Who Could Have Known About Lin?

The following comes from the talented Greg Steele (aka the Man of Steele). Greg normally writes about the Houston Rockets but as Rockets GM Daryl Morey decided to comment on Jeremy Lin, Greg felt compelled to reply.

It’s not often that a polished Harvard grad gets the short end of the stick. Yet that’s precisely what happened to one graduate of that distinguished institution. Jeremy Lin completed his four-year career at Harvard and prepared to enter a career with extremely high salaries. Despite his pedigree, Lin was not able to catch on in the business for an entire year after graduation.

Of course, Lin’s chosen career field was fairly exclusive: he chose to go into professional basketball. Although Lin accumulated a Position-Adjusted Win Score of 12.96 in his senior year at Harvard, he went undrafted in the 2010 NBA Draft. The average PAWS of college players selected in the NBA Draft is 10.18, so it seems relatively clear that Lin was a good prospect. However, there are two extenuating circumstances:

  • College productivity does not always lead to NBA productivity
  • Lin played in the Ivy League, midmajor or minor conference, and therefore faced weaker competition than many of the players who were drafted

Factor 1) above applies to all prospective rookies, not just Lin, so we’ll set it aside for now. Now, on to factor 2). Let’s say we discount Lin’s PAWS by 10% to account for the fact that his competition was fairly weak. While we’re at it, let’s also discount Lin’s productivity by another 10% to reflect the fact that he entered the draft pool as a senior, and thus had less potential to improve than younger players. So, if we go ahead and discount 20% of Jeremy Lin’s collegiate productivity, he is left with an Adjusted Position-Adjusted Win Score of 10.38 – still above the average production level of an NBA player in college. Actually, there’s no way we should even have an unofficial metric whose acronym is APAWS, since that sounds more like an endearing term for someone’s grandfather than a basketball metric. Instead, let’s call this second number Jeremy Lin’s Prospect Estimate.

Still, nobody saw Jeremy Lin until the past week. In each of his last four games, Lin has scored at least 23 points and handed out at least 7 assists, substantially bolstering the Knicks’ fortunes. In 209 minutes this year, Lin has recorded a 0.256 WP48, well above the level a star player achieves over the course of a season. Still, 209 minutes is a small sample size. How else could we have seen Jeremy Lin coming?

Well, last year Arturo came up with some absolutely smashing rookie performance prediction models (Editor’s note: More detail on that here) . These models, based in part on college performance and in part on preseason numbers, predicted that Lin was a good prospect, with a rookie year WP48 predicted to be somewhere between .055 and .090.

Though Lin only played 285 minutes last season, he managed to produce .157 wins per 48 minutes during that playing time, so I guess you could say that Arturo saw Jeremy Lin coming.

Still, surely Lin was only on the radar of the Wages of Wins network. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who signed and then waived Jeremy Lin without ever letting him play in a regular season game, said that nobody saw him coming. The New York Knicks don’t seem to have had very high expectations for Lin, since they acquired Baron Davis specifically in order to share the point guard position with Toney Douglas. Obviously the Golden State Warriors didn’t see him coming, since they waived him after last season. It would seem that we have to figure that the Knicks were lucky. After all, nobody really saw him coming.

So here’s someone who was interested in Jeremy Lin in August of 2010. Okay, I give up on the thesis that nobody saw Jeremy Lin coming. Even in the blogosphere, some people thought Jeremy Lin was a viable NBA player. Let’s shift to another question. How could anyone see Jeremy Lin coming? His sample size in the NBA is so small, what other numbers, besides his college performance, can we use to evaluate Jeremy Lin?

In 636 minutes in the D-League last year, Lin put up a 0.211 WP48, totaling 2.8 wins produced. So, even when we search long enough to find a statistically significant sample size (more than 400 minutes), we still find that Jeremy Lin was a good prospect. If only he had gone to Duke instead of Harvard, maybe he would’ve been a household name before last week.

On the other hand, maybe nobody could’ve seen him coming. At the very least, it’s unlikely anyone would predict a young player playing so well in their first four starts. Either way, New York scores … on accident.

-Greg

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