Rockets' Patience Will Pay off with Jeremy Lin and James Harden

Roy BurtonContributor IJanuary 13, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 23:  James Harden #13 and Jeremy Lin #7 of the Houston Rockets wait for a play against the New York Knicks at the Toyota Center on November 23, 2012 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, bagainst the Newy 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

Patience is indeed a virtue, and it's also something that the Houston Rockets will need in spades over the next few years.

While James Harden has been everything that the Rockets wanted (and perhaps more), he alone cannot lead an otherwise mediocre Houston team to playoff success.

His supporting cast is led by one Jeremy Lin, a player who was shooting a mere 33.3 percent from the floor as recently as Thanksgiving. In December, ESPN's Tom Haberstroh even suggested the drastic steps of either benching or trading Lin since it didn't appear that he could co-exist with Harden.

But over the past month, the two cornerstones of the Rockets' rebuilding movement are finally beginning to create some sort of synergy. Houston has won 12 of its last 17, and the team has scored 112 points or more eight times during that stretch.

Over the same time period, Lin has shot just over 48 percent from the field, and has enjoyed eight games in which he's scored at least 15 points.

Harden, meanwhile, has continued to be the same dynamic scorer that he's been all season: The former Oklahoma City Thunder standout has scored 20 points or more in each of Houston's last 19 games.

Those who once longed for the days of Linsanity have come to the realization that the thrilling point guard who captured the hearts of New York Knicks fans will probably never be a superstar in the league. Conversely, Lin hasn't been a bust this season, either: He's raised his field-goal percentage to a respectable 44 percent as he settles into his niche as Harden's running mate.

The three-year, $25.1 million deal that he signed this summer won't engender him too much sympathy, but it should be noted that Lin only has 101 career games under his belt. The 24-year-old will undoubtedly improve with more experience, but he can still shine as long as his coach puts him in the right positions to excel.

To that point, one of the most basic plays in basketball is at least partially responsible for the Rockets' recent success. Houston has smartly implemented a two-man game between Lin and Harden where the former Arizona State star is often used as the screener.

Lin's struggles outside of the restricted area are well-documented—he's shooting 31.9 percent on all shot attempts that aren't at the rim this season—but when he and Harden run the pick-and-roll, the Rockets have a pair of intriguing options (an attacking Lin coupled with Harden matched up against a smaller point guard) that they can exploit based on their opponent.

The proof is in the numbers: According to Synergy Sports, Lin averages 0.84 points per possession (36th in the NBA) as the ball-handler in a pick-and-roll set. The play ultimately results in a number of different avenues for Harden, who at 1.04 points per possession is one of the Association's most dangerous offensive weapons.

Both Harden and Lin are still far more productive when the other player is on the bench, but that's to be expected since both are the Rockets' No. 1 option on offense whenever their compatriot is not on the floor.

But from a plus/minus standpoint, Lin (a notoriously bad defender) benefits greatly when Harden is on the floor, primarily because Lin isn't tasked to guard the opposing team's best wing player.

Harden and Lin have played all of 36 games together, so there will several more weeks (if not months) of growing pains to endure before the pair reaches its maximum potential. But even now, the Rockets' duo has to be in the conversation when it comes to ranking the best young backcourts in the NBA.

That fact alone should give pause to the other 29 teams in the league. If Harden and Lin continue along their current path, Houston will be a terror in the Western Conference for several years to come.

(Note: All statistics are current as of Jan. 11)