Is Jeremy Lin Actually Better Off Without James Harden?

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterDecember 10, 2012

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  Jeremy Lin #7 of the Houston Rockets brings the ball upcourt against the Toronto Raptors at the Toyota Center on November 27, 2012 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Well, Monday night's Spurs-Rockets game was one of the best this season. It's almost a shame that it went into overtime, because the extra stanza was anticlimactic compared to the fast-paced three-point-shootout that preceded it.

Houston and San Antonio swooshed home a combined 30 three-pointers on 50 percent shooting (47 percent for the Spurs, 53 percent for the Rockets). This was a Mike D'Antoni fever dream, played out far from Lakerland. 

In the end, San Antonio prevailed. It wasn't an entirely fun outcome (for non-Spurs fans anyway), yet the game was also notable because of the interest generated by a certain Rockets point guard. The star of the show, for much of the game, was Jeremy Lin. The former phenomenon recaptured his form, getting 38 points on 21 shots, and hitting four of five on threes. As CBS Sports' Eye On Basketball writer Zach Harper tweeted:

I can haz Linsanity agains?

— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) December 11, 2012

Yes, Zach. You can have Linsanity again. 

The "Is-Jeremy Lin-better-off-without-James Harden?" question had been floating around before tonight's performance, which Harden missed with an injury. It's actually a query that goes both ways, too.

Jeremy Lin and James Harden are two players who benefit from dominating the ball. This was at the crux of that Lin-Melo fissure back in New York. Carmelo Anthony wanting to run the offense was at odds with what was working with D'Antoni.

And what was working with D'Antoni, and what works now for Jeremy Lin, is Jeremy running the spread pick-and-roll. It works better, in part, because Lin is such a shaky shooter. This game included, Lin has  managed to shoot only .395 from the field and .315 from three. 

When James Harden is running the pick-and-roll for Houston, Lin isn't helping the team much by standing on the perimeter. You could even argue that Jeremy is hurting the Rockets because defenses are less worried about a Lin three-pointer. 

With Jeremy Lin's off-the-ball presence shrinking the floor, James Harden has less room to operate.

When Jeremy Lin is the one running pick-and-roll, Harden's talents aren't best-optimized either. The Rockets can run some possessions with Lin conducting PG duties, but I doubt that James Harden will be happy standing and watching for long.

Israeli basketball writer Noam Schiller sums it up well:

It's funny. Melo and Lin could've fit, Melo just couldn't share the spotlight. Harden and Lin look like willing partners but play the same.

—Noam Schiller (@noamschiller) December 11, 2012

This is the Lin conundrum boiled down to its essence. He's better when handed the keys to an offense, but it's difficult to trust him with so much responsibility. It's hard to put this offense in Jeremy Lin's hands when he's shot so poorly thus far. 

Houston is in a tough position with these two mutually exclusive talents. For the combination to work, Jeremy Lin will have to evolve his game significantly.