James Harden and Jeremy Lin may have "rocketed" to a great beginning with their new club, but sooner or later, they were bound to come crashing back down to earth. That happened against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
The duo combined for just 21 points on 24 shots to go with as many assists as turnovers (eight). Sure, they'll have some great nights, but they're going to have more of these kinds of nights as well.
It's unavoidable. It's not entirely their fault either.
First, there was just no way that Harden could have been expected to continue at the ridiculous rate he started at. After scoring 82 points on just 44 shots in the first two games, he's scored only 39 on his 39 attempts since. Part of that is just plain old regression to the mean.
Look at this tweet from ESPN's Marc Stein:
If @jharden13 really wins scoring title, Elias says he'll be first champ up from as low as 16.8 ppg in previous season since (wow) 1952-53— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) November 7, 2012
If it's the first time in 60 years something is happening, you need a sample size of bigger than three games before you start hanging your hat on it. It's just unrealistic to expect it to continue.
Part of that is once teams knew what to expect, they started to defend against it. Against the Nuggets, the pick-and-roll—which the Rockets saw much success with in the first two games—was positively stifled through most of the game.
That's the problem with success in the NBA. Once you have it, opponents start looking at it to try to figure out how to stop it. And in today's world of Synergy scouting and advanced stats, it doesn't take long for teams to figure out how to do it.
That's why there need to be alternatives, and that's the other part of the problem the Rockets are facing. Through the Rockets' first three games the dynamic duo scored 152 of the team's total 299 points and accounted for 41 of their 69 total assists.
The Rockets are seriously short of other scoring threats beyond Harden and Lin, particularly inside the paint. They are getting 32 points per game from all their power forwards and centers combined, based on data from hoopsstats.com.
That's simply not enough. An over-reliance on the pairing was doomed to bring about a problem sooner or later. There's only so much one man can do—and only a little bit more that two men can do.
For Harden and Lin to continue their success, they need more help inside. For that, they really need Omer Asik to improve his offensive skills.
Through his first three games, Asik averaged just .59 points per play, according to Synergy. He had 14 field-goal attempts on 16 offensive rebounds and converted just two of them. In all, he made just 11 of 29 field goals and turned the ball over 25 percent of the time a play was run for him.
Much of this has to do with his notoriously annoying habit of grabbing offensive rebounds, bringing the ball down to his knees and then going back up to the rim with it—or at least trying to. He often gets the ball stripped before he gets it back up.
Against the Nuggets, he was 4-of-11 with three more turnovers. He had seven offensive rebounds.
When a team has that kind of inefficiency inside, it allows defenses to cheat to the backcourt. In order for the Rockets to see more success both as a team and from their starring backcourt, they're going to need to get more help.
Until they do, there will be more results like they saw against the Nuggets.