Jermothy Linbow? I say, Hell no!
To continue the Linsanity theme that’s been going on here at Metta (and the rest of the known universe) recently, I wanted to talk about the newest development in the now week old saga of the Harvard econ grad. And that development is the comparisons that are now being drawn between the Asian sensation and good Lord himself, Timothy Tebow. We all knew they were coming, it was just a matter of how long it would take for them to come. Well, they didn’t take very long, and the day after Lin’s third big game (second as a starter) the internet, and most specifically twitter, was teeming with Lin-Tebow comparisons. The facepalm reaction that these comparisons evoke is not quantifiable and I don’t have the articulation necessary to detail just how off-base they are. But, I’m going to try anyway. Unfortunately, this inevitable horror was catalyzed by none other than Lin himself in an interview he did with 95.7 The Game in San Francisco. When asked about Tebow’s inspirational effect on him, Lin said:
“Actually a lot of inspiration just because he’s such a polarizing figure but I think the things he says in interviews, his approach to the game is just unbelievable and I respect him so much. I want to be able to do some of the things that he does in terms of the amount of charity work and the non-profit work, and the way he impacts people off the field. I think that is what is most inspiring to me about him.”
Now let’s be very clear about this: the Linbow comparisons draw upon two facets of these players’ sport lives and regular lives, and two facets only. The first one is the sheer improbability, based on preset collective expectations, that either would have any serious success as a pro, even though both enjoyed long and illustrious college careers. Tebow – a Heisman winner, a two time national champion, and arguably one of the greatest college football players of all time – was never supposed to be a good NFL quarterback because his throwing motion was unorthodox and too slow. If anything he was going to be a halfback; that’s what most NFL pundits told us. It was a shock to see him go in the latter stages of the first round of the draft, when most thought he’d be a 3rd round pick at best. Lin was never supposed to be a rotation guy in the NBA for a myriad of reasons. He wasn’t highly touted coming out of college because, although his play in the amateur game was stellar, it came in the nether universe of college sports known as the Ivy League. He went undrafted and was picked up by my hometown Warriors, where he rode the bench for 82 games, only playing in brief stints, before being cut last offseason to make room for Deandre Jordan (yeah, the same Deandre Jordan that we didn’t end up signing – I’m surprised we didn’t just go ahead and amnesty Lin’s sub-million dollar contract instead of the GOLIATH of a $4 M dollar expiring contract that belonged Charlie Bell. God, I really hate my team). The Rockets picked Lin up off the waiver wire and then quickly cut him to make room to sign Samuel Dalembart, and the Knicks then seized their opportunity to swoop in on the 23 year old Taiwanese baller.
The second facet of the Linbow that is pivotal in the comparisons being made is…yes, you knew I was going to say it…their religious convictions. Both are devout Christians (I don’t know the exact strain of the faith each adheres to, but I don’t think that level of detail is necessary), and both are not shy about letting the media, and therefore the entire world, know about it. Now, even though I might have my own feelings about religion in general, this is in no way an indictment or commendation of the subject, but rather a dispassionate observation of a similarity shared between the two men in question. Tebow’s religious beliefs and missionary work in the Philippines have been well documented, and those religious beliefs played a crucial role in making him the most polarizing sports figure in recent history, maybe even ever. Lin’s religious faith is no lesser than Tebow’s, but we haven’t heard as much about it yet because, well, even though Lin is quickly becoming a phenomenon, he is still nowhere near the media beast, 24/7 coverage, will-you-please-just-talk-about-something-else craze that Tebow was during this past NFL season.
