With the Houston Rockets' hot start and the obsession over the two guys driving them to it, there's a lot to wonder about this James Harden-Jeremy Lin combo, which could knock even Tim Tebow out of the first 15 minutes of SportsCenter with a big night.
What is it about these two that makes them so intriguing? Well, on the surface, a basic response would be that Harden has a beard and looks funny while Lin is a Harvard grad of Taiwanese descent. A guy who is completely indifferent toward the NBA could watch each team at its peak and realize that there's something different about these two guys.
Going a bit deeper, there are obviously bigger reasons behind the fandom that has flocked after these two guys even as they moved to a different city.
Harden, a bench player for three years, was coming into his own in Oklahoma City and a big reason for its success. It was intriguing to see such a good player come off the bench.
Lin, meanwhile, has created a sort of cult of personality for himself. There's so much more than his heritage that makes him special (although he's easily the second-best player of any kind of Asian descent in NBA history). From his Harvard roots to his struggles in the D-League and getting cut by both Golden State and Houston to being the toast of New York City—it was almost too good to be true, but it was true.
There's a point, however, where Lin must move past the period of Linsanity that created his legend. There has to be an extended period of productive play that will make him more than just a flash in the pan, and realistically he's now in the best situation. Pairing him with Harden in the Rockets backcourt is going to make it possible for him to be more than a catchphrase.
The NBA is littered with guys who had a week or two of terrific ball in a big moment who were later forgotten. Boobie Gibson had his stellar 2007 playoffs with the Cavs, Flip Murray put up 20 points or more in 11 games for Seattle with Ray Allen out in 2003 and Bison Dele was a big part of Chicago's 1997 playoff run. Lin will probably be remembered more than these guys because he did it in New York City, but their fleeting time at the top is remembered nonetheless.
So what, exactly, does Harden bring to the table that will allow Lin to extend his career well beyond the pan-flashing Linsanity? Well, he makes this Rockets team good, for starters.
It's not exactly that Lin would have struggled with Kevin Martin as his running mate rather than Harden—just that the Rockets team as a whole wouldn't be nearly as good. There's a big difference between a Lin-led team that wins 32 games as he averages 19 points and five assists and a Harden-led team with Lin as the No. 2 that wins 42 games as Lin averages 15 points and seven assists.
Harden also gives Lin a running mate for one of the most exciting offenses in the league. Not only do they fit well together despite their similar styles, they're both smart enough to run the offense concurrently.
With an offense that turns heads, Lin is assured that people will keep looking. The more attention he gets for an extended period of time, the more people will realize that he is more than just a guy who had a few exceptional, albeit flawed, months in New York City in 2012.
The way this team has started makes it seem as if it'll be able to hang around and challenge for a playoff spot, meaning Lin will have started for a playoff team two years in a row, which would ultimately show that his success is more than just a fluke.
Instead of an explosion of excitement and media attention becoming the story of Lin's career, he's now got the chance to make that start just a big bang of sorts, with real growth and legacy-building coming afterward.
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