The following is a column derived from an interview with Jeremy Lin‘s shooting coach (Doc Scheppler), by HoopsHabit.com friend Nathan Gottlieb. Nathan is a former New York Knicks beat writer for The Newark Star-Ledger, who also covered the New York Yankees, New York Mets, NCAA Tournament and other sports. He currently writes boxing features for HBO’s website and has published five novels in a mystery series.
The last three years have been difficult ones for Jeremy Lin fans and for his inner circle. They knew he was so much better than he’d been able to show under coaches Kevin McHale and Byron Scott. One of those affected was his shooting coach, Doc Scheppler, who has worked with Lin the past five summers. Doc and I had a 40-minute phone conversation recently about this. (He made it clear that the opinions he expressed were his only. They did not come from Lin).
“Jeremy and I are very tight,” Scheppler says. “Back here (SF Bay area) we still watch every game he plays. This year was especially hard to watch. The Lakers were such a dysfunctional team, so poorly coached. Kobe was out there trying to prove himself every day, while minimizing every player around him because he didn’t think they were good. That was so sad.”
Now that Lin has signed a two-year deal with the Charlotte Hornets, Scheppler feels confident things will change for the better. “We’re very excited about this year,” he says. “He’s in a much better position with a great coach. One reason he signed with Charlotte is because of the coach, Steve Clifford. It came down to Jeremy’s sit down for two hours with Clifford. After it, he said to me, ‘Doc, this guy knows the game. He reminds me of Peter (Diepenbrock, Lin’s high school coach). He’s into X’s and O’s. We just talked basketball.’”
The same couldn’t be said for Lin’s relationship with New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson. “In New York, Woodson undervalued him,” Scheppler says. “He basically just wanted the ball thrown into Carmelo. And Carmelo didn’t want Lin in New York because it would take away from his thunder.”
Scheppler said Lin’s two years in Houston under McHale were largely misunderstood by most reporters, and also by Rockets announcers. “When he was in Houston, writers around the country were saying Patrick Beverley beat him out for the starting job. That’s not true. Beverley was just a better fit with (James) Harden, who doesn’t even try to play defense or get in position to. What writers don’t know was that Jeremy was told by the coaches that they wanted him to be their (Manu) Ginobili coming off the bench. As for the home announcers (Matt Bullard, Clyde Drexler, Bill Worrell), he’d make a great pass and they wouldn’t even point it out. They were so negative. They’d rip him to shreds. He’s such a great passer, and they never talked about it.”
Lin’s situation did not improve when he was traded to Los Angeles last summer. Scott is an old school coach whose offense doesn’t put much stock in three-point shooting, spacing, or pushing the ball in transition, things the majority of modern NBA teams do. Scott even told Lin at one point to stop doing so much pick and roll. It’s fair to say that Scott’s offensive system was Lin’s worst nightmare.
“I couldn’t understand how Scott could not see that pick and roll puts players in position to have a better chance to score,” say Scheppler, a very successful high school coach for 37 years with six state titles under his belt.
What was especially difficult for Scheppler was the way Lin was perceived last year as an inconsistent shooter. His stats might support that, but Scheppler disagrees with the perception. “They don’t realize he’s a GREAT shooter. In drills, he hits threes at an 80 percent rate. Then in games, how many shots did he get? Well, he’s got to get the ball in his hands in order to shoot, doesn’t he? He shot 37 percent from three-point range last year, not the 75-80 he does in drills. He’s just too good a shooter to hit only 37 percent.”
Even though Lin has worked hard the past three years to cut down on turnovers, he’s still been criticized by the media. “These are writers who didn’t watch his games, writers who repeat the same tired stuff other writers do. What they don’t understand is that the last three years Jeremy faced teams that would chop him, hit him, and try to make him get rid of the ball. When they didn’t see any screens set for him, they’d trap him, which led to some of the turnovers. Basically, his last two coaches just left the poor kid on an island.”
Scheppler is confident that Lin fans will see a much-improved shooter this year, both because of Clifford’s uptempo style, and the two months the shooting coach spent with him this summer. “We worked on his jump shot,” Scheppler says. “Basically he was getting his shot off too slow. So we worked on speeding up his release. Another reason his shooting percentage was down last year was he got tired in games because he was putting too much power in his legs when he shot. We worked to correct that, too.”
Lin and his coach also watched the NBA Finals together and there were lessons to be learned there. “Jeremy would watch Curry and he’d say to me, ‘I want to shoot quick and efficiently with my release like him, like Kyrie does.”
In comparing Clifford to Lin’s previous three coaches, Scheppler says there’s really no comparison. “We’re excited about Charlotte because he’s going to get to play for a true coach, not some former player who just poses on the bench; not a former player who never trained to be a coach, like Woodson, McHale, and Scott. They weren’t taught how to coach. Clifford started coaching in high school. Then he was head coach for a Division III school, and an assistant for both Division I schools and in the NBA. Clifford is a real coach, who knows how to win. He understands sound principles and gets his team to buy in.”
Scheppler tempered expectations for Lin fans this year by saying, “Will we see Linsanity? No. But we’ll see a Jeremy who can be a very productive player for 30 minutes a night. I just want him to be happy.”
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