Statistically and analytically, the Houston Rockets play their best lineups when they don’t include Jeremy Lin. However, the decision to pretty much give up on his importance and contribution, while handing the team over completely to James Harden and his sidekick, the overrated Patrick Beverley.
Things change quickly in the NBA, especially when you have a head coach who is out to get you. I’m not saying Kevin McHale made a decision at the beginning of last season to derail Lin’s career, but it’s quite clear that he and his coaching staff don’t hold him in high regard, and prefer to spend as much time as possible with him on the bench or not playing next to key players.
Lin had a very good stretch in late January and early February. Beverley not playing, or Harden not playing, didn’t just make him look very good, but the entire Rockets team play like a completely different team. But the last couple of weeks? Since the loss to the Golden State Warriors, it seems like Lin has been demoted. A team with only him as a viable backup guard (not just point guard) should play him a bit more than 17-to-20 minutes a night, but he’s averaging only 19.5 minutes over the last four games.
And when you get to that point, it’s hard to stand out, especially when it’s a player like Lin. Numbers are nice, but some players aren’t measured by stats. As Stan Van Gundy said during the Sloan Sports Analytics conference, statistics and analytics are very nice but they don’t always mean that much. Some things can only be seen by watching and understanding, and not from looking at box scores and digested stat columns.
Maybe if Lin was different he’d be making it about scoring 10-12 points during the 15-20 minutes he has on the floor; take a page from the James Harden book. But Lin isn’t that kind of player, in term of personality and his abilities. He’s an excellent passer and penetrates as well as Harden, but he doesn’t have that ability to draw fouls and finish near the rim while three bodies are banging at him.
It doens’t make him less of a player, or any less important to the Rockets, but he has fallen into certain perceptions it is hard to shake. A bad defender for example. When Beverley started getting more minutes last season, he was referred to as a good defender. But we’ve seen how badly he’s done this season against quality players. Maybe there’s more of a pesky quality to him Lin doesn’t, but he’s more than slightly overrated as a defender.
When a team wins, it’s hard to argue with a head coach and his decisions. The Rockets have dropped a game to the Clippers because of that hero-ball McHale is so proud of, but Harden isn’t measured by the same rigid standards Lin is. When a player has to be perfect to get minutes and even that doesn’t help, there’s not much left for him to do but actually hope, deep inside, that someone on this team gets injured so his minutes go up and his importance is revealed again.
But Lin isn’t like this; he understands the situation, which isn’t helping him play any better due to the shakiness of his minutes, the lineups he’s with and obviously being affected by the depreciation of his standing in the eyes of his coach for whatever reason McHale has. When the Rockets get knocked out of the playoffs because they didn’t have a confident point guard to help them out, it won’t be surprising if for some reason the fingers will be pointed at Lin, instead of where they really should be directed.