When any series goes wrong in any sport, the mind becomes flooded with so many “what if” questions that it becomes hard to keep track of them all.
One of the first “what ifs” we’re all going to have to embrace has been staring us in the face with those new glasses he’s been sporting on the bench: What if Jeremy Lin had been healthy?
To me, this is such a fascinating question because there are so many different variables that go into what Jeremy Lin returning to the line-up could’ve meant. Remember, though it feels like centuries ago, the Knicks came into the playoffs on fire. Carmelo Anthony was playing out of his mind and had New Yorkers feeling like the world was good again. Amar’e was returning into the fold to add another wrinkle to the offensive attack. Shumpert firmly entrenched himself into the starting line-up as a defensive stopper. Even Baron Davis was showing signs of life.
So, what if Jeremy Lin was healthy?
It would be completely unfair to judge Lin’s experience against the Heat off of one game during the height of Lin-sanity when the Knicks went down to Miami and, gulp, got extinguished. When the Knicks were hot during Lin-sanity, there was nobody more valuable to New York. During the Knicks treading water period pre-All Star break, Lin was still a very effective offense player that averaged around 16 points and 7 assists, but turning the ball over a bit. Even during the D’Antoni team tank job that forced him to re-sign, Lin was still competent.
When Woodson took over, Lin actually seemed to have better control of the ball on offense. His turnover ratio became more controlled. He was still able to find his teammates, and still commanded attention from opposing defenses. Teams couldn’t only plan for Anthony, they needed to compensate for what Lin.
So, again, I ask: what if Jeremy Lin had been healthy for this series?
Does Lin provide an immediate spark to the offense? Of course. Is Mike Woodson more capable of finding enough touches for Carmelo, Amar’e and Lin in comparison to Mike D’Antoni? Absolutely. Does a healthy Lin allow the Knicks with more flexibility on their bench, allowing Fields, Davis, Novak and Smith to form literally an entire second wave all while allowing the starters some valuable rest? Naturally.
But, even then, it brings the Knicks closer to the Heat, but I don’t think it tops Miami. Blood is in the water and Miami is tasting it. For the first time in their tumultuous two-plus years together, this seems to be the first time they’re playing with an edge. They’re not timid anymore. They’re playing with a serious mean streak. The way they’re functioning right now, I don’t know if there’s a fully healthy team that can shut them down.
There will come a day where it’ll need to be decided exactly how valuable Jeremy Lin is to the Knicks in terms of dollars, cents and years. In fact, with the Knicks one more loss away from the off-season, that question is fast approaching reality.
Over the first three games of this series, the Knicks have had more problems then just play from the point or balls falling in the bucket. ‘Melo has disappeared. Amar’e never seemingly returned. Shump blew out his knee. J.R. Smith has built at least three additional stories to the new World Trade Center building with his awful bricks. Novak has disappeared. Baron Davis has remained to be Baron Davis.
Could the Knicks have competed better with the Heat with a healthy Jeremy Lin? There is no question.
However, should the Knicks have been competitive, Lin or no Lin, with the Heat from the start? Yes. No question.
And that, more than anything else that could’ve, should’ve, might’ve, probably would’ve happened had Lin played is why this question is truly irrelevant. The Knicks dead panned. They dropped the ball, sort of speak.
So, in hindsight, maybe the better “what if” question should have simply been:
What if the Knicks just played better basketball?