Jeremy Lin Would Be Better Served Coming Off Rockets Bench Next Season

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Jeremy Lin Would Be Better Served Coming Off Rockets Bench Next Season
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

When the expression "what a difference a Time Period X" was coined, I'm pretty sure it was done for the express purpose of describing Jeremy Lin's situation with the Houston Rockets.

In Lin's case, that time frame is exactly 12 months.

A year ago at this time, Linsanity was ostensibly the face of the Rockets franchise. July 17 it was announced that the New York Knicks had decided not to match the three-year, $25.12 million offer sheet, allowing him to become a Rocket. 

Houston's roster at the time included a whole heaping pile of assets. General manager Daryl Morey, now considered the architect of perhaps the greatest 12-month heist in NBA history, was viewed as little more than a perpetual collector of talent whose destiny was forever to keep Houston in the dreaded NBA "No Man's Land."

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Few on the roster even had resumes that exceeded that of Lin, who essentially rose to fame in a 20-game window. Kevin Martin was there, but on an expiring contract. Kyle Lowry had just been exiled north to Canada. Jeremy Lamb and Royce White were considered the Rockets' "hope" going forward.

And then there was Lin. Signed alongside center Omer Asik, the duo were said to at least give the Rockets trade chips even if they don't work out. The deals were slightly curious overpays, but ones that everyone understood were a necessary evil.

Now Lin and Asik are outsiders in a franchise that seemed destined to be theirs.

This is a new feeling for Asik. Last season he was Houston's defensive anchor in the middle, a calming presence on a team that ran a helter-skelter offense and often went full laissez-faire defensively. The Rockets allowed 101.5 points per 100 possessions with Asik on the floor, versus 106.1 when he was on the bench. That's essentially the difference between league average and playing five guys with their sleeping masks on. Asik is a very good player.

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He's also one without a guaranteed starting spot. Dwight Howard signing with the Rockets capped off the Year of Morey, but it also left Asik in a quandary. Any lineup featuring Asik and Howard will probably be spacing hell, and he's understandably proven enough now that being a second-stringer doesn't sound appealing. 

Lin knows how he feels. The honeymoon phase for him in Houston lasted three months. Houston's trade for James Harden, pulled off in a shocking late-October caper, began the Year of Morey. The Rockets gave up a bunch of small bags of peanuts—Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two firsts and a second-round pick—in a trade that could go down as one of the five worst in NBA history. Houston had finally landed its superstar, all the while rendering the skill set of Lin—the team's pre-Harden star—redundant. 

With Harden, Howard and the emerging Chandler Parsons in tow, the last remaining question of Houston's offseason has been about what will happen with last year's noted signings.

Asik has formally requested a trade, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst. He doesn't want to be a backup. He doesn't want to play alongside Howard because, like, spacing hell isn't a fun place to visit. Lin has been quiet throughout this process, which is probably a good thing considering his shaky place on the team hierarchy at the moment.

There was plenty of talk that Asik and Lin could be moved in a deal for Josh Smith, but his signing with the Detroit Pistons killed that before it could get any legs. There are other possibilities remaining, and the Rockets probably want a third star before all is said and done. But Morey is nothing if not patient, and it seems he's readying for a wait-it-out period.

Windhorst notes the Rockets have sent a former "sorry, bucko" back to Asik's camp, and HOOPSWORLD's Bill Ingram reported that Morey put out feelers for Lin only to essentially get the same response. It's a situation where all parties seem completely unthrilled about being in business with one another. They have all the enthusiasm of someone who invested in their formerly alcoholic cousin's terrible business venture just because you're happy he cleaned himself up.

The problem is, barring another Morey caper, these two are more likely than not at this point to come back. Trade winds are starting to calm down a bit, and the pool of players who could give Houston a theoretical Big Three is pretty small. LaMarcus Aldridge could have been an interesting target—assuming Portland and Houston could have found a third team to take on Lin, who would have no place with Damian Lillard on the roster—but the Trail Blazers have made enough moves that they could compete for the No. 8 seed next season. They're not looking to dump Aldridge.

Working under the guise that Asik and Lin are staying next season, it's going to be interesting to see how they fit into the rotation.

Asik's role is tough to peg, though the Rockets should be able to find him 25 minutes a night. Howard is coming off an injury-plagued campaign that saw him play through a shoulder injury while slowly recovering from back surgery. Asik's presence will help Kevin McHale limit Howard's minutes when needed, and the two could work beside each other in limited minutes; they'll have to.

It will be a difficult adjustment period at first and all Howard-Asik lineups will have to be filled with three other shooters, but the NBA isn't immune to two-big sets. Plus, try attacking the rim with those two standing in the middle. Asik is a great defensive player, and he'll find his time. 

The fix for Lin, though, is far easier. He needs to come off the bench. 

We have a full sample size with Lin now, one that shows us he was a net-neutral presence at best in the Rockets lineup. Houston outscored opponents by 3.1 points per 100 possessions more when Lin was on the bench rather than when he was in the lineup last season. The uptick in offensive production was rooted in taking a metric ton more threes—34.4 per 100 possessions versus 26.5—when he was on the bench.

Defensively, Lin is just a minus. Everyone knows this. He's bad against the pick-and-roll and absolutely dreadful in isolation situations, where opposing players averaged 0.96 points per possession against him, per Synergy Sports. Just so we're clear on how bad that number is, it ranked 296th in the NBA. That's yikes territory.

The Rockets didn't sign Lin for his defensive effectiveness, though. They brought him in to create off the pick-and-roll, where he excelled under Mike D'Antoni in New York. Only Harden, a superstar, is at his height of effectiveness when creating off the dribble as well. The two are redundant players, only one is better at putting the orange thing through the hoop.

Houston scored 106.1 points per 100 possessions when Lin and Harden shared the floor last season. That's a great number on the surface. But it's also tied with the worst number of any Houston two-man unit that appeared in 60 or more games. Call me old fashioned, but when your two best creators produce at the worst two-man level on your team, something isn't working.

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To contrast, Patrick Beverley, the man who would replace Lin in the starting lineup, is a great contrast to Harden. Beverley is a 3-and-D guy that's becoming in-vogue in NBA circles. He can hit spot-up jumpers, plays solid defense on the perimeter and doesn't need the ball to be effective. Beverley wasn't much of a rotational cog until late in the season, but when he and Harden shared the floor in the postseason, it was a consistent goldmine for the Rockets. They averaged 111.9 points per 100 possessions with those two sharing the backcourt.

Harden and Lin would still have to share the floor a good amount regardless next season, but limiting that time will help all parties. Lin would be able to work as the primary offensive caretaker, putting in where he's most effective and avoiding the awkward tag-team trade-off he and Harden had going last season. 

The whole situation makes too much sense, and I think it's the way Houston will wind up going. Lin will get 20 minutes a night, Linsanity transitioning into Linsensibility (I'm workshopping this). 

What a difference a year makes. 

 

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