Jeremy Lin has become the talk of the basketball world after recently being given the reins to Mike D'Antoni's offense in New York, but it wasn't a foregone conclusion that the Harvard grad would be able to come even close to what he's accomplished over the past week.
In fact, Lin nearly missed the opportunity to accomplish anything at all with the Knicks.
Before the Taiwanese-American guard's surprising breakout game against the New Jersey Nets last Saturday night, the team was seriously considering cutting the second-year guard prior to Jan. 10, the date on which player's contracts became guaranteed for the remainder of the season, in favor of veteran D-Leaguer Mike James.
Yep, Lin went from a player this close to being released in favor of a player plucked straight from the NBA Development League to leading off SportsCenter with his 38-point performance on Friday night following a win over Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lin was given the reins to the Knicks offfense without any sort of pre-exisiting conditions: the superstars weren't on the court so he didn't have to cater to their needs and the team wasn't winning so he didn't have to worry about screwing anything up. Instead, he was just told to go out and do his thing -- and it worked.
It makes one wonder what might have been had he been cut before Linsanity began, of course, but the bigger story is that Lin was actually in that same player's position not long ago: a player pining for NBA playing time while working on perfecting his performance in the D-League.
Lin went undrafted after a standout senior season at Harvard, but made his hometown Golden State Warriors in what looked to be at least as much of a marketing opportunity as a basketball move. The Bay Area native wasn't quite ready to compete under the bright lights at Oracle Arena, however, and was instead shipped on three separate occasions to play for the Warriors' D-League affiliate Reno Bighorns.
While in Reno, Lin played on what amounted to essentially being basketball's version of the ‘Island of Misfit Toys.' The then-rookie was coached by former NBA head coach Eric Musselman -- runner-up for the 2002-03 NBA Coach of the Year award -- and alongside a hodgepodge of fringe talent like Patrick O'Bryant, Marcus Landry, Patrick Ewing Jr., Nick Fazekas, Danny Green, Bobby Simmons and Andre Emmett (fellow Knick Steve Novak played in Reno for a spell, too, but never while Lin was in town).
It would have been impossible to project that Lin would be as impressive as he's already been -- he scored more than any other player, ever, in his first four NBA starts -- but Lin certainly showed signs that he was more capable than most while playing in the D-League.
Lin earned two Development League awards while on assignment as he was named to the annual D-League Showcase's First Team and then later took Performer of the Week honors, but being named the best in the D-League isn't exactly something to hang one's hat on as all it really means is that said player isn't currently in the NBA. The skills exhibited while picking up those accolades are worth mentioning, however, as Lin crept closer to being the player everyone watched Friday night on ESPN.
Lin showed a deceptively-quick first step, the basketball IQ to know what to do in the pick-and-roll and the ability to finish at the rim while playing for the Bighorns. If that seems familiar, it's because he was essentially same player in the D-League as he is in the NBA.
Take, for instance, Lin's single game in the D-League earlier this season. Lin was assigned by the Knicks to the Erie BayHawks along with fellow (at the time) benchwarmer Jerome Jordan as New York's front office attempted to get them an opportunity to play in actual game situations.
Lin took full advantage of his one-game stint -- he was held out of a scheduled second game that weekend due to a minor injury -- by scoring 28 points in 44 minutes to go along with 12 assists and 11 rebounds in the 122-113 victory. It kind of seems like he could replicate that line if the Knicks played the Charlotte Bobcats tomorrow, doesn't it?
That's because succeeding in the NBA is as much about opportunity as it is anything else, as several other D-Leaguers would probably be happy to show if given the opportunity.
It remains to be seen what might happen as teams temper their gameplans toward stopping Lin until Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire both return to the team, but for now, it's pretty easy to enjoy watching Lin taking advantage of his opportunity.
In the back of my mind, though, it makes me wonder what other players currently toiling in the D-League might be able to do with the opportunity Lin's been given.