February 6, 2012

Chinese-American guy lights up NBA

Here's a fun story: Jeremy Lin, a 6'-4" basketball guard from Harvard, became the first Asian-American in the NBA awhile ago, but he has mostly sat on the far end of the bench. But, he got into a game for the New York Knicks on Saturday night and scored a career high 25. Tonight, he got his first ever start and scored 28 in a win over Utah, despite all the big money players on the Knicks (Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler) being out.

I don't know about Lin in particular, but as the Ivy League has gotten richer endowments, its sports teams have gotten better. It doesn't give out sports scholarships, but it gives out so much financial aid to middle class families now, that it makes sense for pretty smart and pretty athletic kids to play ball for the Ivy League: "Okay, UT El Paso, Iowa State, and Valparaiso are offering me full rides, or, for $5,000 per year I can go to Yale? Is this a trick question?"

I vaguely know a heavily recruited basketball player who enrolled in the last few years at a Very Famous Ivy League College. It was funny reading the ESPN interviews with him on Signing Day because the questions from the sportswriters were all framed as if all his ambitions were focused on the basketball court (Q. So, are you signing with Very Famous Ivy League College because you think you can help them win its first Ivy League title in 17 years? A. Uh, yeah, sure ... I mean, why not?), when his motivations for signing with VFILC were far more mature: He wants to go through life as a graduate of that Very Famous Ivy League College. It was like when I was at Rice in the 1970s, and the basketball coaching staff was alway scowling about how the 6'-11" backup center was just exploiting them to get a Rice engineering degree, always sneaking off to the library to work on differential equations.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

He probably took steroids or growth hormones or something.

Anonymous said...

There's a North Korean basketball player who's 7'9" and was at one point the tallest man alive. He was training to play in the NBA but the North Korean government didn't let him leave and now he's in his 40s and too old.

Despite his height he doesn't have any health or hormonal abnormalities. He's quite agile and athletic for his size:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koKcUDFVkFY

Peter said...

All of the Ivies have minor league football teams, so in that sport you really can't say that the teams have gotten better.

Anonymous said...

"I don't know about Lin in particular, but as the Ivy League has gotten richer endowments, its sports teams have gotten better."

I don't know about that. The Yale football team was actually ranked in the top 20 when they were 8 or 9 and 0 in 1968, which I didn't realize until recently. Now, they are not even in the top division.

MQ said...

Ivy teams were the best college sports teams in the first part of the 20the century. Yale still has mmore championships than Alabama, Notre Dame, etc. But there were so many scandals they decided to gear their sports emphasis back.

Lin is the real thing. I think he faced some racism in recruiting and talent assessment. Stanford and UCLA passed on him, which in retrospect was clearly a mistake. My guess is the NBA will also end up looking pretty foolish for letting him go undrafted last year. His game is well suited to the contemporary NBA style, which advantages point guards. I think he's not quite as good as the other two new PG who are emerging as stars this year, Ricky Rubio from Spain and Kyrie Irving of Duke, but he might get up there. If Mike D'Antoni doesn't burn him out playing 45 minutes a game.

Leslie G. said...

"He probably took steroids or growth hormones or something."

It's just nutrition. Know plenty of ABC's/ABK's these days who are six foot plus and tower over their parents. Went to China recently and saw similar in the big cities. You no doubt find this incredibly threatening.

Anonymous said...

Carmelo Anthony looks more and more like this generation's Adrian Dantley: huge stats even while, for whatever reason, teams do better without him.

I'd tend to think it's facilitation ability. It's one thing to create your own shot, but it's quite another to read the floor well enough to consistently create offense for teammates. Anthony's blackhole-volume nature underlines this. It's hard to stop him from scoring individually, but the fact that he's so focused on this element -- rather than reading the floor overall -- often hurts the team.

How this connects to Lin is probably hand-check rules; it's become much easier for guards to get shots off, either inside or out, since the NBA softened the rules on the perimeter to increase scoring. It largely encourages ball-domination, as with Carmelo and even Lin (a player that has pretty nice handles) by taking away strong physical pressure, as seen in the nineties.

It's not surprising that guard scoring is so high today.

Ironically, one of the more interesting cases is Steve Nash. He wasn't really known as either an all-time passer or shooter when hand-checking was allowed, but since has put up stats reminiscent of Stockton, though his ability to read the floor doesn't appear to be of the same scope (not that this is the biggest indictment, considering Stockton's abilities).

In the end, the inversion of standards is rather humorous: the 90s were a decade, like most or all others, dominated by frontcourt players (Ewing, Hakeem, Robinson, Malone, Barkley, etc.) yet Jordan, a guard, ruled the league. This is one of the better arguments for his all-time status, as the 90s may have had the greatest collection of overall frontcourt talent the league has seen.

