The pick-and-roll has become something of a starmaker in the NBA over the years, far more so than P. Diddy ever was during his stint on MTV. It transformed Steve Nash's career from that of a solid point guard to that of a two-time MVP and first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. So, too, did it deliver Amar'e Stoudemire, Nash's favorite find with the Phoenix Suns, to a $100-million contract with the New York Knicks in July of 2010.
And, of course, it turned Jeremy Lin, STAT's ex-teammate at Madison Square Garden, into an overnight sensation.
You might say that coach Mike D'Antoni, as the other common thread tying these three together, is more responsible for their respective success stories. However, it's his prominent employment of the pick-and-roll in a point-guard-heavy system that helped to elevate the former two years ago and has since landed the latter a $25.1-million pact with the Houston Rockets.
Whether you think Linsanity will be a success in Space City or, like ESPN's Chris Broussard, you believe that Rockets owner Les Alexander misappropriated his money, it's clear that Lin will have to butter his bread in Houston the same way he did in the Big Apple—with the pick-and-roll.
Lin's combination of quickness, vision, patience with the ball, mid-range shooting and ability to read defenses on the fly makes him an ideal candidate to operate in the two-man game. According to Grantland alumnus Sebastian Pruiti, Lin ran the pick-and-roll on 42.5 percent of his possessions with the Knicks last season.
A number that should hold steady if Kyle Lowry's proclivity patterns under Rockets head coach Kevin McHale are any indication. As Pruiti points out, Lin and Lowry, who's since been traded to the Toronto Raptors, resemble one another quite closely as far as where they tend to initiate the pick-and-roll, whether or not they use the screen and whether they pass or shoot.
As such, Lin would seem (at least on paper) to be a perfect fit for McHale's system in Houston. Granted, Lin wasn't quite as successful in the pick-and-roll last season as Lowry was—0.969 points per possession (PPP) as a pick-and-roll scorer and a PPP of 0.919 in all pick-and-roll situations for Lowry, compared to PPPs of 0.797 and 0.893 (respectively) for Lin—but he's younger than Kyle and, more importantly for the Rockets, he brings the added wattage of being a readymade international sensation.
Not to mention the fact that Lowry and McHale were known to butt heads in H-Town.
So far, Lin's preseason stats haven't been particularly pretty. In four games, he's averaging all of 5.8 points on a miserable 25 percent from the field, including a big, fat 0-fer from three-point range.
On the bright side, Lin's racked up 6.5 assists against just 2.3 turnovers, highlighted by a 12-assist, two-turnover performance in his last outing against the Memphis Grizzlies.
And, in his defense, it's only the preseason and Lin's still adjusting to a new(ish) role on a new(ish) team on a new(ish) city—"ish" because the Rockets were the last team to cut him from their training camp roster last year before he broke out in the Big Apple.
More importantly, this marks the first time in his young career that Jeremy has come into a training camp not only with a guaranteed gig, but also as the starter from Day 1. It's one thing to splash onto the scene for 26 games during a compressed schedule; it's another entirely to gear up for an 82-game slate with a full complement of practices.
There are some positive signs that he's learning to run the pick-and-roll with a cast of characters whose collective talent pales in comparison to that of the one he left behind in New York. Here, NBA TV personalities Mike Fratello and Brevin Knight break down two of Lin's most common plays from his Knicks days: the left-side pick-and-roll and the high pick-and-roll.
Unfortunately, for Lin, he has neither a slam-dunk savant like Stoudemire nor a near-record field-goal finisher like Tyson Chandler on hand in Houston. To his credit, though, Jeremy is making due with the hand he's been dealt.
So far, Omer Asik has proven to be one of his most popular targets, even though his past performance would suggest he shouldn't be. According to Hoopdata, Asik connected on just 52 percent of his attempts at the rim last season—the seventh-worst mark among centers who played at least 10 minutes per game in no fewer than 10 outings.
Handling passes has never been Asik's specialty, either, as his turnover rate—the fifth-highest among centers, per Hoopdata—would suggest.
Yet, Asik has shown himself to be solid as a pick-and-roll big in a starting role with the Rockets to this point. Here, he and Lin set up for a side pick-and-roll set similar to the first one broken down by Fratello and Knight:
The defense swarms to Lin up top, closing out any easy opportunity for him to drive to the basket. In the process, though, the Thunder defenders leave Asik open under the basket. Lin whips a quick pass to the former Chicago Bulls big man, who bobbles it at first but is eventually able to gather and go up for an easy hook shot.
Not the prettiest of finishes, but the points count all the same. The fact that Asik was able to complete that play at all is a testament to the work that McHale and former Rockets staple Carroll Dawson have done with him since the Turkish import signed a "poison pill" contract of his own this summer.
This next play, which mirrors the second discussed in the NBA TV breakdown, is a much more aesthetically-pleasing example of the sweet music that Lin and Asik can make together in the two-man game.
In this instance, Lin and Asik set up for the high pick-and-roll, with Asik setting a softer screen. Doing so gives Lin more room to force the defenders to think about what to do, and the more that's on their minds, the more likely they'll be to make mistakes.
Again, Lin is swarmed by three players (this time from the San Antonio Spurs), which leaves Asik wide open as he rolls to the basket. Lin delivers a pinpoint bounce pass, which Asik snags while on the move and flushes home with a two-handed slam.
The chemistry between Lin and Asik—and the rest of the Rockets' bigs, for that matter—only figures to improve over time, as they play together and become better acquainted with one another. Lin will have the leeway to grow in the two-man game alongside Houston's stash of young bigs, from Asik, Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons to the rookie trio of Terrence Jones, Royce White and Donatas Motiejunas.
Capturing the attention of the basketball world without the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler on his side will be no easy feat for Lin, even less so given Houston's dim prospects for success this season. There will be growing pains galore as this roster, reshuffled by GM Daryl Morey in a desperate attempt to land Dwight Howard this summer, loses early, loses often and loses big.
By the same token, Lin won't have to concern himself with quite the same kerfuffle on the periphery that seemed to swarm his every step with the Knicks. Instead, he'll be free to work out the kinks throughout a 2012-13 season that was lost long before it ever began.
Unless, of course, he struggles to live up to the hype later on in his contract, or fails so spectacularly in Year 1 that the Rockets have no other choice but to experiment with Scott Machado and Toney Douglas at the point.
Barring that, and assuming he improves as he becomes more comfortable in his new climes, Lin should be well on his way to proving to the naysayers that he's no worse than a serviceable pick-and-roll point guard, with the potential to be a player of far greater consequence than that on the court.
In any case, don't be surprised if Lin's starting in the All-Star Game come 2013. After all, the festivities will be in Houston this year, and Jeremy can all but count on a heap of ballots from East Asia, thanks in no small part to his Taiwanese-American heritage and the Rockets' own experience with getting Yao Ming voted in eight times.
Try pulling that off, Diddy.
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