Over the past week the Jeremy Lin story (aka Linsanity aka bad, lazy Lin pun time aka racism ahoy) has risen from modest levels of "We will remember this as the Jeremy Lin game" to...well...outscoring Kobe and dropping the highest total for any Knick this season against the Lakers in MSG. While most of us are excited about this diamond in the rough there is still a puzzlement as to his true talent level and staying power. You never have a complete picture of an athlete after a week of play, doubly so when it is an athlete who has eluded scrutiny for so long.
After the Lakers game, I became a firm believer. You don't just drop 38 points like that with a veteran team keying in on you, tired legs or not. The Twolves game only convinced me further. 20 pts 8 ast 6 reb and 3 stl on an off-day (15 pts in one half). I know it is foolish to get worked up over gaudy single-game statistics like these. Sometimes if you're a not-so-great player you have a 1% chance any given night of dropping 40. That 1% is bound to happen sooner or later. When you talk about a streak of performances like this, however, the probabilities multiply and dwindle. I went to basketball-reference and used the Player Streak finder to search for all players since the 2006-2007 season with streaks of at least 20 ppg and 5 assists, similar to what Fivethirtyeight did recently but I watered down the requirements a bit just to get a bigger list for comparison as well as include Lin's recent game.
The worst player on that list to do it five times or more in a row is Devin Harris. He did it twice in the 2008-2009 season, the best of his career (21.3 PPG 6.9 APG). The rest of the list is comprised of Hall of Famers, perennial all-stars, and good players in prime seasons (like Harris). Going back to 2000-2001 the worst player by far to accomplish the feat was Damon Stoudemire in one of his later seasons. After him, the worst players to have a 5 game streak like this are guys like Steve Francis, Ricky Davis, Jamal Mashburn. Good company. And he is doing this to basically start his career on a team where he has been the primary ballhandler and scorer with fairly terrible offensive players getting minutes around him.
Considering JLin's probable role with this team, his PG skills and some of the special circumstances surrounding his debut, I feel like the 20 points 5 assist criteria is misdirected. The chart is dominated by scorers first and foremost. Part of what makes Lin special is his pure PG ability, which is enhanced by and enhances his scoring ability. So I ran a search for streaks of 15 points, 7 assist games, which also encapsulates Lin's recent streak but emphasizes the assists over the scoring.
STREAKS OF 15 PPG, 7 APG SINCE THE 2006-2007 SEASON
I think this gives a better idea of Lin's "range" than anything else, since his point numbers are likely to go down but his assist numbers will probably increase. Of those who have streaks of at least 5 games the worst to do it are guys like Mo Williams, Darren Collison, and Kirk Hinrich. Going back to 2001, Luke Ridnour may be the worst to do it once, but the majority of people on both lists are good-to-great guards. A run like this occurs fairly rarely unless you're one of the very best. Lesser PGs still pull it off on occasion, but very rarely more than once. I think we can consider it a small measure of skill and consistency. This particular streak has an excellent chance of continuing into the higher rankings if Lin keeps it up.
Lin may end up being at the skill level of Kirk Hinrich when all is said and done, but even a Hinrich in D'Antoni's system with these tools around him can be astounding. I think that's his floor. Now consider that Lin has done this in his very first opportunity getting playing time and with the two best offensive weapons on his team either slumping/hurt (Melo vs Nets) or not playing at all. I believe this guy is something special and is what the team has been missing to make it a contender. At minimum he's proven that he's NBA worthy and talented enough to be a starter.