"Even more incongruous was the notion that [they] could share a backcourt…their efficacy was predicated on control of the ball—no one knew what would happen when they didn't have it in their hands."
James Harden and Jeremy Lin?
Who are they, you say? Two other NBA guards who, like Harden and Lin, both worked best as the primary ball-handler.
Oh, and they were also one of the most effective guard combinations of all time. Frazier and Monroe formed one of a handful of backcourts to ever feature two Hall of Famers and NBA 50th Anniversary Team members.
And they said Harden and Lin wouldn't work.
Lin is still trying to find a consistent scoring touch, and Harden is still learning to let go of control, but the duo is beginning to show signs of dynamism together.
Much has been made—and deservedly so—of Harden scoring 25 points or more in the last 18 contests in which he has played.
More quiet is the news that Lin has scored 15 points or more in eight out of the last 15 contests, after accomplishing it just five times in the Rockets' first 22 games.
Ladies and gentlemen, that's a turnaround.
Just a few weeks ago, some were calling for Lin to come off the bench. Now, this seemingly redundant partnership seems poised to lead the Rockets to the playoffs.
So what clicked? And what's clicking?
Not enough of them, mind you. Jeremy's shooting percentage still falls off precipitously once he gets a few feet from the rim…more on that in a minute. But compared to earlier in the season, things are looking up—way up.
For the month of November, Lin's overall shooting percentage was an appalling .373. For the month of December, Lin shot .479—over 100 percentage points higher.
Earlier this season, Lin began working with a renowned shooting coach, Doc Scheppler, to decrease the arc on his shots. It has taken him a while to master this new stroke, but clearly, it's made a difference.
There is still room for improvement, make no mistake. As I referenced above, when Lin gets all the way to the hoop, he's shooting over 63 percent. From three to nine feet, his success rate plummets to roughly 40 percent. From 10 to 15 feet, he's at 35 percent and from 16 to 23 feet, he's at 33 percent.
Like many in the NBA, Lin does his best work by either taking it to the house or letting it fly from long range. But even more than most, Lin's game would greatly benefit with a deadly jumper from up to 15 feet.
Lin is a brilliant and talented player as well as a student of the game; if anyone could develop a mid-range jumper, he'd be the guy.
Oh, and there's another reason Lin is scoring more points...
This next stat is astounding. From November 7 to December 16—a span of 20 contests—Lin had more than 10 shots in just four games.
In the 13 games since, Lin has exceeded 10 shots nine times.
Some shooters are instantly hot. I grew up with Vinnie "Microwave" Johnson coming off the bench for the Pistons. He got his nickname because he heated up in a hurry.
But many others, like NFL running backs, need their touches to get into a groove. Lin is clearly of the latter variety. Of late, Lin has been getting the ball more, and the results are undeniable for the streaking Rockets.
The usage rate statistic measures the number of a team’s possessions a player finishes with a shot, drawn foul or turnover. With the Knicks, Lin's usage rate was 28.1 percent. On December 16, his Houston usage rate was 18.5 percent. By January 10, it had climbed to 19.6 percent.
More balance between Harden and Lin translates to more success for the Rockets.
Jeremy is more Marley, preferring the smooth, fluid dodge and weave to the hoop; if nothing's open, he can find the open man on the perimeter.
James, by contrast, is more Cujo: By hook or by crook—the crook of his elbows, that is—Harden is gonna get to the hoop...or make the man who stops him pay. Though James is unselfish, he looks less to pass and more to punish.
Truthfully and rightfully, Lin has more of a point guard approach, and Harden has a shooting guard mentality. That's as it should be.
The point is, both men are embracing their distinctions and helping each other play to their strengths.
For example, when Harden's on the floor, Lin delivers on his rim shots, hitting 61 percent from the restricted area and 36 percent from the paint. When Harden's not in, however, Lin's percentages in those respective areas decline to 53 and 22.
And though the stats say Harden plays better without Lin, consider this: How a team plays is more important than how an individual plays.
Harden's overall plus-minus is 3.5, while Lin's is 2.6. When Lin sits, Harden's number rises to 4.5, a one-point gain. But when Harden sits, Lin's number plummets to -0.4, a 3-point decline—statistically much larger than Harden's increase.
Further, the two five-man units which provide Harden with his highest plus-minus rating both feature Lin at the point.
Right now, Lin may still need Harden more than Harden needs Lin. But to win as a team, the two men need each other, and they've started to realize that.
Harden joined Houston at the last minute. As a result, he and Lin had to learn how to play nice together on the fly…or, to more aptly describe the Rockets' offensive scheme, on the run.
It's taken some time, but their hard work is paying off.
Be gentle with yourself if you predicted the Harden-Lin backcourt would be a bust. Forty years ago, no more luminous a basketball expert than Phil Jackson expressed his doubts publicly about his new backcourt pairing of Frazier and Monroe.
If Jackson had to eat his words and could still bounce back to win more than two hands full of championship rings, you can swallow a few syllables too.
The Harden-Lin Experience has had its problems during its brief tenure, and there is a great deal more togetherness to be mined from these two similarly styled guards.
But history is on their side: The great Walt Frazier himself believes Harden and Lin will mesh. And he should know.
After all, the equally unconventional pairing of he and Monroe meshed well enough to win the 1973 NBA Championship.
Everything bodes well for Houston, don't ya think?