How James Harden Will Impact Jeremy Lin's Success with Houston Rockets
Now that James Harden is traveling southbound from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets, Jeremy Lin's success will hinge on one of the few beards that is actually more impressive than teammate Royce White's John Lennon-inspired follicular foliage.
The deal that swapped Harden, Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward and Cole Aldrich for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and a number of future draft picks obviously has huge ramifications for the team that lost to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals, but it's all about Linsanity here.
Unfortunately for the talented young point guard, that's no longer the case in Houston, a city and market that simply isn't big enough to fully support two crazes. The Beard and the former Harvard floor general will both have cult followings, but neither will reach their 2011-12 levels of meme generation, media craziness and tweet inspiration while in their new mutual home.
That's about the only negative part of this trade for Lin, though. On the court, he's about to play with a new teammate who complements him perfectly.
After all, if Harden can score points in bunches while sharing the rock with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, he most certainly can do the same south of the Red River with a decidedly less impressive cast of teammates surrounding him.
So, how does the reigning Sixth Man of the Year impact his new point guard?
On this end of the court, Harden won't disrupt the Rockets' general reliance on the pick-and-roll game while he and Lin are both on the floor. As is the case with the point guard, Harden excels when handling the ball in PnR situations.
Expect to see Omer Asik and the other Houston bigs come out to the perimeter to set screens even more frequently now that the backcourt has a new and improved member.
However, how these two guards go about their business after coming off a screen is entirely different, although both are excellent distributors. Whereas Lin prefers to go right—or possibly doesn't prefer, but understands that going left is a huge mistake for him—Harden excels when he drives to the left.
Both players draw fouls seemingly at will thanks to their skill at penetrating into the interior of the defense, but Harden avoids the mid-range game like a plague, preferring to finish at the rim or pull up from the outside. Lin, meanwhile, thrives when he's given an opportunity to shoot a two-pointer from outside the paint.
The Beard is also completely averse to turnovers, while Lin has been known to rack them up. A lack of possession-ending mistakes from the shooting guard position was a necessity because of Lin's unfortunate tendency. His aggression creates turnovers, but it also makes plays, so it's better to pair him with a turnover-free 2-guard than ask him to change his game.
Efficiency is the theme du jour in the Rockets backcourt now, even when Lin is coughing the ball up.
Martin was better at avoiding turnovers than Harden during the 2011-12 campaign, but he was also far less efficient when it came to scoring. His true shooting percentage of 55.4 paled in comparison to Harden's 66.0 mark, which ESPN's John Hollinger says "sits firmly in you've-gotta-be-kidding-me territory."
Harden's ability to capitalize on almost every one of his possessions ensures that Lin is still able to maintain control of the ball, for the most part, in Kevin McHale's offense.
And that, as Houston fans will soon come to realize, is a wonderful thing for the success of this team.
This facet of the game is much harder to judge right off the bat because we're still learning just how good each of these two young guards is at preventing points.
Harden's defense was solid but nothing special with the Oklahoma City Thunder. We just don't know how much of the lack of excellence stemmed from Scott Brook's insistence on matching up his sixth man supreme against the opposition's premier wing player to preserve Westbrook and Durant.
Regardless of where he lies on the spectrum from solid to great, Harden is an immediate upgrade over Martin, who was somewhat of a matador on the defensive end of the court, essentially ushering players into the lane.
As for Lin, he also appeared to be a plus-defender with the New York Knicks, but he certainly had his flaws. Speed killed him, as did his own tendency to gamble.
According to NBA.com's advanced stats, the Knicks allowed 2.3 fewer points per 100 possessions when the point guard was on the court than when he was resting on the pine. Some of that success may have been artificial, though, as a few of the Knicks' best defenders were nursing injuries during the peak of Linsanity.
Harden's arrival in Houston won't impact Lin specifically on defense because Harden isn't a good enough defender to draw the matchup when a stud point guard comes to town, and Lin isn't big enough to slide over to slow shooting guards.
Although there isn't an individual impact, the Rockets' overall defensive prowess in the backcourt certainly went up a notch with this move.
Even when specifically discussing the impact of this move on Lin, it's not just about how he as an individual is affected. The most pressing questions still deal with the overall impact on the Houston Rockets.
Let's just say that acquiring an All-Star is never a bad thing, especially when giving up an aging starter, an unproven rookie and some draft picks for him. I recently ranked Harden as the No. 17 player in the NBA, and there's some serious potential for him to move up now that he's the go-to guy on his team.
Harden had an undeniably positive impact on the Thunder during their run to the 2012 Finals. Per NBA.com's stats, the team outscored opponents by 9.8 points per 100 possessions when the shooting guard was on the court, as opposed to just 3.1 when he was catching his breath.
And those numbers take into account the fact that Durant and Westbrook, two of the league's unquestioned superstars, spent quite a bit of time on the court while Harden was not.
Now that Harden is changing jerseys, Lin no longer has to be "the guy." Harden gives him a necessary respite from that role, as there are now multiple players on the roster who can flat-out take over for stretches.
While Lin's stats will decline slightly, his efficiency will increase, as will the number of wins earned by this team during the 2012-13 season. Expecting a playoff spot might be a bit much in a brutally difficult Western Conference, but it's no longer out of the realm of possibility.
Daryl Morey finally landed the star he's been searching for, and the one he found is certainly a great fit alongside his media darling. Lin and Harden will play excellent basketball next to each other, but the search for complementary pieces can't be over yet in Houston.
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