In the playoffs last season, Jeremy Lin suffered a chest injury and missed a couple of games. In the games he did play, he struggled mightily and was not very effective. His backup Patrick Beverley stole the spotlight, showing off his hustle and playing a great series against Oklahoma City. As the new season approaches, the burning question is which of these guys should start?
Let's take a step back and see how we got here.
Before last season, the Rockets franchise was in a pickle. They had finished ninth in the West for three consecutive seasons, earning the last pick in the lottery each time. Many executives from around the league will tell you it's better to be the worst team in the league than it is to be in the middle of the pack.
The Rockets were in desperate need of change.
General manager Daryl Morey had stockpiled assets in order to land a superstar, but he could never seal the deal. Last summer, the Rockets put all of their eggs in the Dwight Howard basket, but he went to L.A. instead.
The Rockets missed out on their superstar and still needed a face for their franchise. Morey cleverly used two "poison pill" contracts to steal away restricted free agents Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin from the Bulls and Knicks respectively.
Coming off of his year (more like a month) of Linsanity, Jeremy Lin was a big addition for the Rockets in terms of marketing. It was uncertain whether he would be able to play at the same level that he did during Linsanity, but from a marketing standpoint, Lin would bring in a new demographic of fans. The Rockets had previously had a strong fanbase in China because of center Yao Ming, and the Lin signing strengthened their foothold there.
So the Rockets had Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and low expectations for the season ahead. That's when it happened.
The Oklahoma City Thunder could not work out an extension with the reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, and Morey swooped in when he had the chance. Harden fell into Houston's lap, and the city finally found its superstar.
Now there is a different problem.
During Linsanity, Lin excelled at the pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler. Unfortunately, the pick-and-roll was also Harden's bread-and-butter. They both are pick-and-roll players that operate best with the ball in their hands, but they can't both handle the ball.
Harden is better at running the pick-and-roll, which made having Lin on the roster somewhat of a redundancy. The two guys spent all of last season figuring out how to play alongside each other. Lin had to get accustomed to playing off the ball.
Now, the Rockets have Patrick Beverley in the mix. Beverley is a great defender that always hustles. He can play off the ball effectively on offense, and is a better spot-up shooter than Lin is. With marketing out of the question, the pure basketball decision would be to move Lin to the bench and let Beverley get the starter's minutes.
Let me make this clear: Jeremy Lin is capable of being a starting point guard in the NBA. People who think Lin is not adequate because he has not reproduced his Linsanity numbers are not looking at the big picture.
Last season, Lin averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per game. Those are solid numbers for a starting point guard, and Lin posted those numbers in a system that doesn't even fully utilize his talents. Lin is a starting point guard in the NBA, but in this case, he should come off the bench for the sake of the system that the Rockets implement.
Beverley is a better fit alongside Harden. Harden can run the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard in the first unit. When the second unit comes on, the Rockets can run the pick-and-roll with Lin and Asik.
Both Lin and Asik are capable of starting in this league, but they have guys ahead of them on the Rockets' depth chart. Therefore, Lin and Asik can wreak havoc together coming off the bench. Lin would be able to handle the ball with the second unit instead of playing off the ball in the first unit with Harden. Lin is a much better player when he runs the offense with the ball in his hands, and coming off the bench would enable him to do that.
Last season was an experiment in Houston. The Rockets had a brand new core of players playing together for the first time. The coaching staff worked on creating a new offensive system that focused on efficiency. Coach Kevin McHale had to mesh together two guys who both thrived with the ball in their hands.
The Rockets exceeded expectations last year, but this year will be different. After signing Dwight Howard this summer, the fans in Houston have much loftier expectations. The Rockets have the talent and the depth to make a serious run deep into the playoffs.
In order for the Rockets to utilize their talents in the best way possible, Lin should come off the bench. He is more efficient when he runs the pick-and-roll, and coming off the bench would give him the opportunity to do that with a respectable big man in Asik.
Beverley could slide into the starting role at point guard. His style fits much better alongside Harden on the offensive end, and he is a drastic improvement over Lin on the defensive end. He is a much better matchup defensively against the top tier point guards in the league than Lin is. In this article by Rant Sports, Cody Williams argues why Beverley has more upside to be the starter for the Rockets this season.
Lin's best value to the team is his marketing attributes. The fans love Lin, as they should. He is a hard worker. He was the underdog from the start as an undrafted Asian American coming out of Harvard. Lin is a big sell to fans because of the drama from Linsanity and because of his popularity overseas in Asia.
However, if the decision is purely based on efficiency on the court, it makes more sense to have Lin run the show as a part of the second unit for the Rockets.