As fantasy basketball players were reviewing mock drafts and creating wish lists in preparation of their league's 2011-12 draft, we venture to say Jeremy Lin's name was nowhere to be found.
This year's surprise player: Jeremy Lin
There always seems to be a surprise player - not necessarily a sleeper pick - every season that shocks the world of fantasy basketball. Such a player typically escapes the minds of fantasy owners, rightfully so, yet ultimately proves to be a worthy long-term pick up. Think Dorrell Wright in the 2010-11 season or Marc Gasol in 2009-10.
This season that unexpected fantasy gold is New York Knicks' guard Jeremy Lin.
After a breakout performance on February 4th vs. the New Jersey Nets - wherein both Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony played - Linsanity was born. Lin scored 25 points, five rebounds, seven assists, two steals, 10-of-19 in field goal shooting and 5-of-7 in free throw shooting with just one turnover. He also went 0-for-4 in three-pointers.
Lin has appeared in the starting lineup in every game (16) since that fateful day. While the mass hysteria over Lin continued for a good while, it has subsided somewhat as Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni tries to figure out how to make it all work with the return of his roster, plus the addition of J.R. Smith.
First, let's detail Lin's basketball background. He spent four years at Harvard, averaging 12.9 points, 3.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds. The Golden State Warriors signed Lin as a free agent in July, 2010, after he went undrafted. The following season, he appeared in 29 games posting 2.6 ppg, 1.4 apg and 1.2 boards in 9.8 average minutes. Additionally, he was sent to the Reno Bighorns, an NBA Development League, on three occasions where he averaged 18.0 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.0 spg and 5.8 rpg in 20 games.
In December, 2011, the Warriors waived him, then the Houston Rockets signed and waived him. Late in December, the New York Knicks claimed Lin off waivers. He played one game in January in the D-League (Erie Bayhawks) scoring a triple double (28 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds).
With Baron Davis experiencing a debut-delaying setback, D'Antoni decided to gamble on Lin with a seemingly what have we got to lose attitude, playing him nearly 36 minutes, on February 4th. The rest is history.
Let's break down his production following that game.
In four games (Feb. 6, 8, 10 and 11) without Anthony and Stoudemire, Lin averaged 27.3 points and 8.3 assists. (Note - Melo played just 5:49 minutes on Feb 6th). Lin scored a career-high 38 points vs. the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 10th. He also averaged 5.5 turnovers in those four games.
In four games (Feb. 14, 15, 17, 19) with Stoudemire, but without Anthony, Lin averaged 22.8 points and 10.8 assists. His turnovers jumped to an average of 7.5 per game.
The Knicks had a winning record of 7-1 in the above eight games. Lin posted a .530 field goal percentage and 2.3 steals over the eight games as well.
In the last eight games (Feb. 20, 22, 23, 29 and March 4, 6, 7, 9) with Stoudemire and Anthony, and Davis off the bench, Lin averaged 16.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 2.5 steals and 3.8 turnovers in just over 34 minutes. He shot field goals at a much-decreased .406 clip and free throws at .767. His 8-of-23 three-point shooting average is disappointing, but not surprising, to fantasy owners.
The Knicks won just two of these last eight games, five of which were on the road, with losses to such teams as the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Miami HEAT and Dallas Mavericks. They are currently on a four-game losing streak.
As expected, Lin's early-on stats have morphed into reasonable ones with a full roster. Plus opposing teams are now designing their defensive schemes with him in mind.
Most concerning is the impact Lin is having on the game now that Anthony returned. Melo admits it's been an adjustment in adapting to a Lin-infused offense. And little-experienced Lin has been charged with trying to keep all his talented teammates involved. Lin averaged 9.0 field goals made per game without Anthony; this has dropped to 5.6 in the past nine outings.
Fantasy owners who were quick to recognize Lin's immediate value grabbed him; now some wonder if they should keep him or sell high as they try to predict his numbers for the rest of the season.
Going forward, it appears D'Antoni will keep 23-year-old Lin in the starting line-up and give him considerable minutes. He recently spoke of Lin's value in both starting and finishing games. If Davis continues to hover around the 15-to17-minute playing time mark, Lin's value will remain steady. Should Davis demonstrate 100 percent health and improved playing, the threat of the two splitting floor time could spell trouble for owners.
Davis has averaged 3.9 points, at .271 field goal shooting, 5.6 assists, 2.1 turnovers in 17.5 minutes since his 2/20 debut.
It's somewhat of a gamble as D'Antoni tries to make sense out of rotations. However, Lin figures to remain a major part of his schemes while the team focuses on attaining cohesiveness and chemistry. Keep playing Lin in your league or sell him high - either move should prove worthwhile.
Fortunately for fantasy owners, figuring out final answers to the Lin/Anthony dilemma, even D'Antoni, won't come until after the season.