Lin's Triple-Double With BayHawks Gave Glimpse of Things to Come
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Ten days before his name began to blur the time zones, Jeremy Lin looked over his right shoulder during warmups and saw his former NBA Development League coach talking quietly to Knicks assistant general manager Allan Houston.
"Jeremy saw me when he was warming up, and he got a little bit nervous, like 'What's that guy doing here?" said Erie BayHawks coach Jay Larranaga. "He and Jerome [Williams] saw Allen and I talking, and it was like, 'well, it was nice visiting, but we kind of liked being up with the Knicks.'"
"As smart as he is," Larranaga said with a laugh, "I don't think he realized how close Erie was to Cleveland."
Lin, as you might have heard, never made it back to Erie. He didn't play for the Knicks that night, but saw 20 minutes three nights later, on Jan. 28, in Houston. Then, on Feb. 4, he scored 25 points with seven assists against the Nets, came back with 28-8 against the Jazz two nights later and finished with the best-ever run in his first four starts of anyone in the history of the NBA.
But amidst all the madness, it's easy to gloss over the fact that, just three weeks before he was filling Madison Square Garden and waking up Taiwan at dawn, Jeremy Lin was wearing an Erie BayHawks jersey in front of 3,000 people at the Portland Exposition Building, on cPort Credit Union Night.
And what a night it was. That single game that Lin played for Erie this year -- after taking an assignment from the Knicks on Jan. 17 -- might have been the best game played by any person in the league this year.
"He separated himself," Larranaga said. "You could see there was a very big difference between him and the rest of the guys on the court."
Despite the league's offensive reputation, triple-doubles are as rare in the NBA D-League as they are in the NBA. And Lin has one of five this year. Three weeks before he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, he lit up the Maine Red Claws -- home of former NBA player (and current top prospect) Morris Almond, among others -- with 28 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds.
And when you watch the highlights, the same question pops up: how did no one know? Of course, the present informs the perception of the past, and today, it's clear to see in the video the kind of player the Knicks had. But on Jan. 20, he was just a player who hadn't managed to stick as a regular in the NBA, getting a few more reps on the farm. And, like he always had, impressing everybody around him while he did so.
"We put the ball in his hands, and on a lower level it was very similar to the way he's playing now," Larranaga said. "He created shots, created scoring opportunities and he defended."
Lin did all of those things so well, in fact, that he changed the way the Knicks thought about their minor league club. The way, also, that they thought about themselves.
The BayHawks, you see, have the benefit of being one of the NBA D-League's nine single-affiliate clubs -- in which the minor league team works more like a baseball farm system. It's not a free exchange of players (other NBA teams can sign any player in the NBA D-League who's not currently under an NBA contract), but it does allow NBA clubs to install their systems on the minor-league level.
In short, Jeremy Lin helped the Erie BayHawks run Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni's point-guard-heavy system better than the Knicks were doing it at the time.
"After having Jeremy for a short time, we realized how much better we were with an NBA-level point guard," Larranaga said. "So we made a trade to acquire Keith, and he's playing very, very well for us, too." And Lin did it all that night after suffering ankle injury that held him out of Erie's next game.
"It speaks to his toughness," Larranaga said. "He twisted his ankle in the first half and played through it, and when we looked at it before the next game, we just decided it wasn't worth risking any further injury, so he sat out the second game."
The Knicks, in need of a point guard, recalled Lin three days after the Maine game.
History started soon after.
"He wants to win more than anything else," Larranaga said. "He's scoring a bunch right now, but if he wasn't scoring and the team was winning, he'd be perfectly fine with it. He wants to win in any situation, whether it's high school, college, the NBA or the D-League.
"But I guess it's called Linning now."