On the surface, everything looks great. After missing the playoffs for three straight seasons, the Houston Rockets are back in the postseason, with a young and very promising core, led by James Harden, the obvious star and most talented player on this team, followed by Jeremy Lin, who isn’t as a gifted scorer like his backcourt teammate, but when you look deeper, is just as important to the team’s success.
The Rockets are hanging between sixth and seventh place in the West, with their game against the Los Angeles Lakers being a must win, while hoping the Golden State Warriors drop their final game of the season. The Lakers, if they do beat the Rockets, have a chance to finish sixth, as amazing as that sounds. But their recent loss to the Phoenix Suns was another example why in the long run, this whole Harden-Lin thing, the number one reason for the Rockets’ success in 2013, might not last very long.
It’s hard to tell if Kevin McHale is just a bad coach who brings his decisions from his home without the ability to try and change things during a game when he sees his original plan doesn’t work, or is this some larger agenda pushed down from the front office by Daryl Morey and others. The McHale plan works like this – put the ball in Harden’s hand, call isolation plays for him. From here it’s either Harden pulling up for jumpers, driving to the basket, hopefully getting to the line, and when he doesn’t feel confident enough in his shot, try and find the open man.
While players like Chandler Parsons (from long range) and Greg Smith or Omer Asik work very well in that system, which means they just need to wait for those passes when the double teams come Harden’s way. They can’t create points by themselves, although Parsons is improving in that aspect this season. Jeremy Lin? Despite all of the attempts to make him a spot up shooter, it won’t be happening any time soon.
Lin is a player who needs the ball in his hands to play to his full potential. Harden, unlike Lin, can do a pretty good job as a shooting guard as well. Lin is a better passer and knows how to draw defenses in by penetrating to the basket, leaving guys like Harden and the other mentioned players open for shots that are of a higher success rate than trying to turn Lin into a three-point specialist.
There are two theories on how to handle stars in the NBA – preferential treatment better, set a little bit higher than their teammates, or the everyone is equal things. Not just on the court, but off of it as well. Before and after the games. In the dressing room. It depends on the head coach, and how “hands on” he is with his players, and not in the sexual harassment kind of way.
McHale seems to be giving Harden the keys to the kingdom, even when it means he’ll have nights like a 5-18 he had against Phoenix, and generally his awful 40.3% from the field during April. While earlier this season the Rockets lost their two games without their biggest star, in April and March, they won twice in a row without him, with Lin getting the chance to pull the strings and the Rockets playing the kind of basketball that probably makes them a better team. About a couple of weeks past that point, and it looks like everything is back to “normal” – the Rockets live and die by the shooting ability of Harden, with no backup plan, which should be the main plan in the first place, to save them from Harden’s off nights.
Lin is signed until 2015, but if the Rockets continue to head in the direction of making him into a player spending too much time without the ball and out of his position/role, maybe just pondering about leaving to a different team might be something the people around him need to float around.