Game 5: Jeremy Lin vs the Media Narrative

There’s this sports beat writer, Sam Amick, who has written for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and had been reporting on Jeremy Lin since the very beginning of the Linsanity phenomenon. Check out his partial portfolio if you will: Nash jumps on the Lin bandwagon as Linsanity continues to spread Silliest of summers continues as Rockets, Knicks battle over Lin Jeremy Lin movie ‘Linsanity’ delves into racism, hype And, here’s a podcast of him being interviewed about Houston’s 2012′s off season acquisitions including his opinion on Jeremy Lin’s signing with Houston.  Sam’s opinion was Daryl Morey didn’t get the job done as he wasn’t able to land Dwight Howard or any other big name star as he did not objectively consider Jeremy Lin to be a star caliber player. Turn the clock forward a year later, Sam is back and authored a very positive article on Daryl’s off season success this past summer:

In less than a year, the Rockets roster has been transformed in ways even Morey never imagined. What once was a medley of mismatched players is one of the best collections of talent around.

So, I just want to  preface that Sam is a very good writer and very insightful regarding the game and the behind the scenes business though he seems to have a streak that shows he objectively believes Lin is a good player with name recognition but not a franchise player.  His views seems balanced, and he seems well connected with the Houston Rockets as well as other NBA teams. After game 5 against the Portland Trailblazers, I found a seemingly benign article written by Sam called Patrick Beverley returns to give Rockets defensive bump.  Sam praises Beverley’s defense and welcomes him back to the line up:

One night after the Rockets’ surrendering of 137 points in a loss to the Clippers was their highest total since a game that took place during the George H. W. Bush presidency (the Indiana Pacers scored 156 on them in a double-overtime affair on Nov. 29, 1991), their best perimeter defender returned to aid what has been an atrocious effort on that front in Tuesday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Based on this article, the readers are led to believe that Beverley’s defense could have reduced the Clippers’ scoring that feasted on the Rockets’ under performing defense.  The readers are also led to believe that Beverley’s fellow point guard, Jeremy Lin, must not be the best perimeter defender on the Rockets because there can only be one “best” perimeter defender, and the author believes that person is Beverley.  The story follows:

Beverley beat out Jeremy Lin for the Rockets’ starting point guard spot during the preseason and appeared to be a more cohesive pairing in the backcourt with shooting guard James Harden. Lin is still expected to play a significant role, but Beverley’s defense is seen by the coaching staff as a bonus in the starting unit while Lin should have more offensive freedom while running the reserves.

Again, seemingly innocuous writing although it’s dangerously close to the narratives that I’ve pointed out in my previous blog posts regarding how the issue of “fit” is being promoted by Houston surrogates to support Houston’s efforts to gain fan acceptance of playing Jeremy off the bench instead of starting him with James Harden who, as the author eludes, will form a better cohesive pairing with a better perimeter defending point guard. If you are an ardent fan of this site, all two of you that is, you must have read about my opinion of Beverley’s defense in this blog post where I was rather negative about his physical abilities to instill lock down defense without rough play.  And, I commented that Beverley isn’t capable of instilling lock down perimeter defense as demonstrated by how both Aaron Brooks and Jeremy Lin blew by Beverley during the team scrimmages when Beverly did not use any rough play against his own teammates. But, that is just based on my eye test.  And, I certainly believe that some people have convinced themselves that Beverley is a better defender based on their eye test as well because they believe his harassing high energy style of defense is more effective.  Rather, I believe Jeremy’s team oriented style where he tries to integrate strategy into the team defense is more effective.  So, who is right? 2013-14 season sample size is small because Houston has only played five games, and Beverley missed basically four of those games since he only played one full game which is against Portland last night.  So, accordingly, I will use only the Trailblazer’s game data for analysis.  Now, I want to preface that the Amick article argues Beverley beat out Lin for the starter spot because he is the “best” perimeter defender.  And, a perimeter is defined by the area outside the paint and within the 3 point line.  So, let’s look at how Portland’s offense performed with Beverley on and off the floor statistically:

bevdefBeverley was on court for 29 and off court for 19 minutes, so I normalized the stats to 36mins, so the on court and off court numbers can be evenly compared.  And, Portland simply scored more points and with higher efficiency when Beverley was on the court.  And, most importantly, Portland shot a whopping 27% better from the perimeter (2PT% 51.7% vs 40.7%) when Beverley was on the court.

