Jeremy Lin would be a coup for Raptors and depleted back court

NBA insider Michael Grange joins Brad Fay to get us set for Marc Gasol’s first home game, sure he’ll get a great Scotiabank Arena welcome, also discuss how his arrival should help motivate a struggling Kawhi Leonard.

The Toronto Raptors were in need of a third point guard and have reportedly found one in Jeremy Lin. The 30 year-old guard is expected to sign with the Raptors once he finalizes a buyout with the Atlanta Hawks:

It’s a relatively big coup for the Raptors, who must fill out their roster after losing five players at the NBA trade deadline (over the weekend the club also reportedly added swingman Ben McLemore).

Throw in the news on Monday that Fred VanVleet will be sidelined for three weeks with a thumb injury, and Lin figures to play a meaningful role in Toronto’s rotation for the duration of the regular season. Here’s a look at what Lin brings to the Raptors:

Fixin’ a hole

By all measures, the Raptors did well by acquiring Marc Gasol. In giving up Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, and a second-round pick, the team held on to its strongest assets (Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, first round draft picks) while upgrading the roster.

But by losing Wright without adding another point guard, it left the Raps’ backcourt depth thin. A third-string point guard may not be all that high on the list of needs come playoff time, but it was an important one for this team heading down the stretch. The bulk of the Raps’ point guard minutes go to Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, but the two have been dealing with nagging injuries all season. Earlier this season when Lowry was sidelined for 10 games, Wright saw more than 30 minutes of floor time three times, and averaged 30 minutes per game when replacing VanVleet in the lineup. On the season, Wright was averaging a little over 18 minutes per game for the Raptors.

Shortly after reports of the Lin news came out, the Raptors announced that VanVleet will be sidelined for roughly three weeks due to a partial ligament injury. Not a coincidence. For the next stretch of the season, that third-string point guard will be seeing serious court time while VanVleet recovers.

So now instead of seeing a large portion of those minutes go to G-Leaguer Jordan Lloyd or another free-agent, they’ll now go to Lin, who projects to be a quality player in that role.

Like Wright, Lin has good size for a point guard. He’s also capable of sharing the backcourt with Lowry or VanVleet — when the latter returns — in addition to running the show as the lead guard. This season while coming off the bench for the Atlanta Hawks, and following a major knee injury that cost him all but one game during the 2017-18 season, Lin is averaging a respactable 10.7 points, 3.5 assists, and 0.7 steals per game while shooting over 46 per cent from the floor.

The Raptors needed a third-string point guard, and could have done a hell of a lot worse. In fact, looking at other options currently on the buyout market, they couldn’t have done much better.

Shot Creator

One area where the Raptors’ bench could have used a boost, even when Wright was on the roster, was having a player who can create their own shot. This has been Lin’s bread and butter this season — nearly 57 per cent of his shot attempts have come after three or more dribbles. He’s not a strong catch-and-shoot player — shooting just 35 per cent in those scenarios — which will need to change joining a team that likes to move the ball as freely as Toronto does, but he can get his own shot when the situation calls for it.

He’s also capable of creating for others:

And while some of the quickness off the dribble he relied on during his best days is gone after the knee injury, he remains a crafty player who finds ways to make plays at both ends of the floor:

Linsanity

Of course, we can’t ignore the Linsanity-Toronto connections.

Last week marked the seven-year anniversary of “Linsanity,” the NBA’s global phenomena of 2012. After going undrafted and bouncing around the NBA for a season, a rash of injuries thrust Lin into the spotlight in the league’s biggest market. The then-23 year-old point guard had averaged three points in six minutes per game to start the season, but on Feb. 4th he erupted for 25 points.

The following game he was named a starter, and dropped 28 points and the Linsanity Era was underway.

Five games later, Lin and the Knicks were in Toronto to face the Raptors. By that point he had set a post-merger record for most total points scored by a player in his first five starts with 136. All eyes were on Lin’s performance, which received as much coverage and hoopla as any regular-season game in Raptors memory. This week marks the anniversary of that game and its unforgettable finish:

Lin’s Road to Toronto

Yet the days of Linsantiy seem like light years ago given how Lin’s career has played out in the seven years since he briefly took the NBA by storm.

The Raptors will be the sixth team in seven seasons for the well-travelled point guard. After becoming one of the most recognizable names in basketball with the New York Knicks in 2011-12, he signed with the Houston Rockets — with whom he had a brief stint with before joining the Knicks — with New York declining the option to match.  

He landed in Houston to much fanfare and high expectations. Probably too high. “They thought it was going to be Linsanity and he’d average 28 and 11,” then head-coach Kevin McHale told the New York Times, “I was like, ‘No, no, no.’ He had never had this responsibility for 82 games. I was really worried the expectation level would get to him.”

He started all 82 games his first year in Houston, averaging 13 points and five assists, and took a bench role in his second season. In the 2014 off-season Lin was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, a cost-cutting move for Houston in their failed pursuit of free agent Chris Bosh.

Lin started the Lakers’ first 20 games but was benched after a 5-15 record. He still managed to average double-digit scoring, but his minutes had gone down in three consecutive seasons as Linsanity was officially starting to form its patina. After just one season in L.A., he signed a two-year deal with Charlotte and was a useful player for the Hornets off the bench. He had six games with over 20 points including a ‘throwback’ 35-point performance in an OT win against — you guessed it – the Raptors.

The following season he declined his player-option and was off to Brooklyn. Five games into the 2016-17 season, Lin was averaging over 15 points and six assists per game starting for the Nets, when injuries began to hit. A left hamstring injury kept him out for a month. And after seven games back from that absence, he re-aggrivated the injury and wouldn’t return until February, missing 44 games in total.

The following season was worse. In the middle of the first game of the 2017-18 season, Lin went down with a ruptured patella tendon on his right knee and would miss the rest of the season.

If there were questions as to whether or not he’d be able to return from such a serious injury, they’ve been answered this season. Lin joined the Hawks with everything to prove last summer, and has been an effective player so far this season. He may not play like a superhero any longer, but after a long and winding road he’s more than proven his worth as an NBA rotation player.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.