Jeremy Lin, New York Knicks point guard and Harvard economics graduate, has become an overnight sensation. He has averaged almost 27 points and 8 assists per game over the past five Knicks games(all wins), including 38 against Kobe and the Lakers last Friday night. It may sound strange but the Eastern Conference, home of LeBron James and reigning MVP Derrick Rose, needs Lin, who Magic Johnson compared to Steve Nash and John Stockton.
Magic Johnson and Steve Nash are arguably the NBA’s two best point guards in the past 35 years and they played in the West. Outstanding point guards raise their team’s offensive efficiency by creating better shot opportunities and increasing shooting percentages. Magic’s Lakers led the NBA in effective shooting percentage six times in the 1980s and never ranked lower than third in the league. Nash’s Suns led the NBA in shooting for six straight seasons from 2005 to 2010 until Tony Parker’s Spurs led the league in 2011 (four of the top five teams last year were from the West).
Over the past 32 years the average Western Conference team generated 0.8 more assists per game, made 1/2 of one percent more of their shots, had 1.3 more possessions and scored 2.4 more points per game than their Eastern Conference rivals. (All of these differences are statistically significant with probability values less than .00001). The Western Conference has been the home of more efficient offenses, as the result of better point guard play, since the introduction of the three point basket.
The Nets will probably lose Deron Williams, their star point guard, if they do not attract Dwight Howard to Brooklyn. Another outstanding Eastern Conference point guard, Rajon Rondo, has been the subject of trade rumors since the lockout ended. The East/West imbalance in point guard play will be exacerbated if Williams or Rondo moves to a team in the West. But if Jeremy Lin continues on the pace he established in the past five games, the East will begin to narrow an offensive efficiency gap that has lasted for years.