experienced players, like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards, Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks.

Without Lin, the Nets are 4-20 in games decided by 10 points or less, including every single loss from January 30 until February 15.

With him? 5-7. Damn near a .500 team.

“Obviously he’s taken us to a whole other level, or even two levels, I don’t know if that’s the really the expression, but that’s the way it feels,” teammate Brook Lopez said of Lin while cracking a smile. “He makes us a vastly better team when he’s on the court – I don’t really think you can count that enough.”

“I think he’s kind of regulated us a little bit in terms of getting guys in the right position and in their correct roles,” added head coach Kenny Atkinson. “That’s been important. I think guys really thrive in an environment where there’s stability. He’s been as expected, and I still don’t think he’s in top form right now – very pleased so far.”

Lin is still playing with a ceiling (or roof) on his playing time, and Atkinson acknowledges that we have yet to see the 28-year old starting point guard in top form. With only three weeks’ worth of games remaining, we may not see it this campaign. The hope is that they can pull together a productive ending to this season as a springboard for year two of the Brooklyn Rebuild.

“I don’t see a peak Jeremy right now; he’s working toward that,” Atkinson said. “He just hasn’t had a normal preparation, normal game reps and a normal season. My hope is that we finish the season with good momentum going into the off-season, he has a great off-season and get off to a better start next year.”

Lin’s contributions have also been about more than basketball.

We’ve seen him pull players aside, both while injured and healthy, getting Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Isaiah Whitehead engaged, trying to find creative ways to help boost team morale.

“I think for me it was, ‘how do you serve people, how do you love your teammates through this losing,’” Lin says of searching for positives during the team’s uphill battles. “This is the faith component that I’ve always known was important, but it made it even more important because all I really had was my voice, and what I said from the bench and what I said from the locker room. It forced me to challenge myself to being a better leader, better teammate and better servant in that area.”

“It was important amongst everyone because we were losing games, we were down,” he continued. “Sometimes it’s not just the guys on the court, you have to pick-up coaches, pick-up the film guys, even the equipment managers, interns. You see a lot more when you’re not so focused on the game.”

So in a variety of ways, he’s attempted to create other means of contributing. Lopez adds that Lin’s “been a great leader on the floor” As for Lin, he’s also just giddy with his clean bill of healthy after the most adversity filled-season of his career.

“I’m happy I’m healthy. I definitely appreciate it a lot more now,” he says. “The (hamstring) re-aggravation, the third one…that was really difficult in a lot of different ways. Overall I feel like my game is getting a little bit sharper – every game you learn something new, you learn a little bit more, you’re reminded ‘this is what it’s like.’

“I’m learning how to play with my teammates too. That’s the enjoying part, figuring out how these pieces work together. That’s the challenge of every point guard, but that’s a fun one.”