There could be other externalities that is influencing the opposing team’s shooting stats to cause readers to cast doubt against the article’s author’s perception that Beverley is the “best” perimeter defender.  But, let’s look at Jeremy’s defensive stats to confirm:

jeremdfOn the flip side, Portland struggled to score effectively when Jeremy was off the bench.And, Portland’s 2PT% is 35% lower (38.2% vs 59.1%) when Lin is on the court compared to when he’s off.  And, I believe, based on these stats, Lin arguably is the better perimeter defender between him and Beverley.  These stats also argues against the author’s theory that Beverley’s “best” perimeter defense could have reduced Clippers’ scoring anymore than Lin did.  But, the stats definitely argues against that Beverley should start over Lin due to “fit” reasons.

Houston promoted the Rockets versus Trailblazer game as the face off between Jeremy Lin and star point guard Damian Lillard who is averaging 24.3 PPG and shooting 46% FG%.  And, he ended up with a slightly lower than season average 22pts and 41% FG%.  Although the author didn’t specifically mention that Beverley did a better job defending the opposing team’s point guard, he did give lots of credit to Beverley for the team win over the Trailblazers.  However, based on play by play analysis by a fan, Lillard scored 15 of his points off of Beverley and only 6 off of Lin with 1 technical foul free throw in the mix.  So, again, based on play by play analysis on how each player’s man to man defense against Lillard, Beverley did not out perform Lin.

Lastly, a fan sitting behind the Trailblazer bench overheard Lillard say that he can’t get enough spacing to shoot when Jeremy was guarding him.  It’s interesting that Lin is not considered a better defender than Beverley when the stats, play by play analysis and anecdotal statements made by opposing teams argue that Lin is a very effective and a very revered defender.  I won’t chalk the article in question as intentionally biased against Lin, but I think the author is strongly influenced by the media narrative that is trying to label Lin as a sub par defender.

Update:

Sam Amick wrote this in his latest article, Dwight Howard, Rockets come up short against Lakers:

Sure, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni drew up a nice play, the one where Steve Nash bear-hugged Lin in that mass of humanity near the top of the key, leaving Patrick Beverley so confused while they all watched Blake break free on the left wing. Howard lunged to no avail as a last-ditch effort to cover his guards’ ground, and the unexpected finish that surely made the injured Kobe Bryant a happy man was all but complete. But this, as they all agreed, was about much more than that.

Without assigning any blame, Sam breaks down how the play for the final shot went down accurately.  He understood that there are communication breakdowns that caused the defensive lapse on the last play which are symptomatic as to how the Rockets played for the entire first half of the game where they gave up 64 of 99 Laker points.  He now recognizes that the Rockets’ defense couldn’t be fixed simply by adding a good perimeter defender but rather it is an organizational strategic issue that has to be resolved, a sentiment he explains by quoting Jeremy Lin below:

I think that last play was just kind of a theme for the night in terms of miscommunications on defense and not being totally locked in.  We as a team need to be locked in on defense. It can’t be something where we (say), ‘Hopefully tonight if we’re locked in and we hit a lot of shots, then we’re OK.’ Our defense has to be constant.

  • Steve Chou

    Etan,

    Excellent write-up, thoroughly enjoy reading it… :-)

    • http://etane.net/ etane

      Thank! Just keeping it real!

  • Brent Yen

    Hey, etane, I like your blog.

    • http://etane.net/ etane

      We’ll it’s about time!

  • caleb321

    Hey etane, this great. what a way to oppose false narrative of Jlin in the media.

    • http://etane.net/ etane

      Thanks!

  • hkjlinfan

    Grade for the article – A

    • http://etane.net/ etane

      Thanks professor! Really appreciate the feedback.