Much has been made of Lin's AST/TO ratio. It's not been good, decent peripherals or not. I've been a bit Lin obsessed recently, what with his performance being an exceedingly rare mixture of unexpected and awesome. Curious about his passing to this point, I've rewatched his plays and taken notes, classifying Lin's assists and turnovers by his position on the floor, the position of his passing target, and his behavior as he passes the ball. Scrutinizing his game like this, I've reached a few conclusions that give reason to be optimistic on his future performance. Note: While Lin has 81 assists and 45 turnovers, I somehow missed 3 turnovers in my analysis. Keep that in mind with particularly small sample sizes, but it should not matter.
First, his flaws:
- When Lin is driving towards the basket with a defender on him, he has 34 assists to 24 turnovers. This is the biggest weakness of Lin's game, accounting for over half of his turnovers while only producing a bit over a third of his assists. When he is moving into the paint and drawing defenders it is, as expected, harder for Lin to keep his dribble. He is occasionally losing balance and slipping when defensive pressure stays on him as he tries to blow by his man, as well as being stripped or thrown off track by help defenders.
- When he's driving in very close range, Lin's attempted a lot of jump passes to big men who have followed him to the rim, trying to give them a good chance for a dunk or other easy basket. He has managed to snag a few fine-looking assists with his athleticism, but he's had almost as many turnovers on those passes (6 ast, 5 to). If Lin insists on throwing therse passes he has been much more successful when taking care not to leave his feet.
- When Lin is driving towards the rim from further out and he sees Chandler cutting there simultaneously, he has attempted a few ill-advised bounce passes past moving defenders, resulting in 5 assists and 5 turnovers. Lin should not be driving towards the paint to facilitate others in the paint when he has exhibited just as good a chance of finishing at the rim as anyone. It makes the process of scoring one step harder to throw a pass that isn't necessary. Shooting in traffic with momentum towards the hoop has been one of Lin's greatest strengths. He needs to trust himself more and take better advantage of it.
As for his strengths:
- When it comes to driving to the basket and kicking it out to a perimeter or midrange shooter, the story changes dramatically. Lin has been very solid at driving and kicking with 17 assists to 3 turnovers, and most of those assists have resulted in 3 points, This is very efficient point production. Even when he makes jump passes, they have been good passes, as he usually jumps facing his target and away from his defender.
- When Lin isn't focusing on trying to reach the basket, he has been a maestro. He moves well when he passes, getting space from his defender and creating favorable angles. He has trouble making especially long passes to big men cutting towards the basket, as the distance and direction simply gives defenders too much a chance to react and take the ball away, Other than that, Lin has been very effective on alley oops (7 assists:1 Balkman brainfart) passes to big men who have established position near the rim (8 Ast, 0 TO) and most especially finding open 3 point shooters behind the line (16 ast, 1 TO). Lin has also been effective in transition with 6 assists to 2 turnovers.
We can identify ways to improve Lin's passing numbers and by extension the team's offense by modifying the team's play to suit his skills.
- Jeremy's been phenomenal in getting open looks to 3 point shooters without having his passes intercepted. He has 32 extra-valuable assists to 4 turnovers on passes to teammates on the perimeter. He should have more, but Novak has been the only consistenly good 3 point shooter on the team. Steve's taken full advantage of the open looks Lin has provided, shooting around a 50% 3PT clip since the Nets game, and Lin has passed it extremely efficiently to him as well, with 18 assists and 0 turnovers on targets to him. He's not turned the ball over passing it to Bill Walker either, but Walker has failed miserably at his role in the offense, bricking open looks and making ill-advised drives to the rim to the tune of 30%.FG from 2 and 3 point range since Linception (10 ast). The Landriest has likewise been crap, shooting 2/10 from 3 in this stretch (3 ast, 2 to on outside targets).
D'Antoni's system is heavily reliant on having multiple effective outside shooters. It is by far the most efficient and valuable aspect of Lin's passing game to this point but it has been underutilized because of the players on the floor. Carmelo has shown ability to sink open 3 point and midrange looks, and he should take far better advantage of them than Walker has when he returns from injury. The return of Josh Harrellson and Baron Davis in a possible off-guard role will also help, but the acquisition of J.R. Smith could be massive. Improving the team's miserable 3-point percentage has to be the top priority in any player acquisitions going forward, and Smith is a good man for that job. Assuming he would not disrupt the flow of the offense it would be well-worth giving him a good chunk of Landry's minutes. Besides the obvious increase in points scored and field goal percentage it would cut down dramatically on the number of turnovers while increasing the number of assists, greatly strengthening both offensive efficiency and defense. Shifting the scoring/passing emphasis a bit more to the perimeter is the surest way to improve Lin's ast:turnover ratio.
