When the Houston Rockets signed Jeremy Lin from the New York Knicks last season, for a moment there it looked like someone believes in him enough to slowly build a team around him. The trade that brought over James Harden changed everything, including the expectations, overnight, while Lin was pushed aside in favor of the usual superstar-like basketball the NBA always directs itself towards.
Lin isn’t going to be a point guard who averages 26.8 points and 8.5 assists like he did during his initial six-game rise to prominence with the New York Knicks back in February 2012. But he also isn’t the guy who was a non-factor against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs, partially limited by a chest injury that kept him out of two games, and prevented him from actually playing well for the entire first round series.
The Rockets aren’t sure if they’re going to try and make a move for both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, but they definitely want one of them. A trade for Paul means Lin might also be moved to another team. It’s hard to imagine him sitting behind both Harden and Paul, both very dominant players who need the ball in their hands most of the time, and not getting too many minutes. Even if he is used in some sort of sixth-man extended role next to one of them, it’s not going to be any different than it was for most of this season next to Harden.
Lin averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 assists on his first season as a full-time starter. Could it have been better? Probably. Lin came into the season as the point guard for the Houston Rockets, but as it progressed, James Harden took more and more control of the ball, and Lin was pushed aside to the shooting guard role. He was still starting, but his minutes doing what he’s actually good at, ball handling and calling the plays on the court, were very limited.
Were the Houston Rockets better off without Harden? Of course not. No one on the Rockets can create the points Harden did during the season, and while Lin had his moments for short 3-4 game stretches, putting up impressive numbers, he’s not the scorer and dominant offensive player, or inclined to have dominant stretches on defense, like Harden does. He’s a more classic point guard, who makes his teammates better, but needs the ball in his hand to do so.
Harden doesn’t want to be a regular shooting guard, who moves off screens and waits for the right moment to attack the basket. He’s about being the play from start to finish, and often wasting away the clock before taking a tough shot. True, he’s one of the best in the NBA when doing that, but at times, and especially in the final month of the season, as the Rockets lost four of their final six games, it looked like his ways, forced upon the team, are doing more harm than good.
Lin is better than the role it seems the Rockets have him set up for. Some even say Patrick Beverly, more fitting the “style” Kevin McHale wants the Rockets to run, might overtake him as the starting point guard. If that style means giving up on any kind of thought process and simply beating guys off the dribble, than they have their man. If they’re envisioning the few moments that the Rockets played the right kind of basketball, with spacing, motion and passing, Lin isn’t someone they should consider demoting.
It doesn’t look like James Harden is going to change, and neither is Kevin McHale. The NBA is a superstar oriented league, and even if you hear the Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey speaking and praising Jeremy Lin, they can’t allow him to enforce his style of basketball on the floor, which actually works better for most of the players on the Rockets, because that means showing James Harden that he isn’t the big star at all times. From what we’ve seen so far, Harden is relishing to keep up the hierarchy he had going on during his first season outside the shadow of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The future looks bright for the Houston Rockets, with or without Jeremy Lin. They have a chance to make some big moves in free agency, which will make them into a team that’s aiming a little bit higher than 7th or 8th in the Western conference. Lin? He’s good enough to be a starter in this league, even if it takes some growing pains from him and the team willing to give him the reins. He’ll never be the kind of player James Harden is, but from the short moments we’ve seen Lin as a leading player, it’s hard to believe anyone will regret putting that kind of responsibility on him.