Ben Corner

Chemistry, Team Sports, and the Elusive Jeremy Lin

Linsanity Prime, Linsanity Lite, and the Linsanity Memorial Retirement Community

Hi.  I’m Ben, Gillian’s brother.  She started the Tickled Neuron blog.  I’m adding myself as the first staff writer.  I’m sorry, Gillian, but the Tickled Neuron brand carries a lot of clout, so I’m co-opting it for my own purposes.

Gillian’s post about chemistry reminded me of the elusive nature of chemistry in team sports.  The most prominent recent example of this is Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks.

In February 2012, Lin’s sudden surge in playing time and production coincided with the Knicks’ two biggest stars (Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire) sudden leave of absence.  The Linsanity period began on February 4th, with Lin’s first explosion off the bench against New Jersey.  Linsanity Prime (what I’m calling the nine game stretch Carmelo was out and Lin was running the show in New York) yielded an 8-1 record after the star-laden Knicks had started the season a disappointing 9-15.

The biggest reason the Linsanity Prime period was such a transcendent phenomenon is due to the chemistry Lin was able to produce with an unremarkable supporting cast.  Lin had All-Star Tyson Chandler to feed in the post, but after that the Linsanity Prime Knicks were a collection of spare parts and marginal role players.  Lin developed a winning dynamic with the likes of Landry Fields (a shooting guard who can’t shoot), Iman Shumpert (an unpolished athletic freak in his rookie season), Steve Novak (you definitely had a high school teacher or a friend’s dad who looks like Novak), Bill Walker (who?), and Jared Jeffries (don’t worry about it).  Some writers also credited Mike D’Antoni’s point guard empowering offensive system for Lin’s success.

On paper, Carmelo’s return from injury added more talent to an already rolling Knicks team.  As we all know now, Carmelo’s reintroduction ushered in the Linsanity Lite period (Jeremy Lin still starting, but at odds with Carmelo’s playing style).  In Carmelo’s first ten games back the Knicks went 2-8, ending in Mike D’Antoni’s resignation as head coach.  The addition of Carmelo gilded the Linsanity lily, and as a result, threw the chemistry out of whack.

Assistant Coach Mike Woodson took over and recalibrated the Knicks offense with Carmelo as the focal point.  The Knicks reeled off a 6-1 run, with Lin playing a diminished role under Woodson.  The Linsanity Lite period ended at this point when Lin opted for season-ending knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear.

During the offseason, Knicks General Manager James Dolan chose not to match Houston’s offer sheet and let Lin go in exchange for nothing.  Whether his dismissal of Lin was motivated by spite, or a different philosophy for the Knicks’ chemistry going forward, Lin’s Knicks career ended after 26 games.

Now James Harden’s running mate on a completely made over Rockets team, Lin is the floor general for one of the NBA’s most exciting young teams.  They may be a few years and a power forward removed from being a contender, but Lin landed in a favorable situation in Houston.  He got paid, and has a defined role on a team headed in the right direction.

New York’s personnel moves post-Linsanity have made them the oldest team in NBA history.  Dolan replaced Lin and the departed Landry Fields with 39 year-old Jason Kidd and the uninspiring veteran guard Raymond Felton.  Still under Coach Woodson, the Knicks are running their offense through Carmelo, so far to great effect. Nearly two weeks into this season, the Knicks are the NBA’s only undefeated team at 4-0.   Time will tell if this success lasts, if perhaps letting Lin walk was in everyone’s best long term interests.  While this new incarnation may not be as electrifying as the Linsanity Prime Knicks, our takeaway from that chapter should be that there’s no accounting for chemistry.

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