Anyone who tries to tell you that James Harden, Chandler Parsons or Omer Asik is that player is unfortunately incorrect. Harden will continue to score—it's the biggest part of his game. Parsons is a stat sheet filler, and there's no reason why we should think he won't continue. Asik is a monster in the paint (both on offense and when grabbing rebounds), and his physical play will translate right over to the postseason.
All these guys are important, but Lin's performance is crucial. Whether it be because of coaching decisions or sheer inconsistency, sometimes we don't know what we're going to get from Lin on a nightly basis. That's why Lin stepping up is key.
Kevin McHale has handled Lin interestingly this season. First off, he prefers Harden to handle the ball most of the time. Harden's USG (usage rate) this season is 28.73 percent. Lin's is a paltry 20.36, barely above the league average of 18.79.
This suggests that Harden is not only the focal point of the scoring offense, but also the main distributor. If Lin is the point guard, then he needs to be given the ball more. He doesn't need to score more, but he most certainly needs to take control of his offense. Lin has shown that he can orchestrate the offense when given the opportunities.
McHale has also given Lin inconsistent minutes.
Fourth quarters often go by with Lin on the bench for a good portion of the period. Patrick Beverley plays the point instead, which is baffling. Beverley, a good defender and solid bench guy in his own right, should not be on the court in tight situations late in the fourth quarter.
Lin is the far superior player and has shown instances of being a clutch performer in the past. McHale needs to give Lin more minutes in the final period. That will more than likely occur now that playoff rotations should be tightening up, but we'll have to wait until Game 1 of the first round to find that out.
Even without the ball in his hands as often as it should be, Lin's energy and hustle are what make him so important. He's an above-average off-ball player (though he's not in the same league as Richard Hamilton), and his hustle results in many Rockets baskets.
When the ball is in his hands, he's a very good orchestrator. He's averaging 6.1 assists per game, as well as a 38.9 AST% (assist percentage).
There's one caveat with his AST%, though. The league average is 61.2 percent. This advanced statistic measures what percentage of his team's baskets a player assists on when he's on the court. Because Lin plays a majority of his minutes alongside Harden (who commands the ball and has an AST% of 29.9), his AST% is deceiving. He's much better than it indicates.
Lin also has the valuable ability of putting his head down and driving into the lane. He has the uncanny ability of going up strong and controlling his body while in the air, resulting in trips to the free-throw line and easy baskets for his team. He's shooting 78.8 percent from the charity stripe this season.
The Rockets need Lin to be huge in the playoffs.
Houston faces a tough first-round opponent whether or not it passes the Golden State Warriors in the standings for the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. As the No. 7 seed (if the season ended today), the San Antonio Spurs would be its opponent. As the No. 6 seed, it would be the Denver Nuggets.
Both teams have high-energy point guards in Tony Parker and Ty Lawson, respectively, and Lin will need to match their level of play if the Rockets wish to compete.
Expecting 20-plus points per game from the third-year guard is unfair, but 15-plus points and eight-plus assists are numbers that are easily attainable. With those numbers, Houston stands a much better chance of defeating its opponent, whoever it may be.
Lin has played very well over his last five games, so those numbers may even be the low point of expectations if he keeps this up. He's scoring 18.4 points, dishing out 8.6 assists and even grabbing 2.2 rebounds per game in the past five contests. With him hot entering the playoffs, the Rockets become that much scarier of a team.
Their offense is tops in the NBA at 106.18 points per game. Throw in a productive Lin (while keeping everyone else's numbers the same), and the Rockets can reasonably score around 110 points per game. Even with their suspect defense, that's difficult to beat.
Without Lin performing at the highest level possible, there's not much of a chance Houston advances to the second round.
*Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of hoopdata.com*
Who's your key performer for the Rockets? I'm happy to debate, so leave it down below in the comments section!