Desperate and running out of time, Kevin McHale finally frees his banished star.
This is how it goes for Jeremy Lin. When the Houston Rockets coach has exhausted every other possible way to try and win the game, he might give Lin a chance to make a difference. McHale will throw Lin into an impossible position and see what happens.
More often than it should, more than often than anyone has a right to expect considering how often Lin’s been jerked around, something like Sunday night happens. Lin pops off the bench, receives his first extended playing time in 17 days and goes crazy. He drops in 26 points, hits the go-ahead jumper in overtime, gets to the free throw line 12 times and makes up for starting point guard Patrick Beverley’s hideous zero assist, minus-two, 36-minute game.
Jeremy Lin can still play. He still has moments of pure basketball insanity in him. He just needs a real chance.
It’s the kind of performance that screams out for more playing time. Demands it.
With every fearless drive and pull-up jumper, Jeremy Lin serves notice that the Rockets need him in order to be anything more than another Houston team that goes on a dazzling second half of the season run only to flame out early in the playoffs (remember those 22-game-win-streak, 55-wins-overall 2007-08 Rockets who promptly bowed out to the Utah Jazz in the first round?) When Lin turns and unleashes a full-throat scream after one overtime dagger, he might as well be yelling at all the doubters.
Yes, Jeremy Lin can still play. He still has moments of pure basketball insanity in him. He just needs a real chance. More than once every eight games.
“If you ask me it feels good, yeah it feels good,” Lin tells the TV cameras after the great escape against a Portland team that still fancies itself as one of the Western Conference elite.
Lin’s demise hasn’t just been greatly exaggerated. It’s been completely orchestrated by a coach whose doghouse seems dictated by personal beliefs rather than player performance.
What other player in the NBA has a player whose capable of dropping in 26 points off the bench one night and racking up a triple double as a reserve on another?
It’s like the Rockets have a Jamal Crawford and an Evan Turner coming off their bench — only they’re barely playing him.
The other Rockets are starting to acknowledge Lin’s unmistakable talent.
“Jeremy Lin had an amazing game,,” Dwight Howard tells the CSN cameras after the Portland comeback.
Even the commentators on the the Rockets’ own cable network are beginning to recognize the faulty strategy of continually benching and belittling Lin.
Damon Jones — the former Miami Heat guard turned CSN Rockets analyst — argued on air days before the Portland explosion that Lin is not being given a fair chance to produce or break out of any so-called slump.
“He only played 16 minutes the other night,” Jones says. “You can’t find a rhythm in 16 minutes.”
Jones found himself debating against 610 AM host Nick Wright, who always seems to be on the bully side raging against anyone whose draft status and demeanor don’t fit his definition of what a professional athlete should look like (see Case Keenum).
There’s no denying it now though. Lin’s 26-point throwdown demands that he needs more time.
Oklahoma City Conundrum
On almost any other team in the NBA, with any other coach, Lin’s latest star turn would guarantee him instant increased playing time. This trend of yanking away his starting job for no sound reason, the reducing of him from the sixth man to virtually the eighth man, would end with that fourth quarter. On any other team, with any other coach.
After all, Lin shattered the notion that he and James Harden can’t excel together. They dominate the fourth quarter and overtime as a duo. When Harden — the rightful repeat Western Conference Player of the Week — isn’t hitting a big shot, Lin is knocking one down.
There’s no denying it now though. Lin’s 26-point throwdown demands that he needs more time.
This represents the Rockets at their most offensively dangerous.
Unfortunately, these are also the Rockets of McHale’s senseless and very selective quick hook.
Lin could be reduced to a bit player again as soon as Tuesday night in Oklahoma City. It doesn’t matter how hot he comes into the night. There’s a good chance McHale will try and see if can win the game without him.
Jeremy Lin’s play couldn’t be screaming any louder for a larger role and a real chance.
But does anyone really think Kevin McHale has any interest in listening?
Ever since signing with the Mariners in early July 2009, Ji-Man Choi has done one thing really, really well: hit. Through the first three-plus seasons of his professional career, the Korean-born lefty-swinger owns a .323/.424/.522 line.
