By Tolulope Oladele
On Feb. 4 against the New Jersey Nets, Jeremy Lin started an historic two-week run that saw him save Coach Mike D’Antoni’s job–for a short time, at least–, bring the New York Knicks back into playoff contention, and fuel lucrative economic stimulus by himself. Since inserting Lin into the Knicks’ starting lineup, the Knicks have gone 17-10 and are on the heels of the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers in the Atlantic division. In the month of February, Lin averaged 20.9 points, four rebounds, 8.4 assists, 2.1 steals, and five turnovers per game. In the following analysis, I will supplement my comments with NBA coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy’s keys for slowing down the Harvard grad’s prolific and very efficient pick-and-roll game.
Jeremy Lin’s skills
Lin has proven to be an effective interior scorer and finisher, using a swift crossover and long stride to extend his dribble into the paint. His athleticism is mediocre at best, but he uses quick changes of speed to get by his defenders. However, he overuses his right hand and has yet to show that he’s equally effective going left. He has also shown that he needs to make smarter decisions with the ball after racking up an obscene amount of turnovers since starting for the Knicks. Lin is very good at reading defensive schemes, but is not as adept with offensive schemes.
HARD AND EARLY TRAP: “I would trap Lin hard and trap him early” –Van Gundy
When Lin has the ball at the top of the key initiating the pick-and-roll, the defense must have their screener’s defender jump out to trap Lin. Although he is very good at extending his dribble, by trapping hard, you take Lin out of his comfort zone and exploit his excessive turnovers. According to Synergy Sports, Lin’s turnover rate in pick-and-roll situations increases from five percent in single cover to 22 percent when defense helps.
CLOSEOUT AND ROTATE: “There’s always a risk in putting two defenders on the ball, but with Lin there’s greater risk in not doing it.” –Van Gundy
After successfully trapping Lin, he must give up the ball and pass it to a teammate beyond the arc. The defense must now rotate and make sure the cutting screener is covered in order to deny the entry pass. This strategy effectively gets the ball out of Lin’s hands and forces someone else to try to beat you.
RECOVERY: “When you’re deciding to hard-trap a point guard in a pick-and-roll, it’s really about who they’re playing with.” –Van Gundy
Hard-trapping a pick-and-roll point guard is a good indicator of an effective jump shooting team because the team will be able to exploit this strategy by knocking down the long range opportunities when passing out of the double-team. With the ball out of his hands, teams can play the averages with Lin if the Knicks decide to relay the ball back to Lin after passing out the double-teams.
Lin’s stat lines when teams hard-trapped him:
Against Miami (2/23): 8 points (1-11 FG), 3 assists, 8 turnovers
Against Boston (3/4): 14 points (6-16 FG), 5 assists, 6 turnovers
Season Outlook for Lin
Although teams are getting wise to Lin’s offense, his high basketball IQ will help him adjust to these traps and force him to work on splitting the defense more efficiently. He will also learn to become as effective with his left hand now that teams will also force him to go left. Overall, Lin will be coming down to earth, but will still be a capable and serviceable guard for the Knicks going forward.