The Hornets beat the Raptors in overtime on Thursday in a matchup between two of the East's best teams. Charlotte prevailed in no small part thanks to Jeremy Lin's season-high 35 points. The former Knick was asked to fill in for an injured Nicolas Batum in the starting lineup and did a fantastic job, also contributing five rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
It was Lin's best game of the season but not the first time he's helped the Hornets win. The six-year guard is putting up similar numbers than the ones he averaged last season as a Laker, but his impact at the team level has been very positive in a smaller role than the one he's enjoyed in past years.
The Hornets are better on both ends when he plays and have outscored opponents by over nine points per 100 possessions when Lin has been on the court, one of the best marks on the team. Their four best lineups in terms of net rating (min. 30 minutes) all feature Lin. Good things tend to happen for Charlotte when he's on the court, either as the primary ball handler or next to Kemba Walker.
His ability to play next to the Hornets' starting point guard has been a pleasant surprise. The Lin-Walker duo has not been used in every game, but the two have shared the floor for 298 minutes already and the Hornets have outscored opponents by almost seven points per 100 possessions in that time. Against the Raptors, Charlotte was +12 in the 39 minutes the two were on the court .
Having two ball-dominant guards with shaky jumpers playing together shouldn't work, and the Hornets have suffered a little bit on offense when they have to share the court compared to their team-wide average. Yet as long as at least one of them has his shot going -- Lin went 2-for-5 on three-pointers on Thursday -- the pairing offers a dual threat to break down defenses that the Hornets need when Batum rests.
"It's always good to have two pick-and-roll players on the floor," Clifford told The Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell before the season. "That way you can put pressure on the defense at one side, then switch it to the other."
That play -- while not perfect -- shows what Clifford was talking about. When Walker can't create a quality shot, he can pass to Lin and let him try while the defense is moving.
The lineup flexibility Lin adds on two-point guard units certainly has value, but he has also done a good job leading the bench. The numbers are not close to his Linsanity days, but he's playing more under control. His assists are down, but his turnover percentage is at a career-low. Lin is not creating for himself or others as much as he has in the past and his three-point percentage has dropped significantly this season, but he still manages to find ways to get buckets as an off-ball threat.
Lin has become an opportunistic and effective cutter, as the play above shows. That's a great skill to have on a Hornets team that has good passing big men coming off the bench. Lin has received as many combined assists from Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky as he has from Walker and Batum. He ranks in the 99th percentile in the league in points per possession coming on cuts, per Synergy Sports, thanks to plays like this one.
Lin is no longer just a pick-and-roll point guard with a turnover problem. He has become a more well-rounded player in Charlotte, someone who can hold his own on defense and offer versatility on offense. That's not as sexy as his New York heroics. But it is exactly what he needed to do to establish himself once and for all as the kind of player who can contribute on a good team in a significant role.
The Hornets are 15-10 and are on pace to have their best season since 1996-97. While Lin is not the main reason why, he's certainly played a part in their surprising success and deserves credit for adjusting his game to serve the team.
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