James Harden makes the players around him better.
More specifically, Harden has historically made the point guards around him better too. This was true with the Oklahoma City Thunder when he played next to Russell Westbrook, and it's true now with the Houston Rockets alongside Jeremy Lin.
When Harden arrived in Houston, the media frenzy that continued to surround Lin ceased somewhat. He was now the face of the Rockets franchise—the one who would put this team on the map.
Despite the decrease in hype, though, Lin's effectiveness has actually increased.
Lost in the "Hardensanity" that is currently running rampant throughout Houston is the point guard's impressive performance. Through the first three games of the season, Lin is averaging 15.3. points and 7.3 assists per game.
Yes, he is shooting just 39 percent from the field, but 28 percent of his possessions are resulting in assists, while just 12.8 percent are culminating in turnovers—metrics that trounce what he put up with the New York Knicks.
Lin is now also projected to finish the season with a higher PER than he did last season, and his 2.2 assists-to-turnover ratio is much higher than the 1.71 he posted in New York.
Could this merely be a coincidence or the result of Lin's maturation as a floor general?
Yes, it could.
But it's not.
Not completely anyways.
Much of it—if not all of it—has to do with Harden. Not only does he draw plenty of attention that frees up Lin to do what he needs to both off and on the ball, but he's a fantastic playmaker, whose teammates historically play much better with him on the floor.
Last season, in Oklahoma City, Harden was in every single one of the Thunder's top-10 five-man units with the highest effective field-goal percentage.
Kevin Durant and Westbrook, though, weren't.
They were conspicuously absent at points when the team was putting forth the most efficient offensive efforts.
But Harden wasn't.
Both his accuracy from the field and his precise passing allowed the Thunder to thrive, even when Durant and Westbrook were on the bench.
Now, Lin and the Rockets are the benefactors of such an offensive spark—someone who is absolutely instrumental to the team's offensive execution.
And you don't have to just look at Lin's stats to know it.
Just take a gander at Westbrook's. He is posting an impressive 21.3 points per game, but that has come on 38.1 shooting from the field and just a 18.2 percent conversion rate from behind the three-point line. All of those metrics, including his points per contest and his current 19.59 PER are lower than what he posted alongside Harden.
Is it still early?
Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder will likely get their Harden-less act together before long.
But the Rockets aren't struggling. Harden's impact has been immediate and his integration has been seamless.
Simply put, Houston is having a mush easier time incorporating Harden into their offensive scheme than Oklahoma City is having moving on, even with Kevin Martin lighting it up.
And that's exactly what Lin has needed—an offensive chameleon who is willing to do whatever it takes to make not just himself, but the players around him better.
Which is something Lin has never been exposed to.
Both Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire were prolific offensive weapons Lin was able to utilize with the Knicks, but neither was the well-rounded facilitator Harden has always been.
Subsequently, there's a reason why Houston was inclined to relinquish its leading scorer and a plethora of draft picks into the arms of Oklahoma City.
There's a reason the Rockets have suddenly found themselves the talk of the NBA.
There's a reason Lin is thriving and the outlook on his future appears a whole lot brighter.
That reason is Harden—the well-balanced athlete who has made it his mission to ensure his in-house peers are being utilized to the best of their offensive abilities—the star who has shifted the tide of an entire franchise overnight.
And yeah, the teammate who is going to make certain that Lin is not a fleeting, but a perpetual success.
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