Q&A With the Only Person Who Predicted Linsanity (Part II): Jeremy Lin, In Depth

If you have not already, please read Part I of the Q&A. Again, many thanks to @poormanscommish for taking the time to answer a few questions. As mentioned, @poormanscommish is a contributor to Warriors blog Golden State of Mind and commissioner of Dream League, a 125-team basketball league and national tournament circuit for adults that once evolved from the Asian-American community, but is now open to all ethnicities.  He was one of the first people to introduce me (and many others, I’m sure) to Jeremy Lin, with his article Bow to the Jeremy Lin Movement written back in December of 2009 (!).

Lin-sanity.com:

Say you are an assistant coach on D’Antoni’s staff. What parts of Jeremy’s game are you working with him on the most? (We all know the obvious answer)

@poormanscommish:

Jeremy’s jumpshot mechanics are completely wrong. This is actually not as hard as you would think. I say this because I, as a long-time vet of very organized Asian-American community leagues and tournaments, was able to reconstruct my own jumpshot. I learned this from a gym rat who did the same. He started over by carefully practicing the right form from only the hashmark of the circle inside the paint. Then gradually work your way out with the same mechanics. That’s like a grammar school kid learning how to shoot until his freshman year at college, but at this point, you’re an adult, so the process can be accelerated if you’re in the gym everyday for hours.

He needs to use his body to shield his dribble, a la Chris Paul. This will take some time. From now on, he needs to welcome the contact, instead of try to run away from it. In other words, his stand-still dribble is not at its potential. There’s been blogposts on the way he keeps his dribble low when he attacks and that’s great, but the next step is the Chris Paul-level of ball protection.

He also needs to eliminate the jump pass unless absolutely necessary, but I can see he’s doing that less now. It’d be nice if he had a fake pass to add to the repertoire. Another bonus would be a behind-the-back “standard” pass a la Steph Curry or Rubio. Right now, you can see that if there’s ball rotation right to left, he needs to jump, swing his body around and swoop the pass to the left wing, whereas Curry or Rubio merely provide a behind-the-back swingpass. A stronger left-handed-leading swing pass from right-to-left would also do the trick.

Also he has zero postup game. If I were his high school or AAU coach, I would’ve brought out the tapes of Jordan (which Jeremy’s father has a library of) and said, “See? He knows how to do it. You do it too.” Along those lines, he’s not very aggressive at receiving a pass. At some point a good defender, say Ginobili or Fisher (off-ball that is), is not going to allow you to catch a pass. You need to shield this guy off and shove him a little without fouling him. Jeremy does not have that in his repertoire yet.

The easiest way for Jeremy to improve is to watch tapes of CP3 and emulate everything he does, from the alpha dog status to the physicality to the efficient shooting stroke, which btw is a set shot from three-point range. Even Jordan refined his 3-point shot later in his career to be a more efficient set shot. Jeremy’s court vision is already on par, now he must fortify the lacking aspects.

While Jeremy has a high IQ, he still needs to figure out how to mold that IQ into leading a team. These are growth points for all young players, though. It’s hard to explain, but I mean “take charge” leadership things, be it calling a timeout like you are the coach on the floor, doing a two-for-one without being told, these intangibles that you see CP3 doing a lot. Jeremy was asked by Amaker to be a more vocal leader in his senior year. It sort of happened, but it didn’t. He’s always been more of the guy who leads by example. This one will take some time, as it’s just not in our Chinese culture to act that way. Also, not every basketball player is like CP3, so take this with a grain of salt.

Actually, Jeremy could improve with a lot of off-the-court stuff. The business side of basketball, to me, leaves a lot to be desired. For example, he shouldn’t have been blind-sided by the Warriors releasing him. I think he should seek out more help and that he can trust most of the help he receives from the Asian-American community. He and his family are still not particularly good at what I used to call in my previous career, “due diligence”, or networking. He’s still Chinese with Chinese culture. Many of us grew up introverted, doing our own homework at school as opposed to study groups, and learning everything on our own. The American way to solve problems is collaboration, which has proven time and time again to be a successful path towards accomplishment on this planet. There are many examples of successful Americans who became friends after teaming up with a business partner. At a macro level, you could say that China is starting to embrace that model. I’m not sure that Jeremy’s ready to feel comfortable with a stranger on a business level, then that evolving into friendship. Right now, his business ventures all seem to start through friends, except for his agent, who from what I’ve been told (via due diligence!) is a devout Christian as well and starts his sales pitches with a prayer.

