Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lindecision Watch: First Impressions

Last season here on Gym Class All Stars we shared our thoughts on Jeremy Lin's surprising success in the NBA and his impact on race and stereotypes in our nation. I even started a column about the New York Knicks and deemed them Asian America's team. Much has changed since the end of the season, including Jeremy Lin leaving for a lucrative contract in Houston.  The Knicks replaced him with three new point guards, with two of them in the tail ends of their basketball careers. Yet some things still remained the same: the Rockets still got the better of the Knicks again, the Knicks' success still lies on the shoulders of Carmelo Anthony, and James Dolan is still the worst owner in all of professional sports.

I personally was frustrated and bitter over the departure of Jeremy Lin from my beloved Knicks. What didn't make it any better was that it was the Rockets who used the poison pill strategy to pry him away, which led me to write a post about my dislike for the Houston Rockets. In the "Lindecision Watch," I will be following both Jeremy Lin's progress in Houston as well as the Knicks ability to succeed without him.

As the first week of the NBA season comes to an end, it is clear that both Houston and New York are off to a fast start.

Harden's arrival has already had a huge impact. After the huge trade for James Harden shocked the NBA world, Harden was given an $80 million contract. I am not going to talk about if I think the Rockets got the better end of the trade or if I think Harden is worth the 80 million -- I will let the Rocket fans interject on that topic -- instead I will say that this trade was maybe the second-best thing to happen so far in Jeremy Lin's young NBA career, second only to getting playing time in Mike D'Antoni's offensive system. Harden has taken on a lot of the burden that fell on Jeremy Lin.  James is now the star player, and Jeremy is more than capable of supporting him. Also the "713" connection as they are calling it in Houston has been clicking so far.  All I have to say is I didn't realize that the Thunder traded Michael Jordan to Houston, because James Harden has been ridiculous so far.

New York point guards have proven more than capable. New York now has three new players running the point: Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, and Pablo Prigioni. Kidd is no stranger to NBA success, yet many people felt that his production would fall off this year due to Father Time. Kidd is the most important addition to the Knicks roster. Some may disagree, but everywhere Kidd goes, that team gets better. There is no doubt in my mind that Kidd will continue to adapt to any role he is in; Raymond has already come out to say how much Kidd's mentoring has helped his development this year. Felton might still look short and round, but one thing that's different from last year is that Felton is in shape. Raymond clearly took it personally when everyone in the media criticized his ability to play basketball and is currently putting up 13.7 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, and 1.67 steals a game in only 28 minutes of playing time. These numbers are quite comparable to Jeremy Lin with about 9 minutes less in playing time. Felton played great for the Knicks before he was included in the Carmelo trade two years ago. He plays better in New York City because he enjoys playing here, and he's the main reason letting Jeremy Lin walk last summer wasn't as big of a blow as most people thought it would be. Lastly we have Pablo Prigioni, the 35-year-old rookie from Argentina. Pablo might be the oldest rookie in over 40 years, but this guy is as crafty as any veteran in the league. Pablo was the starting point guard that won the gold during the 2004 Olympics and has achieved every award in the Euro league. At times it does seem like Prigioni is allergic to shooting, but his ability to set up his teammates is supreme. While only averaging 4.3 points in 19 minutes, what is impressive is that he averages the same 4.3 in assists per game. Pablo helps Kidd stay fresh and gives Woodson the flexibility to play Kidd at shooting guard.

Improvement in the Knicks defense after a full training camp with Mike Woodson. The number one priority for the Knicks this year is defense. The team is aggressive and swarming all over the court. As a life-time Knicks fan, it is a pleasure to finally see defense again in MSG. I always felt that the biggest weakness of having Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony, and Amar'e Stoudemire on the court together was how defensively inept they were. Now the current Knicks unit only has a few guys who lack on the defensive side of the ball; in that category I would include only Amar'e and Novak, as even Melo has figured it out after playing with team USA this summer. Carmelo has come back slimmer, stronger, and quicker. The best part of that is he is using these improvements on the defensive end and is setting a great example for guys like J.R. Smith and Felton. I hope this doesn't change with the return of Amar'e, but I will address that later on in this article. In their first game against Miami, the Knicks forced 21 turnovers.  In their second game against the 76ers, they forced another 18 turnovers. In their third game also against the 76ers, Philly only shot 33% from the field.

Jeremy Lin's consistent output has been positive for the Rockets. So far so good, as Lin seems to be earning his worth after receiving a contract close to $25 million over three years. Lin has been overshadowed by James Harden's brilliance, but his numbers have been solid. Lin's stat line reads 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.3 steals. Also so far he only is committing 3.3 turnovers a game. Of course the season is still very young, but this is a promising sign and shows that Jeremy can contribute to this team in many different ways. I believe his steals and rebounds will dip, but I wouldn't be surprised to if points and assists see a small lift moving forward. I hope that Jeremy Lin will still find way to make a cultural impact like he did last year, but I still think that will be harder to do in Houston as opposed to New York City.

Omer Asik is the wild card for Houston's ability to compete. Harden and Lin will obviously be the main reasons why the Rockets have success this year and in years to come, but Omer Asik is critical in providing things for this team that Harden and Lin can not. Omer gets rebounds and plays solid interior defense, and his ability to do both of these things will give Harden and Lin the chance to take this team to the next level. It will be interesting to see if he can develop a low post offensive game which would open up things for the rest of the team as well, or run the pick and roll effectively with either Lin or Harden. If Asik can do these things, I believe Lin will benefit the most and will enjoy a successful career in Houston. Currently Omer is only averaging 5.3 points a game, but his 14.3 rebounds per game speaks volumes for how important he is to this team.

Stat's return is still the biggest question mark for the New York Knicks. Amar'e Stoudemire's absence in the Knicks lineup is easily forgotten; nevertheless Stat will be back before you know it, and the Knicks will need to figure out how he can fit into what they are doing. I want to believe that Carmelo and Stoudemire will be able to play together, but so far the numbers don't lie. The Knicks are a better team when only one of the two Knicks stars is on the floor. With Stat playing the four, Melo will be moved to the three, and either Brewer or Kidd will not be in the starting unit. This will drop their ability to defend and create mismatches on the offensive end. Woodson needs to find a way to make this work, unless by some miracle the Knicks could trade the untradable in Amar'e Stoudemire.

Overall, both Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks are doing just fine without one another. You could make an argument that the Knicks look better than ever while Jeremy Lin is just holding steady to his production last year. Or one could say that Jeremy Lin has not reached the same highs he had last year where for a 7-game stretch he was the focal point in New York City.  The verdict is still out, but so far it seems like everyone came out a winner after the summer of 2012. The Knicks, Jeremy Lin, Carmelo, Morey, and even James Dolan.

Photos courtesy of, Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE,  Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE, and Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images 


I hope I didn't speak too soon, Rockets looked awful last night...Although Lin did have an interesting stat line 6 pts 5 reb 6 ast and 6 stl. Seriously he had as many steals as points?!?!

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