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Toronto Raptors

What have we learned from Jeremy Lin's first month with the Toronto Raptors?

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Jeremy Lin (NBA Getty Images)

The biggest move the Toronto Raptors made this season was acquiring Marc Gasol at the trade deadline, but he's not the only new addition to the team.

After completing a buyout with the Atlanta Hawks, the Raptors signed Jeremy Lin to replace Delon Wright, Toronto's backup guard who was included in the Gasol trade.

Now that Lin has been with the Raptors for a month, how is he fitting in with his new team? Let's take a closer look.

Stats

Team G MPG PPG APG RPG SPG TOV FG% 3P% FT%
Hawks 51 19.7 10.7 3.5 2.3 0.7 1.9 46.6 33.3 84.5
Raptors 11 20.6 7.8 2.5 2.7 0.5 1.5 36.7 15.2 78.9

A slow start offensively

Lin has struggled to get himself going as a scorer in Toronto.

In the 11 games he has played with the Raptors, Lin has broken double figures only three times. He was held to eight points or less in seven of the other games on a combined 16-for-54 shooting from the field and 1-for-19 from the perimeter.

The 3-point shooting has been the biggest surprise. Lin has never been a lights out shooter from distance, but he's long been a capable 3-point shooter. It's allowed him to play both guard positions throughout his career, as he's comfortable playing with and without the ball in his hands.

That's why the Raptors should be encouraged by how Lin has been shooting lately. After missing 17 consecutive 3s in his first seven games, he's made five of his last 16.

The hope, of course, is that's a sign of what's to come. Not just because Lin is a different player when his 3-point shot is falling, but because it would ease his fit next to Fred VanVleet when he returns from injury.

Whereas VanVleet is the better 3-point shooter of the two, Lin is the better scorer inside the perimeter. He generates a lot of his scoring on midrange pull-ups and he's a crafty finisher around the basket, giving the second unit a dynamic it has been missing this season.

Even though the consistency hasn't been there with the Raptors, Lin's versatility shows on plays like this:

Terrence Ross bites on Lin's shot fake from beyond the 3-point line and Jerian Grant slides over to prevent him from either pulling-up or getting all the way to the basket. That paves the way for Lin to make a simple kickout to Patrick McCaw on the wing for a wide open 3-pointer.

With VanVleet on the court instead of McCaw, maybe Grant doesn't help off as much as he did. If he does, VanVleet is an even greater threat to knock those shots down. If he doesn't, Lin has shown he has the skills to take what the defence gives him in ways VanVleet can't as the primary ball handler.

Adjusting to a new system

Though not known for his passing like Marc Gasol is, Jeremy Lin is still a decent playmaker for others.

Where Lin shines as a facilitator is on drives like the one above. According to NBA.com, he is averaging 8.2 drives in only 20.7 minutes per game with the Raptors, which is slightly less what Kyle Lowry (8.3) is averaging in 36.6 minutes per game on the season.

Almost half of Lin's assists in a Raptors uniform have come in those situations. He's always looking to put the ball on the floor and bend the defence in ways that opens up scoring opportunities for others.

Lin has assisted Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka more than anyone else on the Raptors through 10 games. He has formed natural chemistry with both forwards - Siakam as a corner shooter and cutter and Ibaka as a roll man.

It's clear, however, Lin is still adjusting to his new surroundings. In addition to the shooting numbers, the Raptors are scoring at a rate of 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, down from the 115.5 they've averaged with him on the bench since he was acquired.

It is a small sample size of 11 games, but Lin has already played over 200 minutes.

Both Lin and Nick Nurse talked about his struggles last week, with Nurse telling TSN's Josh Lewenberg he has to "get him more comfortable" and Lin saying he has to "capitalize" on being in a read-and-react system that plays to his strengths as a playmaker.

"I'm seeing that I have to reverse a lot of my mindset in terms of just the freedom I have on the floor and the empowerment," Lin told Lewenberg. "[Nurse] has done a great job of opening that up and I need to step into that. That's my responsibility to step into the door he's opened for me.

"It's definitely a mindset shift in terms of how to play the game. It's different. It's been a while since I've had that kind of freedom. It's a player's dream, it's a blessing and it's my job and my time to capitalize on it."

With so few games remaining before the playoffs, the pressure is on Lin to find his groove sooner rather than later. Thursday's game was a step in the right direction, as he started in place of the injured Lowry and put up a solid nine points, seven rebounds and one assist in 20 minutes of action.

Encouraging defence

As up-and-down as Lin has been offensively, he's brought it defensively with the Raptors.

Lin's best showing came against the Boston Celtics, when he was credited with holding Kyrie Irving to 1-for-5 shooting in the minutes they were matched up together.

It was a noteworthy performance because the six-time All-Star torched the Raptors in both of their losses to the Celtics this season, with Irving going for 43 points and 11 assists in one and 27 points and 18 assists in the other.

While the Raptors threw various defenders at Irving in those games, he had the most success against VanVleet. According to NBA.com, Irving has scored a total of 21 points against VanVleet this season on 10-for-14 shooting from the field.

For comparison, Irving has scored 29 points on 12-for-22 against Danny Green and 11 points on 5-for-15 shooting against Kyle Lowry.

Irving has also scored 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting against Kawhi Leonard, but there's no doubt that Leonard has a much better shot at defending Irving than VanVleet does. As strong of a defender as he is, VanVleet simply doesn't have the size slow down Irving.

That could become a factor if the Raptors and Celtics meet in the postseason.

That's not to say Lin will necessarily be Toronto's answer for Irving or other talented point guards, but if he becomes someone Nurse can trust to defend players at a high level for 10-15 minutes a game, he'd bring tremendous value off the bench in the playoffs.

What to watch next

Like Gasol, all eyes will be on Lin's scoring over the next month.

If he can find his shooting stroke, the rest of his game should fall in place. If he can't? It'll be interesting to see how much Nurse plays him when VanVleet returns.

As of right now, Lin isn't doing much on the offensive end that contributes to winning. His shot isn't falling, he's not creating many opportunities for others and he's turning the ball over at the second-highest rate on the team.

And yet despite all of that, Lin has shown signs that he can still be the player they hoped he'd be when they signed him a month ago.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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