If the Houston Rockets were a team that’s run and coached the right way, Jeremy Lin wouldn’t have to wonder about his role and position on the floor. James Harden would be a star shooting guard that isn’t too busy trying to handle the ball too much, and Kevin McHale wouldn’t be using Patrick Beverley in the starting lineup or for so many minutes in general. But the last season and a bit are showing us that things are very different in South East Texas.
James Harden might be missing yet another game due to his sore left foot. Is that good for the Rockets? It shouldn’t be. Teams missing their top scorer shouldn’t be playing better without him. But there’s a problem with Harden this season, growing in magnitude compared to last year, when the game plan to simply give him the ball and wait for something to happen hurt the Rockets late in the season, maybe costing them a spot or two in the Western Conference playoffs.
Jeremy Lin should be benefiting from Harden not being on the floor, but Patrick Beverley gets more of the ball than Lin for some reason. Why? Kevin McHale and Daryl Morey see basketball in a certain way, and through that view Lin is turned into something of a spot up shooter. Even if he is the best passer on the team; even if he’s the guy who should be handling the ball on fast breaks instead of Harden or Beverley who love to slow things down.
Last season, there were two games that made the Rockets fall in love with this fake image of Harden being good for the Rockets no matter what he does – the 121-96 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on December 22, and three days later a 120-97 win over the Chicago Bulls. Harden was at his most aggressive and efficient in those two games, combining to shoot 61.5% from the field, thinking quickly against two of the best defenses in the NBA.
Since that day, his belief that holding onto the ball for long periods of time is what’s good for him and the Rockets has done an equal amount of harm and good. Jeremy Lin was excellent in those two games, dishing out 11 assists in both of them. The Rockets played fast, with energy on defense and from their leader, allowing Lin to play in a way that suits him and the team better than anything. Having Dwight Howard on the roster shouldn’t change that.
It’s not too late for the Rockets to rise above the mediocrity of early this season, symbolized by Harden’s insistence to play like he’s alone on the floor and provide zero leadership and example on defense, which a lot of times isn’t about athleticism and schemes, but simply about motivation and effort. Jeremy Lin isn’t some messiah or savior. He’s just a very good player who is criminally misused by a ordinary head coach who knows only how to put the ball in his superstar’s hands and hope for the best. That is recipe for playoffs and an early exit, while the Rockets have the potential for so much more.