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Should the Warriors Try to Get Jeremy Lin in Free Agency?

This article will start with a quick Warriors-centric overview of Lin's dramatic and wild NBA career, give an updated scouting report, and discuss the prospects of Lin actually coming to the Dubs in free agency.

Jeremy Lin with future(?) teammate Curry.
Jeremy Lin with future(?) teammate Curry.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Lin has been an obsession with GSOM for a long time. GSOM was well ahead of the curve on the Lin Movement even while he was in college. He was a cult hero during his brief Warriors run, the One Who Got Away during Linsanity, and now is a renewed obsession during the Free Agent Period.  This article will start with a quick Warriors-centric overview of Lin's dramatic and wild NBA career, give an updated scouting report, and discuss the prospects of Lin actually coming to the Dubs.

1. Who Was Jeremy Lin?

Jeremy Lin, after a very successful Palo Alto high school career and college career at Harvard, was undrafted in 2010. He was invited to Las Vegas Summer League with the Mavericks, where he played well but really got people's attention when he outplayed #1 draft pick John Wall.

At this point Lin declined higher offers from the Mavs and Lakers to sign with our W's, which were his favorite team growing up. He signed a two-year partially guaranteed deal. He played 29 games for the Dubs, bouncing back and forth from the D-League. Then-coach Keith Smart was already overwhelmed with guiding a struggling team led by ball-dominant Monta Ellis, and barely giving a young Stephen Curry space to grow. Lin was very much on the back burner development-wise. Lin got more attention from coach Eric Musselman in the Reno D-League, but showed more potential than production. I would argue Lin was playing better than, say, the equivalent of Nedovic and Rush this year, but worse than Justin Holiday. Which is to say that he had promise, was working hard, and was a PR lift for the Warriors during crummy days, but it's understandable that almost no one saw Linsanity coming, not even most GSOMers.

In the 2011 offseason, Lin worked on a new jump shot. In the meantime, the Warriors were clearing out cap space to make a huge offer for DeAndre Jordan. Which was always going to be matched by the Clippers, which makes the whole exercise damned frustrating, especially since they amnestied Charlie Bell instead of the larger Andris Biedrins contract, and they waived Jeremy Lin to save $800K.

Interestingly, Warriors owner Joe Lacob was asked in December 2014 what his biggest regret was and he said:

Jeremy Lin was a guy that grew up on the Peninsula playing basketball with my son, actually.

I knew him really well and we wound up bringing him in, signing him to a contract, even though he wasn’t drafted....

I had a coaching staff that didn’t really use him and didn’t see what we saw and he wound up going somewhere else and becoming Jeremy Lin. That’s a little bit of a regret that I didn’t trust my own gut just a little bit stronger when it came down to the decision. It was complicated and there were trade-offs. It’s like anything else and I can’t get into what those trade-offs were, but there were.

You know, you hate to see something get away. What I hate more than anything else in the world for our business is to develop assets and then let them go somehow or have to let them go, because you have only so many resources.

At this point, Lin is picked up off waivers by the Rockets, waived again, claimed off waivers by the Knicks midseason on December 27th. He bounces between the Knicks and D-League. Coach Mike D'Antoni barely knows his name and buries him on the bench until he starts Lin as a performance art piece protesting the terrible play of his own team.

Lin unexpectedly goes supernova as the D'Antoni system perfectly enhances the skills young Lin does have: quickness to the hoop, good court vision and passing, decent jump shot and finishing at the rim.  Okay, you can get great articles and hot takes and smart takes elsewhere on Jeremy Lin's meteoric rise and cultural significance by searching the Intertubes for "Linsanity". D'Antoni is fired in March and replaced by Mike Woodson who does not run pick and roll nearly as much as D'Antoni. Carmelo Anthony returns and Lin finds it hard to play off-ball.

Lin becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the 2010-2011 season. Amidst controversy in NY about Lin's value including non-support from several teammates, Houston offers him a contract set to explode in value in the final year, causing the Knicks to not match. Houston then brings in James Harden, causing Jeremy Lin to experience Melo-flashbacks. Lin struggles to play alongside James Harden offball.In 2013-2014, Coach Kevin McHale moves Lin to the bench to lead the second unit, as Patrick Beverley's defense was more valuable next to Harden and the paint is now heavily clogged with Dwight Howard.

For 2014-2015, Lin is traded to the Lakers in a salary dump. Unfortunately for Lin's development, Byron Scott doesn't believe in spacing the lane with the threat of threes, and he wants more motion offense and less pick and roll. Lin had high scoring games, but also was benched and got his first Did Not Play since Linsanity.