- Not all of Lin's turnovers are a result of his passing. A substantial number are the result of failed forays to the basket where there is little likelihood or intention of passing, and could more accurately be classified as missed field goals (7 turnovers on drives into the paint when a pass was not attempted). A number of these turnovers came on miscues by Lin under pressure, including some embarrassing slips and falls as well as lost dribbles. These types of turnovers increase in frequency when a player is asked to dominate the ball nearly every offensive possession. Lin does not only have more chances to screw up, he is playing with a gigantic target on his back because opposing teams have been trying to keep the ball out of his scalding hands. Reducing the scoring burden on Lin will reduce his turnovers without taking much of a toll on his assists. This will obviously improve his ratio and is almost certain to happen with Melo and Amar'e back in the lineup.
- The first thing that D'Antoni needs to drill into Lin at practice is that he should jump in close to the basket ONLY if he intends to score or kick the ball out to the perimeter. Lin is a tremendous finisher at the hoop with a field goal percentage there of 63% (ref. Hoopdata). He has been very good at drawing fouls and shooting through contact, collecting a high number of and-ones and free throws. A missed FGA is not nearly as harmful as a turnover, and Lin's paltry assist:turnover number on passing attempts to close-range players when he's driving to the hoop does not justify attempting the pass instead going for the score himself. You may be saying "Wouldn't asking Lin to take more shots himself be increasing his scoring burden?" In a technical sense, it is. In a practical sense what you're doing is improving the efficiency of his drives into the paint. It takes Lin as much effort to make that pass as attempt a shot, but the risk-reward of his plays is much higher when he defers to himself. As mentioned above, the only time he's really effective both driving and facilitating is when he throws it to someone on the outside. Improving team 3PT% would make Lin's drive and kick ability a deadly facet of the offense that opposing defenses will have to be wary of.
- Given his previously mentioned efficiency with alley oops (7 AST, 1 TO), Lin should attempt to incorporate more lobs into his game as opposed to line drive and bounce passes. He is personally more effective in throwing the lob and he has the perfect target in Tyson Chandler, with occasional cameos from Fields and potentially Shumpert and Amar'e and Carmelo in the future. This is something that should be a natural consequence of reducing his scoring load as well as improving the talent around him.
- Lin should be coached to be more composed in the act of passing. Often when he is in motion and preoccupied with beating his defender on the dribble, Lin has seen the flash of an opportunity and thrown either an ill-advised pass in a miscalculated window or thrown a less accurate pass due to a poorer form. When Lin goes to work from midrange to the perimeter without regard for trying to beat his man and get closer to the hoop, he has 41 assists to 12 turnovers, a very impressive 3.5 AST/TO. Lin seems to have a sweet range around midrange in terms of efficiency when passing where he has been able to perform every pass reasonably well provided he is relatively still (7 AST 0 TO). The further away Lin is, the more his turnover numbers climb when he tries to hit big men as they're working to get into the painted area. Lin can be a highly accurate passer, but every unnecessary body movement degrades that accuracy. He should also take care not to throw passes that are too far. Anything you can do to decrease the likelihood of a turnover is a good thing. This is a matter of coaching, experience, and discipline. I think Lin will improve this on the job, but we'll see.
- For all the love he's given Chandler, a lot of his passes to Tyson have been picked off (18 AST 10 TO). This is due to a number of reasons. For much of this stretch Chandler's been the most (only) offensively talented big man on the floor, which means that he is an obvious target to watch when trying to defend Lin's passing lanes. Because he is the most targeted big man, he has been a frequent target for Lin's worst pass attempts, and that is being reflected as well. Conversely, in his limited time with Amar'e Stoudemire Lin has accumulated 11 assists and 2 turnovers when targeting him, far more assists in far less time than he's gotten through Jared Jeffries (5 ast, 3 TO). Part of this is due to Amar'e's excellence at running this offense, but it also has to do with the fact that Amar'e is usually playing alongside another big that defenses have to account for. With him and Chandler playing together, the efficiency of passing to Chandler should rise.
Don't be fooled. Lin is an extremely talented passer, but there are several factors outside of his control that work to depress his assists and increase his turnovers. Properly incorporating Carmelo Anthony into the offense and acquiring JR Smith are key to maximizing the immense talent in this offense. If the Knicks can pull it off it will be a thing of beauty.