One of the biggest mistakes the Charlotte Hornets ever made was signing Lance Stephenson. He was supposed to team with Kemba Walker during big moments to give the Hornets another player who could score and make it simpler for others to score. Instead, he was a mess, and he lasted only a year.
But the Hornets have found that player in the backcourt who can team with Walker. His name is Jeremy Lin. He costs about a quarter of what Stephenson did. And he has already made Charlotte a team that is way more fun to watch.
I know it is only preseason, but the Hornets' 6-0 record is attributable in part to the graceful way Lin has adapted to his new team.
Consider Monday night. Kemba had 22 points in 31 minutes, but zero assists and just one rebound. Lin had 18 points, a team-high eight rebounds and five assists.
Lin is so much better than Stephenson was for this team. He makes quicker and better decisions with the ball, his 3-point shooting spaces the court and his defense isn't as bad as advertised.
I'm already wishing the Hornets had Lin under a guaranteed two-year deal. Instead, the second year is at Lin's option, which means if Lin has a great year he could leave for bigger money elsewhere.
Said Lin of his new relationship with Walker: "The biggest thing is – and that’s not just me and Kemba (Walker), it’s any basketball relationship – you have to want to see the other person succeed. I’ve been very impressed with who Kemba is as a person and how down to earth and humble he is. We’ve been able to get along off the court and carry that onto the court and it’s been fun. I love playing with him."
Said Walker of what Lin brings to the court when they are on it together: "It takes a lot of pressure off me. I don't always have to go back for the basketball every time. When he's out there, he's helping me with the pace, with the tempo. He's very unselfish and he can score the basketball very well. So that's fun."
The Hornets open the regular season Oct. 28th at Miami. Their first home game: Sunday, Nov. 1, with a rare 2 p.m. start vs. Atlanta. The Panthers have a Monday night game that week.
Lin and Walker are natural point guards, but Lin can slide over to the shooting guard spot with little problem. You can tell Hornets coach Steve Clifford likes this lineup. Charlotte gets into its offense earlier with it and gets better shots out of it. Defensively it will sometimes be a struggle, but it hasn't been yet.
Of the Walker-Lin grouping, Clifford said: "I think it’s just two really good pick-and-roll players on the floor together. And also when (Nicolas) Batum is out there, because he’s also a good pick-and-roll player, they draw two defenders every time they get in the pick-and-roll.
“Then when the ball moves, the next guy has room, or there’s so much space on the other side. That’s really what the NBA game is about. Put all three of them out there, it’s such a good skill level that we can create shots."
The preseason will soon be wiped off the books. Charlotte opens for real on Oct. 28th, at Miami. And the Walker-Lin pairing is just one of the reasons this season has serious potential.