For example, it hadn’t clicked in Jeremy’s mind that the Lockout would prevent him from working out at the Warriors practice facility. Also, during the Summer of ’09, he passed up an opportunity to scrimmage again for a Pro-Am game. He also passed up an opportunity to workout with the pre-MVP version of Derrick Rose that summer because he was enrolled (i.e., paid money) at Impact Academy with his two brothers. Yes, a family outing combined with the business of making him a future pro. So in the “business” of making himself a better pro basketball player, he’s still just feeling his way around rather than having a well-defined business strategy. And I don’t necessarily mean endorsements, which of course he’s probably not that interested in. I mean just preparing himself and seeking out the appropriate resources for maximum long-term performance on the court.

Lin-sanity:

A comedy video on YouTube, “Jeremy Lin Effect”, features a pickup basketball player wanting an Asian kid to be on his team because he wants to have a “Jeremy Lin” running the pick and roll.

In all seriousness, though: Just how important is Jeremy Lin to the Asian-American community, specifically the Asian-American basketball community?

@poormanscommish:

He’s important to Asian-Americans, but that’s not the bigger message. It’s taken me this long to realize the Lesson of Jeremy Lin. At first, I thought it was the Legend of Jeremy Lin, but now, it’s the Lesson. Don’t take this in the wrong way, because I did for a few years, but Jeremy doesn’t want you to think of him as an Asian-American. He has no desire to be a torch-bearer to right any wrongs done to the Asian-American community.

Up until recently, I thought Jeremy would be what, say, Michael Jackson was to blacks back in the day. Barry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder would all team up with Michael and show the world what an African-American can do, supported by other African-Americans, in a white society. Without getting into a long debate, it’s just not the same with Jeremy and obviously a different time in our country.

I know this because I tried, perhaps in a secular way if you will, to have Jeremy brought up with a very powerful Asian-American in the NBA who happens to advise several well-known players. This person’s pedigree has earned him a high position at one of the big shoe companies. True to our culture, Jeremy wanted to improve all on his own, never asking for help. Completely based on meritocracy. No shortcuts toward exposure, no special power-brokered selection to an all-star AAU team or NCAA camp, that kind of thing. Of course, that’s congruent with Jeremy’s Christian values. So, we had our differences and I stopped texting him advice after the Summer of ’09. At the same time, his family and Coach Amaker went radio silence with me and, effectively, the Asian-American power-broker I spoke of. During this time, I would say that our friendship fizzled into more of an acquaintance.

The game against Utah last week was the first time where I didn’t feel like Jeremy was me — you know, an Asian-American kid breaking barriers and proving Asians can play with a great oncourt performance. I’m sure many an Asian-American got goose bumps. Not me. That was me 2-3 years ago, but not anymore. That’s not what he really wants. Actually, it’s not like he wants anything. I’m pretty sure he’d probably say it has something to do with a message God is sending through him. And I’m okay with that. I mean, all of this is really crazy and almost by design, that I have no problem anymore with what Jeremy’s mom once told me, that Jeremy is playing for God.

Against Utah, I saw the same Jeremy that I’ve seen before. Only this time, he was just a basketball player. But a basketball player with a unique style of play. A style of play finally embraced by the greater basketball community. And as far as the NBA players and staffs are concerned, I’ve seen that they are, for the most part, colorblind. I think the advent of the international players helped with that natural movement inside of the NBA community.

So I think now I feel like what Jeremy had wanted me to feel, whether he was conscious of it or not. And I do realize this may take awhile to sink in for Asian-Americans. Don’t expect Jeremy to come rushing to the aid of some Asian-American cause, at least not right now. Right now, he’s just gonna play some basketball. He doesn’t have anything else figured out.

Lin-sanity:

So, you now predict that the next stop for the Jeremy Lin show is Team USA in the Olympics…c’mon?? Do you really believe that?

@poormanscommish:

Welp, you’re missing the point, but that’s okay. It’s not really about Jeremy, although he would be the player that delivers the message. It’s about not judging people before you’ve given them the opportunity. Not judging them based on race, religion or lack thereof, athletic prowess, whatever.

Look, in Jason Kidd’s second year, it would’ve been preposterous to say that he’d lead Team USA to a gold medal someday. In Mark Cuban’s second year out of college, people would’ve been ridiculed for predicting he’d be a billionaire. But I bet the ones closest to Cuban would say that while they could not have predicted it, they certainly aren’t surprised.

