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Breaking Down How Jeremy Lin and James Harden Will Thrive with the Pick-and-Roll

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Breaking Down How Jeremy Lin and James Harden Will Thrive with the Pick-and-Roll
Brett Deering/Getty Images

After trading for James Harden, the Houston Rockets' blueprint for success must consist of embracing the unorthodox.

Houston has an incredibly unique roster. Not only is there only one player over the age of 27, but the team is also void of truly talented athletic big men.

Though guys like Cole Aldrich, Omer Asik and Donatas Motiejunas have shown promise, none of them are proven slashers or have exhibited any type of explosiveness at all. This essentially means "softer" screens will be necessary for them to create the spacing they need in order to get to the rim on time.

And that doesn't always work.

This poses a problem, because it makes the incorporation of the pick-and-roll extremely difficult. 

Soft screens such as these won't always work.

Think back to all the great pick-and-roll duos, or just take a look at the most prolific tandems in the NBA today—what do they all generally have in common?

A point guard and a big man.

The Rockets don't have that. Their bona fide big men aren't exactly the epitome of being mobile and guys like Terrence Jones and Royce White thrive on the ball, not off it.

So what's a point guard—or rather, Jeremy Lin—to do?

Enter Harden.

A look at the pick-and-roll Lin used to run with Tyson Chandler.

No, the former Oklahoma City Thunder star isn't a center or even a forward, but he possesses key qualities—like explosion and a penchant for slashing—that are essential of the big man's half of the pick-and-roll.

Is a guard-guard pairing within such a strategy unorthodox?

Yes, but that doesn't mean it won't work, because it will. Even after the Harden trade, Houston still isn't a legitimate contender, but it does have a formidable pick-and-pop duo in Harden and Lin.

 

How will these two backcourt peers come to thrive under such circumstances?

That starts with Lin.

Though the point guard can often be erratic with the ball, he's a deft penetrator and subsequently great at initiating the pick-and-roll. 

That said, the overnight sensation has had well-documented issues with controlling the rock when he's forced toward the weak side. So when he goes left, he often commits turnovers, puts up a bad shot or kicks it outside to the trailing big man who hasn't had time enough to move closer toward the basket.

But Harden isn't a big man, which means that he can capitalize off Lin's weakness. 

Harden's range will be essential to successful pick-and-rolls with Lin.

When teams attempt to trap Lin on the left side, he no longer has to worry about letting the play develop. Harden is no stranger to outside looks—he shot a combined 46.5 percent when more than 10 feet away from the basket—which means Lin can kick the ball out to him much earlier if he runs into trouble.

And that's going to be the biggest difference between a conventional pick-and-roll attack.

Sure, Harden is a great finisher at the rim, but that's a requirement. His versatile skill-set, though, is not.

Defenses will be reluctant to double Lin in pick-and-roll scenarios because they'll be forced to respect both Harden's rim attacking skills and perimeter shooting. That, in turn, will loosen up lanes and create porous interior defensive sets, leaving Lin with a relatively clear path to the basket.

However, forcing and subsequently doubling Lin on the weak side will often prove too good to pass up. After all, thus far, getting the ball out of his hands when he moves toward his left has been almost too easy.

Lin's inability to go left is no longer a pressing issue with Harden by his side.

But that's exactly where Harden will make defenses pay, and help he and Lin thrive. He can play the role of a perimeter shooting trailer, giving his point guard a closer option, one he is more likely to utilize before taking a bad shot or committing an ill-advised turnover.

And he can also play the role of the initiator. He's a stellar ball-handler with superior court vision, who not only averaged 3.7 dimes per contest last season, but also jump-started countless pick-and-rolls with big man Nick Collison.

Will Jeremy Lin and James Harden become a formidable pick-and-roll duo?

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Throw in the fact that Lin knocked down nearly 46 percent of his field-goal attempts between 10 and 23 feet away from the basket last season, and you have one of the few interchangeable pick-and-roll combos, not unlike that of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

It also gives Lin the luxury of playing off the ball more, a frivolity he wasn't afforded while with the New York Knicks or in the early goings of his tenure with the Rockets.

Which is huge, and renders this an extremely lethal backcourt pairing.

So, while the Harden-Lin pick-and-roll combo is anything but typical, the Rockets are an atypically constructed unit, making the implementation of alternative tactics a necessity if they are to succeed offensively.

And courtesy of a versatile and usual, bordering on eccentric, pick-and-roll attack, offensive success is finally within reach.

 

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