How Steve Clifford Praised But Underutilized Jeremy Lin in the 2015-16 Season

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One year has passed since Jeremy Lin came on board the Hornets team because Coach Clifford liked him and the Hornets will play faster with lots of PnR

After the season ended, it is fair to say there have been mixed results. Clifford provided consistent praises of Jeremy Lin’s defensive effort and flashes of off-the-bench Linsanity in several big wins garnering national media attention:

  • Spurs unlikely 23-pt comeback win,
  • Win vs LeBron’s Cavs as a starting PG
  • Raptors 35-pts performance
  • Celtics domination on both ends of the floor

But we also saw patterns of limited usage none bigger than the Game 7 under-utilization of Lin with 19 minutes despite shooting well (50% on 4-8 shooting) while Kemba/Frank/Batum struggled mightily with 22.5% shooting (a combined 9-40, Yikes!). After playing an unlikely hero to provide 3 key wins in Game 3-5, all of the sudden his service was no longer in high demand in the biggest game of the series. Game 7 ended in a similar blowout fashion with Game 1 and 2 without much involvement from Jeremy Lin. Michael Jordan was correct to say preseason that Jeremy Lin was the most important acquisition in the off-season. Too bad the Hornets and Front Office underutilized their most prized acquisition in Game 7 to blow the chance to go to Round 2 of playoff.

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When utilized properly with minimum of 26 min, Lin helped Hornets outscore the Heat by +40 (+17, +17, +6) in Game 3-5

The following is a Top 3 appreciation of Coach Clifford in 2015-16 season even if he’s not a perfect coach for Jeremy.

1. Cliff allowed Lin to be the hero (along with Kemba) to earn praises from national media in Game 3-5 win to increase his FA values

Kenny Smith: “Linsanity! He was the key to the win in Game 5” plus a great TNT half-time presentation of Lin’s PG ability
Isiah Thomas, Shaq, Ernie referred to a flash of Linsanity and discussed his importance for Hornets to win games.

2. Cliff helped to rebuild Lin’s reputation as strong defender with repeated praises in the media

Clifford on Lin play (starts at 2:05) on Jim Rome March 26 2016 Interview after Lin’s 29pts vs Spurs and 21pts vs Nets in back-to-back games .

SC: He is invaluable. I think he’s supposed to do that every night. He is a product of all the work that he does .. DAILY. He is a very committed, serious-minded player. He constantly studies his game and what he has to work on. And he has been in this stretch where he played well but hasn’t shot the ball well. He’s been doing a lot extra and it’s paying off now

Rome: That’s interesting! What does it take for a guy to play well although he didn’t shoot well?

SC: There are 2 things that stand out every night. 1. He gets the ball going to the paint; And he has the quickness, ball-handling skill and the instinct. And he’s so strong for a guy his size. He can get the ball in the paint and he can drop it off to score. He draws a lot of fouls; he can pick it up and makes the 3s. And that is something that any team needs.

And the other part is … I didn’t realize (and a lot of people didn’t realize) he is a very good defender . His Pick-and-Roll defense is very good; his team defense is good and he is a very good competitor. I think whenever you can count on a guy’s effort; his defense and his ability of going to the basket, he brings a lot to your team 

Clifford shows that he understands Jeremy Lin’s game and the values the brings to any NBA teams but his limited usage of Lin shows there is a ceiling to Lin’s role in the Hornets (i.e. 16 min in Miami with Kemba back after a huge win vs the Cavs, he only played a lackluster 16 minutes in which he had 6pts/3asts and shot just 1-6 from the field)

3. Cliff Underutilization of Jeremy Lin Clarified His Ceiling as a Hornets

Finally, Cliff (or Front Office decision) giving Lin only 19 min in the biggest Game 7 despite shooting well would likely bring a dose of reality on Hornets ceiling that Lin’s role will not be allowed to shine above Kemba/Batum/Frank. Any thoughts of Lin wanting to stay with his great teammates and finding home in Charlotte because coaches trust him when it matters most were most likely dashed. Doc Scheppler’s Feb 15 interview comment about a certain pecking order of shots in Charlotte (“It’s like the Hornets have a pecking order with shots,” Scheppler says. “First it’s Kemba, then Batum, then Kaminsky, then Hawes.”) is proven true.

If Cliff trusted Lin in Game 6 to help Kemba to win with defense on Wade and drawing FTs to go to the 2nd round vs Raptors, I can see Lin will be tempted to stay in Charlotte with a restructured 2-3 yr salary because of the great camaraderie and coaches’ trust to call upon him when it counts.

The lack of trust by Cliff (and FO) in Game 6 and 7 probably is a blessing in disguise for Lin.

He is freed to find his next home when he is at his peak age of 27 years old.
And someday we can look back and really express our gratitude to Cliff for his belief, or lack thereof.

Thank you, Cliff! For letting Jeremy Lin to shine in a few big games but also for letting him go…

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