The undeniable impact of Jeremy Lin on the court is pretty easily measurable: the New York Knicks are 5-0 since his emergence over a week ago, including 4-0 in his starts. Lin has the led the team in assists in all five games, and in scoring in four of the five games (Tyson Chandler edged him by a bucket against the Wizards). Without Carmelo Anthony for the last four games and Amar'e Stoudemire for the last three, the Knicks have looked better than they had since April of last season. Considering the stakes of this season for the 'Bockers, this is no small matter.
But the tentacles of Lin's impact go much, much deeper than what's happened on the court over the past week.
ON MIKE D'ANTONI
The night before Lin's breakout, a rumor emanating from a Page Six knockoff read that Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni would be canned during Super Bowl weekend so that James Dolan could avoid as much bad press as possible. Regardless of the veracity of that report, D'Antoni surely couldn't feel comfortable shepherding a contender to such a poor start.
The murmurs that D'Antoni could only win with Steve Nash had gotten louder. Those have gone away since Lin emerged. Concerns that D'Antoni is a one-trick pony -- he can't win outside of his signature offensive system, one which relies on a smart point guard and three-point shooting -- will stick around, because, well, Jeremy Lin is smart point guard and the team is still stinking it up from behind the arc (Steve Novak excepted), which will limit the team, even with Lin steadying the ship.
But the heat has been turned way, way down on D'Antoni, and barring another collapse, his job should remain safe through the end of the season.
ON CARMELO ANTHONY
When Melo comes back, possibly this week, he'll have a whole new reality to navigate. Given the Knicks' lack of consistent point guard play this season -- they missed Chauncey Billups more than they had expected to -- Anthony had to play as more of a facilitator. He's never been a point forward; the SAT-style analogy works out something like
LeBron : Melo :: Kidd : Gilbert Arenas.
But he tried. His assist rate this season is a career high by no small margin. He's taking fewer shots than he has over much of his career. D'Antoni needed Melo to fill that gap, and he's made a real effort. The results haven't been pretty -- the point forward role simply doesn't fit him, no matter what the team needs -- but he has tried.
Chances are that when he returns, he can stop trying. Lin is running the team like a maestro. No one would confuse Lin with Steve Nash, but the rising star is a legit point guard who does legit point guard things on the court. That's new for the 2011-12 Knicks. Taking the table-setting duties off of Melo's plate should free the erstwhile scorer to do that which he does best: score.
But there's a second edge on this sword.
At the same time that Lin's success relieves Melo of pressure to be a facilitator, it increases the pressure to be awesome. Because Lin is awesome, and nothing he does that is awesome will go unnoticed. (You've seen Spike Lee's Twitter feed, right?). Anthony will get shots when he returns, and those will be shots that Lin doesn't get, that Lin's pick-and-roll buddy Tyson Chandler doesn't get, that Lin's kick-out pal Steve Novak doesn't get. So when Melo takes over a chunk of the offense for his isolation face-up action, he needs to be deadly. New York fans are smart, but many of them can be prone to overreaction. The first game that the Knicks lose and Melo takes more shots than Lin might end up with its own Wikipedia page. That's how ugly the backlash could get. It's unfair to Melo, who gets paid well to play like Carmelo Anthony. But it's the reality. The Knicks were bad with Melo running the show, and have been good with Lin in charge. This is just what happens.
That Melo makes roughly 2,000 times as much as Lin, embraces the glamour image many fans despise and lacks the media-friendly story Lin carries -- all of that matters, too. And none of it is good for Melo's P.R. challenge.
ON AMARE STOUDEMIRE
The impacts on Amare are less explosive, primarily because he desperately needed someone like Lin all along. Stoudemire will take a number of Chandler's pick-and-roll touches, at least immediately. If he thrives in that role, Lin will be heralded at the savior of S.T.A.T. If success doesn't come, those whispers about Stoudemire's end as an effective player will become audible. This season Amare has had the crutch of the team's lack of a point guard to deflect those concerns. With Lin in place, that excuse goes out of the window.
ON GLENN GRUNWALD AND SHADOWMASTER ISIAH THOMAS
Here's an interesting wrinkle in the never-ending Donnie Walsh-Isiah Thomas power struggle that really should be over by now considering neither works for the Knicks: Lin and Chandler, each picked up after Walsh's retreat, have been New York's best players in this winning streak. Stoudemire, who was Walsh's first coup, has looked like a potential amnesty candidate this season. Melo, reportedly picked up under Walsh at Isiah's request, has been a mixed bag. If you believe that Grunwald, the interim general manager, is Isiah's implicit puppet at Madison Square Garden, don't you have to give Zeke a good bit of credit for the Knicks' rebound? If you're a Knicks fan, doesn't that make you absolutely sick to your stomach?
For all we know, Grunwald could have brought in Lin of his own volition; we don't expect that even if Isiah did have a role in Knicks' decision-making, he would be involved on minor issues like "pick up Jeremy Lin off of the waiver wire." In the case, Grunwald's making a real case that he deserves the job full-time. The Chandler acquisition was strong, and Lin has been excellent.
ON YOUNG ASIAN-AMERICANS
The New York Times' Michael Luo wrote about the inspiration Lin provides to young Asian-Americans, who have had a dearth of role models in major American sports. (Stars like Ichiro and Yao Ming aren't Asian-American -- they are Asian.) Consider this: Asian-Americans are now represented at every level of the NBA, from the court (Lin) to the sidelines (Eric Spoelstra, who is Filipino-American) and the front office (Rich Cho, the Bobcats assistant GM and former Blazers GM, who is Burmese-American). The NBA's world-class diversity continues.
ON NEW YORK BASKETBALL
Knicks fans are never happy, even when they are winning. But right now, watching Lin? They seem happy. It's a beautiful thing to watch. Thanks be to Lin.
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