Q&A With Jeremy Lin
Talking chemistry, clutch and performance evaluation with the Rockets' starting point guard
PORTLAND, OR - It’s impossible to prove, yet highly likely, that nearly every winning pro sports team of recent vintage has at one time or another had a player utter the words, “I think we have something special inside this locker room.” That such a sentiment would be shared so often does not diminish its validity when spoken – winning teams should have that mentality, otherwise what’s the point? – but it does lead to a series of rather logical follow-up questions: namely, what exactly is it that gives rise to such a feeling and what sets a team apart and makes it different or unique from all the rest?
That was the question posed to Jeremy Lin Thursday afternoon upon hearing him utter that aforementioned phrase du jour. The answer seems in many ways obvious given that his team has exceeded all expectations on its way to drawing ever nearer to a playoff berth. But I wanted to hear his particular response to the query, so we settled in for a discussion of that topic before branching out into subjects such as team chemistry, clutch play and personal performance evaluation. What follows is a transcript of our conversation:
JCF: The other day you mentioned your belief that this team has something really special going for it. What, in your mind, makes this particular team and situation unique?
JL: I just think it’s about what we’ve done in the amount of time we’ve been given. I don’t know what it is, I just think this team’s collection of strengths and weaknesses is something different. You don’t usually just put together what is basically a collection of kids and become one of the most explosive offensive teams in the NBA. That’s special. We didn’t have a training camp. We figured everything out on the fly and we’re the youngest team in the league. So I think we have something cool building.
Now defense is another story (laughs). But that takes time also.
JCF: Did it take time for there to be 100 percent buy-in for this particular style of ball? I know guys love it and all the freedom it affords but it’s not easy either. As with any system, there has to be daily dedication in order for it to work optimally and that’s not always easy over the course of an 82-game season, especially when it comes to the team-wide commitment to constantly push the pace.
JL: Absolutely. And that sort of buy-in takes time, too. As the season went along, we started to figure out, ‘Wow, we’re dangerous.’ We have to learn to believe as success comes along and the more we see that, the more we buy into it.
JCF: Was there a particular moment or part of the schedule when you realized that this entire group had collectively bought in?
JL: I think when we won 10 out of 12 (in late December/early January), and the way that we had won some of them, really got everyone on board. The Christmas day game, the game against Memphis – big games like that where we were like, ‘OK, that doesn’t just happen by accident.’
JCF: How has the off-the-court chemistry been?
JL: We all really have each other’s respect. I think it helps, too, that we’re all young and at similar stages of our lives and our careers. That helps us get along a lot better off the court. Sometimes when you have guys with families who are 30-something-years-old, they might not want to hang out with the younger fellas, but we’re all pretty much the same age so that’s nice.
JCF: Yeah, those people with families are to be avoided altogether at all times, I find …
JL: (laughs) Well our guys have families but they still kick it with us. That’s the important thing.
JCF: Something else struck me after the Sacramento game when you were talking about Terrence Jones and the appreciation you have for guys who really had to wait and work for their turn. There are so many players who fit that description on this team. You, of course, but then you have a second-round pick like Chandler, another second-round pick in Omer who had to bide his time in Chicago before coming here, undrafted Greg Smith … even James Harden sort of lived in the shadows in OKC before blowing up in Houston. Do you think having that common bond brings about better chemistry?
JL: We all have a deep appreciation for the opportunity we’ve been given. A lot of us have been on similar paths in this journey. Like for me, I know when guys get sent down to the D-League or when they’ve gotten cut – guys like James Anderson who’s been cut and now has started two games for us in the heat of the playoff chase and played really well – we appreciate that and don’t take anything for granted because we’ve been through the ups and the downs and the grind of an NBA career.
JCF: How has this season been for you from an individual perspective?
JL: This really has been a year of growth. After everything that happened last year, my eyes are now open to everything. I think it’s been an up and down year and what I want in the future is more stability and more consistency on my end, and being able to take control and take over a game on a more consistent basis versus just kind of hoping that it might happen tonight.
JCF: We had a conversation the other day about the steady progression you’ve made throughout the year, but you said that if you were to grade yourself this season you’d give yourself a C. How come?
JL: I just think there have been so many stretches where I was useless on the court and there have been certain stretches where I was really good. So when you average a failing grade and a great grade you end up around a C (laughs).
I’m always my harshest critic. I think at the start of the season I was around an F level and now I’ve raised it to a C. I remember in the preseason I was averaging like nothing and then early in the season I was just doing a lot of nothing as well. That’s all I really remember about the early part of the season to be honest. I think I grew and improved throughout the season but I still think overall I’ve been very mediocre.
JCF: Well it seems part of what you’re basing that on is your stats and I should point out that you’ve been among the most vocal of late saying that everyone needs to forget about the numbers and focus solely on doing whatever it takes to win. You’ve been a big part of this team’s success regardless of what your per game averages may have been at any given time. For you personally, do you find it way easier said than done to ignore whatever numbers you’re posting?
JL: Oh definitely. We’re all competitors and we all want to do well personally and have that success individually. But at this point we’re seven games away from the playoffs. Everybody really, really has to buy in proactively and be like, ‘You know what? It doesn’t matter. As long as we win tonight, nothing else matters.’ I think that mindset signifies trust, accountability and maturation. That’s where we want to go and I think the first step is to start talking about it.
JCF: Speaking of the playoffs, has it started to sink in that you’re so close to reaching that goal? I remember the very first conversation we had back in August when you said the only goal you cared about was making the playoffs. I think you and I both knew back then that was going to be a mighty tough challenge. Now here you are as a team, seven games left, with a magic number of three to clinch a playoff spot. It’s kind of been a wild ride.
JL: It really has been. If you would have told me back then that we’d be 42-33 with seven games left in the season I would be pretty stoked. I’m so happy.
JCF: As we get closer to the end of the season, the games obviously take on added importance meaning there’s frequently an increased emphasis on clutch play. I looked up your clutch numbers for this season and they’re pretty impressive (51.9 percent shooting from the field and 66.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc in the last five minutes of games in which the Rockets either lead or trail by five points or fewer). So the first question I want to ask is: do you believe in the concept of clutch?
JL: Yeah, I believe that. I believe that some players relish that time and other players struggle during that time. I think I’ve always been a player who’s done better in the second half, who’s done better in the fourth quarter. That’s the fun time to play when everything you’ve worked for the whole game boils down to those last few possessions.
JCF: Do you consider yourself a clutch player?
JL: I think it’s too early to be able to say that. I don’t even know my numbers, but I do know I’ve made some key mistakes in fourth quarters so, no, definitely not yet.
JCF: So what’s the key to shrugging off those mistakes?
JL: Experience. It’s getting better, stronger mentally and working through those situations, and I think, like anything, it just takes time.
JCF: Everything good always does, doesn’t it? Thanks, Jeremy.