Hey, remember the Brandon Jennings moment? For the first two weeks of Jennings’ NBA career, there was no one in the league more watchable. His 55-point outburst on a random Saturday night was one of the first great crossover League Pass/Twitter moments. Everybody wanted to see what Jennings might do.
I thought back to that this week, when I picked Jennings for the All-Star team. He didn’t make it, but he’s close, and today I chose him as the most likely player in the entire league to reach All-Star status in the future. At 22, Jennings is on the cusp of figuring it out … and nobody cares. When was the last time a Bucks game reached must-watch status? In part, the same things that make Jennings more valuable (low turnover rate, fewer crazy stats) also make him less entertaining. More than that, though, what Jennings is doing is no longer new.
As a sports fan, there’s nothing more enjoyable than the unexpected. When a player starts doing new things, even if they’re only reinforcing what we already knew he could do but hadn’t seen with our own eyes, we watch with rapt attention. That, to me, is the underrated part of Linsanity.
There are many elements to why Jeremy Lin has suddenly become the most discussed player in the league. Playing in New York helps. Being a pioneering fully Asian-American NBA player is a huge factor that made Lin immensely popular before he’d ever scored an NBA point. Lin’s streetball-style game is uniquely suited to capturing attention. To me, though, none of those elements would matter quite so much if Lin had developed slowly rather than going from little-used backup to the Knicks’ leading scorer overnight. Whether you’re pulling for Lin to keep it up or can’t wait for him to come crashing back to Earth, we all want to know what comes next.
We also want to debate the answer. Personally, I find myself going back through everything I’ve ever written about Lin to try to figure out where to peg expectations. Based on his stats, and watching him play at Harvard, I thought there was a place for Lin in the league, and New York is close to the ideal situation. I anticipated Lin playing point guard next to a quicker player who lacks playmaking skills, and that describes Iman Shumpert. Mike D’Antoni‘s system puts Lin in a position to create off the dribble, and that’s always been the strength of his game.
When Twitter tried to come up with precedent for Lin, we didn’t find many players truly comparable in terms of huge, unexpected success. There are a bunch of Warriors (Anthony Morrow, C.J. Watson, Reggie Williams) and a few second-round picks who thrived immediately after getting off the bench (Flip Murray, Ramon Sessions). The history of these players is still instructive. None of them became big stars–Sessions is probably the closest–but all of them have enjoyed legitimate NBA careers.
Lin’s performance is a fluke to the extent that he’s not going to continue to rank second in the NBA in PER, but not to the extent that he’s going to completely disappear. Expect more games like his last three from time to time in the future. Too bad they won’t be nearly as exciting.