The Atlanta Hawks will be Jeremy Lin’s Biggest Test
Jeremy Lin has had a tumultuous NBA career. The 28-year-old combo guard has been lauded as a great teammate and consistent contributor but has yet to find a long-term home throughout his eight seasons in the league.
Despite his amicable nature, however, Lin is headed to his seventh different team in nine years, traded to the Atlanta Hawks earlier this summer.
After a meteoric rise to fame via his memorable run in 2012, better known as Linsanity, Lin has had to deal with living up to his own success. The 26-game stint with the New York Knicks that saw Lin average 18.5 points and 7.7 assists per game has both given interested teams sufficient cause and enough hesitance to be split on investing in Lin long-term. Though he’s never had another such outburst, Lin has proved serviceable in a variety of lineups.
Perhaps his best fit came in 2015–16, when he established himself as a fixture in one of the Charlotte Hornets’ best lineups. Playing in the backcourt alongside Kemba Walker, the ability for either to play on- or off-ball helped push the Hornets to a tight 7-game first round series in the 2016 Playoffs against the Miami Heat. Despite wanting to return to Charlotte, Lin activated his player option, choosing to test the 2016 free agency market with the NBA freshly flush with cash from a gargantuan new television deal.
“If you asked me would I be interested in coming back, there’s no question in my mind — it’s a resounding yes,” Lin told reporters. “I would be very interested in coming back.”
Unfortunately, the feeling, at least regarding a pay raise for Lin, wasn’t mutual. Instead, he signed with the Brooklyn Nets to the tune of $38 million over three years.
Now, after just 37 games in two seasons with Brooklyn, Lin is looking to find his next fit in the Atlanta Hawks backcourt. But with a bevy of young players, future draft picks, a new coach and new management to welcome him, the Hawks will prove to be Lin’s biggest test yet.
The Wrong Timeline
The Atlanta Hawks are owners of six potential picks in the 2019 NBA Draft, three of which could land in the first round. Look deeper into their coffers and that number jumps to seven non-Atlanta selections through 2025. Though the picks in the next decade are subject to change, the Hawks would be remiss to divert their chances at another helpful young draftee next June.
Thus, the acquisition of Lin becomes puzzling if only because of mismatched timelines. Atlanta added a duo of 19-year-old rookies in Trae Young and Kevin Huerter, as well as a 21-year-old rookie in Omari Spellman. Those pickups fit nicely alongside the rest of Atlanta’s youthful core, but not as much when Lin is considered.
Whereas Vince Carter was explicitly pulled into the Hawks roster in a mentoring capacity for what is likely his final NBA season, Lin is part teacher, part player.
His eight seasons of experience, which have seen flipped him from bench piece to starter and back again, is undoubtedly a great resource. Few have a story as compelling as Lin’s and he can serve as a guiding light as the Hawks try and make sense of its wide-eyed and youthful roster.
But while Lin is still young enough to run the floor with the 2018–19 Hawks, how much time he spends on the court is another question.
The Hawks are unlikely to push for leads in the fourth quarter in many games, and with a wealth of draft picks to look forward to, that likelihood is even smaller. At this point, the organization is more concerned with development rather than instantaneously contending for titles.
Lin, who will earn $12 million in the final year of his contract, may be good for a late game bucket to send a few games to overtime, but counting on him to win too many games is the exact opposite of what Atlanta should want.
For the Hawks, Young is the point guard priority. He showed out at the NBA Summer League, placing fifth among all players in assists in Las Vegas (6.8 per game) while contributing ably on offense on his own, averaging 17 points over four contests.
What Young lacks in size, he makes up for with personality and big-name exposure. In fact, his first NBA season will likely be hallmarked by exposure. Young’s been compared to both Steph Curry and Steve Nash and will need a similar run at leading a team to develop as such.
Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk has attested to this philosophy, hoping to empower Young in the same way the Golden State Warriors empowered Curry.
“[Young] blew up and got national recognition because of the shooting, but to us, his best asset today is his passing,” Schlenk told CBS Sports. “You just don’t see kids his age who can run pick and roll so naturally, who can make plays and find guys on the move with both their left and right hand. He’s got a great feel for the court, and summer league can only show so much of that. When he has NBA players all around him, it’s going to open up the court so much more for him.”
Empowering Young to run the offense effectively walls Lin out of his point guard duties. Of course, that can leave Lin to play as a two guard, but with Kevin Huerter as the Hawks’ resident sharpshooter, building around a Young-Huerter combo is instantly more tantalizing than giving Lin the reins.
For the 2018–19 NBA season, Lin is more likely to be hunting for his next contract than building a lasting bond with the Atlanta Hawks. How he uses the 82-game season, especially after a season-ending rupture of his right patellar tendon, will define his payout in a 2019 free agent class headlined by big names like Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler and even former teammate Kemba Walker.
In 36 games with the Nets two seasons ago, Lin tried to confirm he was still a worthy addition. He showed he was a capable passer, assisting on 36 percent of Brooklyn’s made baskets. However, that season was, unfortunately curtailed by injury much like last year, further lowering Lin’s value instead of bookmarking his talents.
Using the Hawks as his platform, the rest of Lin’s career rests on his what he showcases in Atlanta. With the odds already favoring his younger, developmentally minded teammates, Lin’s climb to free agency will be an uphill battle.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com
Draft pick futures courtesy of RealGm.com