5 Improvements Jeremy Lin and James Harden Must Make

Oren FriedmanCorrespondent IINovember 16, 2012

5 Improvements Jeremy Lin and James Harden Must Make

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    With a dynamic play-making backcourt of Jeremy Lin and James Harden, the Houston Rockets are hoping to make some noise in the Western Conference this season.

    While much has been made of the Oklahoma City Thunder's decision to ship Harden to Houston with another year on his contract, the Bearded One has started the season on a tear.

    Neither Lin nor Harden is a pure point guard, and neither has been counted on this heavily in their young careers.  The potential for success is tremendous with this backcourt, but it will take solid progression and development.

    Here are five improvements that Jeremy Lin and James Harden must make if they hope to bring about a sustainable winning culture to Houston this season.

    "Statistics used in this article were accurate as of games played on or before November 14th."

5) Tighten Up Perimeter Defense

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    Defense is everything in the Southwest Division.

    If Houston hopes to hang with the likes of the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies, then it will need to tighten up its defense in the paint and on the perimeter.

    Houston's defensive efficiency rating is just 99.1, right in the middle of the pack in the NBA.

    The team's three-point defense has been awful, however. The Rockets are allowing opponents to shoot 37.2 percent from long range, good for sixth worst in the league.

    Open threes are often a product of botched rotations and slow closeouts from perimeter defenders.

    As the team's primary perimeter threats, Jeremy Lin and James Harden have to tighten up their perimeter defense if Houston has any chance of making the playoffs.

    While Harden has demonstrated that he can become an elite perimeter defender, it is yet to be seen if his success will permeate to Lin and the rest of the Rockets players.

4) Cut Down Turnovers

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    With a host of solid shooters and perimeter options, James Harden has begun to take on a large facilitator role this season.

    While Harden has thrived as Houston’s No. 1 option, his turnover rate is startling. The Bearded One turns over the ball an incredible 4.1 times per game. 

    Although Harden dishes at an above average rate of 4.5 dimes per game, he will need to cut down his turnovers if the Rockets are going to survive in the cutthroat Southwest Division. 

    Jeremy Lin has developed into more of a point guard, but even he is far from stellar. Linsanity is averaging about six assists per game, but is still turning the ball over too much at 2.5 times per game.

    If the Rockets pride themselves on the play of their guards, then they need to start protecting the rock.

3) Better Shot Selection

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    Both James Harden and Jeremy Lin are capable slashers that can score at a high rate around the basket.

    Harden has made a living around the rim early this season, accounting for 48.7 percent of his shots. Lin has similar tendencies, taking 50.6 percent of his field goals in the paint.

    Despite the high-percentage shots, Lin and Harden are shooting pretty poorly overall on the season.

    Lin is shooting just 35.3 percent from the field and a miserable 27.6 percent from long range. Harden is a bit better at 44.1 percent from the field, but just 24.0 percent from three-point land.

    It is still early in the season, and Harden and Lin should find a bit more consistency from the field as they develop better chemistry.

2) Run the Pick-and-Roll

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    Last season in New York, Jeremy Lin proved that he can be a terror in the high pick-and-roll.

    Playing with great roll men Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, Lin picked apart defenses with crafty dribbling and adept playmaking. Harden also excelled in the pick-and-roll game in Oklahoma City, thriving alongside Serge Ibaka.

    This year’s crop of roll men in Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons is not nearly as imposing, but still capable of finishing strong.

    Lin’s assist rate of field goals made directly at the basket is still among the best in the league at 3.5, only a little more than two off the pace of NBA leader Rajon Rondo

    Harden and Lin should consistently run high pick-and-rolls to put the team in optimal scoring situations. 

1) Establish Defined Roles

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    Having joined the Rockets just days before the start of the regular season, James Harden is still figuring out his role on the team.

    This was supposed to be Jeremy Lin’s team, but the acquisition of Harden makes things a little trickier. Both are selfless players that will thrive playing alongside each other in the long run, but their roles need to be established early.

    Harden has been doing the heavy lifting early with a whopping usage rate (an estimated percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor) of 30.3, by far the best on the team. After that there is a steep drop-off.

    Lin’s usage percentage is just 18.1, seventh best on the team and just behind the underwhelming Carlos Delfino.

    If the Rockets are paying Lin to be their second option, then he needs to develop his game to the point that he is an accountable second banana to Harden.

    Lin and Harden are still figuring each other out, and the results should be encouraging later in the season.