The soap opera is over, after what has seemed like years of debate over the topic, Jeremy Lin has officially re-joined the Houston Rockets with a three year, 25 million dollar contract. One nice side effect of this Jeremy Lin debate, it's made talk radio a lot more interesting recently. For that, I thank you Jeremy Lin. Without you, talk radio between the end of the NBA Finals and the start of football season would have been awfully boring. So where do we go from here? Let me attempt to answer that question with three other questions.
Has Jeremy Lin done enough on the court to deserve this contract?
No. I don't care how good a two week stretch of games is, there's no way it was worth 25 million dollars. Lin had a great February (20.9 points, 8.4 assists, 47% from the field), but fell off in March (14.6 points, 6.3 assists, 40% from the field). I think a combination of the league figuring him out and then later his coach getting fired helped bring his numbers back to the mean and reveal what his true numbers will look like over a full season. Similar to inflated numbers from a quarterback in a run-and-shoot offense like Texas Tech or batters at Coors Field, players and especially point guards in D'Antoni's system put up numbers better than their talent would suggest. For example, Chris Duhon, a journeyman, averaged career highs in points, assists, and field goal percentage during the 2008-2009 season. Outside of his years in New York, he was barely an average backup in Chicago and Orlando. A couple years later, Raymond Felton also posted career highs with 17.1 points and 9 assists per game in 54 starts with the Knicks. With the Knicks, Felton played at an All-Star caliber level; he was just a guy with every other team. In the six games after D'Antoni was fired, Lin averaged 14 points, 5 assists, 3 turnovers, and shot 42% from the field; numbers close to what he'll likely average in Houston. Decent numbers, but not special, something that has become a trend now with Felton, Duhon, and soon Jeremy Lin.
Will Jeremy Lin provide enough of a boost in marketing to make the deal worth it?
Maybe. He'll provide a boost, but it won't be to the levels of what Yao Ming brought in. Yao was a borderline rock star in China even before the Rockets drafted him, making it very easy to tap into new markets. Not only did a fellow star like T-Mac make money in China off of Yao's stardom, role players like Chuck Hayes and Shane Battier got shoe contracts and became semi-stars in China. Also helping Yao's commercial appeal was that he became for a short amount of time the best center in the league. Between 2004-2008, Yao averaged 21.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and shot 52% from the field. If Yao had played terrible and ended up a bust, his market value would have been only marginally better than Yi Jianlian or Wang ZhiZhi. Yao would have been popular either way and provided a boost in marketing in the short term even if he had failed, but his success is what made him a long term marketing star and worth big money. Also a factor, Lin is an American born in California, of Taiwanese heritage, who played at Harvard; it's just not the same as Yao. Lin will bring in money and new business deals in the short term, but if he fails, those will go away quickly.
How does Jeremy Lin fit into this offense?
Lin was a perfect fit in D'Antoni's system so his numbers will go down. However, McHale does like to run a lot of pick and roll and that's what Lin does best. Only problem right now, who will be his pick and roll running mate? Lin had guys like Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler who are great finishers; this roster currently doesn't have one of those players. Without that threat, the pick and roll won't be nearly as effective and defenses will probably force Lin to take more jumpers. Last season Lin shot 40% (99-246) on jumpers; if he can't run the pick, he'll be less effective. If the Rockets acquire Dwight Howard, that changes things; Lin to Howard could be a very nice pick and roll combo.
I'm a Rockets fan, I watch every game, and I hope Lin is a success here. However, I have serious doubts and I think the Rockets were victim to believing in inflated numbers and a bit of desperation