Leading up to the NBA All-Star break, Charlotte Hornets combo guard Jeremy Lin stood out as one of a handful of contenders for this season’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. Lin had rediscovered the fluid offensive game that made him a rising star in the league several years ago, and in hand the Hornets were once again playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference.
Recently, however, Lin’s candidacy has taken a slight hit as Charlotte (35-28) continues to climb the East standings despite his overall numbers and shooting percentages slipping.
The Hornets have gone 8-2 since the start of the second half of the season, but in five games this month Lin’s shot 30 percent or worse from the field and he’s averaging a season-worst 2.0 turnovers per contest.
Still, Lin’s decline may have more to do with a lack of opportunities. Head coach Steve Clifford has scaled back Lin’s minutes of late, with the 27-year-old averaging 21 minutes per game this month compared to 23.9 in February and his season average of 26.2. Lin was averaging as much as 30.7 in January.
In turn, Lin’s average number of shots has dipped to 8.0 per contest compared to 11.5 in January, when he was averaging a season-best 13.3 points while shooting a respectable 40.7 percent from the field.
Most often, shooters need to shoot their way out of slumps, however minor, and the chances haven’t been there for Lin.
But it’s not as if Clifford’s started to dislike Lin’s game, he’s just deferring to Charlotte’s best player and leading scorer Kemba Walker. The pesky and streaky point guard has been on a tear of late, netting 31.6 points on 53.3 percent shooting this month and another 51.3 percent from three.
As a result, Charlotte’s undefeated in March and threatening to climb as high as No. 3 in the East, with only three games separating the presently sixth-seeded Hornets from the third-seeded Celtics with 19 games left on most teams schedules.
Clifford asked his bench to play heavy minutes earlier this season so as to preserve Walker for the second half of season, a strategy that’s clearly worked and put the Hornets in an excellent position to win a playoff series for the first time since 2002.
Furthermore, a new face has also limited Lin’s role. The Hornets acquired veteran guard Courtney Lee from Memphis at the trade deadline and over nine games he’s averaging better than 28 minutes per contest to help the team’s perimeter defense. Lin’s improved in this area this season, but Lee’s established himself as a far better defender throughout his career and he does bring a more reliable three-point shot with at 38.4 percent for his career compared to Lin’s 34.3.
Clifford is expected to turn to Lin at some point down the stretch this season, and should he respond the Sixth Man award could be waiting for him.
Will Barton, who is averaging 15 points per game with the Denver Nuggets, appears to be the leading contender for the award. The small forward is averaging 6.1 rebounds per game and is shooting 43.7 percent from the field.