To be fair, after Lin dropped 38 points on the San Antonio Spurs with James Harden out of the lineup, the temptation was to give the point guard an instant incomplete on the season. After all, if that's what Lin is capable of when he controls the ball and the offense, who's to say what he'd be capable of if the offense flowed through him on a regular basis?
I've said this in other articles—the moment the Rockets traded for Harden, Lin's contribution to the Rockets instantly and drastically changed.
With Harden slashing to the basket, the most effective aspect of Lin's game was commandeered. With Harden in charge of finding the open man, Lin was relegated to jump shots--the weakest part of his game.
And, the minute Harden is out, Lin goes off for his best game as a Rocket, against arguably the best team in the Western Conference.
So how do we evaluate his offensive game?
With or without Harden, here's what Lin has succeeded at:
• Reducing turnovers: Lin's 45 turnovers over his first seven starts last year were the most of any player in the history of the NBA. By comparison, Lin averaged 2.9 turnovers per game in November and so far just 2.0 TPG in December.
• Raising his field-goal percentage: Just a couple of weeks ago, Lin's field-goal percentage was under .300, the NBA's worst for a starting point guard. Now it sits at a more respectable, though not impressive, .399. His three-point shooting, dismal earlier this season, is now at .309.
Lin is having his best year as a pro at the line, shooting a sterling .821. However, he's getting to the line less than twice as often per game than he did last year. Lin has to get better at drawing contact. But the drop in free-throw attempts is also largely due to Harden's slashing style getting priority in Houston's offense over Lin's.
Being that Harden is Houston's designated slasher, let's try this analogy. Shooting guard Harden is effectively Slash in Guns 'N Roses—except as the team's superstar, he's also the band's front man. That leaves point guard Lin as Axel Rose…without a microphone.
Another interesting consideration in evaluating Lin's offensive performance is the fact that there's supposed to be a clear book to stop Lin.
1. Lin succeeds in penetration when he goes to his right. So it would appear to be simple to stop him—simply force him to go to his left.
2. Lin's far better at attacking the basket than he is at jump shots, so sag off him in coverage, and force him to pull up.
But if the book is so clear, how did he score 38 against San Antonio?
Simple: Lin is much more difficult to stop than the book would have you believe.
All in all, we fans were hoping for more from Lin; however, much of our disappointment stems not from flaws in Lin's game, but from the offensive scheme championed by coaches and general management.