During two weeks in the 2011-2012 season, Linsanity took hold of the NBA, and Jeremy Lin became an ascendant force in the league. Unfortunately, the clock struck midnight, and Lin reverted into another slightly above average NBA player. An overlooked part of Lin’s success was then New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler’s contribution to Linsanity. Obviously, Lin’s play shouldn’t be discounted but Chandler’s proficiency as a screener and threat as a finisher lead to a lot of easy baskets for Lin and the rest of the team.
Lin’s past exploits are relevant because there is a chance that he can produce a reasonable facsimile, or more accurately a poor man’s version of that with the Charlotte Hornets’ second unit. Instead of Tyson Chandler as his wingman, power forward Cody Zeller will get the nod. Some may scoff at that notion since Zeller hasn’t exactly lived up to the expectations that come with being a high lottery pick, but he has flashed glimpses of being capable of more.
Lin’s success in the half-court offense depends on his ability to drive to the basket. For the most part, those have derived from the pick-and-roll. Last season, he executed the pick-and-roll nearly 40 percent of the time he was on the floor, per NBA.com. Using that play, he accumulated 312 points, which accounted for 37.5 percent of his total point output. It’s safe to say that Lin’s reliance on the pick-and-roll will not diminish, so identifying a proficient screener and roll man to partner him with is a necessity.
Cody Zeller appears to be the big man best suited for the job. Other than the fact that he’ll probably play most of his minutes alongside Lin, he is arguably the best roll man on the team. The other choices—Marvin Williams, Spencer Hawes, and Frank Kaminsky—are better served as pick-and-pop partners because of their shooting. Zeller also has the benefit of being an athletic finisher with good hands; he can catch a pass in traffic and finish with either hand.
Though Zeller is a decent screener in the pick-and-roll, he has to do a better job of sealing off the ball handler’s defender and making enough contact to slow them down. He’s just entering his third year so it’s entirely possible that he can refine his screening skills. Despite his inexperience, he posted comparable points per possession (PPP) statistics to Tyson Chandler last season.
Zeller accomplished these numbers on a lower number of possessions than Chandler but for the most part, their PPP in these three categories are comparable. Zeller has the tools to be a destructive screener and finisher. Through age 22, both players posted identical per 36 numbers even though Chandler had been in the league two seasons longer than Zeller. The only category where Chandler has an overwhelming advantage was in field-goal percentage, and that was due to Zeller having a mid-range game while Chandler operates exclusively at the rim.
Zeller’s growth and success as a roll man depends—to an extent–on who Coach Clifford plays alongside him and Lin. Having three-point shooters like P.J. Hairston, Troy Daniels, and Spencer Hawes around a Lin-Zeller pick-and-roll would free up space for Zeller’s dives to the baskets. That all-bench lineup will probably not be sustainable defensively, but having shooters around Zeller will be crucial. His rolls will create room for them to shoot, and their shooting will create driving lanes for Lin. Lin and Zeller have the potential to be a source of easy points for a team in need of scoring. Hopefully, they can become the dynamic duo the Hornets’ bench needs.