1. Flip Murray
In 2002 an unheralded guard named Ronald "Flip" Murray, who played his college ball at a Mississippi junior college and Division II’s Shaw University, was drafted in the second round by the Milwaukee Bucks. He played all of 42 minutes (scoring a total of 23 points) in Milwaukee before being a throw-in in the trade that sent Ray Allen to Seattle* and Gary Payton to Milwaukee. The following season Flip Murray would be the star of his very own version of “Linsanity.” Granted his was cooler because his name was "Flip." Over his first 11 starts Murray averaged 23.9 points per game on 50 percent shooting while dominating defenses. As the season continued, and teams began to learn how to guard him, Murray’s star began to fade. His shooting percentage dropped and with it his minutes. By the end of the year Murray was averaging a little over 12 points per game and had settled into his role as an average back-up guard. This is all to say that despite what many will tell you, there is a precedent for this kind of explosion, and it doesn't guarantee success. Don’t be shocked if Jeremy Lin regresses to the mean.
*Can you believe the NBA ever thought basketball would work in a podunk town like Seattle? It's nice and all, but it's not a bustling metropolis. You know, like Oklahoma City.
2. Seven Seconds Or Less
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni has been a very unpopular man in New York. Not only have his teams been consistently disappointing, but they’ve been disappointing while undermining what many consider to be the identity of the franchise. Where fans expect a hard-nosed, defense-driven team like those of the Ewing, Starks, and Oakley era, D’Antoni’s teams are built around the idea of “seven seconds or less,” a philosophy that puts almost no weight on defense, but instead focuses on getting high-percentage shots (especially threes) as quickly as possible (ideally in under seven seconds). Because of this fast-paced system, point guards who can get to the hoop (you know, like Jeremy Lin) typically look much better than they actually are*. It’s like how for years Texas Tech quarterbacks would break passing records and then never make a dent in the pros. Jeremy Lin may just be the Texas Tech quarterback of Knicks point guards.
*See Felton, Raymond.
3. Lockout Shortened Season
We’re watching terrible basketball this year. Sure we’ve had a lot of close and entertaining games, but you can count on one hand the number that have been well-played from beginning to end. When you take an extremely shortened training camp, add in too many games over too few days, and not enough time for in-season practices, you get the NBA equivalent of pick-up basketball. Specifically the lack of practice time hurts a team’s ability to scheme against a particular player. That’s going to benefit Lin in the short term, but will probably catch up to him.
4. Competition So Far
Jeremy Lin’s explosive week has come at the expense of two teams that are insulting the game of basketball nightly (the Nets and the Wizards), two awful defensive point guards (Utah’s Devin Harris and the ghost of Lakers guard Derek Fisher) and a rookie (Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio). Now I’ll acknowledge that Ricky Rubio is actually a good defender, but Lin’s game against the Spanish Jonas Brother was by far his weakest performance (shooting only 33% from the field and 57% from the free throw line). Will he be able to continue this dominance as he faces tougher opposition?
As Linsanity grows, so do the expectations for the former Harvard guard. The nice thing about being unheralded is that any success is gravy. This is particularly true of a player for a team that was struggling as mightily as the Knicks were going into last week (they had lost 11 of their last 13). But suddenly Jeremy Lin is a phenomenon. The Knicks can’t keep Lin gear in stock. His signed rookie card is going for $1500 on eBay. Jason Whitlock is making racist jokes about him. ESPN is mentioning him so much that people might think he plays quarterback for the Denver Broncos. The bright lights are now upon him. Some people thrive under that kind of attention*. Some fold**. We don’t yet know which category Jeremy Lin belongs in, but we’re going to find out.
*Like Chauncey Billups in Detroit.
**Like Chauncey Billups anywhere else.