To answer your question, it’s not whether I’m right or wrong, it’s about whether or not you can picture it as an achievable accomplishment. People were proven wrong when they said Jeremy’s game couldn’t translate from the high school stage to the NCAA. Now they’re wrong because they said his NCAA game couldn’t be translated to the NBA. I’d say the leap from NBA to Team USA is the easiest of the three. All he needs is the opportunity. And with many superstars not signing up to play (e.g., I don’t think CP3 will be our pg and Derrick Rose might be tired of it by 2016 or 2020, just sayin’).

Lin-sanity:

Lastly, talk about the work you are doing with the Dream League. And please tell me you have found the next Jeremy Lin!

@poormanscommish:

Dream League is evolving. With the ingrained experience of Asian-American devotion to basketball properly organized and played, it took me ten years to get it to a point where we can provide the best possible NBA-like oncourt experience (24-second shotclock is an easy example — how many rec leagues have you played in that has a 24-second shotclock?) for players that money can buy, and scaled across 100+ teams. That is our core, just like the NBA’s core is to provide the most TV-adaptable awe-inspiring, entertaining, and competitive basketball you can fit within 94 feet of hardwood. We have something big planned, but I can’t announce it just yet until the pieces are in place. Dream League will become an ecosystem of the BUSINESS of basketball leagues that taps the power of the basketball community towards educating disadvantaged inner-city kids. Where previously they had to be awesome athletes to get out of their challenging situations, Dream League gives them the vocational skills to prepare them for life as an American adult, and there need only be a passion for basketball, no matter how good or bad he or she is at playing the game. We’re kind of the anti-thesis of the NBA.

Asian-American basketball is evolving and we probably can still reach about 10,000 Asian-American ballers through our database. In our 125-team league in the Bay Area as well as our national tournaments in Vegas and LA, people started bringing in non-Asian friends and ringers and claiming they were Asian, so I put a stop to that by opening it up, for the most part. Sure, there are still small branches of Asian-only basketball and we still run one or two national tournaments a year that require Asian ethnicity. So there’s that moving variable. But we’re a rec league for adults. No pros ought to be playing in our league. Again, the anti-thesis of the NBA.

Secondly, the next Jeremy Lin will likely not take the same path as Jeremy Lin. I don’t know if there will be a next Jeremy Lin because there very well might not be anymore Asian-Americans in the NBA that are full-blooded Asian. Something tells me that the next Jeremy Lin will probably get a scholarship offer somewhere big and all eyes will be on him. He’ll have to deal with it in a much more secular, capitalistic society way, perhaps being on TV all the time and subject to way more scrutiny than Jeremy, although Jeremy had to face his own obstacles. So the next Jeremy Lin will probably go through the typical AAU to big-time NCAA program to NBA Draft pick path.

But I think Jeremy has made it much easier for the next guy. I don’t think an all-state Asian player will ever be passed up by a big-time program again.

Want more? Check out:

“The Legend of Jeremy Lin” (October 2009)

“Jeremy Lin: The New Steve Nash”  (January 2010)

Re-reading these two gems and knowing how far Jeremy has come…its unreal.

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Q&A With the Only Person Who Predicted Linsanity (Part I)

Jeremy Lin’s recent exploits are very well documented as sports journalists across the country have jumped on this story. The issue is that the overwhelming majority of these writers didn’t even know who Lin was a few weeks ago- which to be honest, is COMPLETELY understandable.

To gain better perspective on Lin’s game and background, I recently chatted with Poor Man’s Commish, a contributor to Warriors blog Golden State of Mind and commissioner of Dream League, a 125-team basketball league and national tournament circuit for adults that once evolved from the Asian-American community, but is now open to all ethnicities. You can follow him on Twitter at: @poormanscommish. He doesn’t know this, but Poor Man’s Commish was one of the first people to introduce me to Jeremy Lin, with his article Bow to the Jeremy Lin Movement written back in December of 2009 (!).

(Part II of the Interview can be found: here)

Lin-sanity.com:

Few people could have predicted the rise of Linsanity in NYC. However, back in December of 2009, you wrote that “Jeremy Lin is a bonafide First Round NBA pick”. Tell us about when you first saw Jeremy play and recap for readers why you felt Lin had the talent and potential to make the NBA back when he wasn’t on anyone’s radar.