2. Who Is Jeremy Lin Now?

If you want to read one fantastic look at Jeremy Lin's life right now, read Pablo Torre's piece in ESPN Magazine.

The initial scouting report on him went something like this:

Strengths. Very quick, decent handle, finishes well at the rim with variety of driving layups and occasional dunks, draws fouls and hits free throws, good court vision and passing. Very good in the Nash role of a D'Antoni spread Pick and Roll offense.

Weaknesses. Turnover-prone. Can't drive left. Poor defender who has trouble stopping quick point guards and bigger shooting guards. Plays poorly off-ball and in a catch and shoot.

After doing hard time with the Rockets and Lakers, his scouting report shifted somewhat. His defensive box score metrics have gone downhill (last four years Defensive Box Score Plus Minus 0.2, -0.1, -1.0, -1.3), but an outstanding scouting report by rydjorker last summer before Lin's Lakers year -- must reading if you want an in-depth look at Lin circa last summer -- argues that Lin's team defense is much better than his reputation by digging deeper into stats. Go to the article for the supporting data and nuance, but the conclusion is:

He's still only age 25, and he is a two-way player who might have been suppressed somewhat in Houston's alpha-male offense the past year. His offensive skill at the point guard--ability to draw fouls at will and finish--is a unique trait, and coupled with a very good mid-range shot, an improving long ball and possible point skills with a larger usage, there is a ton to like here. He also couples that with good defensive ratings on top of a precedence for thievery, defensive rebounding and shotblocking, with good size for the point. He is also a good locker room presence, a true professional, and a marketing magnet, especially in Los Angeles where there is a sizeable Asian population. Lin has a real penchant for turnovers and can stand to improve his in-between shots, both of which are real sources of frustration, but few players even have a diversified offensive game in their arsenal, and he's taking those shots in an attempt to grow into them. At the worst, he's putting up very good scoring and defending off-the-bench value, but he might be more than that as a rock-solid starter if he rediscovers the passing ability.

From Torre's article later that season:

[Lin has a] reputation as a hapless turnover machine, even though he has cut his rate down from 21.4 percent in New York to 18 percent (through March 24) in LA. And his reputation as painfully one-handed, even though, per Synergy Sports, Lin's drives left in iso situations now rank in the agreeable 56th percentile two years after sitting in the abysmal 12th. "And why, if someone drives by me, it's like, 'Oh, he's a horrible defender, he just doesn't have speed,'" Lin says. That's a fallacy debunked by D'Antoni, who says Lin "was one of the quickest athletes we've ever worked out."

And Real Plus-Minus rates Lin in 14-15 as the 18th best point guard (19th by ORPM +1.39, 20th by DRPM, a surprising positive number of +0.27). The year before in Houston, he was 29th, with his DRPM at +0.28 (16th in the league) and ORPM at -0.19 (50th out of 72). So for two (demoralized) years in a row, Lin has rated as a slightly positive defender.

It is almost impossible to come up with a proper scouting report on Lin, because it's clear that his value is very context dependent. He excelled in a brief stint in D'Antoni's spread pick and roll offense, which is a direct ancestor of the Warriors offense through Gentry. But after that, he has never been put in a position to succeed, or really have an opportunity to grow.

He did poorly off-ball in Woodson's Carmelo-ISO-heavy scheme. He was good to poor playing off-ball in Houston's Harden and Howard ISO offense. In Lin's defense, Curry also struggled to play off-ball next to Harden on Team USA. He was good to poor in Kobe's ISO offense and then Byron Scott's Kobe-less mishmash of three-less motion offense.

Perhaps most importantly, he came into the league as a raw rookie who catapulted to fame in Linsanity. He has never had an NBA coach who actually developed his game. D'Antoni knew he was to be fired and started Lin almost as a joke. Woodson inherited Lin and never helped Lin play better with Carmelo. McHale was hired the same summer that Lin was signed in Houston, so McHale also inherited Lin. McHale has never showed much creativity in offense beyond Get it to Harden and Harden Go Get It, and Houston has in recent years spit up and chewed up any point guard with a hint of an offensive game, including Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic and Lin. Then Byron Scott came on board the same season Lin came to the Lakers as a salary dump during a tank year. Scott chose to neglect Lin's development in favor of developing Clarkson who could be re-signed much more cheaply over Lin.

