Jeremy Lin has said some of the knocks on him early on in his career — especially about his defensive shortcomings — were fair. But their persistence ignores a new reality: Lin’s defense is vastly improved. Last year in Charlotte, head coach Steve Clifford said of Lin: “He’s a much, much better defender than people realize.” That’ll be put to a big test as Lin goes toe-to-toe with the best ball-handlers in the NBA — every night for 40 minutes as a starter in Brooklyn. But without a Nets team defense that improves the same way Lin’s personal defense has, the Nets will remain at the bottom of the standings no matter how strong the Lopez-Lin pick-and-roll looks.
Head coach Kenny Atkinson arrives with a defensive mindset ingrained — and part of the reason he was so high on Lin was the point guard’s obvious defensive improvement. Atkinson’s entire team will have to follow Lin’s lead. The Nets posted a miserable 47.9% in field goal defense last season — no NBA team was worse. Atkinson may find his head spinning at times as he looks out on the floor, coming from an Atlanta Hawks team that led the league in the field goal defense at 43.2%. Lin has also said he’s in far better physical condition than he’s been before — he’ll need it because there will be intense pressure on Lin on both sides of the ball. Will he have enough left in his tank to lead the defensive surge the Nets require?