Jeremy Lin: Why it’s time for ‘Linsanity’ to make an NBA return

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

After taking a year off from the NBA, it’s time for Jeremy Lin and “Linsanity” to make a return back stateside in the league where he belongs.

The big picture: Although no teams expressed interest in Lin last summer, his time and production in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) should make him a more sought-after name in this year’s free agency.

No love for Lin

It’s hard to believe that its been almost a decade since Lin captivated fans all over the world. His run as the New York Knicks’ starting point guard brought the team recognition and hype that it was missing. That two week run – dubbed “Linsanity” – brought his name into the zeitgeist and helped him secure a four-year deal worth $30 million.

Since “Linsanity,” he has been a journeyman: after spending two years with the Rockets, he spent time with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Charlotte Hornets and had two injury-riddled seasons with the Brooklyn Nets.

The 2018-19 season saw Lin split time with the Atlanta Hawks and the eventual champion Toronto Raptors. Injuries notwithstanding, Lin proved to be an effective combo guard from 2012-19:

  • Averaged 12.2 points, 4.4 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 26.5 minutes a game.
  • Shot 43/34/81% from the field, 3-point land and free throw, respectively.
  • Has shown willingness to come off the bench as he came off the bench in 51% of the games (230/451) played.

That said, the 31-year-old Lin could improve on the defensive end. Though he was an adequate defender earlier in his career, he is exiting his athletic prime.

The new CBA

With no teams expressing their interest in signing Lin, he opted to join the Beijing Ducks of the CBA. Due to COVID-19, teams have only played around 30 of the possible 46 games. The Ducks are currently 19-11, tied for fourth-best in the CBA.

Lin missed six games thus far but that has not stopped his production as he:

  • Leads the Ducks in scoring and assists with 24.2 and 5.8, respectively, in 34.4 minutes a game.
  • Is fourth in rebounding with 5.8 a game.
  • Is hitting shots at a reliable clip: 47/36/82% from the field, 3-point and free throw line, respectively.

Lin’s experience in the NBA is paying off as he is helping lead the Ducks to a playoff berth. When the CBA resumes on June 20, expect Lin to continue his torrid pace.

NBA all in for Jeremy Lin?

As the NBA resumes play on July 31, there is a “transaction window” starting June 22: teams are able to convert two-way contracts and 10-day contracts to regular contracts and teams can sign free agents. Because the CBA resumes two days prior, Lin can’t be signed for the remainder of this NBA season.

However, Lin’s free to be signed for the 2020-21 season. Looking at the 2020 free agents, the top five point guards are:

  • 32-year-old Jeff Teague
  • 34-year-old Goran Dragic
  • 28-year-old Jordan Clarkson
  • 26-year-old Fred VanVleet
  • 22-year-old De’Aaron Fox

It’s important to note that the first four players on the list have “Bird” rights, meaning teams can go over the salary cap to resign them. Regarding Teague and Dragic, although they are productive players, they are on the wrong side of 30. With the way Clarkson and VanVleet are playing, the Utah Jazz and Raptors, respectively, are almost certainly going to retain them.

That leaves Fox. But considering the Sacramento Kings have the team option, they are going to keep their franchise centerpiece.

Shooting Guards Ahead of Lin

When looking at top-tier shooting guards, similar issues arise. The top five shooting guards are:

  • 31-year-old DeMar DeRozan
  • 28-year-old Tim Hardaway
  • 27-year-old Evan Fournier
  • 34-year-old Courtney Lee
  • 28-year-old Bogdan Bogdanovic

DeRozan, Hardaway and Fournier all have player options worth $27.8 mil, $17.7 mil and $17 mil, respectively. That would be a lot of money to leave on the table, if they look for another deal. Lee is unrestricted but he has “Bird” rights so the Dallas Mavericks might opt to keep the versatile defender.

Much like Fox, that leaves Bogdanovic in Sacramento. He’s a restricted free agent with “Bird” rights and has excelled as the Kings’ Sixth Man. The Kings are wise to keep him as they build around Fox.

The bottom line: Time for another dose of ‘Linsanity’ in the NBA

Even though Lin is exiting his athletic prime, he can still be a reliable playmaker and shooter – if he’s open – off the bench or as a starter in certain matchups. Defense is where he needs to improve and although he was never a defensive stopper, expect him to make up for it with his effort.

If everything goes well for Lin in the CBA, expect “Linsanity” to make a return in the NBA sooner rather than later.