@poormanscommish:

Let me preface by saying that I have far exceeded the Malcolm Gladwell minimum of 10,000 hours in a particular area of expertise, which is watching basketball players ranging from some organized experience to good enough to earn a living as a professional. I had no choice because, to save on expenses, I would scorekeep as many games as possible in my league. Sometimes I went from 9am-10pm, maybe with a one-game break in between (maybe not). That’s probably why I can sit and watch like 4-5 straight NBA Summer Leagues games in a row, no problem.

So I’d like to say I know what becomes successful in this game invented by Dr. Naismith. With the exception of above-the-rim theatrics, the formula is virtually the same at all levels for adults, especially the mental part of the game. With Dream League’s Asian-American community roots, we saw the most fundamentally sound below-the-rim players — some who you would say had “pro skills” — and teams, essentially franchises or sponsored organizations that spanned decades and had their own lineage of players and systems. You’d be surprised how passionate Asian-Americans are about basketball. There are literally underground networks.

So I’m very familiar with team chemistry, player psyche, player skill development, raw talent, egos, the whole nine. As far as the NBA level, I typically watch, in person and from up close, every Vegas Summer League game, so I’ve digested what makes or breaks players in their efforts to make an NBA roster. I think this is why no one else who knew Jeremy Lin, was able to translate his game to the NBA level. His coaches and family didn’t pay attention to NBA Summer League. It would have been impossible for them to picture his game in the context of the NBA’s game.

First time I saw him play was the last game of the SF Summer Pro-Am league in Summer ’08. On that night, he guarded the eventual MVP of the league, Jovan Harris, who sort of resembles a young Jason Terry in his ability to make shots. Even though Harris still scored a lot of points that night, I noticed that Jeremy’s one-on-one defense was particularly good in terms of containing Harris and Harris didn’t necessarily have his way — btw you can find these video clips on my YouTube account “dreamleague”.

Since I had been to the NBA’s Vegas Summer League for two straight summers prior, I knew immediately that Jeremy could, at the very least, be the 12th player on one of the Summer League teams. I mean, if Nate Funk can make a roster, so could Jeremy. He had the size and mobility. As I stood next to Jeremy, as with most pro players especially those that make it to the NBA, you kind of go, “Woah, this dude is sort of a freak of nature.” You just don’t see a Chinese person that big in everyday life. On offense that night, you could see some of the same moves he makes today, although of course by now those moves are more refined than before. He’s certainly much stronger and much, much better at finishing at the rim now.

As far as being a player with enough skill and talent to warrant a first round pick based on merit, it was almost exactly a year later when I had invited him to a scrimmage with Blake Griffin’s trainer’s group of players (Griffin had already departed for pre-Draft workouts). University of Kentucky forwards Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton were there, as was Hilton Armstrong, so there was definitely NBA size. I mean, these scrimmages blew away the best possible comp you could find at Pro-Am. The play which planted the seed in my mind that he could be for real was when he drove past Kansas’s Brady Morningstar from the right side towards the right baseline, then Pat-Pat helped out, and he delivered a perfect pass THROUGH PATTERSON’S LEGS to a recipient right underneath the basket. That kind of instinct and creativity is very rare.

At the same time, I analyzed all the point guards that Chad Ford, DraftExpress, and NBADraft.net had put on their boards, so I had some context. Guys like Ben Uzoh, Nic Wise, Ish Smith, Mark Payne, Malcolm Lee, et. al. I still have some old video clips of these guys on my laptop. The following NCAA season at Harvard, Jeremy just continued to do the things that you now know he’s good at, so when I wrote the article, to me, he had a body of work that was enough proof for me to come to that conclusion, as well as knowing the games of his peer draftees. It happened to be a Draft with not a lot of great point guards, but Jeremy’s basketball IQ and unselfishness in comparison to the other available point guards not named John Wall was really no comparison, as you are fully aware of now. I mean, Armon Johnson (Portland’s 2nd round pick)? C’mon.