Despite this turmoil and lack of coaching support, Lin has slowly improved his 3P% each year: .320, .339, .358, .369 (context: Leandro Barbosa's 3P% was .384, Draymond Green's was .337) and his turnover rate per 36 has gone down over time: 4.8, 3.2, 3.1, 3.1 as has his Turnover Percentage 21.4, 18.8, 18.4, 17.7 (context: Livingston's TOV% was 19.0; Curry's rookie year TOV% was 16.5)

3. Should the Warriors Sign Jeremy Lin?

It takes two to sign, so this is really two questions.

3.1. Should the Warriors Make An Offer To Lin?

The Warriors need more scoring and preferably shooting to space the floor. Lin shot passably from 3 last year, if you believe his recent improvement is sustainable. Lin's TS% was not great in poor fitting offensive schemes, but again it's hard to project his value in a W's scheme.

W's need any player they get to be a decent defender and a good team defender. Lin may fit that, depending on whether the recent downward trend on D has come out of scheme and demoralization or is an artifact of box score stats not capturing his recent role as containment.

W's prefer medium size (6' 6"-ish) long defenders who can switch. Lin is 6' 3", so he doesn't fit the model. (Context: Curry and Barbosa are 6' 3". EVERY other Warrior is 6' 6" or taller.

W's need someone who can play off-ball and catch and shoot. Lin has been showing improvement off-ball, but would need to continue improving to fit the W's needs.

W's always want high character.  Lin has that.

W's need a role player who will add scoring punch to the second unit, play well with starters when match-ups dictate, and play his role and fit in, and who is hungry to prove himself. Lin is that.

So if the W's think Lin has hit his ceiling, I believe they think he's not worth it. But if they think he has a high ceiling that they can reach with actual coaching and development, I think they go for it.

3.2. Would Lin Sign with the Warriors?

It's unclear if Lin would sign for $3.3M / year. It seems likely he could get more from another team. Lin also wouldn't start, but he could get a significant role off the bench.

After five straight years of being unwanted by his teams, overhyped by the media and his fans, from every report, Lin is demoralized and looking for a place he can grow as a player, be effective at a role, and be judged by realistic standards. Lin has plenty of endorsements and notoriety worldwide, and just made $25M, so he has said he will pass on some dollars in favor of the right situation.

From this standard, I believe the Warriors are the perfect place for him. So far, the other teams that have been rumored to have interest don't seem to be great fits: Dallas (Carlisle has chewed through numerous inexperienced point guards), Sacramento (just moved into the lead for Worst Organization), New York (Triangle doesn't get the most out of Lin's skill set), Chicago (hard to tell, but with Rose there, plus turmoil after Thibs's departure, it's unstable).

On the Warriors, the best players are low-key and nurturing, a sharp contrast to Melo, Harden, Howard and Kobe, and many of them are devout Christians, as is Lin. Lin would be close to his family, and he wouldn't be the biggest media star on the team. Lin already knows something about the organization. In fact:

But most importantly -- and very overlooked in the rush to credit smallball and luck for the W's trophy -- this is the team that put almost all of its players in the right roles for success, and supports and coaches them to get huge improvements from Klay Thompson (considered an overpay re-sign at season's start), Draymond Green (considered a $7-10M player at year's start), Harrison Barnes (considered a borderline bust), Andrew Bogut (considered unplayable offensively), Leandro Barbosa (considered a washed up vet), Shaun Livingston (considered a defensive PG with no shot), Festus Ezeli (considered no hands, no skills), Andre Iguodala (considered broken down physically) and one Stephen Curry (considered a no-defense gunner).  Draymond said the W's were all players who were doubted and that people thought couldn't play. Lin would fit right in.

4. Conclusion. WILL the Warriors Sign Lin?

Who knows? I made the case above that the W's are perfect for Lin and Lin might be a fit for the W's.

Throw in that Lacob has always liked Lin's game, and that Lin brings access to the Chinese/Taiwanese market and a cult hero for the big Bay Area Asian population. This might be important to ownership during a delicate time when the W's are trying to win popular opinion to move to SF.  For all these reasons, I would not be surprised at all if Lin accepts an offer with the W's, IF one is extended.

W's can offer the Taxpayer Mid-level Exception, $3.3M for up to 3 years. There is a question of length, since the W's are trying to keep cap clear for next year, the Year of The Durant. But imagine Lin signing for $3.3M for a year. It gives the W's a trial year and clears him for next year. It gives Lin a chance to reset and grow and audition for a bigger contract during the Year of The Cap Explosion.

I for one would like to see it happen, if only because it would make next year extra interesting, and I also want to see how good Lin can be, and the Warriors are the best place for him to find that out.

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