Lin’s Hidden Value at the Hoop by Joey Ramirez
Since his NBA debut four years ago, new Lakers point guard Jeremy Lin has evolved from a seldom-used backup into one of the league’s most efficient and underrated scorers at the rim.
Fresh out of Harvard in 2010, Lin played limited minutes for Golden State and managed to score on 53.3 percent of his attempts at the rim. However, that percentage swelled to 63.3 with Houston last year.
Of Lin’s 131 shots at the hoop in 2013-14, 67.9 percent were unassisted, which testifies to his ability to drive through opposing defenses. This mark tops many of his fellow point guards, such as Russell Westbrook (67.1), Deron Williams (66.7) and Kyle Lowry (64.5).
Lin drove to the basket 519 times last season, the 17th-most in the league. However, of the players ahead of him, only three played fewer than his 28.9 minutes per game. Lin carved his way to the hoop 7.3 times per game, which netted him an average of 4.2 points at the rim.
This 49.5 field goal percentage on drives placed him in elite company among players with at least 515 total drives, trailing only LeBron James (63.1), Tony Parker (52.4), Isaiah Thomas (51.8) and Goran Dragic (51.6).
Lin’s ability to navigate to the rim was highlighted in Houston’s six-game playoff defeat against Portland when he drove 7.5 times per game, yielding an average of 5.2 points. In the series, Lin shot 57.9 percent on drives, which was the best postseason mark among players with more than seven drives per game.
Much of Lin’s success at the rim stems from his development as an all-around player. Since his rookie season, the Palo Alto, Calif., native has improved his 3-point shooting every year, from 20.0 percent with the Warriors to 35.8 percent last season.
Lin’s ability to knock down shots from deep has eliminated the opposing defense’s option to sag off him and clog the lane.
The 26-year-old has proven especially potent from the left side of the basket. With the Rockets last season, Lin hit 41.7 percent from the left block. His aim sharpened as he moved farther from the hoop, shooting 54.5 percent from midrange and 43.9 percent from beyond the arc.
On the right side, Lin still hovered around the league average, as he knocked down 36.3 percent of his attempts. The only area he especially struggled was in the center of the court from eight feet out or more, where he went 24-for-84 (28.6 percent) last season.
Still, while Lin’s outside shooting has been a key addition to his arsenal, the rim has always been the setting for his biggest impact.
After averaging just 1.1 shots at the rim per game with the Warriors, he shot 52.9 percent on 3.9 attempts the following year with New York. His ability to get to the hoop elevated in Houston, where he hit 62.4 percent on 4.0 shots in his first year.
However, with his decrease in minutes last season, Lin was limited to only 2.9 attempts at the rim per game, though he maintained his efficiency, making 62.0 percent.
This knack for getting to the basket helped fuel Houston’s offense, which ranked second in the NBA with 107.7 points per game. Lin’s ability to create space for teammates helped free up shooters, which led to the Rockets making more 3-pointers (779) than any other team.
Of Houston’s 3-point buckets, 83.3 percent came off assists, which can be attributed to team passing and ballhandlers like Lin and James Harden’s ability to create opportunities.
Lin’s passing stems from his skill at getting to the hoop, which in turn is a product of his stellar pick-and-roll play.
Fortunately for Lin, he will spend this season sharing a position with one of the greatest pick-and-roll point guards in league history, Steve Nash. Though playing with Nash, who appeared in just 15 games last season, may depend upon the 40-year-old’s health, Lin will regardless have the chance to absorb some of Nash’s basketball IQ.
Having solid pick-and-roll bigs like Ed Davis and Jordan Hill and a pick-and-pop big in Carlos Boozer to complement his skillset should benefit Lin, but perhaps the most important key to unlocking his offensive potential will be new head coach Byron Scott.
In the past, Scott has coached some of the league’s best pick-and-roll guards, such as Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving. Lin’s ability to slice to the hoop and make intelligent passes could be a critical weapon as Scott implements his new offensive system.