Where Do Rockets' James Harden and Jeremy Lin Rank Among NBA's Best Backcourts?
The Houston Rockets' recent acquisition of James Harden combined with the offseason signing of Jeremy Lin elevates their backcourt to being one of the most exciting and most interesting, if not the most unique-looking. But where does it fit among the best?
Part of the dilemma comes in determining what the Rockets actually have because it's not clear that either player is a superstar, though it's also possible that both could be.
On some level you can argue that they are one of the very best. Jeremy Lin's PER of 19.9 was 14th in the NBA among all guards who played at least 500 minutes. James Harden's was 21.1. That gives them a total PER of 41.0.
Only three backcourts in the NBA this year have a better combined PER based on last year's numbers. Those two teams are the San Antonio Spurs with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (46.1), the Los Angeles Clippers with Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups (43.1) and the Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, (42.2).
There are a a few issues with that kind of reasoning though. First, it's hard to ascertain how much the PER of either player is valid. Lin had a remarkable run, but once that run ended he wasn't nearly as special.
Beginning with the Miami game, Lin averaged just 14.5 points and 6.5 assists per game on .393 shooting. Of course the flip-side of that is that the Lin from "Linsanity" was really Lin playing also. It's not any more accurate to judge him without those games than it is to judge him exclusively on those games.
Harden also raises reasons for suspicion. While he put up some valid numbers there's a lot to be curious about. Harden coming off the bench for the Thunder meant that one of two things was true. Either he was the first option against second-tier talent or he was the second or third option against first-rate talent.
As a result, this question should be raised: Can Harden be the first option on a team? To be fair to Harden, he's established as much as humanly possible that he can without having actually done so, Heat series notwithstanding.
Furthermore there's the question of how well they will play together. Can they mesh?
Based on their personalities, it would seem that they can. They have the right combination of confidence and humility. They have enough confidence to take the shot when they need to and enough humility to pass when they shouldn't.
Where do Lin and Harden rank in the NBA as a backcourt tandem?
At minimum, Lin is an average to slightly below average point guard, and Harden is a top 10 shooting guard in the league. At best Lin is top 10 and Harden is the third-best shooting guard behind Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade.
Combined it's reasonable to see about 40 points and 13 assists coming form the pair if Jeremy Lin gets 15 and eight and Harden goes for 25 and five. How many backcourts can combine for that kind of production?
Certainly the three previously mentioned duos can exceed that as the Lakers, Clippers and Spurs backcourts will all shatter those numbers. The Nets tandem of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson should score more, though perhaps the assist numbers won't be quite the same. Those four teams clearly have a better tandem.
After that there's another grouping that includes the Milwuakee Bucks' pair of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, the Warriors' duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Nuggets' Ty Lawson with new backcourt teammate Andre Iguodala and the new Thunder pairing of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin.
With so many new backcourts set to play together it's hard to precisely rank them, but should the Rockets new duo work well together, it's easy to see them being a top 10 backcourt. Feasibly they are probably closer to being in the top five than out of the top 10.
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