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Jeremy Lin bursts through the preconception barrier

Jeremy Lhas become an overnight sensatiwith Knicks after two other teams let him go. | Kathy Kmonicek~AP

Jeremy Lin has become an overnight sensation with the Knicks after two other teams let him go. | Kathy Kmonicek~AP

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Updated: March 15, 2012 8:14AM



It sounds like a question that would be put to a visitor from outer space:

Are there more like you?

Jeremy Lin’s shocking, unearthly success leads to the basketball version of that question: How many unheralded players, given a chance, would do well in the NBA? How many players get overlooked because of what they look like? How many players never even get an opportunity because they don’t have the proper resume?

A variety of circumstances, including injuries to Knicks teammates, put Lin in the express lane to stardom. The question is whether he is an aberration or a warning to teams that they might want to start looking at players differently.

“There are definitely more players like him,’’ TNT analyst Steve Kerr said. “There are probably plenty who slipped through the cracks over the years and just never found their ­opportunity.’’

What we could be seeing here is a lack of confidence — not from players but from talent evaluators. It could be a matter of scouts not believing in what they’re seeing when they watch players. Let’s face it, Lin doesn’t fit any mold. He’s an Asian-American point guard from an Ivy League school. What about that says “NBA?’’

Maybe that’s the problem.

What about Lin’s 38 points in the Knicks’ victory over the Lakers on Friday says “NBA?’’ Everything.

When he worked out for several NBA teams before the 2010 draft, he didn’t get to show his talents in 5-on-5 play. Those workouts almost always are geared toward individual athletic skills. It’s hard to show off your passing ability in 2-on-2 games. He didn’t get drafted.

The Warriors deserve some credit for signing him last season. He played four years at Harvard, OK? That’s not like playing one year at Kentucky and jumping to the NBA. He wasn’t on everybody’s radar. Rockets officials are feeling a bit sheepish about releasing him after 12 days of camp this season, allowing the Knicks to grab him. They probably should be feeling a bit sheepish.

He has started only four games for the Knicks. Let’s see what he does over the course of a season. But that he has put together four great games and one not-so-great game (8-for-24 from the floor against Minnesota) in New York’s five-game winning streak shows there’s something there.

And there could be more where he came from.

Last season, 78 percent of NBA players were African American. It’s no secret it’s a black league. But NBA teams seem much more willing to draft a white player from Europe than a white player from the United States. Some of that has to do with basketball overseas, where professional teams are allowed to sign players at a younger age. Those players typically come to the NBA better prepared.

But it also could be a matter of stereotyping. Scouts become so used to seeing a certain type of player that they can’t look beyond their preconceived notions. So: white American college players are lacking; white European players are valuable.

An Asian-American point guard? Please.

“Everybody’s trying to quantify talent evaluation right now with analytics and stats,’’ said Kerr, a former Bull who was the Suns’ general manager from 2007-10. “Everybody’s in a constant search to make it a more definite process, a more finite process. And maybe some of that is subconsciously stereotyping players.

“When there hasn’t been any Asian guards who have been successful in the NBA, it’s tough not to think of that [when evaluating] Jeremy Lin. It’s tough to not put him in that category.’’

There will be people who see this from a different angle — that the only reason Lin is getting attention is because he’s Asian American. In other words, if he were black and got off to this start, the volume would be considerably lower.

Perhaps, but name another undrafted player who averaged 27.2 points, 8.2 assists and four rebounds in the first four starts of his career.

It’s not just Lin’s ethnicity and improbable story that set him apart. There’s a joy to his game. He can’t help smiling after a good play. He’s having fun. The typical NBA player proceeds with a studied coolness. Lin wouldn’t be able to hide his happiness with a lampshade.

We can point fingers at teams for being conservative, but the player ultimately has to make the most of his chance.

“That’s the beautiful thing about what Lin is doing,’’ Kerr said. “Yeah, maybe it’s circumstantial, but, man, talk about grabbing the ­opportunity by the horns.’’



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