The praise poured out of Byron Scott’s mouth, his compliments on Jeremy Lin seeming as sweet as honey gushing out with the speed of a river stream.
“I’m a Jeremy Lin fan,” Scott said last summer, weeks before the Lakers would name him the head coach. “He plays the right way and plays extremely hard. He’s always in attack mode and pushes the ball up the floor as well as anybody in the league.”
But as Scott has coached Lin through a tortuous Lakers’ 2014-15 season, that sentiment has changed. The Lakers’ 106-96 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday at Staples Center featured Lin spoiling his seven-point effort on 3-of-5 shooting and four assists in 21 minutes off the bench by committing five of the team’s 10 turnovers. And it provided yet another avenue for Scott to air his season-long criticisms for how Lin runs the Lakers’ offense.
Scott chalked up Lin’s turnovers to “bad decisions,” noting that Lin set himself up to fail by throwing too many risky passes and dribbling into traffic. In what has become a broken record, Scott also expressed his dissatisfaction with how Lin has lived up to the Lakers’ coach’s expected job description.
“Get everybody in their sets and take care of the ball,” Scott said. “Just run the show. You don’t have to do too much. Just run the show.”
Lin initially appeared to do that.
He created enough space to can a 19-foot jumper in the first quarter. Lin drove into traffic to convert a pair of baskets in the second quarter. In a game where Lakers starting rookie guard Jordan Clarkson struggled with his shooting accuracy (seven points on a 3-of-11 clip) and defense (Denver guard Ty Lawson scored most of his 32 points on 12-of-20 on him), Lin complemented a second unit that enabled double-digit production from Carlos Boozer (21 points), Wesley Johnson (12 points) and Nick Young (12 points).
Yet, when the second half hit, Lin made blooper after blooper. He threw a swing pass in the third quarter to Young that Denver’s Randy Foye easily intercepted. Lin committed three more turnovers in the fourth quarter, including a bobbling pass at the top of the key that Lawson stole before finishing with a fast-break layup to extend Denver’s lead to 101-96 with 48 seconds left.
“I have to take care of the ball and not pick up my dribble in certain spots,” Lin said. “We’ll take a look at and having not just those plays in general, having good spacing will allow you to counter that and work against them. I have to take care of the ball.”
Underneath his self criticism about his ball handling issues, Lin strongly suggested that his issues had more to do with the team ‘s X’s and O’s than his own decision making.
Beyond repeatedly citing the Lakers’ spacing issues, Lin continuously bemoaned his teammates playing too much one-on-one and settling for jump shots.. He criticized the Lakers for failing to make adjustments to Denver’s increased aggressiveness that entailed winning the fourth quarter, 45-35. He then indirectly concluded that Scott’s criticism about driving into traffic and making questionable passes would not become as much of an issue if he wasn’t put in a position to fail.
“I agree. I, and other people, can make less risky passes,” Lin said. “That’s a big part of it and making it so we don’t have to have as many risky passes is something we have to work at.”
Yet, Scott has squared that responsibility on Lin, a point guard that has hardly lived up to the coach’s gushing offseason praise.
“You can’t throw [those],” Scott said regarding Lin’s passes. “Not in this league. They’re too fast, too quick and too athletic. Bad decisions.”