It’s hard to criticize the Charlotte Hornets, specifically head coach Steve Clifford, since the team has exceeded expectations, but there’s been one area where the Hornets need to improve: their use of Jeremy Lin. He’s currently splitting his playing time between point guard and shooting guard, but he performs much better at the former. When he moves over to the 2, he becomes relegated to a passive and tertiary role to Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum. I’m not suggesting that he’s a superior player to them, but he’s not as effective as he can be when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands.
At first glance, Lin seems to be having a solid season. He’s averaging 16.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per 36 minutes. But thanks to Nylon Calculus, it becomes clear that Jeremy Lin’s production differs based on what position he plays. When playing as a point guard, he’s averaging 20.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.3 steals per 36 minutes (through games played on Dec. 8), and the Hornets have scored 14.9 more points per 48 minutes than their opponents with Lin at the point. As a shooting guard, where he’s spent 52.4 percent of his minutes, he’s averaging 13 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists per 36 minutes.
Some of Lin’s effectiveness can be attributed to playing against reserves, but the issue is why there’s such a drop-off when he plays as a shooting guard, and it appears that he hasn’t benefited from playing next to Kemba Walker. The two of them on the court together creates space and puts more pressure on the defense, but Lin becomes more of a decoy rather than a scoring option alongside Walker. He usually sets up in the corner when Walker acts as the ball handler.
Lin’s presence helps open up the floor for Walker to operate in, and that certainly has its advantages, but Lin is at his best when he’s using his speed to get into the paint to score or find the open man. Considering he isn’t shooting well thus far and Walker is in the midst of a career year in terms of shooting, it’s fair to speculate if the Hornets would be better off with Walker spotting up instead of Lin.
In the 208 minutes Walker and Lin have played together, Lin has produced 93 points per 100 possessions and shot 33.9 percent from the field, per NBAwowy. In that time, the Hornets have scored 102.7 points per 100 possessions and given up 99.8 points per 100 possessions. It’s apparent that Lin isn’t profiting from this two-man lineup, but the team seems to do pretty well with that backcourt.
However, when Lin plays without Walker, he reverts back to the player that everyone has become accustomed to. In the 270 minutes Lin has played without Walker, he’s racked up 104 points per 100 possessions and shot 45 percent from the field, per NBAwowy. The team has benefited with Lin as the primary playmaker as well, as the Hornets have tallied 114.1 points per 100 possessions while only allowing 100.8 points per 100 possessions in those minutes. Again, portions of these stats are accomplished against bench units, but Lin has been a better player when separated from Walker, and the Hornets have been a better team because of it.
This isn’t an argument for starting Jeremy Lin, but an appeal for letting him do what he does best. He needs the ball to score and create for teammates. Either Lin or Walker’s minutes need to be staggered a bit more, or Walker needs to cede ball handling and playmaking duties to an extent. The Hornets have already established themselves as a playoff threat, but need to prove they can challenge the better teams in the conference. As unlikely as it sounds, letting Jeremy Lin orchestrate the offense on a more consistent basis may be all the proof they need.