Over the last six years, point guard Jeremy Lin’s bounced between five NBA teams, captured the nation and the league’s attention with one of the most improbable and entertaining scoring runs ever, made believers of those who doubted his talent coming out of Harvard.
After "Linsanity," the Charlotte Hornets (27-26) No. 1 bench scorer may finally be in line for some personal accolades and recognition: Sixth Man of the Year.
Lin does have some serious competition to overcome, but his numbers and the Hornets success so far this season make him a serious threat to be named the NBA’s best player off the bench.
The 27-year-old has put up 12.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists over 26.9 minutes per game in 50 appearances this season, providing Charlotte a solid back-up floor general capable of helping the offense flow while leading scorer and point guard Kemba Walker receives well-needed breathers night after night.
Walker’s minutes are up compared to last year, but knowing he can rely on Lin off the bench means he actually has the change to play a full season for the first since 2013. The Hornets have had to push Walker to the limit every season due to a lack of depth, and he missed 20 games last season due to injury and wear and tear.
However, this season Walker’s played and started 52 games, missing only one, and his scoring’s jumped to a career-best 20.5 points per game and his 1.8 steals per contest is Walker’s best output since 2013. Furthermore, Walker’s 20.7 PER is nearly two points better than his previous career-high.
Injuries have greatly tested the Hornets this season, but with Lin they’ve responded well. Small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist only appeared in seven games before he was ruled out for the year for a second surgery on his right shoulder, and center Al Jefferson’s missed 34 games total season and he only just returned to practice Wednesday after undergoing surgery on Dec. 30 to repair a torn meniscus.
Lin does face some stiff competition from fellow Sixth Man frontrunners Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets forward Will Barton, but all three candidates chances may rest on their teams’ postseason hopes.
As of now, Lin and the Hornets have the inside track to the playoffs. Charlotte won seven of its last 10 games before the All-Star break and are currently seventh in the quite tight Eastern Conference, only three games back of the No. 4 seed.
Meanwhile, Oladipo and the Magic are 3.5 games back of Chicago for the East’s final playoff spot and Barton and the Nuggets are 4.5 back of the West’s No. 8 slot.
Now that Kidd-Gilchrist has gone down, Hornets head coach Steve Clifford may rely even more on Lin at the start of the second half of the season. Charlotte’s gone 8-17 on the road this season but start the final 29-game stretch with five straight on the road, including trips to Cleveland, Indiana, and Atlanta.
It’s the longest amount of time the Hornets will be away from home for the rest of the regular season, and it’s also the time Lin could shine and sew up his first Sixth Man of the Year.