Today the NBA is looking to push guards as much as possible, as a marketing standard, and they are the biggest stars with the biggest stats; yet, even as rules are manipulated for marketing purposes, championship-result is still dictated by big men, though the league is depleted at these positions (is Dwight Howard even as good as a prime Alonzo Mourning?). Pau Gasol is a much lesser talent than Kobe, but the Lakers were lucky to make the playoffs at all before the former's arrival.

Anonymous said...

"He probably took steroids or growth hormones or something."

Post-2004 hand-checking rules are to basketball what HGH was to Barry Bonds Era of MLB.

Truth said...

"It's just nutrition."

Could be, could be HGH, it's fairly prevalent, even here in Albuquerque, amongst upper-middle class high school basketball players. Although I am, by some strange coincidence, a foot taller than both of my parents.

DaveinHackensack said...

Matt Yglesias (who I think was at the game) tweeted that Lin would be the first Asian American POTUS.

Anonymous said...

The Ivy champion has been knocked out of the NCAA tournament in 2 of the last 3 years by Kentucky, in surprisingly competitive games. That John Wall / DeMarcus Cousins team beat Cornell and last year Brandon Knight beat Princeton on a last-second shot. The Ivies are getting decent basketball players and playing competitive ball. Harvard is 20-2 right now and looks good.

Anonymous said...

Maybe he's applying advanced physics when shooting the ball.

MQ said...

Today the NBA is looking to push guards as much as possible, as a marketing standard, and they are the biggest stars with the biggest stats; yet, even as rules are manipulated for marketing purposes, championship-result is still dictated by big men,

You can call it marketing, but I think it improves the game. Creating space on the outside for ball movement and penetration has made for a more fluid, open and interesting game. Far better than the shoving matches we used to get in the 90s. The NBA is a pleasure to watch these days. A good balance between individual and team orientation, athleticism and smarts.

Anonymous said...

Having just been recruited by a couple of Ivies for football and being middle class ($150k/yr), I can tell you that the Ivies certainly want a helluva a lot more than 5k. My contribution was closer to 28k.

Vanilla Thunder said...

Tiger Moms take note: As a point guard, a postion traditionally played by the shortest player on the court, Lin is expected to make good decisions and be unselfish. Sounds like the perfect position for someone of Asian descent.

Truth said...

7'5 guy plays against Asains

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/highschool-prep-rally/7-foot-5-mamadou-ndiaye-prep-highlights-absolutely-183735847.html

Hacienda said...

I played point guard.

Taking a strict HBD interpretation on Lin, I'd say he has great vision and he's probably lucky to be playing for D'Antoni, once a facilitator type point himself, under whom Steve Nash really came into his own.

He's also lucky to be playing with zero to low court vision players like Anthony and Stoudemire.

Will be fun to see how this developes. Could see a return of the Phoenix Suns of a few years ago back in New York.

Dave said...

Speaking of Ivy League athletic traditions, it is interesting to look into the dim past of college atheltics (particularly football) and see that once upon a time teams like Yale, Harvard and even Army and Navy were powerhouses. It's a shame that college athletics have taken taken the "student" out of student-athlete; in the past, kids went to these colleges to get an education first, and played their respective sport incidentally to that education. Nowadays, most go to college to play, and the education (if even pursued) is what is incidental.

j mct said...

I don't know Dave, but people have bemoaning the phoniness of the 'student athlete' stuff for my entire life, and have been positing a golden age that existed sometime in the distant past when athletes were students first. Here's a good movie to watch.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycOeoFZ-Cfc&feature=fvsr

Steve Sailer said...

You can go back even farther to Buster Keaton's 1925 silent "College," a satire of sports mania at USC, which features a battle between the dean and the coach for the soul of the college.

j mct said...

Steve: I am kowtowing at my desk at your superior movie knowledge.

Some guy will probably come along and point out some penny dreadful novel from 1898 about some Southie Irishman playing the ringer for Harvard against Yale and top both of us!

Anonymous said...

Lin was the California HS player of the year. No D1 offers (racial bias?) so he went to Harvard. Outplayed Wall in summer league, Deron Williams and Devin Harris in the last two. He does have some skills

not a hacker said...

If I were Lin I wouldn't string together too many 25-point nights (not that he could). As soon as a non-black player starts to "show up" the folks for whom the league is run, you start to see a lot of headslaps from behind. This is what happened to the Warriors' Andris Biedrins when he started going 15/10 consistently. The local sportswriters can't talk about it, so they speculate about his motivation, but he's probably just tired of getting hit. I remember Rod Strickland used to do it to Drazen Petrovic when he'd hit a jumper over him. Rickey Sobers used to beat up Rick Barry. Hell, Todd Bozeman got angry when I hit a jumper over him in a pick-up game. Everyone has to remember that basketball is all blacks have. Any incursion is existential.

Truth said...

