Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Houston's Jeremy Lin Quandary

Would it be a surprise if Jeremy Lin's production fell in Houston? (Eric Kayne/AP)

Jeremy Lin.

That's all that needed to be said in February to start a borderline frenzy, or in April after his success as a starter produced borderline all-star statistics.

As it is with most cultural trends in America, New York was the epicenter of Linsan... Lin's whirlwind performances. Unlike the reputation of a big city, Lin offered understated humility, a squeaky clean past rife with religious affiliation, and a degree from an Ivy League institution characteristics atypical of most professional athletes, as well.

It endeared him to the public, the city, and drew ire from sects of fans who appreciate good basketball regardless of a player's race.

Then the New York Knicks changed things up, letting the Houston Rockets turn a signed offer sheet into a full-blown contract after the Big Apple club reneged on repeated statements that it intended to keep Lin in blue and orange.

Knicks GM Glen Grunwald confirmed on the Monday that skittish feelings emerged when the Rockets' backloaded their offer to Lin, which gives the guard a $14.8 million paycheck in the final season of a 3-year contract worth a total of $25.1 million. Initial reports pegged Houston making a pitch that, presumably, was more reasonable to front office personnel in New York — a hypothetical contract that dealt out $28.8 million over four years.

Lin's mere presence will be a financial boon for the Rockets. After all, Lin is one of few Asian-Americans to ever play in the NBA and the only one to have ever started a game in the Association. As little as it has to do with the actual game, that fact that his race gives Lin a major global appeal cannot be denied. His playing for the same franchise as Yao Ming and a potentially Tim Tebow-esque following of diligent Christians add extra dimensions to the fanbase inherent in bringing Lin to the Lone Star state.

Even the traditionally German car company Volvo is cashing in on his star, releasing a commercial featuring Lin driving a Rockets-red SUV earlier this month. The vehicle's plates show it being registered in California thus capitalizing on Lin's Palo Alto roots and the state's large Asian-American population even though Lin played only sparingly during his 29-game run with the Golden State Warriors and otherwise has never suited up for a home team in his native state.

For marketing purposes, Lin is one of the most valuable assets in professional sports. The ruling on his worth as to a basketball team is still out, however.

After being booted by both the Warriors and Rockets, Lin found himself on the Knicks bench at the beginning of 2011-12, posting inconsistent numbers through nine games before logging 25 points and seven assists against the lowly New Jersey Nets, who finished 28th out of the NBA's 30 teams in defensive rating last season.

That being said, Lin became a starter after that performance and, afterward, produced a high level more often than not. He assisted on 41 percent of his teammates' baskets while on the court, leading to an average of 8.3 dimes per game. Along with his 19.3 points per contest, Lin's numbers warranted .140 win shares per 48 minutes, a mark well above the league watermark of .100.

Things aren't looking as hot this preseason, though. Exhibition numbers are rarely indicative of what is to come during the regular season, but Lin is shooting just 25 percent from the field through four games. That's actually an improvement from the 21 percent, 4-for-19 lines that he accumulated over three games.

If this is indicative of what Lin will do in a Rockets uniform, the Houston brass sorely overpaid. Lin could prove it all to be preseason fodder, too, by returning to form or even putting up better numbers than he did in his 25 starts for the Knicks.

So goes the story of investing in small sample size.

Lin is now expected to be the focal point of a young Rockets team whose talent is less than that of what inhabited Madison Square Garden in last year's march to the playoffs. The 2011-12 incarnation of the Knicks finished with two more wins than Houston. What chance do the Rockets have now that Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic who all played pivotal roles as the team fell just short of the Western Conference playoffs — are gone?

If nothing else, Lin's stay in Texas could be an interesting study in the importance of a newly minted star's personal marketability and individual performance on what may be a subpar team.

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