Thursday, February 16, 2012

Can Jeremy Lin Improve His Fatal Flaw?

Jeremy Lin has increased the vertical leap of every Asian man’s penis by at least an inch. Baller has white girls cooing, “How does he do that?”1 He is our Michael Jordan...with bedhead.

However, Lin has a serious flaw on the court which may mean the difference between being a good player who is overhyped because of his nationality (i.e. Chien-Ming Wang) and a truly great player who overwhelms stereotypes (i.e. Ichiro): He turns the ball over too much.

Yes, he’s basically a rookie. And yes, he’s a point guard who handles the ball a lot, and therefore, loses it more. But lost in the hoopla of dropping 38 on Kobe and a three-point winner at Toronto are these numbers (albeit a small sample size): In six games as a starter, Lin has averaged 6.3 TOV (turnovers)/per 36 minutes played (5.0 TOV/per 36 minutes if you count the New Jersey game, which he didn't start). That’s ugly. To compare, the NBA’s worst in this category so far this year is another point guard, Russell Westbrook, at 4.5 TOV (in 29 games).

Less turnovers can be the difference between good and elite status. So how much can Lin improve this problem, now and over his career? Is it simply a matter of gaining more experience?

From, I pulled all the point guards from the Top 50 of Most Turnovers Ever and compared their best and worst TOV/per 36 minutes seasons (as starters). Then I did the same thing with the Top 25 of Most Turnovers among active players.

Point Guards with Most Turnovers Ever

Worst Season

TOV/per 36 minutes

Best Season

TOV/per 36 minutes


John Stockton

3.6 (1984-85)

2.6 (1999-00)


Isiah Thomas

4.4 (1981-82)

3.1 (1991-92)


Magic Johnson

4.3 (1983-84)

3.4 (1981-82)


Mark Jackson

3.3 (1988-89)

2.3 (2001-02)


Gary Payton

3.0 (1995-96)

1.9 (2003-04)


Rod Strickland

3.6 (1995-96)

2.5 (2001-02)


Terry Porter

3.4 (1986-87)

2.4 (1991-92)


Stephon Marbury

3.4 (1999-00)

2.3 (2006-07)


Active Point Guards with Most Turnovers

Worst Season

TOV/per 36 minutes

Best Season

TOV/per 36 minutes


Jason Kidd

3.9 (2005-06)

2.3 (2008-09)


Steve Nash

4.0 (2009-10)

2.4 (1998-99)


Andre Miller

3.3 (2000-01)

2.4 (2008-09)


Baron Davis

3.2 (2010-11)

2.5 (2000-01)


Mike Bibby

3.0 (1998-99)

1.5 (2009-10)


Chauncey Billups

2.8 (1997-98)

2.0 (2006-07)


Tony Parker

3.3 (2005-06)

2.4 (2001-02)


As suspected, most point guards improved their ball management with experience. Stockton, Thomas, Jackson, Porter, Miller, Bibby, and Billups showed clear growth from their rookie or sophomore years. However, active point guards like Nash, Davis, and Parker entirely bucked the stereotype with best seasons as youngsters.2

Among retired point guards, the difference between the worst and best TOV/per 36 minutes seasons was startlingly consistent. There's greater deviation among active point guards, but there are no true outliers among any of these players.

So what does this have to do with Jeremy Lin’s career arc? We see that cutting just one less TOV/per 36 minutes over a career is difficult for some of the best point guards in NBA history; cutting 1.5 TOV would be exceptional. If his current 6.3 TOV/per 36 minutes rate (as a starter) holds or worsens this season, Lin may have to improve at least TWO turnovers from his worst to best season to become more than a footnote in league history.

Can Lin improve enough? After losing the ball six times each against LA, Minnesota, and Sacramento and eight times each against Utah and Toronto, he may be facing historical odds.

This is the floor of expectations for Jeremy Lin. The ceiling? He’s painting it as we speak.

1 This is what I heard at a bar last Friday when Lin torched the Lakers. I wasn’t proud. I thought, “Way to dismiss us before.” See, even though I can’t play basketball, I never thought that we couldn’t play basketball.

2 In the case of Nash and Davis, who appear to be entering their twilight, perhaps too much responsibility is being given to them at this point? We didn't see the absolute twilight (as point guards) in the careers of Thomas and Magic. For example, Mark Jackson posted his worst TOV/per 36 minutes rate in 2002-03 as a 37-year-old backup.

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