Lin has to have felt like a ping-pong ball since joining the Rockets. And now, prodigal point guard Aaron Brooks returning to Houston allows me to invoke the table-tennis metaphor once more:
Is this another bad bounce for Lin?
I am of two minds regarding JLin. I can easily see and have compassion for the way Morey and coach Kevin McHale have flipped the script on him.
First, Lin lost face. He was replaced as the franchise player when shooting guard James Harden joined the fold. Consequently, Lin lost the ball: McHale immediately granted Harden the bulk of the ball-handling duties.
Once that happened, Lin lost his advantage. He thrives on attacking the rim off the dribble. If he's not dribbling, my thinking goes, it's much more difficult for him to attack.
Finally, Lin seemed to lose the coaches' faith. Interim coach Kelvin Sampson, and more recently McHale, have sometimes benched Lin at the strangest of times, most glaringly in a number of fourth quarters, often as Lin seemed to have gotten things going in an otherwise tough shooting night.
All this in a career still so brief, the young man has just passed a season's worth of starts.
Now let's talk about my other mind.
My other mind does not like excuses. When someone flips the script on you, my other mind says turn the new script into an Academy Award-winner.
In other words: If the situation dictates a slasher to become a spot-up shooter, then that is what one must do. If the situation requires one to learn how to attack with less space, then that's what must happen.
Lin has had spotty results adapting to the new script.
He has reduced his turnovers. His pick-and-roll duet with Harden can often be a thing of beauty. He is ninth in the league in steals per 48 minutes. He always plays hard, doesn't complain and looks to give to his teammates and lift his team rather then self-aggrandize.
But on the negative side of the balance sheet, Lin's jump shot is still inconsistent, and I expect it to remain so until and unless he continues to work on it in the offseason. Further, despite his penchant for steals, Jeremy's defense still leaves a lot to be desired. (That, by the way, is what the coaches attributed Lin's late-game benchings to: Toney Douglas and now Patrick Beverley are superior to Lin defensively.)
Perhaps most damning is this statistic: Lin's player efficiency rating among point guards averaging more than 30 minutes a game is third-worst in the NBA.
With the exit of Douglas and the Rockets shorthanded, Lin put together one of his signature games for the ages: 29 points, 12-for-22 from the floor and 3-for-5 from three-point range, and most inspiringly, so money in the clutch I would have been tempted to shake him down for engraving plates.
Since then, temporary Linsanity has given way to maddening inconsistency once again, and even a worrisome injury.
Enter Aaron Brooks.
The former Rocket's defense is no better than Lin's, and might even be worse. And compared to Brooks, Lin dishes like Joan Rivers.
But Brooks' jump shot is more consistent. His three-point shot is more consistent. It was only a couple of years ago that he scored almost 20 points a game for the Rockets.
If the coaching staff was telling the truth about why Lin was benched in the fourth quarters of games, Brooks' arrival shouldn't impact Lin much, if at all.
But if they weren't—in other words, if the coaches sat Lin because they didn't have faith in his jumper at crunch time—Brooks might get time at the end of games. Or, for that matter, earlier in games.
What would all that mean for Lin?
If someone tries to tell you the Rockets have a better chance to win starting Brooks instead of Lin, ask that someone what color the sky is in his world, because I'll guarantee you it's not blue.
But I do not begrudge a coach wanting to be able to trust in his point guard's ability to make a shot when one is needed. The simple answer to the question "why does Lin lose time to Patrick Beverley" can be answered with the following numerical combination:
3-4, 3-5, 1-2, 3-4, 0-1.
That's Beverley's three-point stat line for the last five games prior to the loss to the Mavericks. Lin's, by comparison, is 0-2, 1-3, 0-2, 2-2, 1-4.
So let's say you're the coach, and you need a long-distance shot to fall—let's say your career depends on it. Which of the two do you want taking that shot?
You see my point.
Brooks has not played much this year, but his jumper is generally considered to be a solid one. If Lin loses some time to Brooks, his next move is simple. Suck it up, get to work and win back your coaches' trust.
Lin can do it. He's surpassed expectations before, shocked the world before. He's even done it this season: Every month, for example, his three-point shooting percentage has steadily improved.
Thank goodness the comment area on my articles is not reflective of the many people who read without leaving a remark. For some reason, certain of my readers who are Lin fanatics seem to believe they need to interpret every sentence written about Jeremy as a criticism, and defend him via any means necessary, even when no defense is warranted.
To those people, I say stop treating Jeremy Lin like he's a six-year-old learning how to ride a bike. It's great to applaud a little child no matter what he does, or how he does it. If you do it to an adult, you're saying the guy has no capability to grow and improve beyond what he's doing.
That's an insult to Lin.
If the coaches treated him like that, applauding no matter how he performed, Lin would never get better. And he would robbed of the ability to be a truly great player, if he has it in him. It's way too early to say whether he does or doesn't. But games like that OKC masterpiece sure give one hope.
Aaron Brooks has experience, more than Lin. Heck, Brooks took Houston to the second round of the playoffs, a feat no one in Rockets red and white can relate to other than Harden. He even dropped 34 on the Los Angeles Lakers in a phenomenal playoff performance.
And McHale is not wrong if he wants that experience now that the Rockets are playoff contenders.
So far, McHale has said Brooks will be more of a situational player, and I believe him. I believe him because the Rockets are at their best when Lin is at the helm. Beverley has been a more than credible backup, but he might well lose playing time to the similarly quick but more talented Brooks. Lin, however, likely won't.
If Lin struggles, though, I believe Brooks will get playing time. And that will not be an incorrect decision.
That will be an opportunity for Lin.
The best boss I ever had, a relentlessly brilliant writer named Jeff Stocker, gave me some advice early in my career. I had come back from a meeting with my head down, my ideas having just been rejected.
"If your stuff gets killed, just smile and say 'no problem,'" Jeff said. "Because inside you know you've got a million more ideas where that came from."
In case you couldn't tell, Jeff loves sports.
It was also probably the best piece of advice I've ever been given as a writer. It gave me inner resolve on more occasions than you'd believe, occasions where I desperately needed strength from within.
The same applies to Lin. If they take the ball away from him, if they take away his minutes, if they bench him, it would greatly behoove him to smile and say "no problem."
And inside, tell himself he's got a million more steals to swipe, assists to thread and daggers to stick next time he gets on the court.