James Harden and Jeremy Lin Need Their Space in Houston Rockets Rotation

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 13, 2012

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 12:  Jeremy Lin #7 (L) and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets react to a call against the Miami Heat at the Toyota Center on November 12, 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

The Houston Rockets (10-11) have been nothing more than an average team in the 2012-13 season.

But that's not the scary news for Houston fans.

The bad news is that the Rockets have actually played worse when their two stars (or their two players bearing the closest resemblance to stars) James Harden and Jeremy Lin have shared the floor.

The basic rules of basketball say this shouldn't be the case. In fact, the team should thrive with each additional star inserted in the lineup (see the 2007-08 Boston Celtics or 2011-12 Miami Heat).

Of course, that hasn't been the case, much to the chagrin of star-struck Houston GM Daryl Morey.

Case in point, with Harden sidelined by a sprained right ankle in Houston's 134-126 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the struggling Lin matched a career-high 38 points and added seven assists.

When Harden returned two nights later, Lin managed just 10 points.

But there's a much deeper issue than what a couple games can show.

The Rockets starting lineup (Lin, Harden, Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Patrick Patterson) has managed a ratio of minus-8.7 points per 100 possessions.

With Carlos Delfino in place of Harden (a lineup that's played just under 16 minutes together), the ratio of points per 100 possessions climbs to plus-3.2. 

Swap out Lin for Toney Douglas—something Houston's done for only 18 minutes this season—and that number jumps to plus-28.6. 

Morey appeared to end his long quest to add star power to this Rockets team, first by luring overnight hoops sensation Lin out of New York, and then landing Harden in a trade with Oklahoma City.

With both players under the age of 25, neither had the time to develop a lengthy portfolio before arriving in Houston. What they did bring, though, were flashes of greatness. And those glimpses were so great that Morey was willing to make such a large financial commitment to each player.

Perhaps distracted by the potential of this tandem, Morey may have failed to realize the striking similarities in their skill sets—or maybe he simply miscalculated how those talents would mesh.

Both players have enjoyed their success with the ball in their hands.

Lin's masterful run at the helm of the Knicks coincided with a rash of injuries that decimated the team's core playmakers.

Despite having played for two different NBA teams prior to his arrival in New York (Golden State and Houston), Lin finally had his first opportunity for real success in the league. 

It wasn't that Lin suddenly developed skills that hadn't previously existed, but rather that this was his first chance to showcase the full complement of his talents.

When he's not the focus of his team, Lin's just not the same player, Comcast Bay Area's Ric Bucher explained.

As for Harden, his perimeter prowess (36.7 career three-point percentage) suggests he'd be a great fit off the ball.

But his time with the Thunder suggested otherwise.

Harden's biggest contributions in Oklahoma City came with him as the primary ball-handler, creating offensive chances for teammates or just calling his own number.

There's a reason that he flourished in a reserve role for former coach Scott Brooks. His inclusion in the second unit afforded him the chance to be the offensive focal point. Brooks also allowed Harden to remain the ball-handler when Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant returned to the floor.

It's somewhat similar with what the Knicks will face when a healthy Amar'e Stoudemire returns to Carmelo Anthony's team.

There's only one basketball to go around, but with both players needing touches to be effective, Houston's left searching for ways to make this duo work:

Rockets adjusting their rotation to make sure Harden and Lin are on the floor opposite each other, apparently.

— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) December 13, 2012

The Rockets' defensive struggles only compound their problems.

Harden's never been known for his defense, while Lin's still grasping defensive team concepts.

The Rockets have a starting backcourt composed of a weak individual defender and a poor help defender. The logistical issues with this pairing are both daunting and obvious.

To be fair, the Rockets are only a quarter of the way through their season, so they still have ample time to figure things out.

But that elusive solution is one that the Rockets and Morey didn't anticipate on needing to solve.


All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 12/12/2012.