Jeremy Lin’s Success Is Due to Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni’s System, But That’s No Insult

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Jeremy Lin's Success Is Due to Knicks Coach Mike D'Antoni's System, But That's No InsultJason Terry is, mostly, correct.

Jeremy Lin‘s unprecedented run of success with the New York Knicks is a product of the right player finding the right system, as the Mavericks guard said before Sunday’s game. Terry got some grief for the remark after Lin dropped 28 points and 14 assists on Dallas at Madison Square Garden.

That must be some system.

Terry’s comment indeed seemed a little insulting to Lin, even if Terry was just paying homage to Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni.

“It wouldn’t have happened elsewhere,” Terry was quoted as saying. “He was in [Golden State and Houston] and it didn’t happen. He wasn’t given the opportunity in those places or with those systems. He probably didn’t fit, but in this system, he’s perfect.”

Terry also implied that anybody in could do what Lin is doing, given the right playing time.

“If you play 46 minutes [per game] in this league, you have an opportunity to put up some nice numbers,” Terry said. “Again, it is what it is. … Ask anybody. Give them an opportunity, ball in their hands, 20-plus shots and you’d better do something.”

The dumb portions of Terry’s comments are easy to pick out. The remarks came across in print as dismissive of Lin, but if Terry is indeed dismissive of Lin because of the “system,” he shouldn’t be. Seldom in sports does an athlete thrive in the wrong situation. That’s not to demean to Lin. It’s just the way these things work.

Dustin Pedroia would never have been 2008 American League MVP if he’d played for a manager who made the 5-foot-9, 180-pound second baseman sacrifice every four at-bats. Tom Brady would never have become the decorated quarterback he is, statistically, if Bill Belichick hadn’t opened up a run-heavy offense. Terry’s teammate Dirk Nowitzki would have wasted his talents if his first NBA coach, Don Nelson, hadn’t been willing to do the unthinkable and stick a 7-footer on the perimeter.

Terry himself would never have become the deadly sixth-man shooter he is if he’d been relegated to bringing up the ball and trying to impersonate a point guard.

Bill Russell would not have won 11 NBA championships (maybe a mere six or seven) without Red Auerbach, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn, John Havlicek, Bob Cousy and the crew. John Stockton wouldn’t be the NBA’s all-time assists leader without having Karl Malone to pass to. Malone wouldn’t have been a two-time MVP and the NBA’s second-leading career scorer without Stockton passing to him.

Michael Jordan won zero titles without Scottie Pippen. Shaquille O’Neal didn’t win his first title until he paired up with Kobe Bryant. And on, and on.

Three weeks into Lin mania, the cynic’s response isn’t that Lin can’t play (he clearly can) or that it’s a media fabrication (nobody wrote off Lin more soundly at Harvard, Golden State and Houston than “the media”). The go-to argument now is that Lin is a product of the Knicks’ system, that “anybody” could take the ball as the point guard in D’Antoni’s system and put up Steve Nash-like numbers.

Toney Douglas didn’t. Iman Shumpert didn’t. (Mike Bibby didn’t, either, but that’s because he’s roughly 114 years old, so we can leave him out of the discussion.) Like Lin in Golden State, the role and the situation didn’t fit them.

Lin found the Knicks, and the Knicks found Lin. His success is a product of the system as much as the system’s success is a product of him.

“Anybody” should be able to recognize that.

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