Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin will return to form this upcoming season. The addition of Dwight Howard to go along with James Harden is one of a number of reasons why we could see the return of "Linsanity."
Lin's first season in Houston had its ups and downs. He managed to stay healthy until the tail end of the first-round series with Oklahoma City, where he missed two of the last three games. He cut his turnovers down from 3.6 a game to 2.9. He also raised his three-point percentage from 32 percent to nearly 34 percent.
On the other hand, his scoring took a dip from 14.6 points per game to an average of 13.4 (not including playoffs). There also wasn't much improvement in the Harvard product's field-goal percentage or assist output.
With Howard now joining the team, that could change.
The seven-time All-Star center gives Lin a reliable option in the paint and one of the best finishers in the game off of the pick-and-roll. According to SynergySports.com, Howard converted nearly 80 percent of his attempts as the roll man last season.
Conversely, Omer Asik's field-goal percentage as the roll man was just under 58 percent. As remarkable as Asik's breakout season was last year, he doesn't possess Howard's soft hands, athleticism and scoring ability in the post.
Howard also has an advantage over Asik in terms of range. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Howard converted 70 percent of his attempts at the rim while with the Lakers last year. He also nailed 42 percent of his shots between three and 10 feet.
Asik, meanwhile, hit nearly 61 percent of his shots near the rim and just 27 percent from within three to 10 feet. The switch from Asik to Howard as the main interior option should lead to an uptick in Lin's assist numbers.
Where Lin needs to improve is his shooting from long range. He can increase his scoring production simply by becoming a better shooter from the outside. If Lin can prove to be a trustworthy option on the perimeter, he can take advantage of open looks when defenses close on Howard inside.
Also, now that they have spent an entire season playing together, Lin and James Harden should have better chemistry in their second year. With Harden now established as a bona fide star, defenses will focus more of their attention on stopping him. That will lead to more opportunities for Lin to make plays.
Lin will also benefit from Chandler Parsons' presence on the floor. The former Florida standout is dangerous as the team's third option. He's also an example of a player who got better after improving his outside jumper. Parsons raised his three-point percentage from 33 percent in 2011-12 to 38 percent last year.
There just aren't enough good defensive teams that will be able to shut down Howard, Harden and Parsons on a nightly basis while still being able to account for Lin.
One other factor that should push Lin to play better is the emergence of backup Patrick Beverley. When Lin sat in the playoffs because of a chest injury, Beverley stepped up. He averaged 12.6 points per game in three starts and only turned the ball over twice. The Rockets also won two of those three games.
Beverley is a better on-ball defender and three-point shooter (career 37 percent from three) than Lin. He's on a much cheaper contract (roughly $789,000, compared to the $5.2 million Lin will make next season) as well. With Beverley breathing down his neck, Lin now has even more motivation to step up.
With Dwight Howard aboard, expectations in Houston will raise considerably. The Rockets are no longer a cute sleeper team that have a puncher's chance at the playoffs. They are a legitimate contender in a very deep Western Conference.
The pressure is on Howard and Harden to carry this team. That works out well for Jeremy Lin. With the spotlight on Houston's bigger names, he will be allowed to slip under the radar a little. The media that once praised Lin now have a new subject to scrutinize and pick apart.
With upgrades to the roster and a season with his new team under his belt, Lin should have a better campaign. He and Howard should become one of the league's best pick-and-roll duos. Also, if he continues to improve his outside shot and cuts down on turnovers, he should be able to fend off competition for his starting spot.
Will he be an All-Star next year? No. Will he elevate himself to the NBA point guard elite? Probably not.
Instead, there's a realistic chance he finishes the season averaging 14-15 points and 7-8 assists per game. As the fourth option on a potential championship contender, that would be pretty darn good.
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