After hitting a lofty .360/.440/.517 as a 19-year-old in 2010, Choi missed the following season – reportedly due to a back injury that essentially forced the converted catcher to first base. The time away, however, did little to damper his impressive skill set.
During his 2012, which, admittedly, should have landed him among the team’s top 16 prospects, Choi hit .298/.420/.463 with an elite eye at the plate (13.3% BB-rate), strong contact skills (18.7% K-rate), and solid average power (.165 ISO). The lone red flag being his age at the time: 21.
This season, though, Choi has blazed through High-A by hitting .337/.427/.619 with a minors-leading total of 24 doubles, three triples, and seven homeruns; all the while showing an elite eye (12.8%) and a modest strikeout rate (15.6%).
This led the Mariners to recently promote their potential first baseman of the future to Class AA, putting Choi against older competition for the first time in his career.
So, is Ji-Man Choi the real deal?
Well, sort of.
The California League, home to the High Desert Mavericks, is the premier offensive environment among all of the stateside levels, leading the way with an absurd 5.12 runs per game. It gets worse though. High Desert’s home ballpark, aptly named Mavericks Stadium, adds to the inflated offensive numbers too.
According to MinorLeagueCentral.com, the ballpark is sporting some absurd hitter-friendly park factors: 125 for runs, 112 for hits, 116 doubles, and a league high 138 for homeruns (PFs for 2012). All that means, of course, is that Choi’s numbers this season need to be looked at with some caution.
Still, though, using Weighted Runs Created Plus, a park and league adjusted metric measuring all offensive contributions, his production was 73% better than the Cal League average, the highest in the league.
Choi’s power grades out as solid-average and the doubles should eventually turn into 20 homeruns potential down the line, though he needs to show some more loft (46.3% GB-rate with High Desert). He’s always shown strong plate discipline. And despite the lackluster showing this season against fellow southpaws (.182/.302/.386), he has a decent track record against them throughout his career (.226/.336/.462).
Right now, Choi profiles as a solid prospect, maybe topping out as a 2.5- or 3.0-win player during his peak years. And he probably rank somewhere near the latter part of the team’s top 10 prospects.
Ji-Man Choi is currently in spring training with the Mariners.
DUNEDIN - Remember the name Derrick Chung.
It wouldn’t be fair — or very nice — to hang the Blue Jays Catcher of the Future tag on him.
A.J. Jimenez has that title … but shhhhh … don’t tell him.
Sports Illustrated has its cover jinx and the Blue Jays organization has its Catcher of the Future jinx.
Chung, 26, remains a fast mover.
A back-up infielder, at class-A Vancouver in 2012, Chung caught one game. He asked the Jays if he could come to camp last spring to catch (“they always need extra catchers in the spring,” said Chung). Assigned to class-A Dunedin in April, he threw out a whopping 43% of attempted base stealers in the Florida State League, earned a spot in the Arizona Fall League and is now in big league camp with the Jays.
That’s break neck speed for climbing a minor-leaguer ladder. He leapfrogged Daniel Klein, Tucker Frawley, Leo Hernandez and Santiago Nessy, skipping class-A Lansing like a University of Michigan-bound blue chip legacy recruit. Frawley and Hernandez have since been released.
And, best of all, he has a sense of humour.
“I’d throw you out,” he eventually told Jays minor-league coach Tim Raines, after the former Montreal Expos speedster had teased him.
“What’s your time throwing to second?” Raines asked.
“Maybe 1.85, 1.9 seconds, you put Marcus Stroman on the mound with a 1.3 second release time and we’ll throw you out,” said Chung.
“Ah, I’ll steal second and be heading to third,” said Raines.
“What if my pitcher is 1.1 seconds to the plate?” Chung asked.
“I’m not stealing then,” said Raines. “I’m staying put.”Raines has seen Chung throw. “He’s Mike Fitzgerald, maybe a little better,” said Raines looking at Chung who had a who in the heck is Mike Fitzgerald look?
“Who threw you out the most?” Raines was asked.
