Could Jeremy Lin Revive NBA Career by Coming off Houston Rockets Bench?

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Could Jeremy Lin Revive NBA Career by Coming off Houston Rockets Bench?
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

If Jeremy Lin is going to start erasing the disappointing results of his first year with the Houston Rockets, his best bet is to embrace a new role.

He needs to come off the bench.

That's not a knock on Lin, but it is a better plan for a player with his particular skills. Essentially, Lin is an average NBA player whose specific strengths would be better utilized if he were captaining a second-unit attack.

Not convinced? Let's run through the case for Lin as a reserve.

 

D and Threes

You can't really talk about relegating Lin to a bench role without first discussing the merits of the guy who'd be starting ahead of him. In this case, that guy is Patrick Beverley.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When Lin was limited by a chest injury during last year's playoffs, Beverley stepped into an expanded role and handled himself extremely well. His energy on both ends gave the Rockets a real shot in the arm, and although Houston ultimately fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Beverley's play forced a discussion about the rotation going forward.

The case for Beverley as the starter focuses on two key areas: his superior defensive skills and his prowess as a three-point shooter.

Beverley is a far peskier defender than Lin. The 6'1" guard gives up a bit of size in most matchups, but he hounds ball-handlers up and down the floor, tiring them out and forcing them to pick up their dribble in spots on the floor they'd prefer to avoid.

It's difficult to quantify the value of Beverley's penchant for highlight-reel defensive plays, but he makes a lot of them and the resultant momentum shifts are always helpful to the Rockets.

Lin's effort on D never wavers, but he's not laterally quick and tends to gamble too often. Playing him alongside James Harden gives the Rockets a pair of defensive minuses in the starting backcourt.

While his Synergy numbers don't reveal Beverley to be a substantially better defender than Lin, there's no way to ignore the fact that the Rockets' team defensive rating was 5.2 points per 100 possessions lower with Beverley on the floor than it was with Lin last year (per NBA.com).

The three-point shooting comparison is simpler, though we'll get into a few more complicated specifics in a moment. Last year, Beverley hit 37.5 percent of his triples. Lin knocked down threes at a career-best rate, but still only managed to convert 33.9 percent.

 

Maximizing Value

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Even though we just spent a few hundred words lauding Beverley, it's not like he's a vastly superior player to Lin. It's just that Lin's role didn't give him a chance to showcase his skills last year.

And as long as he's in the starting lineup, that's not going to change.

For example, Lin has proven himself to be much more valuable on offense when his ball-handling responsibilities are greater. The ridiculous stats he put up during Linsanity came with a usage rate of 27.6, meaning he either shot, assisted or committed a turnover on more than a quarter of the Knicks' possessions two years ago. That figure ranked 11th in the NBA (per ESPN).

Chris Trotman/Getty Images

This past season, Lin didn't run the show nearly as often, which resulted in a usage rate of just 20.6 and a dip in production across the board.

If Lin is in the starting lineup, he'll never get a chance to control more possessions. Harden is one of the league's most effective offensive players, so he's always going to handle the bulk of the offense when he's on the floor.

The upshot of that arrangement last year was that Lin spent far too much time as a spot-up shooter on the weak side. When Harden's isolation plays went bust, or defenses collapsed on the pick-and-roll, Lin would often be the recipient of a swing pass from the strong side.

He provided some value in that role as a secondary penetrator against a scrambling defense, but the ideal shot in most situations, like the one described above, is a spot-up three before the defense can recover.

And it makes no sense to use Lin as a stand-around shooter.

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), more than 24 percent of Lin's offensive possessions ended with spot-up shots last year, and he converted them at a rate that put him in the 62nd percentile of all NBA players. That's above average, but it's nowhere close to Beverley's level.

On nearly 35 percent of Beverley's possessions last year, he was firing away in similar spot-up situations, a play type in which he ranked in the 90th percentile.

If the Rockets want a shooter to space the floor for Harden and Dwight Howard to run pick-and-rolls on a never-ending loop, Beverley's the better fit.

And if Lin spent more time as the primary ball-handler in a second unit that didn't feature Harden, there's a very good chance that he'd give the Rockets a a little dose of "Linsanity Lite." But as he was used last year, Lin never had the opportunity to maximize his skills.

 

Revival

USA TODAY Sports

It sounds crazy to say that one of the NBA's most globally popular players needs to jumpstart his career, but Lin's star has definitely fallen over the past year or so.

A reserve role would allow him to do what he does best: drive and kick, draw fouls and relentlessly attack defenses with a live dribble. Lin's not a perfect player, so for him (and his team) to be successful, it makes sense to put him in positions that maximize his strengths.

If Lin's willing to accept a different role, he could be in for a career revival.

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