Six games into his ascent with the New York Knicks, Jeremy Lin is the toast of the tabloids, the flavor of the month in Madison Square Garden, a cultural and marketing global phenomenon and, most impressively, he is an emerging basketball star who fooled some of the best and brightest minds in the NBA.
They guessed wrong, the whole bunch of them: The new-age analytics experts. The old-school scouts. The team executives who balance statistical analysis with what they see on film and on the court. Apparently, these NBA types gazed through a prism and saw the same thing -- a slender 6-foot-3 Asian-American point guard with a Harvard degree, excellent grades and decent college stats -- and pegged him for medical school or law school, or maybe the European league.
Lin auditioned for eight teams and was drafted by none. He received one invitation, from Dallas, to play in the Las Vegas Summer League two summers ago. Finally, he attracted attention in a breakout game against rookie John Wall, eliciting a raucous response from the crowd at UNLV and earning a two-year contract with Golden State.
"We can all say, 'The cat's out of the bag,' " said Kings coach Keith Smart, the Warriors coach during Lin's one season in Oakland. "But no one saw this coming. You could see him getting better. ... (Assistant coach) Stephen Silas drilled him on the mechanics of his jump shot, and you can see they are very different now. He used to get in the air and tuck his feet underneath his body, holding the ball at the top of his head, almost catapulting the shot. He worked hard to change that, to improve, and he did. But to say flat-out that he would be doing this? No way."
Lin, who was waived by Golden State and Houston before this season, was on the verge of being cut again by the Knicks, but he was given a reprieve Feb. 4 against New Jersey. He responded with 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists to lead New York to victory. He has followed with seven wins that have captivated crowds with his crossovers, acrobatic drives and steals, and his execution on pick-and-rolls.
So the persistent question is: How long will the "Lin-sanity" last? NBA Cinderella stories are rare and fleeting, and usually too good to be true. A more accurate measure of Lin's skill level will become apparent as the season progresses and teams learn his tendencies.
The adjustments within his own locker room are already under way, to the dismay of many Knicks fans that have been delighted by the improbable marriage of Lin and coach Mike D'Antoni, and the open-court style of play lately. While Amare Stoudemire's return could even enhance Lin's effectiveness -- Stoudemire thrived with Steve Nash setting him up all those years in Phoenix -- Carmelo Anthony's presence will mean fewer touches, a slower pace, and probably fewer opportunities for Lin to show off his crafty playmaking.
"The great thing about Jeremy is that he can do everything, so he should be OK," said Eric Musselman, who coached Lin during his three tours with the Warriors' NBA Development League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns, last season. "He has great quickness and is very deceptive attacking the rim. It's almost like he's on ice skates, his change of direction is so subtle, so smooth. He can really distribute. His dribble drive to the right is off the charts, and his dribble drive left is getting better."
Musselman, now coach of the D-League's Los Angeles D-Fenders, was asked if he could recall a similar rags-to-riches NBA story.
"There are a lot of guys in the D-League who can play," he said, "but so often it's about getting that opportunity, being in the right situation, the right time and place. Jeremy is a special player. He just needed to find that right situation."