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A.P. Hoops: The Hidden Side of Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin just finished off a historic, unprecedented run in his first five starts with the Knicks. Could we have seen this coming? Probably not.

Jeremy Lin's stats from his 20-game stint in the NBA D-League in 2010-11 help explain why he went unnoticed for so long.
Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images

Ever since Linsanity first electrified Madison Square Garden and took off around the globe, the same questions have popped up: how did 29 other teams miss him? Were there signs of greatness in his NBA D-League statistics? What, exactly, did the Knicks see in him?

Part of what's made Lin such an intriguing figure is his "rags to riches" story, as he catapulted himself from a relative unknown to an international superstar that's transcended his sport -- all in the course of about 10 days. And what's seemingly been lost in the tale of his journey is his 20-game stint in the NBA D- League in the 2010-11 season.

Before he was filling the "World's Most Famous Arena" and besting Kobe Bryant, Lin wore the green and white of the Reno Bighorns.

So today, let's use his numbers from last year to unpack the mysteries behind Linsanity and find out why he went overlooked for so long. The answer, as you might imagine, will surprise you.

Let's begin by taking a look at how Jeremy Lin's individual metrics measured up against the rest of the NBA D-League last season.

Jeremy Lin Advanced Stats: 2010-11
OffRtgDefRtg NetRtg TS% eFG% FTM Rate PER REB% Usage Rate AST%
106.9 93.2 13.7 56.0% 50.4% .356 21.02 10.1% 25.7% 22.4%

To take out players who didn't spend a significant amount of time in the league, let's measure Lin against the 156 players who played at least 500 minutes.

His basic numbers are respectable, but when you look closer at the advanced metrics, a the few interesting facts reveal themselves -- and may account for why he did fall under almost everyone's radar. While Jeremy's True Shooting Percentage (TS% -- a measure of shooting efficiency that accounts for 2s, 3s and FTs) and Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG% -- a measures of shooting efficiency that accounts for 2s and 3s) are solid, they place him right in the middle of the NBA D-League. A middling guard in a minor league.

Furthermore, his Assist Percentage (AST% -- the percent of his team's baskets he assisted while on the floor) ranks him 25th. So now you're probably thinking -- as many did -- what's so great about this guy? Isn't he just average?

Think again. Of the metrics listed above, three stand out above all others. First, Jeremy Lin's defensive rating (DefRtg) of 93.2 and net rating (NetRtg) of 13.7 were the best in the entire NBA D-League. That means that while Lin was on the floor, his team gave up the fewest points per 100 possessions and outscored their opponents by the largest margin per 100 possessions.

One interesting thing to note here is that Lin exploded onto the NBA scene thanks to his offensive numbers (including the highest-scoring first five starts in NBA history). What this value indicates is that he also has the ability to have a strong defensive presence. Second, Lin's PER (player efficiency rating) which is a composite measure of his individual statistics, was eighth in the league, which puts him in the same realm as Jeff Adrien and Ivan Johnson -- both of whom are currently on NBA rosters.

However, we do have to acknowledge that statistics such as NetRtg and DefRtg are not only products of an individual's performance but are also indicative of team performance. Therefore, to gain a deeper understanding of Lin's value, let's take a look at his impact on the Bighorns when he was on and off the floor.

After examining a number of the Bighorns' metrics with Lin on and off the floor, the most interesting values are below:

Reno Bighorns, With/Without Jeremy Lin
Team OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg TS% FGM (%AST)
Reno Bighorns 104.8 99.5 5.3 54.3% 55.6%
Off 104.1 101.8 2.3 54.2% 54.4%
On 106.9 93.2 13.7 54.5% 58.9%

Pay special attention to the difference that Lin makes on his team's NetRtg.

When Lin was on the floor last season, the Bighorns outscored their opponents by an average of 13.7 points per 100 possessions, 11.4 MORE than they did when he was on the bench. Although Lin helped with his team's ball movement (59% of FGM were assisted with him on the floor versus just over 54% when he wasn't ), Lin's presence made the Bighorns only marginally better offensively (they scored roughly 107 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor versus 104 points with him off the floor and their TS% was essentially unchanged).

Surprisingly -- knowing what we know now -- Lin's impact was most profound on the defensive end, where his Bighorns yielded almost 9 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, shaving the team's DefRtg from a pedestrian 101.8 to a sterling 93.2. Perhaps this indicates that beyond Lin's ability to facilitate offense, he could potentially help bolster the Knicks' team defense (one of the teams' perennial weaknesses) as well.

Taking a step back, it's not difficult to see why many teams overlooked Lin. For teams seeking a point guard, Lin's offensive numbers were seemingly indistinguishable from numerous other players in the NBA D-League. Of course, his intelligence and court vision can't be fully quantified, and it is perhaps these qualities that drew the Knicks to Lin. However, his extraordinary impact on defense and scoring differential may have also caught the eye of the right person at the right time -- and the Bighorns' vast improvement with him on the court speaks to what we've heard over and over again over the past week: he just helps teams win.

Whatever the reasons are, one thing is clear: Linsanity is upon us. And all sorts of numbers bear it out.