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National Columnist

The Linsanity is over, and the truth is Jeremy Lin just isn't that great

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Lin's magical first five games as a pro seem like a distant memory now. (US Presswire)  
Lin's magical first five games as a pro seem like a distant memory now. (US Presswire)  

Jeremy Lin isn't who we thought he was.

I say that with some regret, some embarrassment -- and all certainty. He's not what we thought he was last year, when we thought he was a special player. Turns out he was a regular player on a special streak, and there's no shame in that. He had the best streak of any new starter in NBA history, becoming the first to average 27.2 points in his first five starts, and to average 20 ppg and seven assists in the same stretch.

The things Jeremy Lin was doing last season defied explanation at the time, and they defy explanation now. Because he's not that guy. I mean, he's not close to that guy. He hasn't been that guy since those first five games, actually. When, in the history of the NBA, has a player's first five starts been -- far and away -- his best five starts? I'm guessing it had never happened until Jeremy Lin came along.

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This season in Houston, Lin is averaging 10.3 points and 6.8 assists in 34.4 minutes per game. Those are decent numbers. They're average, though his shooting accuracy (37.7 percent from the floor) and turnovers (3.1 per game) aren't average. Those numbers are awful.

It's Tebow all over again, is what it is. Remember how Tim Tebow had that mystifyingly wonderful run with the Denver Broncos last season, taking over as starter on a team that was 1-4, then winning seven of the next eight games? Of course you remember. The world was talking about Tebow last winter, just as the world was talking about Jeremy Lin a few months later.

It's instructive to remember what happened next -- to both players. The Broncos were so grateful to Tebow, so thrilled with the way he rescued the 2011 season and led the team to the playoffs and threw for 316 yards to beat the Steelers in the first round, that they acquired Peyton Manning. And then traded Tebow to the Jets, where he has languished all season. One year after the magic of 2011, Tebow can barely get on the field for one of the worst teams, with one of the statistically worst quarterbacks, in the league.

As for Lin? The Knicks were so grateful for the tens of millions of dollars he injected into the franchise -- through ticket and apparel sales, and the completion of a cable deal because New Yorkers wanted to see this guy on TV -- that they let him walk as a free agent. Watched him sign with the Houston Rockets for a creatively written, but still affordable, $25 million over three years.

Got nothing for him.

What were the Knicks thinking? Probably something like this:

Jeremy Lin isn't who everyone thought he was.

In hindsight, the signs were there. In his first 10 games as a starter, Lin averaged 24.6 points and 9.2 assists and shot 49.7 percent from the floor. MVP stuff.

In his next seven games, Lin's production dropped to 15.6 ppg and 7.7 apg. Starter stuff.

In his last nine games of the season? Another drop: 13.6 ppg and 5.9 apg. And in those final 16 games, his shooting dropped more than 10 percentage points, from 49.7 percent to 39.3 percent. Abysmal stuff.

Jeremy Lin isn't who we thought he was.

More accurately, he wasn't who we wanted him to be. We wanted him to be Superman, this unlikely Taiwanese-American hero from the Ivy League who wasn't offered scholarships by any Division I schools, wasn't drafted by any NBA teams, then was released by the Warriors and Rockets before being picked up by the Knicks and demoted to the D-League. Eventually the Knicks brought him back to New York and used him in an emergency. You know what happened next: NBA history books will remember it as Linsanity.

I'll remember it as something that defies explanation, Tebow on hardwood, a guy overachieving not just for one afternoon but for game after game after game. It was supernatural and I bought into it, urging the NBA to give Lin an All-Star spot and then making fun of the Knicks for letting him go to the Rockets.

Do I regret any of that? Not really. Not at all. At the time of the All-Star break, Lin was the hottest story in the NBA -- the hottest story not named "LeBron" in years. He belonged in that All-Star game. As for the other story, the one chiding the Knicks for being the Knicks, what can I say? I got duped by Lin, but lots of us got duped.

This is LeBron's fault, of course.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat were the first to throw cold water on the dream that was Lin-sanity, playing Lin after his first 10 historic starts and holding him to eight points on 1-of-11 shooting. Lin handed out three assists and had eight turnovers. That miserable game was a fluke -- Lin hasn't put up such poor numbers since -- but no more of an aberration than his wondrous first few weeks.

Jeremy Lin isn't the 1-for-11 shooter the Heat made him out to be last Feb. 23 -- but he's not the 27.6 ppg scorer of his first five starts, either. Last season he was the greatest story ever told.

Sequels are always a disappointment.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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