By any real measurement, the first season for Jeremy Lin as a Houston Rocket has been fairly pedestrian. Statistically, he has struggled shooting the basketball (.399 field goal percentage) and seen his minutes scaled back in recent weeks. Purely to the human eye, Lin has had trouble meshing with backcourt mate James Harden. Hell, even the Rockets' attendance figures (which some would argue are the main reason Lin was brought it) are only up slightly from a season ago, by a couple hundred fans a game.
In short, to say the Rockets are getting their $8 million ('12-'13 cap figure) worth, well, you really have to be a cockeyed optimist.
As it turns out, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey just might be a cockeyed optimist.
As NBA front office types go, Morey is one of the most interesting ones to follow in social media. A perfect combination of statistical genius and regular guy, Morey's social media persona gives his followers a pretty candid glimpse into how he processes the NBA game. There's a heavy focus on situational statistics and a trust in the basketball gods that blatant outlier stats will find their way back toward the mean at some point.
Lin has been a tricky topic all season long, especially when you consider that the Rockets were ostensibly a refusal-to-give-a-player-option-in-year-four away from re-signing Goran Dragic over Lin. The annual cap figure on Lin and Dragic year over year is roughly the same. So when fans are frustrated by Lin's inconsistency and the ever dwindling hope that he can reach back and fire his "Linsanity 2012" fastball, some of their angst probably has some Dragic-related buyer's remorse baked in.
In the latest Player Efficiency Rating (PER) stats from ESPN.com's John Hollinger (who just took a job with the Memphis Grizzlies' front office today, by the way), Dragic is ninth among point guards. Lin is 41st. Stats sometimes lie, but here, best case for Lin is they're maybe fibbing a little bit in terms of the vast chasm between the two. Dragic has been better, hands down. How much better can be debated.
So now leave it to Daryl Morey to come up with a set of statistical thresholds that not only back Lin, but zoom him right past Dragic and put him in a class with some of the most elite players to ever lace up shoes. Here are back to back Morey tweets from a couple nights ago:
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) December 12, 2012
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) December 12, 2012
My observations on these two tweets:
1. For years, Tim Kurkjian (ESPN baseball analyst) has been the unquestioned king of finding barely interrelated statistical thresholds for a player and magically tying them together to make the guy seem like the love child of Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. "Did you know Ricky Gutierrez is the only right handed shortstop to hit over .265 with a fielding percentage above .970 in day games in an election year?" Bottom line, Kurky had to want to take those Morey tweets in the bathroom with a jar of hand lotion.
2. I'm assuming the message here from Morey is that there are a lot of ways Jeremy Lin can effect a basketball game, and oh by the way, Rocket Fan, he is actually doing it. (More on how much he's done it as a Rocket in a minute.) Pay no attention to the sub 40 percent shooting and mediocre assist to turnover numbers!
Hey, I get it, and I appreciate Morey sticking up for his guy. However...
3. ....I almost think the second tweet, the one where Morey lists the other six players to accomplish this feat, does Lin (and Morey's first tweet) a bigger disservice, and here's why. Look at the six players we are talking about here:
LeBron James - possibly the most talented player to ever play the game Allen Iverson - Future Hall of Famer and former scoring champion Chris Paul - best point guard in the game today Anfernee Hardaway - at the same stage as Lin (Year 3), had already been to an All-Star Game Steve Francis - at the same stage as Lin (Year 3), was headed to the first of three All-Star Games Damon Stoudamire - at the same stage as Lin (Year 3), an All-Star caliber player who the Rockets tried desperately to trade for during the Barkley Era
Jeremy Lin isn't playing at a level right now anywhere close to where these players were at similar stages in their careers. So when I read tweet number one, I say to myself "Well, that's interesting. You know, maybe I need to focus more on the little things Lin is doing. Maybe I'm being too hard on him."
Then I read the second tweet and it has Lin in an exclusive club with LeBron, CP3, and Allen Iverson, and it makes the parameters Morey has chosen feel like convenient, arbitrary, Kurkjian-ian bullshit. Because I've watched Jeremy Lin, and he's not anywhere close to Stoudamire circa 1998, let alone in the same universe as Chris Paul ever at any time.
Also, there was no third tweet from Morey pointing out this little factoid: Lin's had exactly one of those stat line games as a Rocket. The other seven all came with the Knicks last season, and all of them came between the dates of February 4 and February 20 (a period that is slowly becoming affectionately referred to as Lin's "fifteen minutes of fame").
And by the way, the one game he had like that with the Rockets was the Spurs game last week when James Harden sat out with an injury.
So Morey's tweets about Lin were fun, thought provoking, and a little geeky. However, after peeling one layer of the onion back and subduing my laughter over Lin being categorized in any way with LeBron James and Chris Paul, I arrive right back where I started:
As a Rocket, Jeremy Lin is playing at a below average level and is having a really hard time blending in with James Harden.
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I knew my eyes didn't deceive me.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.