When you watch Jeremy Lin play basketball, his tangible basketball skills are fairly clear. Sure, Lin doesn’t have the physical skill or composition of a player like Chris Paul, Derrick Rose or any other point guard who will find himself on an All-Star roster every year, but still, it’s clear that Lin can handle himself on the basketball court.
Anyone who watched him play when he was at Harvard could tell you that much. After all, you don’t drop 30 at Storrs against a nationally ranked UConn team or become a finalist for the Wooden Award even while playing for Harvard if you don’t have legitimate skill.
You also don’t score 38 points in front of a national TV audience in the world’s most famous arena against one of the great franchises in basketball history if you don’t know what you’re doing on the hardwood.
In short, Jeremy Lin has some serious skill. That’s why it’s still a little bit puzzling when the comparisons to Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow start appearing.
The premise for the comparison is understandable. Both players have exceeded expectations and proved the doubters wrong at every level. Both provide unending talking points. And perhaps most importantly to their respective careers, ESPN can’t stop drooling over either of them.
That’s pretty much where the comparisons end, though. We have a tendency as “sports-viewing society” to overblow every single interesting story line. But with Lin, at least early on, it feels like we could have even more.
Like Tebow, Lin has the intangible skills that simply cannot be taught. You can tell just by watching him after a handful of possessions that he sees the game a step before everyone else on the floor. And, as one may imagine from a Harvard grad, he’s a pretty smart dude, too. That translates onto the basketball court, evidenced by ESPN’s Hubie Brown gushing all night about Lin’s basketball IQ during Friday night’s telecast.
Lin and Tebow will also be linked for their competitiveness. Tebow’s spirit and fire on the gridiron is obvious, and while Lin’s competitive juices may not flow so that all can see, he certainly wants to win at all costs.
“One of the things that he had since day one — and it’s obviously a part of his DNA — he is absolutely fearless,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker recently said. “Obviously he’s grown and gotten stronger but he is an absolute fearless, passionate competitor and those things don’t leave you no matter where are.”
Where Lin sets himself apart from Tebow is that he’s got some pretty darn good tangible skills, too. He can handle the basketball. He can pass. He can take the ball to the rim and finish. He can score. He can even shoot a little. You saw it all night on Friday. There was the wicked spin move that helped Lin blow by Derek Fisher in the second quarter. With the Knicks trying to put things away in the fourth, Lin again went to the rim and used an acrobatic finish to put an exclamation point on the win.
Most importantly, Lin has the Knicks — minus Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony — winning. Sure, their four-game winning streak is comprised of wins over the Nets, Jazz, Wizards and an aging Lakers team that played the night before. But in that league, especially playing in front of a fanbase that is desperate for something to cheer for, wins are wins.
When you watch Tebow, you wonder whether or not he’ll be able to work his magic, and when he doesn’t, you walk away feeling like you wasted your afternoon. When you watch Lin, though, you expect good things to happen. He’s a good player, and you expect good things to be done by good players.
Lin still has a long way to go, though. The real test will be taking everyone’s best shot every night as he gets more and more playing time. The sample size is admittedly small, but there’s no denying the incredible run that he’s on right now. When a guy averages 28 points per game for a week, and caps it by scoring 38 on the biggest stage, people start to take notice and start to expect big things going forward.
Even Kobe Bryant is forced to start taking notice.
Following the Lakers’ win at Boston on Thursday night, the future Hall of Famer was asked about the upstart Lin.
“I don’t even know what he’s done, like I don’t even know what you guys are talking about,” Bryant told reporters after being asked if he’s paid attention to Lin.
“What the [expletive] is going on? Who is this kid? I’ve heard about him and stuff like that, but what’s he been doing? Is he getting triple doubles or some [expletive]? He’s averaging 28 and eight? No [expletive]. If he’s playing well, I’ll just have to deal with him.”
Thirty-eight points and seven assists later, it’s probably safe to assume that Bryant — and the rest of the sports world — won’t soon forget who the [expletive] Jeremy Lin is.