Below is the eighth in a series previewing the story lines surrounding each player on the Lakers’ roster for the 2014-15 season. This post focuses on Lakers guard Jeremy Lin.
1. Will Lin start at point guard? It would seem unthinkable two years ago to debate whether Steve Nash remains worthy of keeping his starting point guard spot. He has already etched a Hall of Fame resume that entails two regular-season MVP awards, a third-place standing on the NBA’s all time assists list and arguably the best point guard of this past generation. But after missing a combined 99 games the past two seasons through injuries to his left leg, back and hamstrings, Nash enters the 2014-15 season without much certainty on whether his improved health will prove enough to survive an 82-game season. Such issues could either prompt the Lakers to keep Nash as a starter just to ensure he stays fresh after warm ups or feature him as a reserve to minimize adjustments should he suffer another injury.
Meanwhile, Lin joins the Lakers eager to seek stability in an NBA career that took off with “Linsanity” in New York and plateaued the past two seasons with Houston amid evolving roles. Still, Lin offered plenty of positive signs in Houston. He posted career-highs last season in field-goal percentage from the field (44.6 percent), from three-point range (35.8 percent) and from the foul line (82.3 percent). Lin’s turnovers dropped to 2.5 per game after averaging 3.6 with the Knicks. According to ESPN, Lin shot 57.8 percent off drives last season, a mark that only trailed LeBron James (63.8 percent).
Will all those areas become enough for Lin to start at point guard? As of now, Lakers coach Byron Scott is favoring Nash. But that could easily change within the next month for reasons including Nash’s health and Lin’s talent level.
2. How much reinforcement can he provide for Nash? It honestly does not matter whether Nash or Lin starts as much as it matters how the Lakers handle those players’ respective roles. Regardless of who starts, the Lakers will try to stay conservative with Nash’s playing time. Regardless of who starts, it appears Lin will have a significant role. Regardless of who starts, it seems that both Nash and Lin are open toward having a strong relationship steered toward team work and professional development.
Instead, the more pressing issue entails how does Lin handle enhancing the Lakers’ point guard depth even with a possibly limited Nash? Lin will start some games by virtue of Nash’s likelihood to sit out the second night of back-to-backs. Lin may play that role again if Nash experiences an injury. Lin will have to become well versed playing increased minutes and solidifying chemistry with both starters and reserves. It will not be an easy task, but it will be one in which Lin will have plenty of opportunity.
3. Lin should help the Lakers play at a fast pace. Regardless of when Lin plays, he will significantly help the Lakers operate at a quick tempo. Through his first step and when he shifts gears, Lin’s average speed ranks the highest among NBA guards. This could significantly fuel an otherwise aging starting lineup. Or Lin’s presence could mark one of many energetic forces among a reserve unit that could also include Nick Young and Julius Randle. On a team that features plenty of question marks with its defense and talent level, generating easy baskets could offset some of those issues.
4. Can Lin improve his consistency? Lin’s recent playing history suggests he will become more durable than the Lakers’ point guards last season. Lin appeared in a combined 153 games the past two seasons, including a full 82-game slate two years ago. Meanwhile, neither of the Lakers’ backup point guards last year could stay healthy, including Jordan Farmar (played in only 41 games of injuries that included a torn left hamstring and a strained right groin) and Steve Blake (appeared in only 27 games because of a hyperextended right elbow). Yet, can Lin stay as reliable on the court as Farmar and Blake did with their aggressiveness and unselfish playmaking?
Scott praised Lin’s hustle, but he is not known as an elite defender capable of holding down speedy point guards, such as Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook or the Clippers’ Chris Paul. Scott gushed about Lin’s outside shooting, though Scott noted that Lin could temper his shot selection by becoming more patient with his looks. But even in a setting where Lin will have strong leadership backed by Nash and Kobe Bryant, Lin will still have to prove his strong work ethic and positive attitude will become enough in offsetting some of his weaknesses.
5. Lin could become part of the Lakers’ future. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told Lin that the “third time is a charm,” noting that the organization failed in two other instances to acquire him well before his career took off. The pairing seems too perfect. Lin was born in Torrance, Calif. He will enhance the Lakers’ global brand with his strong overseas following in Asia. And Lin enters the 2014-15 season on the final year of his contract, eager to show he is worthy of a long partnership here.
Lin hit on an interesting note in his introductory press conference that he has learned not to put additional pressure on himself and to rely on his Christian faith to guide him through adversity. Sticking to that mindset should help him navigate such waters.