James Harden’s monumental debut for the Houston Rockets just further underscores the point that Jeremy Lin is a better fit in the backcourt with Harden than Russell Westbrook was. It all boils down to the different mentalities of Westbrook and Lin, and how each complement’s Harden’s suave game.
Westbrook is an absolute force of nature. But as we know, sometimes he gets sucked into his own vortex at the expense of letting his teammates create. It was an especially awkward situation for Harden, because when Westbrook forced himself to give the ball up, the first option was always going to be Kevin Durant.
That’s why Harden excelled at coming off the bench in Oklahoma City.
As a reserve, he could get into the game and immediately take control of the offense. He was a better creator than Westbrook and showed more of his passing acumen tonight as he racked up a career best 12 assists. While sharing the floor with Westbrook, it was always Russell who dominated the ball, even when Harden’s surgical pick-and-roll attack was picking defenses apart.
Alongside Lin, Harden gets a much bigger chance to shine. Lin isn’t the type to jack up quick shots for four possessions in a row a la Westbrook at times. Lin is a smart dude—after all, he did go to Harvard—and knows that Harden should get a chance to create Houston’s offense as much as himself.
Not only does that get Harden going, it also takes a lot of pressure off of Lin to be the sole playmaker. As a result, the entire team’s efficiency rises and that’s exactly what we saw tonight as the Rockets shot nearly 50 percent from the floor and put 105 points on the board away from home.
We know that Harden is a handful with the ball in his hands, but he can be deadly without the ball as well. Lin will also free up Harden more off the ball with his penetrate-and-pitch game. We got a good glimpse of that tonight in the third quarter when Lin found Harden with a slick bounce pass for a two-handed jam.
Harden won’t be in the MVP conversation at season’s end, but playing in the same backcourt as Lin will open up a lot more opportunities for him to show off his complete offensive arsenal. Tonight was just a preview of what a powerful pairing Houston’s two guards will make this season.