5 Reasons Jeremy Lin and James Harden Are the NBA's Next Elite Backcourt
There's no denying that both guards have had their fair share of struggles this season. Harden combated a lack of efficiency for almost the entire year while Lin himself has yet to fully adjust to his partner's ball-dominating style.
But while the pair have struggled to both coexist and embody consistency, they have still managed to render the Houston Rockets a threat to win on any given night and subsequently provided hope for the immediate.
That hope, coupled with statistical progress is more than just a coincidence. Rather, it's a telling sign that there is potential to be found in this union and that even brighter days are just on the horizon.
And that we are bearing witness to an elite backcourt in the making.
All stats in this article are accurate as of December 18.
5. Houston's Record
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Don't mistake the Rockets current 12-12 record as a mark of failure.
Houston is the youngest team in the NBA, which usually implies that a playoff berth is out of the question. For the Jeremy Lin- and James Harden-led Rockets, however, it's not.
Harden, Lin and company currently sit just a half game outside of the Western Conference's playoff picture. They boast a better record than perennial contenders like the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers, and they have also proved themselves capable of unseating supposed dominant entities like the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
Together, Lin (the team's leading playmaker) and Harden (Houston's leading scorer) have transformed their franchise's culture.
Yes, their record reeks of mediocrity, but again, the youth movement in Houston cannot be stressed enough. This is supposed to be a rebuilding team and by many accounts it is.
But Harden and Lin, in the midst of rebuilding, have allowed the Rockets to remain in the playoff hunt.
That is nothing short of both amazing and promising.
4. Jeremy Lin's Improved Play
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Amid a bout with inefficiency, James Harden is still the league's fifth-leading scorer at 25.1 points per game. Jeremy Lin, by comparison, has been a statistical disaster.
Though Lin is averaging just 11.3 points on 40.3 percent shooting for the season, he has picked his play up as of late. Over the last five games, he is averaging 16.4 points on 45.8 percent shooting from the floor. His three-point shooting is still a nightmare, but we still have his 4-of-5 performance from deep against the San Antonio Spurs to take under consideration.
Most importantly, Lin has shown a willingness to be more aggressive offensively over the last five games. He attempted 21 shots against the Spurs and 15 against the Knicks, far exceeding his season average 10.3. And that's what the Rockets need.
Sure, we have seen flashes of a timid Lin at times—he attempted just six shots against the Boston Celtics—but he's attacking the rim with more frequency instead of taking a back seat.
Pair Lin's now heightened offensive awareness with Harden's perpetual aggression and you have a tandem whose stock is not only on the rise, but poised to skyrocket.
3. Transition Offense
Jeremy Lin and James Harden can run the floor well. Like really well.
Not only are both players in the top 15 in steals per game (1.8 apiece), thus allowing them to create easy opportunities in transition, but the Rockets score the third-most fast-break points (17.2) in the league.
More importantly, we've seen what that ability to score in transition can do to the league's slower teams. Just ask the Knicks. Or the Celtics.
Houston's ability to relentlessly run the floor begins and ends with Harden and Lin. They have the quick hands necessary to pick-pocket and create fast-break scenarios in excess, but are also young and spry enough to ensure the Rockets have, at least, two players racing toward the other end hard.
How many teams can say that about their starting backcourt? Not many. The Lakers, with Kobe Bryant, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, with Russell Westbrook, can't even say that about their other halves.
No, this doesn't isn't make Lin and Harden the NBA's best starting backcourt, but their ability to run better than most other guard pairings in the league serves as a blueprint for greatness.
Plenty have pointed to Jeremy Lin and James Harden's similar playing styles as a source of conflict, but that won't hold true for much longer.
As former Knicks great Walt "Clyde" Frazier pointed out (via Jonathan Feigan of Ultimate Rockets) Lin and Harden are not unlike he and Earl Monroe:
Jeremy is like me, and Harden is like Earl. He likes the ball. I was the guy who created. They have to find the harmony to make that happen. I’m sure as the season goes on, Harden is not going to want to be out here, 30 feet away, trying to maneuver to get in. It’s tiring, man. If he’s got a good guy like Lin who can set him up to get easy shots, that’s going to prolong his energy level.
Struggles are to be expected at this juncture. Harden and Lin are still new to each other. But their versatility will ultimately render what appears to be an impediment, a strength.
Both Lin and Harden can run point, which allows them to play with and without each other effectively.
When together, Lin can run the offense and set Harden up with some easy looks off drive-and-kicks. When separate, Harden is both free and capable of running the point himself, thus getting a taste of playing on the ball.
Yes, that balance still must be fully realized, but it's staring them right in front of the face. Bear in mind that both players are in the top 30 in assists per game. Only one other starting backcourt (Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings) can lay claim to such a feat.
So don't discount Lin and Harden's potential to succeed both with and without one another, because it's only going to help further their value as a dynamic duo.
1. In Good Company
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Despite Jeremy Lin's offensive struggles, he and James Harden are still combining for an average of 36.4 points per game.
In case you're wondering how that stacks up, that's more than Deron Williams and Joe Johnson (33.8) are combining for. It's also more than Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis (35.9) are combining for. And it's even more than Chris Paul and sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford (32.5) are combining for as well.
While we can attribute a great deal of their success to Harden, they're still putting up some of the highest point totals of any backcourt combinations in the league. Even Kobe Bryant (29.5 points per game) can't find a point guard on his roster right now that can add the points necessary to top Harden and Lin's total.
And that means something. It means everything.
This is a pairing that still has a ways to go in terms of development, yet it's among the most offensively dominant unions in the league.
Which means that growing pains and all, Lin and Harden aren't just on track to become an elite couplet—they've become one already.