Lin played the best defense of his career last season with the Hornets and he helped them finish ninth in points given up per game (100.7). In terms of his individual defense, head coach Steve Clifford acknowledged that Lin improved his defense while he was with the Hornets last season. Clifford said this about Lin’s defense during this past season. “He is a very good defender. His Pick-and-Roll defense is very good; his team defense is good and he is a very good competitor. I think whenever you can count on a guy’s effort and his defense, he brings a lot to your team.” During exit interview with the Hornets, Lin also commented about his defense when he said “I’ve learned so much about basketball, particularly at the defensive end.” Lin played as a combo guard more than ever before in his career, which meant that he sometimes had to defend shooting guards that were three to four inches taller than him. It was a challenge, but he did the best that he could and he held his own against bigger and taller guys. Lin is a fighter no matter what situation he is placed in, and he always gives his maximum effort. He is also a winner and he will do whatever it takes to help the team even if it means sacrificing his own game. The Hornets are going to miss that type of attitude and team play from Lin but hey, it’s the Nets’ gain.
Lin is expected to be in a comfortable position as a full-time point guard this season with the Nets, and he will defend primarily other point guards. It is tough to defend point guards in the NBA, as there is so much offensive talent at the position. However, Lin has improved by gaining more experience over the years. Defensive impact is more difficult to measure than offensive performance, as there is no tangible stat to prove how a player does on defense, but Lin received a decent grade according to DRPM (Defensive Real Plus Minus), provided by ESPN. It is a statistic based on estimated on-court impact for team defensive performance, which is measured in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions. For example, with Lin’s defense, he ranked 20th in the league among point guards out of 81 players with a DRPM of -.018, which means that the Hornets’ defense gave up slightly more than 100 points per 100 defensive possessions (100.4). This is a solid number with him on the floor. The point guard situation was a mess for the Nets last season and the three players that were on the roster last season (Jarrett Jack, Shane Larkin, and Donald Sloan) were all liabilities on the defensive end.
Lin is such a big upgrade defensively and his perimeter defense will prove to be very valuable. He has good size for a point guard (6-foot-3) and he is quick enough to stay close to the point guards that he is defending. A case in point are the times in which he did a good job defending Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics and Goran Dragic most notably in the playoffs last season when the Hornets played against the Miami Heat. Lin does not give up on defense even when he is beaten and he recovers well on the defensive end, which often leads to steals. It was easy to see that Dragic did most of his damage in the playoffs offensively when he was guarded by Kemba Walker, who is weaker defender compared to Lin.
Another aspect of Lin’s defense that is overlooked is his shot-blocking ability, which is unique among other point guards in the league. He had 42 blocks last season and according to Pro Basketball Reference, only 21 players under 6-foot-3 had accumulated 40 or more blocks for a season before 2015-16. Lin also has 130 block shots in the last 4 seasons, that placed him fifth, sixth, fifth, and second in blocks among point guards. A shot-blocking ability for a non-big man like a point guard is rare, but Lin is effective at it and it is indicative of Lin’s athletic ability as well as timing to disrupt the offense. (Wait, an Asian player is athletic and can jump? Who knew?). He also has the ability to close out on shooters to contest jump shots while his strength allows him to be physical with opposing point guards and not get outmuscled.