It took merely 25 minutes for Jeremy Lin’s comeback attempt to reach its brutal culmination.
With 4:53 left in the fourth quarter of the Brooklyn Nets’ year-opening loss against the Indiana Pacers, Lin drove towards the basket after declining a screen from Trevor Booker. He went up untouched, landed awkwardly on his left knee and wound up tearing his patella tendon – an injury that will keep him out for the rest of 2017-18.
Lin’s reaction to the situation – the way he landed, momentarily laid there in stunned silence before mouthing I’m done, I’m done – was tough to stomach, even for the most grizzled, jaded basketball viewer.
Making the situation even worse is the fact that Lin had worked so hard to return from an injury-riddled 2016-17 campaign. The 6-foot-3 floor general suited up in just 36 games last year, powering through a plethora of maladies, mostly to his hamstring.
But even despite his limited playing time last season, Lin was a major plus during his time on the floor.
With their starting point guard in the game, the Nets outscored the opposition by 3.5 points per 100 possessions. When he sat, they themselves were outscored by 7.4 points per 100 possessions, according to NBAWowy.
The contrast was both massive and logical. After all, Lin quietly had an excellent season playing through various injuries, averaging 14.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists per contest in 2016-17. He didn’t perform quite at an All-Star level, but his numbers were nothing to scoff at, either.
Particularly, the point guard was deadly when running the pick-and-roll. Per Synergy Sports, Lin ranked in the 69th percentile on such play-types – a far-above-average pace. His mix of craftiness, feel and strength made him a load to defend when using the screen-setting services of his teammates.
More than anything, it was Lin’s pull-up jumper that unlocked the rest of his game.
The eight-year vet boasted a 48.4 effective field-goal percentage when pulling up into a jumper, the 13th-highest rate among players who attempted at least four of those shots per night. That mark placed him just behind the explosive Kyrie Irving, and ahead of All-Star lead guard Kemba Walker.
Lin was well on his way to putting up similar numbers this season. Before he went down against the Pacers, Brooklyn’s point guard had scored 16 points on 14 possessions as the pick-and-roll ball-handler – good for a healthy 1.14 points per possession (PPP).
What’s more, Lin’s prowess extended to another still-important-but-now-underrated facet of modern basketball: one-on-one scoring.
In 44 isolation opportunities last season, the lead guard scored 48 points, and his 0.92 PPP on such play-types outpaced the likes of Blake Griffin (0.91) and Jimmy Butler (0.87).
Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the entire ordeal is that this was supposed to be the season in which Lin proved he’s more than just post-Linsanity afterglow.
Sure, he had a decent 2013-14 season with the Houston Rockets, starting in all 82 games while averaging 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per contest. And his 2015-16 was also quite solid, playing the role of sixth man for a Charlotte Hornets team that was a game away from the second round of the playoffs. (That may not sound like much, but consider we’re talking about the Hornets here.)
The 2017-18 Nets, with their floor general leading the way, were supposed to surprise teams. Lin and newly acquired young stud D’Angelo Russell were going to form a not-exactly-elite-but-still-exhilarating-to-behold backcourt in a weakened Eastern Conference.
Russell, thus far, has held up his end of the bargain. Through three games, the third-year off-ball guard is averaging 21.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists per night in Kenny Atkinson’s offense-friendly system.
While Atkinson is grooming Russell to become the league’s next elite basket-getter by providing him with the tools to dominate on the court, the only thing the head coach will be able to provide Lin is moral support as he recovers from his setback.
Just a day after Lin’s injury, Atkinson talked to the media about the mood around the team following their latest misfortune (via Nets Daily):
“I think we’re in a good place as an organization. We’re strong enough top to bottom, Sean (Marks) all the way down. We’re moving in the right direction; I think as a group together. We’re going to grow from this. It’s not the most fortunate situation but we’ve got a great locker room. I know Jeremy is going to support us.”
He also mentioned that when he spoke to Lin, the point guard didn’t dwell on feeling sorry for himself, or lash out due to frustration. Instead, he wanted to talk about how well-qualified the team is this season to survive his absence:
“The great thing he said to me – ‘hey listen, I think we’re better equipped this year. We have more depth’ – and that’s the type of guy he is. He’s obviously going through a tough time and to say that shows what kind of leader he is and how much he cares about the organization.”
At the end of the day, Lin may be right – Brooklyn does have far better depth this year; his loss doesn’t necessarily mean they’re headed towards another 20-62 campaign.
But for all of the on-court production the Nets may be able to replace with Russell, Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll, it’s Lin’s guidance they’ll miss most.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.