So there you have it: the improbable defying of odds to succeed in the pro game when you were never supposed to, and an unwavering love of Jesus (I’m not being facetious here). Two things that Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow share. The only two things that Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow share. Because when it comes to actually playing the sports that these two athletes play, Jeremy is actually good at his. Tebow, not so much at his. I know that Timothy won 8 in row with a series of miraculous 4th quarter comebacks (this can spin off into another debate about the validity, or lack thereof, of credit/blame we assign quarterbacks in conjunction with wins and losses – Bomani Jones wrote a great article about it for SB Nation earlier in the week). And I know he threw for 316 yards in that first playoff game at mile-high against the vaunted Steelers D (still didn’t throw 50% though, he was 10-21). But let’s just be honest, Tim Tebow never at any point in this past season looked like a legitimate NFL starting quarterback, let alone a good NFL starting quarterback. They were milking Willis McGahee, playing great defense, and getting teams to play the horrific 4th quarter Prevent D that has become a staple of every NFL team earnest to snatch defeat from the hands of victory. So the Broncos won some games, but Tebow never looked consistently good in doing so. In his last game of the season against a Patriots’ defense that had been nothing short of horrific leading up to that point, Lord Tebow went 9-26 for 136 yards. That’s a 34.6% completion percentage; 34.6%!!! Somewhere in the world, Ryan Leaf was watching and thinking “man, that guy is god awful at playing the quarterback position”. Tebow’s run was remarkable, and it made for great theater and great TV, but never once was any serious football fan convinced that the guy had a future playing quarterback in the NFL. We were just happy to ride the rollercoaster until it crashed. And crash it did. Hard.
Lin is different from Tebow because, as I said earlier, he is actually good at the sport he plays, and the position he plays within that sport. It’s a small sample size, I know, but that’s all we have to go off right now. In three games Mr. Lin has been ridiculously good, putting up gaudy numbers comparable to the elite point guards in the game, averaging 25.3 points and 8.3 assists per contest. Yeah, those are straight Chris Paul numbers, except not really because they’re actually better than Chris Paul’s numbers (18.4 and 9.1). Lin had an alarming 8 turnovers in his second game but rectified this problem by only turning the rock over twice in the following game (not to mention only one TO in his first game, coming off the bench but playing 36 minutes). AND HIS PER RANKING IS SECOND IN THE LEAGUE, BEHIND ONLY LEBRON JAMES!!! FANTASY PICKUP OF THE YEAR BABY!!! Yeah, yeah, I already said I am aware it’s only been 3 games. I don’t care though, the kid can ball. And it’s been well covered now by many basketball journalists and bloggers that the reason he’s so effective is because he can run the pick and roll to near perfection. Running the most important play in basketball is dependent upon one’s ability to make quick decisions: whether to drive strong to the hoop, to pull up for the mid-range jumper, to slip a pass in to the man rolling to the hoop or popping out for an elbow jumper, to draw a help defender and kick it out to a spot-up shooter on the perimeter, etc. Lin is good at making decisions in these situations, and in Mike D’Antoni’s pick and roll heavy offensive scheme (although pre-Lin it looked more like Mike Brown’s Lebron-iso-every-single-play-of-the-game-no-matter-what scheme) having that decision-making ability is invaluable. Lin is thriving because of his ability to run the most popular play in basketball with such effectiveness. The numbers don’t lie, and no I don’t think Lin can keep them up because if he did he’d be the greatest PG to ever play the game. The numbers will fall, especially when Melo and Amare return to the lineup, but Lin has proven that he can really play the point at the NBA level. Timothy never proved that he could play quarterback at the NFL level. One stat that sums it up well: Lin shoots a better FG%, 52.9% this season, than Tebow’s pass completion percentage, 46.5% this past season. Yeah, take a second to let that one sink in.
NBA journalist/blogger Matt Moore summed it up pretty well with this tweet:
“Look, it’s going to take more than three good games for me to compare Lin and Tebow. Lin’s going to have to suck in a lot more games now”
That might be a little harsh, but you get the point. So next time you’re about making the infamous Linbow comparison, make sure to think long and hard before you go through with it. Although there may be some parallels in their lives and the obstacles they’ve overcome, there aren’t many beyond that.
Follow Rohan on Twitter: @r_bhatia