Jeremy Lin Is Quietly Having Huge Season as Rockets Aim to Crash Playoffs

Ethan Grant@DowntownEGAnalyst IApril 5, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 20:  Jeremy Lin #7 of the Houston Rockets is introduced on the court before the game against the Utah Jazz at Toyota Center on March 20, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by 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

Linsanity has died down since Jeremy Lin was taking New York by storm in 2012, but the young point guard is proving that he was worth every penny of the contract he signed with the Houston Rockets prior to the start of the 2012-13 season.

Lin could be the key to the Rockets crashing the Western Conference playoff picture.

Currently in seventh place in the Western Conference playoff standings heading into Friday night's clash with the Portland Trail Blazers, the Rockets appear headed for a first-round series with either the Denver Nuggets (currently in third) or the Oklahoma City Thunder (currently in second).

While the contributions of star shooting guard James Harden have been outstanding, and the inside presence of Omer Asik has given the Rockets a true center for the first time in quite awhile, Lin's quietly been a steady presence in Houston. He has a chance to turn on some of his Linsanity magic just in time for the postseason—which will be his first as an NBA pro.

So far, Lin's numbers have been modest.

Averaging 13.1 points, 6.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 2.9 turnovers per game, Lin hasn't jumped off the page as one of the league's best point guards. However, he's no longer needed to score 25 points a game with Harden lighting it up every night, and he is having to adjust to having the ball in hands less than he ever did in New York.

Upon closer examination, Lin's shooting percentage is right around his clip with the Knicks, his three-point shooting percentage is up, his turnovers per game are down and the injury concerns from last season have not carried over—Lin has played in all 75 of Houston's games this season.

When the Rockets need Lin to step up, he's found a way to rise to the occasion.

Harden has been dealing with injuries this season, something the team hopes will not follow their star guard to the playoffs. Resting him has been the logical option with the NBA postseason just a few weeks out, and Lin did his part over the last couple of games.

The Rockets found a way to beat both the Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando Magic while Harden sat out the last game of March and the first game of April, leading up to a Harden return and a third straight win against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.

As the Rockets prepare to bring the league's highest scoring per game average (106.0) into the postseason, it's important to recognize how Lin's role could likely change if the Rockets take on either the Thunder or Nuggets in the playoffs.

Like he did in New York, Lin must find a way to turn it on.

Look no further than his 38-point performance in a December loss to San Antonio to prove that he still has it. He'll have to have it again in the playoffs, in large part because double- and triple-teams are likely headed towards Harden each game.

Although some have been disappointed in Lin's performance in 2012-13, he has done everything management and head coach Kevin McHale has asked of him so far. He hasn't missed a game, has expanded his role on the team to be a better shooter (.341 from three) and still averages six assists per game while scoring a decent amount for Houston.

In short, Lin is very important to Houston's NBA Finals hopes.

It might sound crazy, but "huge" is a great way to describe Lin's season. From staying in the lineup to helping the Rockets command the league's deadliest offense, Lin's role for the Rockets has far exceeded his half-season value to the Knicks.

It's crunch time in the NBA. Last year, fans were dying to see Lin in that role. This year, they won't have the media coverage when prime time hits, but Lin has proven with a quality campaign that he's a point guard that is here to stay for years to come.