"they speculate about his motivation, but he's probably just tired of getting hit. "

Tired of getting hit by a 180 lb. guard. that's an EXCELLENT reason for a 6'11 230 lb. guy not to play for a new multimillion dollar contract!

Anonymous said...

Interesting social history footnote.

He's not the first Asian American in the NBA.

Wata Misaka played for the New York Knicks in the 1947-48 season, becoming the first non-white in US professional sports.

Anonymous said...

Here's Lin's NBA draftexpress page. Unfortunately he didn't participate in any of the athletic tests in the NBA measurements (i.e., combine). He's 6'3" (not 6'4") and weighed 201.

http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Jeremy-Lin-5802/

Anonymous said...

Lin was the California HS player of the year. No D1 offers (racial bias?) so he went to Harvard.

6'3" guards usually need to be very athletically gifted (i.e. very fast/quick with great "ups" or jumping ability) to go D1. Since there are just so many 6'2"/6'3" high school guards out there who have been playing basketball virtually every day their entire lives and are quite skilled. Lin is pretty skilled and good with fundamentals but he's not a phenomenal athlete.

Anonymous said...

In his high school senior year, Lin's team Palo Alto High won the state title by beating Mater Dei, which is one of those Catholic HS b-ball powers that always dominates.

Drunk Idiot said...

There aren't that many comments on this post, but it's still one of the better iSteve comment threads in a while.

Lin can definitely ball. Had the pleasure of seeing his Harvard teams play a couple of times. He was most impressive.

As for the Ivy League, it's quietly become a solid mid major basketball conference. Back in the 90s, Ivy League basketball was all about Princeton and Penn (remember, both starting guards from Penn's 1995 team -- Matt Maloney and Jerome Allen -- had success in the NBA). But now the league is well balanced.
It is true, though, that Harvard made a decision to try to become a basketball power. They hired Tommy Ammaker as coach and gave him the leeway to get talented players into school.

It also must be noted that there isn't much on-campus enthusiasm or fan support for Ivy League hoops. Aside from the Palestra (Penn's venerable home arena), Ivy League gyms aren't much bigger than most high school gyms. I came from the world of Division III hoops, and there are D3 gyms that blow most Ivy League gyms away (Wash U in St. Louis & Illinois Wesleyan come to mind). Don't get me wrong: the value of an Ivy degree obviously outweighs whatever misgivings recruits may have about playing their games in sparsely-populated sardine box gyms. But that doesn't mean that it wouldn't still suck to spend your college basketball career playing in front of crickets.

Drunk Idiot said...

The Ivy League might benefit by adding a conference tournament (like most conferences have nowadays). As it stands, the team that wins the conference regular season crown gets the league's automatic NCAA Tournament bid. But the Ivy has become well enough balanced that, in a lot of seasons, the league is arguably good enough to send more than one team to "the Dance."

Having a conference tournament would increase the Ivy's likelihood of getting more than one NCAA bid. A lot of mid major conferences get two teams into the NCAA Tournament when the team that won the regular season conference title gets beat in the conference tournament. Since conference tournament winners get the NCAA Tournament's automatic bid, a lot of "at-large" NCAA Tournament invitations go to mid major teams that won their conferences' regular seasons, but failed to to take care of business in their conference tournaments.

Anonymous said...

Lin has effortless ability to make lateral cutbacks while moving forward characteristic of the world's best soccer players (basketball and soccer being different versions of the same sport), as well as a Harvard asian, lightening quick Gretzky-like ability to anticipate openings to cut into. He has a good combination of light build and physical strength for precise modulation of his movement. He could have problems if his defenders have been overplaying a little bit, allowing him to make more controlled cuts against the momentum of their heavier bodies. If defenders play an anticipated cut rather than the initial move, his first step will become more crucial, and that isn't as much of a strength for him. However, overall he has enough court awareness, speed of thought, and precision movement to be an effective guard in the game.

Anonymous said...

He's the 4th Asian American in the NBA.

"Lin is the N.B.A.’s first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent and only the fourth Asian-American in league history."

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/08/sports/basketball/jeremy-lin-has-burst-from-nba-novelty-act-to-knicks-star.html?src=mv&ref=general

Anonymous said...

Too many Americans seem to think that Asians are tiny little hobbits.

There are short and tall Asians. Some of the taller ones are from Korea and North China - the "scandinavia" of Asia. And there are tall spots much like Croatia in Europe, and the Tutsi nation in Africa. Similarly Vietnamese and Filipinos tend to be shorter, like Greeks and Turks.

Given the huge population of China, it would have more 6'+ men than America, even if it has less in average height.

TheCrankyProfessor said...

Steve -
I think Bobby Tudor is the ultimate Rice basketball players. White, well-to-do Louisianian, English major (and good at it - I had classes with him), played in Europe for awhile (where his art history major wife made the most of museum visiting), and then enough money to rename the gym.