The Houston Rockets’ big Jeremy Lin problem is being ignored right now for three reasons. One, the season is still too far away for anyone besides the most dedicated of hoops fans to care. Two, the Dwight Howard signing has stolen most of the headlines in Houston. And three, whereas Omer Asik made no bones about airing out his dissatisfaction with the role Daryl Morey apparently envisions him playing, Lin is a lot more low key. Having played with the prima donnas that New York breeds on annual basis, the 24-year-old is content with letting situations figure themselves out rather than forcing them.
All of that being said – the Rockets still have a Jeremy Lin problem.
Last year, Morey signed Lin and Asik under the impression that he was developing a core for the future. It’s no secret that both he and Kevin McHale covet big men, so the natural expectation was that Houston would pursue Dwight Howard or someone of his ilk. Things got turned upside-down, however, when the Oklahoma City Thunder decided it was time to move James Harden. That unforeseen development radically changed the make-up of the Rockets, and it goes some ways in explaining why the team’s backcourt never quite meshed the way it needed to.
Neither Lin nor Harden are off the ball players. They’re also not defensive stoppers or spot up shooters. They play at their best when they have the rock and are able to control the offense. Because there are two of them and only one ball, something had to give last season. What ultimately ended up giving was Lin’s usage. Harden had a 29 percent usage percentage last year – ninth highest in the league.
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Harden’s high usage rate resulted in two things: 1.) Him averaging 26 points and six assists per game, and 2.) him leading the league in turnovers.
Those facts are indicative of precisely why he has and will continue to get to dominate the ball despite the fact that Lin needs it to be successful: he is a far better scorer than Lin, a marginally worse distributor and his turnover rate, albeit worse than Lin’s, comes off more time with the ball. For comparison’s sake: Lin was tenth in the NBA in turnovers last year, despite averaging six minutes few per outing than Harden and having a usage of 20.8 percent.
So, where does that leave us? If Harden dominating the ball isn’t going to change (and it can’t, because he isn’t a good enough shooter to play off the ball), then where do the Rockets go from here? Well, they can trade Lin to one of these places where he’d be a fantastic fit. Or, and seeing as they currently have no takers for his services, this seems like the more logical option, they can have him come off the bench.
For all of the hate Lin receives because of how inherently polarizing he is, it’s worth noting that he is still a solid point guard when you put him in a position to succeed – which Houston frequently didn’t last year. Mind you, this guy had a 29 percent assist percentage, better than Harden, and a 49 percent effective shooting percentage, only slightly worse than Harden. If you even partially attribute his meh turnover percentage last year to him being unable to get into a flow as a result of Harden dominating the ball so much, then you can see why folks would be very comfortable letting him lead the second team.
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Plus, Patrick Beverley is the anti-Harden/Lin – he doesn’t need the ball to be successful. So while he isn’t your standard, classic point guard, he complements Harden’s style rather than doubling up on it.
In the end, despite the fact that Morey clearly wants to move both Asik and Lin, having to relegate them to the second unit and hoping they can turn Houston’s bench into the league’s best might end up being a best case scenario for all involved.