Here we are in September already. The Olympics are over, Team USA was successful in winning the gold yet again, the “Dwightmare” epidemic is over, Linsanity has settled in Houston and the White Mamba, Brian Scalabrine, has decided to retire and end undeniably the greatest career the league has ever seen (he is a legend to the game, don’t question this). So now that the dust has settled and a quiet off-season is still ongoing, what are we looking forward to when the season tips off next month? The new-faced Lakers are opening their season at home against the Mavericks and Ray Allen will get to challenge his old team, the Boston Celtics, the same night to start off the 2012-2013 season, and Linsanity will debut with the Houston Rockets in Detroit on Halloween night. What’s not to be excited about? The NBA is only 49 days away!
Now, we have assessed the big trade that made the Dwightmare end, with team grades and a breakdown of which team got the better of the deals, thanks to Ballislife’s own, Shawnt Sohrabian. We’ve read the headlines, heard the Kobe impression, seen the Bynum billboard and read Kobe’s emphatic note claiming, “Superman found a home.” What else is there to do? I feel like we have touched base on everything that needs to be touched on, except for one thing. Bear with me on this one guys, but my curiosity is getting the best of me; who do you think will have the better inaugural season with a new team? The Dwightmare, or Linsanity? I know, I know, you might be tired of hearing about either or, but let’s evaluate the situation.
The question is real simple and most of you will probably be quick to jump to the conclusion that it’s going to be Dwight. The reality of the situation is Dwight’s an All-Star and Jeremy Lin had a good month of basketball in the media capital of the league, the choice should be clear, right? Well how about we get a little deeper into it than just yelling out a name and arguing why we’re right and wrong.
Before we jump right in to modern day Linsanity, here’s a look back at what got Lin where he is today:
Lin had a rough come-up as a basketball player, not receiving any athletic scholarships coming out of high school but still being able to play for Harvard, being an undrafted free agent signing with the Golden State Warriors and never seeing playing time, being bumped to the D-League on a couple of occasions and overall just struggling to find time on the court. After averaging nine minutes and change as a Warrior, he was waived on December 9th, 2011, shortly after the announcement of the end of the lockout, to free up salary space so the Warriors could make an offer to then restricted free agent center, DeAndre Jordan. Three days later, Lin was claimed off waivers by the Houston Rockets; making him the fourth point guard on the roster behind Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic and Jonny Flynn. After playing a mere seven minutes in only two preseason games, Lin was waived by Houston to make room on the payroll to sign center, Samuel Dalembert. After only three days, the New York Knicks gambled on Lin, claiming him off waivers after an early injury to rookie, Iman Shumpert, and already having an injured Baron Davis on the roster. Lin was listed as the fourth point guard on the roster again and in jeopardy of losing his job at any time.
On February 4th, 2012, Lin entered the game against the Deron Williams led New Jersey Nets, and put on a show, tallying 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists, and just like that, Linsanity was born. With Lin getting substantial playing time the Knicks were able to fight their way to a .500 record and went 7-0 off the bat including 6-0 with Lin starting, with one of those wins coming off his memorable game winning against Toronto on February 14th. After the season, Lin became a restricted free agent yet again. This time, it was obvious other teams would be interested in him, but how much of a chance were teams willing to take after the star had shined for only 26 games of the season before eventually sitting out with an injury? The Houston Rockets stepped up again and offered Lin what would be $19.5 million through three years with an option for a fourth. The Knicks agreed to match that offer until Houston revised the offer sheet for $25 million through three years, which New York did not match.
There was a decent amount of controversy behind whether New York should’ve matched or not and also how well Lin would fit with Houston. Given the current situation of the team, I think he will do great, but don’t expect playoffs. When Lin was a Rocket for that short stint in December of 2011, he was four deep on the roster for his position. Now, he will be starting, not only for his short phenomenal display in New York, but because that position has grown thin with Houston trading Kyle Lowry to Toronto during the offseason and seeing Goran Dragic walk over to Phoenix, the only point guard (besides Lin) that remains on the roster is Toney Douglas and I think we can all agree Lin is a considerable step up in talent for them. What will make Lin successful in a new playing system though? In New York his success came night in and night out based on the Knicks array of shooting on the court and ability to run the pick and roll to get Lin open for jumpers off big men like Tyson Chandler and, when he was healthy, Amar’e Staudemire. With Houston not having a deep roster or star-studded talent at every position, they do have a solid shooting-guard in Kevin Martin, but the team is pretty thin after that. While the roster may be weary, the team does possess a weapon in Daryl Morey, the teams GM, who is one of the most active front office gems in the league. When you see a trade deadline approaching or talks of a potential trade coming through, more than likely the Rockets are involved and that’s thanks to Morey taking action. While sometimes that may not work out in his favor (losing the Pau Gasol acquirement in light of the CP3 trade being denied) he is always looking out for the team and looking for the next superstar to take Houston to the next level, simply being, with Lin being in Houston and drawing media attention to them, it could open potential doors for young prospects to go there and help the team back to the playoffs and Morey is just the guy to initiate that.
Aside from a good front office, Lin’s ability to shine in Houston is also a big possibility due to the change in playing style he’ll be seeing. In New York it was the half-court set look Lin thrived in, coming off picks almost every play and setting up spot up shooters, hitting the big man on a cut to the rim or even draining the open look himself. Now, Lin is transitioning into a run-n-gun offense that generally does well on fast break opportunities, something Lin can excel at as well, after all, he is a solid ball handler and decent passer to add to his stroke. With more fast break opportunities to benefit him not only scoring wise but assist wise as well, his offensive production should be consistent throughout the year. It’s hard to say whether it will rise or not due to the short sample we had of him in New York, but consistency is very reasonable to see for him.
