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Player Review: Jeremy Lin could have been the perfect fit

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The Raptors needed depth in their guard rotation, so when Jeremy Lin popped up in the buyout market, Toronto jumped at the chance. Still, it didn’t quite go according to plan.

NBA: New York Knicks at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

They say time is a flat circle and that perfectly suits Jeremy Lin’s journey through the NBA. As a member of the New York Knicks, Lin found himself playing a game against the Toronto Raptors on Valentine’s Day of 2012 where it was the midst of Linsanity. The situation: game tied at 87, Lin with the ball at the top of the key. “5, 4 … Lin for the win … got it!” Matt Devlin on the call, along with a crowd of 20,000 stunned as Lin drains the game-winning three-point shot to lift the Knicks over the Raptors.

Fast-forward almost seven years to the day of his game-winning shot, Lin got his wish of being bought out of the final year of his $13-million contract after playing 51 games for the lowly Atlanta Hawks. Two days later, the Raptors won the Jeremy Lin sweepstakes and signed the 30-year-old guard for the remainder of the season.

Starting On the Right Note

The acquisition of Lin couldn’t have come at a better time for the Raptors. Delon Wright had been traded the week prior, and Fred VanVleet had suffered a thumb injury and was going to be out for three weeks. This allowed Lin to serve as the backup guard position for Kyle Lowry.

Given that Lin has shown good play-making skills and a go-to offensive skill set, he was to seamlessly fit right in and take the load off Lowry. Well, that seemed like it’d be the case and what the Raptors were hoping for, it didn’t turn out that way.

Before we get to that, here is a breakdown of Lin’s stats in 23 games played with the Raptors:

  • 7.0 points per game in 18.8 minutes per game
  • 37.4 FG%, 2.5 field goal makes and 6.7 field goal attempts per game
  • 20.0 3PT%, 0.5 three-point makes and 2.4 three-point attempts per game
  • 81.0 FT%,1.5 free throw makes and 1.8 free throw attempts per game
  • 46.4 true shooting percentage
  • 2.2 assists per game, 1.1 turnovers per game
  • 2.6 rebounds per game
  • 0.4 steals per game, 0.3 blocks per game
  • 97.4 offensive rating, 104.7 defensive rating = -7.3 net rating

Lin’s first game on February 13 against the Washington Wizards was pleasing, to say the least. After four minutes of play, he checked into the game and was welcomed to a standing ovation, beginning the Linsanity Era in Toronto. In just 25 minutes of action, he put up eight points, five assists, five rebounds, one steal, one block and recorded a plus 10 in the 129-120 victory. He seemed to have gotten a quick grasp of the offense and looked comfortable out there.

After a strong first outing, Lin followed that up with a solid scoring output against the San Antonio Spurs. Although he didn’t shoot well, hitting only four of his 11 shots, the Raptors needed every bit of his 11 points to secure the win, the one that featured Kawhi Leonard’s steal on DeMar DeRozan in the game’s final seconds.

What Seemed Like a Great Fit

The next five games against the Magic, Celtics, Trail Blazers, Pistons, and Rockets are where the Raptors got to see what Lin could provide for them on a nightly basis, which was inconsistent play on both ends of the floor, with especially poor shooting performances. In that stretch, he shot a combined 10-for-38 (26.3 percent) from the field, including an 0-for-8 performance against Detroit. Lin’s shooting woes were coming from everywhere — he took bad shots, missed good looks, and occasionally forced the issue to a bad outcome. This is where Lin seemed as if he needed more time to shake off the rust.

Then there was the Rockets game, where almost every time Lin stepped onto the court, Houston was able to get to their bread-and-butter on offense — transition threes, layups, or dunks. In the 11 minutes he played, Lin was a minus 22 in Toronto’s 12-point loss to the Rockets.

One can make the argument that the system head coach Nick Nurse had in place didn’t favour Lin in the early stages of his Raptors career. However, even if that were the case (which it wasn’t), it appeared like Lin was pressing, forcing, and rushing things on offense.

After that five-game stretch from Feb. 24 to Mar. 3, Lin was able to provide the Raptors with a couple of good scoring performance, including a 14-point performance against the Pelicans, followed by an 11-point outing against the Heat. Both games resulted in 20-point plus wins for the Raptors. However, shortly after that, Lin’s role started to diminish as VanVleet came back from his wrist injury. Going from the second-string guard to being the third-stringer, he found himself filling in for Lowry or VanVleet when they needed a quick breather or coming in during garbage time of games.

To finish out the season, Lin did have a great offensive showing against the Knicks on March 18, where he recorded 20 points (7-for-11 FG) in their 128-92 victory, and back-to-back 12-point nights against the Knicks (once again) on March 28, defeating them 117-92 and Bulls on the 30th, winning that one 124-101. Other than those three nights, he was mainly playing in games where the result was already decided.

The playoffs were the same story for Lin, except with the rotation tighten up, he didn’t play in most of the contests, recording either a DNP-CD or being inactive for 16 of the 24 games in Toronto’s championship run.

One notably poor post-season game summed up the Lin experience in Toronto. He, along with the Raptors’ bench, was in to closeout Game 5 against the Magic. Toronto had built up a 35-point lead with 5:50 remaining in the game, yet the bench unit were outscored by 16 points in that stretch, winning by (only) 19. Not all the blame is on Jeremy here as the Magic were doing everything they could to force an improbable Game 6, but it goes to show what kind of season Lin had.

Ultimately, Raptor fans, including myself, really did wish for a better outcome when it came to Lin’s performances, even if it doesn’t matter so much now. The Raptors won the 2019 NBA title and Lin deserved to celebrate just as much as one else on the team.

All that remains now is Lin finding a new home. He’s a free agent and unlikely to be re-signed by the Raptors.