Jeremy Lin and James Harden's Real Value Is Challenging Opponents' Big Men
The Houston Rockets' acquisition of James Harden and Jeremy Lin has not only paid massive dividends at the box office, but it has also made them one of the more scintillating offensive clubs in the NBA.
An early-season sensation, Harden in particular has ingratiated himself with Rockets fans. The guard put up a combined 82 points in his first two games in Houston, leaving many in the media to jump aboard an MVP bandwagon.
Though an inane argument to begin with, the hyperbolic media members who wanted to anoint Harden as the second coming have understandably moved on to their next project.
He's still putting up good numbers—the guard's 22.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists would be welcome anywhere—but Harden isn't quite eviscerating the league the way he did the first two games.
Lin's arrival in Houston came with a superstar's welcome despite the young point guard's paper-thin NBA resume. While Linsanity has cooled down a bit, his 10.3 points, 7.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game are more evidence of his ability to make plays.
However, neither guy is having an especially easy time shooting the ball. Harden has shot 37.5 percent from the field since his two-game outburst to start the season. Lin, meanwhile, is at 34.3 percent on the season, a figure not dissimilar to the 39.3 rate he shot in his final 15 games with the New York Knicks in 2011-12.
That's obviously at least a little disconcerting. Teams don't win games when two of their marquee players are struggling from the field, as evidenced by the Rockets' 2-6 record in their last eight games.
Nevertheless, there are some big-pictures positives that should do nothing but excite Houston fans.
In particular, the Rockets may have the best young attacking backcourt in the NBA. Using their ability to get to the rim, both Lin and Harden take more than 35 percent of their shots from inside, according to 82Games.com.
In a vacuum, that doesn't mean much to most fans. But LeBron James, who is widely regarded as one of the best drivers in NBA history, has taken just 31 percent of his shots from the inside. That should tell you something about how well Lin and Harden do on the attack.
For opposing big men, playing against Houston becomes a particularly daunting challenge. The decision on whether to collapse in the lane or stick with their man is often a pick-your-poison moment, both of which come with terrible outcomes.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the ways Harden and Lin attack opposing big men in the paint and how that has helped the Rockets.
There's only one way to describe this play from Harden above: pure, unadulterated talent.
Harden ignores a screen and completely breaks down Greivis Vasquez, who is a pretty dreadful defender to begin with, and Robin Lopez, who leaves his man to help, and survives a foul for a beautiful finish.
Brilliant body control and concentration to finish that play despite essentially taking on three defenders at different points.
We'll get to this, but with unbelievable finishes like that, it's no wonder that opposing defenders hedge so hard against Harden.
Anyone who studies Lin's game knows how heavily he relies on the pick-and-roll. He's not the fastest guard in the league, so getting an extra half-step from a defender's indecision is crucial.
Once Lin gets that slight spacing from his defender, he's one of the league's best at making decisions out of the set—particularly when finishing the play himself.
In the video above, Lin doesn't even use the screen, instead setting it up as a decoy and driving to the lane for a great finish off the glass.
Obviously, this was a preseason game, so you could take that play with a slight grain of salt. Of course, that is until you realize Kawhi Leonard, a fantastic perimeter defender, was the one who got burned by Lin on that set.
If Lin continues using the high glass in those situations, he'll find himself getting fewer shots blocked, which is a problem that has cropped up during his career.
This particular play (above) is a perfect example of how the threat of Harden getting in the lane forces poor defensive decisions.
Here Harden receives a pass just inside the three-point line after a great pick from Omer Asik. With Rodney Stuckey about a step behind Harden, Greg Monroe hedges hard and leaves Asik wide open for a nice finish off the bounce pass from Harden.
Considering Jason Maxiell was readily available for weak-side help on the play, the onus falls on Monroe here for making a bad hedge. But more than anything, it's Monroe's fear of Harden dashing into the lane that causes his over-aggressiveness and leads to the bucket for Houston.
If you're looking for perfect evidence for the threat Harden and Lin pose, the video above should be Exhibit A.
This set begins with what seems like the most innocent Harden drive in history. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum quickly hot-potato the ball out of the shooting guard's hands, who throws a rainbow pass to Lin.
But notice that while Batum was hedging on Harden, he completely lost Chandler Parsons. After taking Damian Lillard off the dribble, Lin collapses the entire defense and finds a wide-open Parsons for an easy finish.
Note that LaMarcus Aldridge had hedged hard on Lin as well, leaving Patrick Patterson essentially doing jumping jacks from 18 feet.
In all, Lin and Harden's ability to collapse the middle of the defense gave the Rockets two wide-open scoring opportunities on one play.
It's those types of situations that leave little doubt in my mind that Harden and Lin could eventually mold together and become one of the premier offensive backcourts in the NBA. As shown by the video evidence, both have an innate ability to find the open man and excel (Harden in particular) at finishing at the rim in shockingly tight windows.
Now, if Lin and Harden could just get that whole jump-shooting thing down.
(Note: All individual stats are up to date as of Nov. 19, 2012.)
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