Commentary

Now we'll see if Jeremy Lin is for real!

No longer an unknown, Knicks sensation will have to prove himself Friday vs. Lakers

Updated: February 15, 2012, 1:42 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

Now we'll see what this Linsanity is all about!

Because of three games, three games against the New Jersey Nets, Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards in which someone on the Knicks actually resembled a point guard, some dude from Harvard named Jeremy Lin has captured the hearts of New York City.

Talk about desperation!

There is no doubt Lin can play. He deserves credit for averaging 25.3 points and 8.3 assists in leading the Knicks to a three-game win streak, virtually two of those games without the services of Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. But now that Lin has captured everyone's attention, stealing headlines on "SportsCenter" and beyond, let's see what he does tonight against the Lakers now that he's no longer a secret.

"I know nothing about Lin," Lakers coach Mike Brown explained in Boston on Thursday night. "I've never seen him play, never watched any tapes on him. But I will."

"I don't know anything about him," Kobe Bryant added. "I honestly have no idea what you guys are talking about. I've heard about him, but I have never seen him. I will watch some tape though. I can tell you that."

Now we're talking!

To be fair, Lin has been a welcome surprise. It's nice to see someone on the Knicks who dribbles with his head up, who's looking to pass and orchestrate an offense and is willing to do so without shredding his ability to win basketball games -- not to mention facilitating an offense in which everyone feels involved. The fact that Lin is of Asian descent is a plus because he'll help fill arenas league-wide, much like Yao Ming did when he was playing for the Houston Rockets. But that doesn't buy you the skills you need to win at this level, nor the respect that comes with someone already tried, tested and established.

Nobody saw Lin coming. Primarily because everyone's been snoozing on the Knicks, considering the way they had played up until last week. But another reason is even simpler: No one's had time to pay attention to anybody!

Jeremy Lin
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty ImagesJeremy Lin drove through lanes as wide as Broadway against the Wizards.

With the lockout having impeded the schedule, shrinking an 82-game regular season to 66 games, there's been limited time to practice, watch film and study opponents. Coming into Friday night's game, the Lakers have had less than a handful of practices since training camps broke. As Bryant told me the other day, "Man, we haven't had a chance to see anybody. All we've been able to rely on is our familiarity with one another, our skills and our confidence in one another. That's it."

And these are the Lakers that Lin will face tonight. The same Lakers that were bum-rushed and swept in the Western Conference semifinals by the Dallas Mavericks last season. But still a Lakers squad with one of the game's best in Bryant, two legitimate 7-footers in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, a five-time champion in point guard Derek Fisher, and a tradition that doesn't allow them to accept mediocrity.

Lin, fresh off driving into lanes as wide as Broadway on Wednesday against the Wiz, won't have that luxury Friday. About the only upside he has going for him is that he's in a no-lose situation.

"He's been fantastic for us," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters. "It's totally unexpected, but a pleasant surprise. He's only going to get better."

Actually, that's believable.

It's believable because Lin does have game. He can shoot, pass and handle. He also has the green light to shoot because, well, everyone has the green light to shoot in D'Antoni's system.

With Stoudemire out of the lineup until Monday due to the death of his brother, along with Anthony out due to injury, Lin gets to run the show, "and get everybody involved, instead of having all of us stand around and watching one person dominate the ball," one Knicks player said recently. "It just makes us that much better as a team."

How good remains to be seen.

No matter how much the Knicks appear to be enjoying the absence of Stoudemire and Anthony, their two superstars aren't going anywhere. Anthony is owed $85 million over the next four years, Stoudemire $83 million. And considering the way they were playing before they went out, nobody's taking them off the Knicks' hands at those prices -- and the Knicks are not going to say, "Hey guys, we love Mr. Minimum Wage, Jeremy Lin, so please let him run the show while you guys feel free to watch."

Essentially, that means the Knicks could have a legitimate dilemma. Baron Davis getting set to come on board could create problems as well. But it's a good dilemma to have in New York these days -- if Lin can actually handle the pressure that's mounting in his direction.

If Lin can really, really play as well as he has flashed thus far, there's no need to talk of D'Antoni's imminent departure and question whether the Knicks will actually make the playoffs or why Anthony is forced to play point-forward every night. Thank Goodness.

But if Lin struggles, we're back to square one.

Translation: Misery!

We'll see.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE

MORE NBA HEADLINES