Now we get to the front-runner for this competition, Dwight Howard. Howard is a big name to the league being a six-time All-Star, three-time defensive player of the year, four-time all defensive first team, slam-dunk champion and the list goes on. A long with a few decent impressions and big highlights, Howard always has a spot light on him and when he made it clear he wanted out of Orlando it was no different. Wait, wanted out of Orlando? Wasn’t this the same guy that after the rumors came about that he wanted to be traded in 2011 he was denying it? I mean, he did hold that barbeque for all the fans at Amway Arena to show how much he loved the community and wanted to stay, so we can’t be talking about him wanting out, right? Sadly though, Dwight seemed to torment Orlando slightly before finally parting ways, similar to what Carmelo did to Denver a couple of years ago, but hey, there were others before him and there will be others after him too, so we deal with it.
It was all eyes on the trading block for Howard once the season started; he had his eyes wide like a kid in a candy store, ready for any team that was doing well at the time. His list fluctuated on many teams from the Nets to the Bulls to the Lakers and the list goes on. Howard eventually signed an amendment to his contract, waiving his right to opt out at the end of the season and committing to stay with the Magic through the 2012–13 season. Eventually, however, Howard would again ask for a trade to the Nets after their announcement of their relocation to Brooklyn and said he would become a free agent at the end of the season if he were not traded. Once the season ended, the Dwightmare began, with talks day by day of where he was to go with no definite decision in the midst of the turmoil. As the situation dragged on for weeks, it seemed indefinite where Howard would end up until on August 10th, four teams came to terms with each other and Howard became a Laker. With recently acquired guard, Steve Nash, and future HOF guard, Kobe Bryant already on the team there was one word the lingered on the tongues of Southern California, “Championship,” and why not? He now has the second best player to ever play the sport playing with him along with some of the biggest names we know in Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. Not to mention some nice assets in Devin Ebanks, Chris Duhon and Jodie Meeks, they have a few guys who can fill in when they need a breather. How are the Lakers going to function this season, though? With Fisher running the Lakers point for the last five years, and having Phil Jackson as a coach for four of them, the identity of the Los Angeles Lakers has been the triangle offense, something Fisher perfected. When Jackson retired it seemed reasonable that LA could still run the triangle seeing as how Fisher ran the point and was a master at it. When Fisher was uprooted to Oklahoma City, however, it was time for a change and head coach Mike Brown and company found themselves trying to run the offense.
It just so happens that Mike Brown has found that new identity to the franchise when he added former player and head coach, Eddie Jordan to the coaching staff to give the Lakers a new look with his Princeton offense. Brown wasn’t the only one who wanted Jordan to join the team as Yahoo!’s, Adrian Wojnarwoski reported that the Princeton offense is something Kobe Bryant wanted to see ran as well. And while coach Brown says there will be “some Princeton stuff” incorporated into their offense with much of last years work as well, I assume Princeton will be the core of the Laker offense for this upcoming season. For those of you that know the Princeton offense, you understand that the first place the guards look when it’s initiated is at the center position; in this case, Dwight Howard. And for those of you that have seen Dwight play, he can be an assassin on the low block when he’s isolated, having multiple moves to put on the defender and a hook shot that is near perfection in modern day basketball. Now, it would be easy to say, “Okay, so double team Howard,” but the situation is different this time around. If Howard receives a double team then that leaves either Kobe or Nash open, depending on who drops down to help on Howard. Even if it’s a different defender you’re still possibly facing a wide open World Peace or Gasol, neither of which are spring chickens and know what to do when they get the ball wide open. Now, a big key to running the Princeton offense properly is spacing by all positions. For a guard like Nash who is generally the commander on the floor and needs the ball in his hands, the Princeton offense comes up big for him on that spacing aspect. With all of the cuts that take place when running the offense, it presents an opportunity for a lot more space for Nash off picks and cuts, and when Nash has decent spacing on a pick and roll he is deadly in knocking down a jumper or hitting the roll through the lane. Finally, for Kobe, the Princeton offense creates an opportunity he can never pass up on; isolation. Due to all of the screen setting and cuts taking place with everyone, it often confuses defenders and causes them to turn their backs for split seconds, enabling someone to get open. This isolation is due to the spacing. Spacing is key in this offense for it to be run effectively. If everyone does their part and keeps their spacing from each other the whole time, it presents Kobe with that one-on-one situation he loves so much and gives him more opportunities to knock down that game winning pull-up we’ve seen from him so many times, this time, in the middle of the game instead and a lot more often. Again, spacing is key for this to happen. Due to the opportunity of isolation plays, I see Kobe getting his fair share of point guard duties as well, splitting that duty with Nash. Getting back to Dwight though, in the midst of all of the cutting, spacing, pick and rolls, and everything else the Princeton offense entails, it gives a lot of opportunity to Howard to score on his own isolation plays or hit the cutter on the inside cut; either way, his offensive production should improve nicely.
The situations have been presented to you, basketball fans. While one seems more logical than the other, don’t be so quick to sleep on the under dog. Given that they are different players at different positions on completely different teams with different offensive sets, the question remains. Who do you think will have the better debut season with their new team; Dwight Howard, or Jeremy Lin?