Are James Harden's Houston Rockets Better Off Without Jeremy Lin?

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Are James Harden's Houston Rockets Better Off Without Jeremy Lin?
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

For the Houston Rockets, less of Jeremy Lin has meant more NBA playoff success.

Houston fell behind the Oklahoma City Thunder 3-0 in their best-of-seven series, a deficit that no team in the history of the league has ever come back from. James Harden and the Rockets have since rattled off two straight victories.

And now, there's hope.

The phrase "Lin is out" doesn't mean what it should. Instead, it's quite the opposite.

As the Rockets head back to the Toyota Center for Game 6, they're immersed in a euphoric sense of disbelief and promise. Two straight victories to their credit against an Oklahoma City faction void of its second-best player in Russell Westbrook have them believing they can make history.

Not-so-inconspicuously, Houston has had success while Lin has spent the last two games on the bench nursing what the Rockets are still calling a bruised chest. He's listed as questionable for Game 6.

But should there really be a question? Not at all. 

Lin has watched his teammate win from the sidelines.

Lin shouldn't rush himself back into the lineup nor should Houston rush his return. The Rockets have done just fine without him. And they'll continue to do just fine without him because they're better off without him.

This isn't to say I despise Lin or consider him a lousy talent, so you shouldn't either; nothing could be further from the truth. We'd be remiss if we didn't admit that the Rockets were a more dangerous outfit without him.

During the regular season, Houston's offense was better by 1.9 points per 100 possessions with Lin off the floor. Although that doesn't seem like much, it's always troubling to see a team score more with its (supposed) offensive catalyst—the point guard—riding the bench.

Since the playoffs began, that trend has become even more discernible. The Rockets are currently scoring 21 points more per 100 possessions without Lin on the floor. We could knock the diminutive sample size this comes from, yet the postseason in itself is a small sample size. And it's not like this is a new issue either; Lin hasn't been a good fit for the Rockets since they traded for Harden.

Lin isn't as effective, or even competent, when playing off the ball. He needs the rock in his hands to be effective, just like Harden.

Lin's three-point shot chart during regular season (via NBA.com).
Lin's entire 2013 playoff shot chart (via NBA.com).

Lin shot just 33.9 percent from behind the arc during the regular season and is just 1-of-9 from deep in the playoffs thus far (11.1 percent). He's not the shooter Harden needs to be surrounded by. Chandler Parsons, Carlos Delfino and Francisco Garcia are the types of players who can stretch the floor while playing off the ball. Even Patrick Beverley presents a better spot-up option and moves off the ball better than Lin.

The deep ball is such a vital part of Houston's offense that Lin has become an offensive liability. His 33.9 percent conversion rate from outside pales in comparison to the 36.8 percent clip the Rockets averaged as a team. 

Lin represents a stark contrast from what the Rockets need. They shoot threes—they jacked up the second-most threes in NBA history during the regular season (2,369). The long-ball is what they do.

But while they live and die by the three, Lin just dies by it. He can attack the rim and create three-point opportunities for his teammates, but that's what Harden is for. Lin is thus redundant.

Per Synergy Sports (subscription required), he hit on just 38.8 percent of his spot-up attempts this year, and the Rockets—who ranked 28th in points allowed per game (102.5)—have also allowed fewer points with him off the floor.

For the playoffs, Houston's effective field-goal percentage—which takes three-point shooting into account—is 8.2 percentage points better without Lin (51.9) than with him (43.7).

Happenstances don't lump themselves together like that. Lin's skill set doesn't fit the current makeup of the Rockets. And it shows.

Houston is 0-3 this postseason in games Lin has played. And though two of those losses were near victories—Games 2 and 3—Lin's injury limited him to just 38 minutes combined. In Game 3, when the Rockets battled their way back from 15 points down in the fourth to take the lead, he was on the sideline.

Credit the point guard with attempting to play through his physical afflictions (the New York Knicks sure would have appreciated that last year, no?) and by no means should he be written off as a poor NBA point guard, but it's time to concede the obvious: Lin doesn't make the Rockets better.

Are the Rockets better off without Jeremy Lin?

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Not in the sense that he is the driving force behind their initial 3-0 deficit—that onus can't be put on one player alone. The Rockets, however, have found ways to beat the Westbrook-less Thunder without him while only managing to lose with him. 

And while there's no guarantee that they sneak past the Thunder and make history as he sits on the sideline, Lin has done the Rockets a favor as a bystander: He's made them better, given them an opportunity to win, to rewrite history.

More so than he ever could have if he were playing.

Tell me then, what are we supposed to believe? That Lin had an off year? That everything will be fine? That we (that I'm) are overreacting?

We've been carrying that tune for an entire season, and it's officially exhausting.

Then again, lying to ourselves always is.

 

*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, NBA.com and Synergy Sports unless otherwise attributed.

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