PHOENIX — The possibility of having a clean slate invigorated Jeremy Lin.
No more worries remained about living up to “Linsanity” that sparked during a breakout season in New York. No more uncertainty lingered about his fluctuating role during two frustrating years in Houston. But only two games into an already trying Lakers’ season, Lin has encountered a new challenge.
How to play with Kobe Bryant.
“He’s used having to look over his shoulder all the time and playing with players who like controlling the ball a lot,” said Bryant, an obvious reference to New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Houston’s James Harden. “I told him that’s a big urban legend of me. I want to score. That means coming off of picks, catching and shooting. You handle the ball and you run the show.”
That hardly happened in the Lakers’ 119-99 loss on Wednesday to the Phoenix Suns at U.S. Airways Center. Bryant’s 31 points on 11-25 shooting in 27 minutes offered encouraging signs about his linear progression after playing only six games last season amid injuries to his left Achilles tendon and left knee. But Bryant’s performance also served as a stark contrast to the lack of a supporting cast around him. No one seemed more affected by that issue more than Lin, who scored six points on 2 of 5 shooting in 21 minutes.
“He has to go out and play his game,” Scott said of Lin. “He’s thinking too much about the game. Just go out and play basketball.”
Perhaps easier said than done considering the unique dynamic surrounding Bryant. Both Bryant and Lin are sharing point-guard duties in Scott’s Princeton-run offense. That system also features Bryant in a comfortable setting on the post and elbows. But it also creates isolation plays for Bryant, who took a handful of shots through double teams despite having open teammates.
Perhaps that explains why Lin seemed caught off guard when reporters relayed the message to him about Scott wanting him to play more aggressive.
“I didn’t feel like I was that hesitant,” Lin said. “I felt like when I had opportunities I was trying to attack. I’ll go and take a look at the film and see if that’s the case or not. In my mind I thought I was assertive and trying to make plays.”
But that rarely happened. The Lakers shot only 4 of 13 from three-point range, including Lin missing two attempts from beyond the arc. That prompted Bryant to take on the heavier workload.
“I have to do what I have to do sometimes if things aren’t working,” Bryant said. “I have to manufacture [scoring]. But I’d much rather have him run the show. That’s what he’s good at doing. He’s good at getting into the lane and running it for other people. It’s a matter of him pulling the bull by the horns.”
Lin showed plenty of that during exhibition play with the second unit, bringing a fast-paced tempo to an offense that featured countless pick-and-roll lobs to Ed Davis and open jumpers for everyone. Lin also attacked the basket with precision, including in last week’s exhibition against Phoenix where he closed out the game with Bryant. Then, Lin scored 11 fourth-quarter points, while Bryant made three consecutive fadeaways.
Lin has said he relished Bryant’s mentorship, which has entailed providing various tips on how to defend better and how to play more aggressively. Lin also believes he can cite on his past experience playing with Harden and Anthony even if his time with Bryant comes at the tail end of his career. Lin also downplayed any chemistry issues with Bryant and mentioned the Suns’ 16 of 32 mark from three-point range as a bigger problem.
“The goal is for me to find a way to facilitate and complement him,” Lin said, “while bringing what I can bring to the table.”
And in Bryant’s mind, he hopes that entails Lin not playing as he is walking on eggshells to appease his demanding teammate. Bryant then invoked Lakers guard Derek Fisher, mentioning how he never became afraid in standing up to him. He largely credited that dynamic in ensuring five NBA championships.
“We used to bicker and snipe at each other all the time and I couldn’t love the teammate more,” Bryant said. “These guys are young and it takes time to understand that. Teams become great by challenging each other. I want him to orchestrate the offense, call the right plays and get the ball in the right spots. It might take a little bit getting used to for him.”