“Nobody,” said Raines. “Sal Butera got me once. You know those bloopers that you dunk into right field over the first baseman’s head … you know, the ones … we call hitting a Chung? When I played, we called it a Butera.”
Butera is the longest serving member of the Jays scouting staff. Raines and Butera were teammates with the Expos.
Growing up in Cypress, Calif., Chung, whose parents are from Korea, played for the Artesia High Pioneers and was in the same graduating class as James Harden of the NBA’s Houston Rockets. Anthony Gose and the rival Bellflower High Buccaneers were in the same conference. Both pitched and as a grade 11 student, Gose tripled off Chung, who is a year older.
Chung headed to the Sacramento State University Hornets for five years as an infielder. He broke his hand as a junior, so he had a medical red shirt season.
The next fall one catcher was ruled out for academic reasons and in the last practice the other injured his elbow needing Tommy John surgery. Coach Reggie Christenson asked Chung to move behind the plate.
“All those ground balls, all that practice … gone, but I was one of the older guys, I should have been the one to move,” said Chung. “Looking back on the move now I’m thankful.”
Jays scout Darold Brown of Elk Grove, Calif., drafted Chung in the 31st round. He was given a $1,000 US signing bonus … and a chance.
“I didn’t have a lot of time between the last workout of the fall and start of spring workouts, but it helped make the adjustment as an infielder,” said Chung. He praised the Jays roving minor league instructor Sal Fasano and minor league field co-ordinator Doug Davis, a former catcher, helping him make the transition.
At age 26, Chung has a way to go and a short time to get there. Yet, infielder Pat Border with little power at double-A Knoxville was moved behind the plate at age 24 in 1987 bt Jays minor-league guru Bobby Mattick.
A year later he was in Kansas City as the Jays opened the season, platooning with Ernie Whitt under manager Jimy Williams. Borders went 3-for-4, including a triple, and five RBIs in Game 2.
He celebrated his start the way most from Lake Wales, Fla. would, taking his father to Denny’s near Kauffman Stadium for the Grand Slam breakfast. Borders was sent to triple-A Syracuse as the aforementioned Butera arrived. Borders stuck with it playing from 1982 until 2006.
He played with the Jays for eight seasons winning the World Series MVP in 1992.
Borders came so quickly there wasn’t any time to hang the Catcher of the Future Tag on him.
And we did not, repeat did not, hang that tag on Chung.
the Pittsburgh Pirates have signed pitcher Yao-Hsun Yang, formerly of the Softbank Hawks, a member of the Japanese Pacific League. Yang will be invited to spring training on a minor league deal. The team has yet to announce the signing, although Yang is reportedly already attending practice at Pirate City in Bradenton, FL.
Yang, of Taiwanese decent, pitched in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic for Chinese Taipei. During last year’s classic, Yang allowed five runs and five hits in 4.1 innings. He was injured for the majority of 2013, and the Hawks released him in October, allowing him to seek a deal with a major league team.
During the 2012 season, Yang put up excellent numbers with the Hawks. Over the course of nine games, seven of which were starts, Yang maintained a sparkling 1.48 ERA in 42.2 innings pitched while striking out 45. His 0.984 whip from that season is fantastic for any level of baseball. Overall, in parts of five seasons with the Hawks, Yang leaves Japan with a career 3.08 ERA in 90.2 innings pitched. Of the 38 games he appeared in, he started 12 and finished seven. One would expect that Yang is making a push to be apart of the Pirates bullpen, but will most likely begin the season with Triple-A Indianapolis if he chooses to remain in the organization.
Phoenix — Wei-Chung Wang was not pleased with his previous outing in an intrasquad scrimmage game last Friday.
He came out of his Cactus League debut feeling much better about himself, though, after an impressive one-inning stint against the Chicago Cubs at Maryvale Baseball Park on Monday.
The 21-year-old Taiwanese left-hander, whom the Milwaukee Brewers selected in the Rule 5 draft in December, needed just 11 pitches to retire the Cubs in order in the sixth. He struck out two of the three batters he faced, one looking and the other swinging.
