James Harden's Dominance Is Protecting Jeremy Lin from Real Criticism

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James Harden's Dominance Is Protecting Jeremy Lin from Real Criticism
USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Lin owes James Harden a hearty thank you, complete with a bear hug and one of those Volvos he's promoting.

Why?

Because Harden is saving Lin from a season of overwhelming criticism and prevailing doubt.

To be fair, it's not as if Lin has been free from the pundits' reign of terror. I myself have taken a shot or two (maybe more) at the oft-inconsistent point guard for his play this season.

But given the performance Lin has put forth, or rather, the one he has failed to put forth, the level of ridicule surrounding him should be worse. Much worse. Yet it's not. 

Harden's dominance has trumped everything else in Houston, Lin's underwhelming campaign included.

The high-octane shooting guard is currently fourth in the NBA in points scored per game (26.5), sixth in win shares (six) and is one of only two players averaging at least 25 points and five assists a night.

Who's the other, you ask?

LeBron James.

Wow, right?

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Harden has turned the Rockets into a playoff contender.

Harden's performance has completely shifted the narrative for the Houston Rockets. This was supposed to be a season marked by fruitless struggles; it was supposed to be about Houston going through the motions that any rebuilding franchise endures.

And to be honest, part of this year has been marred by just this. The Rockets are far from perfect: They're ranked first in the league in points scored per game (105.4) but 29th in points allowed (103.3).

But the former means more than the latter, because Harden has this team four games over .500 and clinging to the seventh-best record in the Western Conference. 

Correct, the youngest team in the NBA is battling for a playoff spot, courtesy of one James Harden. The same Harden who has dominated offensively. The same Harden who has improved his defensive sets a great deal. The same Harden who has enlivened the outlook of the entire Houston organization.

And the same Harden who (via Jonathan Feigan of Ultimate Rockets) has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate:

Amid the praise James Harden has received for becoming one of the league’s most reliable offensive players, the NBA coach who has known him longest said Harden is playing at an MVP level.

“It’s interesting how they looked like they’d be dead for the year,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said Saturday. “Like, ‘Where is this Rockets team going?’ All of a sudden, they make the deal for James Harden. He’s totally changed their whole team and organization. I think you’d have to start talking about him as a MVP candidate for what he has done for his team and what he brings every night.

 

That Harden has even been able to be considered a viable MVP candidate in a field that includes LeBron, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and even Carmelo Anthony is incredible. Less than a year ago he was coming off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Think about that.

Harden can even make Lin look good.

And then think about how far we've digressed over the last few hundred words or so. We were originally discussing Lin—and all that he currently doesn't have to offer. Yet, he we are, admiring the impact Harden has on his team, which has been the rampant theme in Houston all season.

Lurking in the shadow cast by Harden's greatness, though, is Lin. The same point guard who carried the fate of this franchise in his unproven hands until Harden's sudden arrival.

Well, that same point guard is averaging just 12.1 points per game on 42.6 percent shooting from the field. He's also converting on a paltry 27.6 percent of his three-point attempts as well. More pressing than Lin's poor showing thus far, however, has been the effect said exhibition has had on his team. He's been actively (not bordering on, but actively) detrimental.

Houston is scoring at a rate of 107.2 points per 100 possessions with Lin on the floor. When he steps off the court, that number climbs to 110. 

Last time I checked, a point guard was supposed to be an offensive catalyst, someone who facilitates offensive success. That the Rockets are actually scoring more without their starting point man on the hardwood is beyond unfortunate. It all but negates the 6.3 dimes he's dropping per night when off the pine.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Lin's struggles are a near afterthought in Houston because of Harden.

This is the destitute performance Harden's success has covered up. This is the prevailing motif in the now untold story of Lin.

Now, however, this concealed reality may have reached a breaking point.

Per Feigan, Lin injured his ankle during a Rockets practice and could find himself on the shelf:

Rockets guard Jeremy Lin left Monday’s workout at Toyota Center with a sprained left ankle and will be a game-time decision to play Tuesday against the Clippers.

Lin stepped on a teammate’s foot and left the floor, but stayed for the remainder of practice, watching while icing the ankle.

 

Sprained ankles are hardly serious, but what if Lin misses time? What if he misses a game, or more? 

Then Harden's success won't be enough to stifle the failure of Lin.

Why?

Because if he is to sit out, Harden's—and subsequently the Rockets'—success becomes yet another driving force behind Lin's demise.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images
As long as Harden continues to dominate, Lin's struggles will be masked to a certain extent.

Has James Harden's performance helped mask the struggles of Jeremy Lin?

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Will the world continue to toil with silence if they watch this team amount to anything with Lin on the sidelines?

Absolutely not.

For now, though, Lin doesn't have to worry about it. Not as long as he's able to suit up on a regular basis. Not as long as the Rockets stay afloat in the playoff race.

And most certainly not as long as James Harden continues to give us something more worthwhile to care about than the laborious endeavors of Jeremy Lin.

 

*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 14, 2013.

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