Ironically, one of the other prospects named by Ford was Iman Shumpert. As Knicks fans know now, all athleticism and no thinking — Shumpert’s game is entirely based on instinct. He should not be running the point for any team. Other than the superstar picks like Evan Turner and John Wall, the Draft tends to skew heavily towards athleticism with little regard to basketball IQ. Also, NBA teams can’t talk to NCAA players and get to know them over time, so that makes the IQ side harder to evaluate. That’s just the way it is. So, while I said that Jeremy was a bonafide first-round pick, I said that going against the grain of the Draft. I would’ve picked him because he was a playmaker and at least the second-best point guard at the time behind John Wall, but I most likely would’ve been met with roadblocks from any NBA front office. Also, as I’m sure Donnie Nelson probably felt, why pick him and commit dollars when you know no one else is going to draft him? Jeremy’s game is obviously different. So while a vanilla GM is almost required to pick someone like Grievis Vasquez, he’d probably lose his job if he picked a non-flashy player like Jeremy.

Incidentally, there was only one Draft pundit who wrote similar praises about Jeremy, but I can’t recall his name. Relatively unknown scout who’s deep into the stats. I’ve probably written about him in my old blog at PoorMansCommish.com.

Lin-sanity: 

What was your immediate reaction to Jeremy’s 25-point, breakout performance against Deron Williams and the Nets? Just how far has he come from his first days at Harvard?

@poormanscommish:  

Well, over the past year, I had been highly disappointed with his play so I actually stopped following him (as explained more later), but one of his unwavering fans emailed me about it. Then I got an email from his mom saying, “I know we haven’t talked in awhile, but thank you for your support.” It was if she knew Jeremy had reached a summit while climbing a mountain. I wasn’t so sure, because he had had great performances with Reno, then gone back and not produced for the Warriors.

To me, it was just one game and everyone who knows Jeremy knows that he can have a game like that (as evidenced by the Boston College and UConn games, as well as certain NBDL games). So it was like she knew Jeremy had turned the corner. Maybe she had talked to him after the game. Again, it’s all about confidence and believing in your abilities. That’s just basketball. If it weren’t for her email, I wouldn’t have watched the game against Utah, but it just felt like she had a feeling Jeremy had conquered a major obstacle with just that Nets performance. When I watched the Utah game, I said to myself, “Good to see that he’s finally come around.”

So yeah, even I’ve been a doubter of Jeremy at times and been proving wrong by him. Welcome to the club.

Lin-sanity:

Lin himself will credit D’Antoni’s system as a key reason why he’s enjoying success in New York right now. Certainly, D’Antoni’s “seven second or less” and pick-and-roll heavy half court sets are different than what Keith Smart ran with the Warriors. So, is Lin’s new found success just a product of the system?

@poormanscommish:

I’ve always said Jeremy’s game is best suited in the NBA (and worst-suited for the Ivy League). Look, we here in the Bay Area don’t know what the hell the Warriors are doing, but in the rest of the NBA, pick and roll is pretty much a staple. ‘Nuff said.

Lin-sanity:

Say you are coaching against Lin tonight. What do you tell your team in order to stop him and the Knicks offense?

@poormanscommish:

If I were an ego-less coach who didn’t care what the media or public thought of me, which is very very hard to do, I would just go zone. What is Jeremy going to do against a zone? Cornell used to have Jeremy’s number and they would throw a lot of different zone sets at him.

In fact, Cornell used to have a player named Lou Dale who has a similar build as Derek Fisher. He was very tenacious and just a solid non-flashy player, offensively and defensively. Although Fisher is slow, he is very physical and tenacious, a veteran, a smart player, and has Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum behind him, not to mention Kobe covering a wing and World Peace guarding another. Cornell had a 7-footer to lock down the paint, too. The Lakers have pretty solid team defensive chemistry. They are definitely a test for Jeremy.

But really, the key lies in your big man on the defense of the pick-and-roll. First, you tell your guard toback up and just contain him. Go under every screen. You are giving him the open trey. But as everyone first saw against UConn, Jeremy’s a sly offensive player. He’ll use your own big man against you. So you have to instruct your big man to drop, and drop back to the paint as soon as possible. Jeremy’s range isn’t that good and he doesn’t really have a stop-and-pop in his game. Meanwhile, your guard and small forward must not leave any shooters to help. The only guy who can help is the guy guarding the worst offensive player (well, I suppose he might be guarding a Knicks shooter). But if your point guard and big man defending the screen do their job, nobody should be helping.

And if Jeremy hits the open shots, then okay, he won the chess match. But it’d be my duty as an NBA coach to force Jeremy to make an adjustment and change his game. I wouldn’t change that initial approach unless Jeremy made three shots in a row.

Here is Part II of the interview.