Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks will face off against LeBron James and the Miami Heat tonight in a star-studded showcase of some of the NBA's best players, including Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Amar'e Stoudemire, among others. But despite the amount of star talent on both teams, most eyes will be focused squarely on Lin and James on Thursday night.
Jeremy Lin and LeBron James have a lot in common: They're both playing incredible basketball right now, they're both MVP candidates for their respective teams, and both are the engines that make their teams go. James and Lin are ultimately the ones responsible for moving and distributing the ball, but both players have taken responsibility to also keep scoring for their teams. Without these players, the Miami Heat and New York Knicks would not be the teams they currently are.
Lin, in particular, is on a helluva run. In 11 games with the Knicks, the undrafted rookie out of Harvard University has been the team's unexpected spark for New York, scoring about 20 points and 8 rebounds a game, which is a record for any NBA player in their first 10 starts since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. Lin also has the NBA record for most points and assists in his first five games.
More important than his stats, Lin is leading his team to wins. Lin is 8-2 as the Knicks' starting point guard to bring his team back to an even 17-17 record overall. Now that Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Baron Davis are back from injury -- and with the addition of guard J.R. Smith -- the Knicks look to be a formidable team moving forward.
The stage gets bigger and bigger for Lin, but he just keeps living up to his own hype. Lin is an incredibly humble person, but when the stage gets big, he still keeps his head in the game, constantly making the right decisions to either score or pass the rock to an open teammate.
The only one knock against Lin is his turnovers. While he may have the most points in his first 10 starts, he also has the most turnovers. In Friday night's loss to the Hornets, Lin committed eight turnovers in the first half, and turnovers continue to be a problem for him in close games.
Yet, despite Lin making headlines and big plays, he is not the best player in the NBA this season. That title belongs to two-time NBA MVP LeBron James, who is having the best season of his basketball career in 2012.
In 32 games played for the Heat, LeBron has put up some incredible numbers. He is averaging about 28 points per game, with 7 assists and 8 rebounds to boot. Even though James has other NBA superstars on his team like Wade and Chris Bosh, he is still the oil for the Miami machine.
The most telling statistic that separates LeBron James and Jeremy Lin is the player efficiency rating (PER), which is a combinated algorithm that takes into account one's true shooting percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, their offensive and defensive rebounds, and their overall statistical production.
This season, LeBron James has the highest PER in the history of the NBA, notching a 32.6 rating. Lin has been extremely productive in his own right, tallying a PER of 24.1.
There are some distinctions between these two players as well. Besides their racial differences and differences in height (LeBron is 6'8, Jeremy is 6'3) and experience (eight years for LeBron versus one year for Lin), James and Lin have different expectations set for them. James' now-famous disappearance from the 2011 NBA Finals was well documented, and he has a reputation from shying away from the big moment when his team really needs him, despite performing incredibly well at all other times. Lin almost has the opposite reputation: He tends to turn the ball over towards the beginning of games, but when the game is on the line, Lin is ready to shoot the ball and make plays for his teammates and at the free-throw line.
When the Knicks play the Heat Thursday night, James and Lin will undoubtedly attract the most attention from fans. Ultimately, tonight's game won't matter, as these teams will be much different come the playoffs. But you can't deny that the match-up between James and Lin, two of the most polarizing figures in the history of the NBA, makes excellent theatre.