Mediocrity may have never smelled so sweet.
For even ‘mediocrity’ in the world’s most challenging basketball league – the NBA – is ‘excellence’ to 99.9 percent of basketball players across the planet. Few enjoy the heights of superstardom, the fame of being a LeBron James or a Kobe Bryant. For most, being mediocre amongst legends is a substantial victory.
In a space of a single year, Jeremy Lin suffered the depressing lows, the unimaginable highs, and finally, the dependable stability in the life of a pro basketball player.
Rewind back to a year ago from today. Lin, an undrafted point guard with a great D-II college resume, gets bounced around from the Warriors to the Rockets to the Knicks. Fourth on the depth chart at his own position, he gets assigned to the NBA D-League by the Knicks. With the exception of a very small number of hardcore fans, he’s a nobody to the NBA world. He has no guaranteed contract, no guaranteed future in the league, and no home (he famously crashed on Landry Fields’ couch in New York).
A few weeks later, injuries in the Knicks’ roster suddenly made room for Lin, who came off the bench to grasp New York’s starting spot and led them to their most memorable run in recent history. Without their two best players, Lin saved the Knicks’ season by leading them to a six-game winning streak. He shattered the record for most points scored by anyone in their first five NBA starts and was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. In a matter of weeks, he moved up from being unknown to being on the covers of Sports Illustrated and TIME. His jersey quickly became one of the most popular on the planet, his presence dominated Twitter like Justin Bieber, and ‘Linsanity’ was born. He was an inspiration to everyone from Asian-Americans to Taiwanese and Chinese and other Asians, from underdogs to Ivy leaguers, from Knicks fans to pure basketball fans.
He was briefly a superstar, and briefly, very, very popular.
And then came the inevitable end of the hype. Lin’s play mellowed down after the All-Star break. First there was the return of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire to the lineup, then the change of head coach from Mike D’Antoni to Mike Woodson, and finally, a season-ending injury. The insanity was over. But for a still largely unproven player desperate for a shot at the NBA, a future job in the league was guaranteed.
Surprisingly, it was the Houston Rockets and not the Knicks who offered him that guaranteed future job. The Knicks refused to match Lin’s ‘poison pill’ contract, and the Rockets snagged him to make him the face of their franchise. A few months later, the Rockets upgraded by also trading for James Harden, and suddenly, a solid-looking team was born.
And it is in Houston where Lin has finally settled into life in NBA mediocrity, where we finally see that he’s not as bad as some of his earlier NBA struggles may lead us to believe, and not as good as the ‘Linsane’ month of February 2012 in New York. He’s the second-best option on a team with a 21-18 record that finds itself on course for the lower rungs of the Western Conference playoffs. Gone were the 25 and 10 nights of Linsanity. He now averages a steady, if unspectacular, 12.1 points and 6.3 assists per game. He has many strengths to this game, like his court-vision and the ability to attack the hoop, and also several flaws, from inconsistent shooting to turnover-prone play. His averages find him in the range of other point guards like Darren Collison, Jeff Teague, Isaiah Thomas, and Jose Calderon. He is not a star, but he is an above-average NBA player.
Of course, the faint traces of Linsanity may never leave him. He's still going to be a high-paid player over the next few years. Despite the decline in his marketability after the move to Houston, Lin is still far more famous than the Collisons or the Teagues of the league. He is third amongst Western Conference guards in All-Star voting behind Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. He still has lucrative ad contracts and his face still graces billboards in Taiwan and Mainland China. And he’s still capable of being the best player on the court on many nights, particularly as he was against the Spurs and the Knicks this season.
But, relative to the highs and lows of last year, his career finally has the stability that every pro desires. The insanity is over, and regular NBA life begins. Jeremy Lin would surely be thankful for that.