The Charlotte Hornets (42-31) have been one of the biggest surprises of the Eastern Conference, and a big reason for the team's success has been steady perimeter play and outside shooting. The addition of wing Nicolas Batum, and the improvement of veteran forward Marvin Williams and center Cody Zeller have been a boon for Charlotte in place of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but the guards have steadied the ship for the once-struggling organization.
Steve Clifford's squad is near the bottom in field-goal percentage (43.7), but No. 6 in three-points shooting (36.8 percent) and No.8 in free-throw shooting. Leading scorer Kemba Walker has been the team's MVP, but he doesn't do it alone. The addition of Courtney Lee has given Charlotte a big boost after Jeremy Lamb tailed off after an excellent November, but the team also saw an uptick from the improved play of Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jeremy Lin.
Charlotte earned perhaps their biggest win of the season last week with Lin scoring 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter against the title-contending San Antonio Spurs. It wasn't the first time Lin led the way against a top team. On Feb. 2, Lin dropped 24 points in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Big wins may be providing Charlotte momentum with the postseason looming. The Hornets have posted a 12-3 mark in March and moved up to sixth place in the East, while only 1.5 games separate them from third-seeded Atlanta with nine regular-season games remaining.
Consistency has plagued Lin this season, but he may be getting his shooting stroke back. In the last five games, Lin has knocked down eight of his 13 three-point attempts. He's also raised his free-throw shooting to 83 percent in March.
Lin’s seen his minutes decline ever so slightly over the last few months, but he appears to have adjusted to the pullback. He’s down to 23.2 minutes per game compared to the 30.7 minutes in January and 23.9 in February, but Lin’s still flowing nicely in Charlotte’s 12th-ranked offense.
And even when he’s asked to facilitate the offense or take a backseat to Walker, Lin has found a way to spark Charlotte’s defense. Most recently he swiped five steals and chipped in four assists and four rebounds while going 4-for-5 from the floor for nine points in a 115-91 victory over Milwaukee on Saturday. The Hornets have a 5-1 record in games Lin has recorded three steals or more.
Lin’s durability could be building a path to Sixth Man honors. The 27-year-old continues to jostle with award frontrunner Will Barton of the Denver Nuggets, but should the Hornets continue to climb the East standings Lin may have the ultimate trump card over Barton and the 31-43 Nuggets.
Currently Lin’s not only on pace to post his best scoring average in two years, he’s also proved to be one of Clifford’s most reliable bench players. Lin has appeared in 70 games, starting 11, and should he avoid injury he could play in 79 total games, his highest amount since his first season with Houston in 2012.
Lin has the option of opting out of his contract at season's end. He is earning $2.1 million in 2015-2016.