It was all new for Wang — the crowd of 4,009 spectators, the batters, even warming up as a reliever. Wang, who had never pitched above rookie league, had made all but one appearance as a starter when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“In the intrasquad game, I knew who was hitting,” Wang said through interpreter Jay Hsu. “But in a real game, I don’t know who the batter is.
“Don’t think too much on the mound. Kyle (Lohse) told me, ‘Just throw strikes.’”
That he did, throwing eight in his 11 pitches. Previously, the high point for Wang had been striking out Ryan Braun in the Brewers’ first intrasquad scrimmage on Feb. 25.
Now he has a solid outing against some big-league hitters in a real game situation on which to build.
“Threw a nice breaking ball to get a punchout, threw a nice fastball to get a punchout,” said manager Ron Roenicke. “His delivery was nice and he was down in the zone. He was really good.”
Wang said he was most encouraged by the tailing action his fastball showed against the Cubs, and while there were no official numbers available, word was he reached as high as 93 on the radar gun.
In his first interview session shortly after camp opened, Wang told reporters that the challenge of making the Brewers was comparable to swimming from his native Taiwan to the United States.
Does he feel any better about his chances after Monday?
“I see an island,” said Wang with a smile. “But there’s still a lot of sharks.”
Statistically and analytically, the Houston Rockets play their best lineups when they don’t include Jeremy Lin. However, the decision to pretty much give up on his importance and contribution, while handing the team over completely to James Harden and his sidekick, the overrated Patrick Beverley.
Things change quickly in the NBA, especially when you have a head coach who is out to get you. I’m not saying Kevin McHale made a decision at the beginning of last season to derail Lin’s career, but it’s quite clear that he and his coaching staff don’t hold him in high regard, and prefer to spend as much time as possible with him on the bench or not playing next to key players.
Lin had a very good stretch in late January and early February. Beverley not playing, or Harden not playing, didn’t just make him look very good, but the entire Rockets team play like a completely different team. But the last couple of weeks? Since the loss to the Golden State Warriors, it seems like Lin has been demoted. A team with only him as a viable backup guard (not just point guard) should play him a bit more than 17-to-20 minutes a night, but he’s averaging only 19.5 minutes over the last four games.
And when you get to that point, it’s hard to stand out, especially when it’s a player like Lin. Numbers are nice, but some players aren’t measured by stats. As Stan Van Gundy said during the Sloan Sports Analytics conference, statistics and analytics are very nice but they don’t always mean that much. Some things can only be seen by watching and understanding, and not from looking at box scores and digested stat columns.
Maybe if Lin was different he’d be making it about scoring 10-12 points during the 15-20 minutes he has on the floor; take a page from the James Harden book. But Lin isn’t that kind of player, in term of personality and his abilities. He’s an excellent passer and penetrates as well as Harden, but he doesn’t have that ability to draw fouls and finish near the rim while three bodies are banging at him.
It doens’t make him less of a player, or any less important to the Rockets, but he has fallen into certain perceptions it is hard to shake. A bad defender for example. When Beverley started getting more minutes last season, he was referred to as a good defender. But we’ve seen how badly he’s done this season against quality players. Maybe there’s more of a pesky quality to him Lin doesn’t, but he’s more than slightly overrated as a defender.
When a team wins, it’s hard to argue with a head coach and his decisions. The Rockets have dropped a game to the Clippers because of that hero-ball McHale is so proud of, but Harden isn’t measured by the same rigid standards Lin is. When a player has to be perfect to get minutes and even that doesn’t help, there’s not much left for him to do but actually hope, deep inside, that someone on this team gets injured so his minutes go up and his importance is revealed again.
But Lin isn’t like this; he understands the situation, which isn’t helping him play any better due to the shakiness of his minutes, the lineups he’s with and obviously being affected by the depreciation of his standing in the eyes of his coach for whatever reason McHale has. When the Rockets get knocked out of the playoffs because they didn’t have a confident point guard to help them out, it won’t be surprising if for some reason the fingers will be pointed at Lin, instead of where they really should be directed.