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The Jeremy Lin Tradeoff

Posted By Howard Megdal On November 5, 2012 @ 9:36 am In Roster construction | Comments Disabled

[1]Predictably, with the New York Knicks at 2-0, observers have already begun to crow [2] about how the Knicks are better without Jeremy Lin than they were with him.

Based on personnel, and how that came to pass, such a conclusion is ridiculous.

Remember, the Knicks are a better team in 2012-13 so far than they ever were in 2011-12 for a pair of reasons: improved offensive production, and greatly improved defense. The former is largely a result of more passing, something Lin arguably does more effectively than his replacement, Raymond Felton, while defensively, the improvement is on the roster, top to bottom.

Look, this is all too small a sample to come to any conclusions. But the Knicks are 2-0, despite Raymond Felton’s 13.4 Player Efficiency Rating, on par with last season’s 13.4. Jeremy Lin, through three games, is at 17.0, down a bit from his 19.9 last year, but well above average. So no conclusions should be drawn; but if using purely the available evidence, the Knicks would be better off with Lin than Felton. It doesn’t matter, as long as they are beating everyone by 20. But it’s worth keeping in mind.

Or as I told my wife yesterday afternoon, “They didn’t trade Jeremy Lin for this bunch of new players. They could have had all of them, and Jeremy Lin. They didn’t trade Lin for Carmelo Anthony’s defensive effort.”

But then I considered that last statement some more. Isn’t there a good chance that trading Lin for Anthony’s defensive effort might be exactly what they did? There’s been little question that Anthony didn’t like sharing the spotlight with Lin, nor that Anthony realizes this is absolutely, fundamentally his team now. An unprecedented focus and effort at both ends of the floor has followed.

Nor is that difference in Anthony alone. Listen to J.R. Smith [3]: “It’s really contagious when you see your star player going out there, diving in the crowd, giving up open shots, going for loose balls,” J.R. Smith said. “It really filters throughout the team, so as long as he keeps doing that, I think everybody won’t have a problem doing it.”

It’s that second part- “as long as he keeps doing that, I think everybody won’t have a problem doing it”- that gets me. A focused Anthony has the entire team playing great defense. Now, Tyson Chandler would anyway. But could letting Jeremy Lin go, no fault of Lin’s, be responsible for the great Knicks defense we’ve seen so far?

In a perfect world, Carmelo Anthony would have been mature enough to go play elite defense, even with a better point guard around to get him the ball in better spots (and yes, share some of the spotlight). But Anthony, for nine seasons, didn’t do what he’s doing so far this season.

It may be that the Knicks didn’t give up Jeremy Lin for nothing in return, after all. Or, Anthony’s effort will soon return to career levels, and they gave away a young star point guard. It’s the drama that will animate much of this Knicks’ season.

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[1] Image: http://knicks.lohudblogs.com/files/2012/11/76ers-Knicks-Basketba_Megd1.jpg

[2] observers have already begun to crow: https://twitter.com/knickerbacker/status/264523548431884289

[3] Listen to J.R. Smith: http://espn.go.com/blog/new-york/knicks/post/_/id/27547/knicks-defense-becoming-contagious