ETTINGER: Sources of Lin-spiration

“Linsanity” is everywhere. Unless you live under a rock, you’ve already heard the awe-inspiring tale of the Harvard grad turned benchwarmer turned “Linternational” sensation. Indeed, superhero Jeremy Lin has arrived to save New York from the clutches of high-priced mediocrity. And he’s doing it in style.

In her column “Lin great for Ivy athletics,” Chelsea Janes posited that Lin exemplifies the qualities of hardwork, team play and persistence for which athletes in the Ivy League strive. But Janes did not discuss what specifically makes Lin “Linsational” on the court or how long this “Linsanity” will last.

Will it last? The seven straight wins, the contortionist layups, the pretty pick and rolls, the late game heroics; the question on everyone’s mind remains: will it last? I’ll save you some time by giving you my answer up front, a qualified ‘yes.’ Lin possesses some genuine talents that will allow him to hang on as the Knicks’ starting point guard and may even continue to put numbers well above average for the position. That said, Jeremy Lin is not Kobe. Or Steve Nash. Or CP3. Or Rajon Rondo. He will regress. But it’s important to dissect what exactly is driving the point guard’s “Linsational” play.

There are a number of talents Lin does not possess. To begin, Lin’s success is not the product of freakish strength or speed. The California native possesses below-average strength for a point guard. He is quick, but doesn’t possess the ankle-breaking explosiveness of Rajon Rondo or Derrick Rose. Lin is also not an expert ball handler in the style of John Wall or Kyrie Irving. In fact, the Knickerbocker can’t really dribble to his left, and defenders have responded by cheating to his right. This is a pretty glaring hole for an NBA point guard, and one that Lin will have to fill as teams adjust. Lin is not a sharpshooter like Stephen Curry or Brandon Jennings. He’s currently scoring at just 75 percent from the line and 25 percent from beyond the arc — numbers more fitting for the D-League. Finally, Lin does not possess the transcendental Ivy League court vision that some commentators have suggested. Yes, he plays “Lintelligently” with the ball and can absolutely handle his basic distributional requirements (pardon the fantastic pun). But Lin has committed 20 turnovers in his last three games and has yet to display the dazzling no-look passes that make Ricky Rubio and Steve Nash tops in the league.

We have to look elsewhere to explain the second-year savior’s meteoric rise. The Knicks’ conquering hero does possess some “Linnate” athletic ability. To begin with, he is an absolutely fantastic finisher. Highlight reels from the Knicks’ seven-game Lin-ning streak showcase his sensational ability to contort his body, flopping and flying around the baseline and throwing up balls that somehow find a way through the rim. Lin’s movement drives his finishing ability. He possesses above-average speed, but more importantly is extremely efficient and clever with his footwork. Lin finds a way to weave to the rim before help defenders have time to collapse in the paint. On top of that, he is big for a point guard (200 lbs) and can consistently draw fouls.

It also doesn’t hurt that he’s received so many touches. With Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony gone, Lin has been the maestro of the Knicks’ offense. He’s had his hand in most every play, averaging a whopping 40 minutes and 20 shots per game. His active offensive play has helped inflate his assist, point and turnover totals, each of which has been eye-popping. The shots will go down when Anthony returns, but the forward has already pledged to let Lin run the show. With the return of the Knicks’ superstars, look for Lin to score fewer baskets but rack up more assists.

Most importantly, much of Lin’s success must be attributed to the offensive system of coach Mike D’Antoni. Simply put, the system makes point guards look good (particularly those with Lin’s skill set). D’Antoni likes to spread his players around the perimeter, which opens up space in the middle for Lin to drive the lane in a one-on-one before defenders have time to come help. The coach also loves to set up screens and possesses two sensational big men in Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. These screens have become Lin’s bread and butter, allowing him to slice and dice his way to the rim or to find an easy pass for the pick and roll. D’Antoni’s system offers fantastic statistical rewards to a point guard with speed, finishing ability and good court vision. Knicks fans will remember that Chris Duhon (11 points and seven assists) and Raymond Felton (17 points and nine assists) put up averages during their seasons with the Knicks that were easily career highs. Even Steve Nash was considered a mid-level talent with the Mavericks before signing with D’Antoni’s Suns and winning two MVPs.

Finally, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week is playing with “Lincredible” confidence. He has the confidence to jack up 23 shots while playing opposite an elite defender, Derek Fisher. He has the confidence to keep shooting despite a dismal first half against the Raptors and the determination to continue improving his passing, despite disheartening turnover totals. And he has the will to take the “game-Linning” shot, as he showed when he calmly jacked up a three over the outstretched arms of Jose Calderon as time expired on Valentine’s Day, 2012. Confidence pays in the NBA.

So yes, I believe “Linsanity” will continue. The guard possesses genuinely fantastic finishing abilities. His strong “Linside” play is here to stay. So long as he remains on the Knicks, he will also continue to be well served by D’Antoni’s system. In addition, something tells me his charming confidence won’t fade. His numbers will come back to Earth as Stoudemire and Anthony return and as some of his circus shots stop falling. It appears, however, that the Knicks have finally found their point guard after a long saga of searching for the right fit. And what a “Linderella” story it is.

Contact John Ettinger at john.ettinger@yale.edu.

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