Jeremy Lin's Inability to Defend Will Make Him Sunk Cost for Houston Rockets
There's a lot to like about Jeremy Lin's prospects of success with the Houston Rockets, especially now that he'll be paired up with James Harden for the foreseeable future. Linsanity will have the privilege of playing in a point-guard-friendly, pick-and-roll-heavy system under Kevin McHale, one in which he may well develop into a bona fide star on the court.
Or, at least, live up to the three years and $25.2 million that Rockets GM Daryl Morey poured into his pockets this summer.
This, despite a slovenly preseason in which Lin appeared still bothered by the knee operation he underwent in early April that ended his magical run with the New York Knicks prematurely.
Defense, though, remains a glaring concern, one that could render Lin a drain on Houston's financial resources and prospects for success.
Statistically speaking, Lin did some things surprisingly well on the defensive end during his abbreviated tenure in the Big Apple.
According to ESPN's John Hollinger, Lin ranked seventh among point guards in steals and 15th in blocks, and checked in 13th in defensive rebounding among floor generals who logged at least 20 minutes per game in no fewer than 10 contests last season (per Hoopdata).
Overall, the Knicks allowed slightly fewer points per 100 possessions with Lin than they did without him.
But context is everything in basketball, and the context of Lin's defensive metrics shift the tenor of the tale somewhat. A hefty helping of Lin's minutes came when Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony—two of the worst defensive forwards in the NBA—were sidelined, either separately or at the same time.
When those two were healthy with Lin at point guard, the Knicks yielded more than 100 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball Value).
Of course, Lin wouldn't be the first player to have his defensive numbers dragged down by Stoudemire and Anthony. Even Tyson Chandler, the 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year, couldn't escape their negative impact on that end of the floor.
The bigger concern stems from the way in which Lin was torched by opposing point guards, elite and otherwise. Here's a sampling of the numbers he yielded pre-knee injury last season:
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Rajon Rondo: 18 points, 17 rebounds, 20 assists
Deron Williams: 38 points, four rebounds, six assists
Derrick Rose: 32 points, six rebounds, seven assists
Tony Parker: 32 points, six assists
Kyrie Irving: 22 points, three rebounds, seven assists
To be fair, these guys all rank among the best of the best in the NBA. Perhaps these stats, from second- and third-tier floor generals, might shed some light on the situation:
John Wall: 29 points, one rebound, six assists
Jose Calderon: 25 points, seven rebounds, nine assists
Greivis Vasquez: 15 points, one rebound, 11 assists
Jason Kidd: 15 points (a ton for him), four rebounds, six assists
Brandon Jennings: 25 points, five rebounds, 10 assists
The point is, Lin played significant time in 26 games last season (25 as a starter) and was lit up in no fewer than 10 of them. In Lin's defense, there are only a handful of players at any position who can lock down point guards night in and night out, especially in today's distributor-dominant league.
That being said, Lin's move to the Western Conference will do him no favors in this regard. Nor is anyone about to take it easy on a guy who, though relatively quick on his feet, has difficulty staying in front of his man.
He'll see plenty of Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Ty Lawson, Steve Nash, Mike Conley, Isaiah Thomas, rookie Damian Lillard and (in due time) Ricky Rubio, along with all of his other tormentors whenever the Rockets venture East.
He needn't anticipate too much help from James Harden, either. For all of his offensive talents, Harden has never been known as a defensive dynamo, particularly when it comes to his slow-footedness in help situations.
But there may be hope for Lin yet. At the very least, he'll be free to lean on support from Omer Asik, who was a spectacular front-line defender with the Chicago Bulls and could be an All-Defensive performer in his new role in Houston.
What's Jeremy Lin's biggest weakness?
Let's not forget, either, that Lin is still all of 24 years old. He'll have every opportunity to learn the finer points of defense and step up his game in that regard in the seasons to come, just as Harden will on the wing.
Lin may never be an elite perimeter defender, but he at least has the potential to be passable. And if he plays well enough on the other end and the Rockets evolve into a winning outfit, it'll be easier to overlook his shortcomings to some extent.
That's a big IF at this point, though. Any improvement by Lin on the defensive end remains purely speculative until further notice.
Or until Halloween, when Lin will get a heavy dose of Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum from the Detroit Pistons.
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