Culture / Sporting Life

Jeremy Lin Emerges As the Most Underpaid Player in the NBA

How Linsanity Lives After Houston

BY // 11.12.15

Houston’s not just a city of transplants. It also sends interesting people out into world who have a great impact on their new communities. In PaperCity‘s “Where Are They Now?” series, we’ll catch up with prominent former Houstonians who happen to lay their heads down elsewhere now.

Jeremy Lin heard the echoes and the outrage for years. Everyone from fans who don’t know better to fellow players who should railed against his paychecks, called them inflated and ridiculous while seeming to be somehow personally offended by the whole thing.

Wherever he turned, Lin would find someone else telling the world how “overpaid” he was. It dogged his tenure in Houston almost as much as Kevin McHale’s coaching and Patrick Beverley’s ultra-inflated defensive reputation did. Lin’s paycheck — which never truly stood out of whack in a professional sports league in which average role players like the San Antonio Spurs’ Danny Green pull down $10 million a season — was forever being used against him.

Now, the former Houston Rockets guard is clearly one of the most underpaid players in the NBA. And absolutely nobody’s talking about it.

Lin is making $2.1 million this season. That’s not just a far cry from the three-year, $25-million deal the Rockets nabbed him with post Linsanity; it’s less than half the NBA’s $4.9 million average salary. Which is absurd for a 27-year-old with Lin’s production and potential.

Jeremy Lin is far outperforming his contract — and no one’s giving him any credit for it. Surprised?

Lin’s dogged, raving critics certainly would be if they ever took the time to notice what he actually does on the court. Take the 17-point night and 7-for-11 shooting he dropped on one of his old teams (the Knicks) Wednesday night. Or the  savagely efficient game he played in the Charlotte Hornets’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night. Lin took advantage of every minute Charlotte coach Steve Clifford gave him, racking up 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting, a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and a nifty plus-18 rating.

More importantly, Lin attacked the surprising Timberwolves’ defense at every turn, never letting a young team get comfortable on its own court. He repeatedly drove into the teeth of the Wolves defense, unleashed full-court passes on the break (several Lin assists were left on the table when teammates blew layups) and completely shut down veteran shooting guard Kevin Martin in the second half.

Lin even harassed and frustrated Martin into two blatant offensive fouls, showing the type of defense he’s not supposed to have. This is how you completely change a game.

When Lin first checked in with 1:51 left in the first quarter, Charlotte trailed by 11 points. The Hornets then proceeded to score on their next eight possessions —  with Lin running the point — to take over the lead, and the game. Game changers like this are not available for $2.1 million, unless they have been torn down by a mob.

Whatever you think of Lin’s time in Houston — and whatever your opinion is of the notion that racism and Asian stereotypes have dramatically impacted his NBA career, as 60 Minutes, the Linsanity movie that made the rounds of the festival circuit, and other respected outlets have argued — his adjustment to Charlotte provides fascinating theater.

There is no doubt it’s an improvement over the nonsensical agony of playing for Byron Scott, the man with no plans. Lin’s still not getting the minutes his play dictates he should be getting. Before being given the chance to finish the final 16 minutes of the game (and play 26 minutes overall) against the Wolves, Lin received 22 minutes or less of playing time in the four games leading up to Tuesday. And he went back to 21 minutes against the Knicks Wednesday, though Clifford smartly closed with him again.

The minutes are much too low overall — especially considering how desperately Charlotte’s offense needs his playmaking and perimeter defense (starting Hornets “point” guard Kemba Walker somehow managed to post a negative14 plus-minus in a game Charlotte won by nine). Still, this strange minute allotment doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. Clifford loves having an impact bench and seems wedded to Walker.

But at least Lin finally has a coach post-Mike D’Antoni who will sometimes ride his hot hand.

“I kept looking in the fourth quarter (to get starter Jeremy Lamb back in), but Jeremy Lin was really the one who did the best job on Kevin Martin,” Clifford told reporters after the game.

It’s a start. It will have to do for now. What’s more important in the larger scheme of Lin’s NBA future is that he appears more confident in who he is. Maybe that gelled-up mohawk he sports these days represents another sign — as silly as it is seems — that this is a player now unafraid to stick out and grab the spotlight.

One unmistakable truth is that Jeremy Lin is a Walking Bargain. His current salary ranks 261st in a league of 407 players, a league where Cory Joseph (8.0 points and 2.9 assists per game) pulls down $7 million a year and even Swaggy P banks $5.2 million.

Let’s see this become a story.

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