A Tough Love Birthday Present for Jeremy Lin: How to Save Your Career in 7 Steps

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIIAugust 23, 2013

A Tough Love Birthday Present for Jeremy Lin: How to Save Your Career in 7 Steps

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    Jeremy Lin enters his second season with the Houston Rockets having laid the groundwork for a promising career. Like any young player though, there is room for the Harvard product to improve. 

    Where Lin sits among the league's best point guards depends on where you stand on the 25-year-old.

    Supporters could say that, in just 117 games the past two seasons, he has gone from a virtual unknown to a viable playmaker. As for his detractors, the case can be made that there are still many flaws in a player receiving an enormous amount of media attention.

    In his first full season as a NBA starter, Lin averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 assists a game. He also shot 44 percent from the field. His 236 turnovers (2.9 a game), however, was 10th worst in the league (although it is better than James Harden's 295 turnovers, which was the most of any player in the NBA). 

    With Dwight Howard joining the Rockets, the expectations will be amplified. D12's presence takes some of the spotlight off of Lin, but it is still imperative that he works on the weaknesses in his game. 

    In honor of his 25th birthday today, here are seven steps for Jeremy Lin to salvage his much-scrutinized career. 

Step 1: Cut Down the Turnovers

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    NBA point guards are a lot like NFL quarterbacks. They are responsible for commandeering the offense and putting teammates in the best position to put points on the board. They are also charged with the tough task of taking care of the ball. 

    Last season, Jeremy Lin was like Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman: His overall numbers look good on the surface, but the turnovers were a real killer. In Lin's defense, his 2.9 turnovers per game last are down from the 3.6 TOs he averaged during his time with the Knicks in 2011-12. 

    Still, Lin needs to improve on taking care of the basketball. It doesn't help matters that fellow backcourt mate, James Harden, was a turnover machine last year, too (3.8 TOs per game). If the Rockets are going to live up to the hype, they will need their star guard tandem to not give opponents opportunities to score in transition. 

    Whether it is due to inexperience or feeling pressure to make plays, Lin tends to force the issue. Someone with his intelligence needs to be smarter with the basketball. Better ball-handling and wiser passing will help him curb the turnovers. 

    Given the way he managed to lower his average last season, a goal of no more than two turnovers per game seems like a realistic bar to set for himself. 

Step 2: Don't Try to Be the Hero

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    According to Laura Leigh Noske of the The Gospel Herald, Jeremy Lin told over 20,000 people at a conference in Taiwan that he was "supposed to save Houston basketball."

    "I became so obsessed with becoming a great basketball player...trying to be Linsanity, being this phenomenon that took the NBA by storm," he said. "The coaches were losing faith in me, basketball fans were making fun of me."

    That kind of drive is admirable for a young player. However, it is one thing to be motivated and another to psyche yourself out by trying to live up to unrealistic expectations.

    Lin shouldn't have felt tasked with saving Houston basketball. He should have focused on playing within himself and continuing to improve his game. 

    No one man can put an entire city on his back and be a savior. LeBron James couldn't do it by himself in Cleveland. Chris Paul couldn't do it in New Orleans. Dwight Howard couldn't do it in Orlando.  

    With Howard now playing alongside James Harden, there is virtually no pressure on Jeremy Lin. All of the spotlight will be on Houston's new $88 million man and his bearded sidekick. Lin shouldn't feel like he has to carry the team or force the issue. 

    The game of basketball is as mental as it is physical. Putting pressure on himself will only hinder Lin's confidence. Lin should focus on continuing to develop and leave the hero antics for the guys being paid to play the role. 

Step 3: Build Chemistry with James Harden and Dwight Howard

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    The most important factor for the Houston Rockets' championship hopes is James Harden and Dwight Howard being able to co-exist. A close second is Jeremy Lin building a chemistry with his two superstar teammates. 

    The pairing of Lin and Harden had its ups and downs last season. As two men used to dominating the basketball, there were still kinks that needed to be worked out before they could become a solid tandem. 

    The two have a season of playing together under their belts. Now, Lin has an understanding of how to play with "The Beard." He has a feel for where Harden likes the ball and what the talented shooting guard does best. 

    If Lin is going to continue to keep Patrick Beverley at an arm's length for the starting point guard job, improved chemistry with his backcourt partner will be key. Equally as important will be building an accord with Dwight Howard. 

    As with Harden, Lin will have to get an idea of where and when to get the ball to his prized big man. Given both of their skill sets, Lin and Howard could develop into one of the league's better pick-and-roll combinations. To make that work, both men will have to commit to working with each other. 

    Lin has the daunting task of being the floor general of an offense with many mouths to feed. The allocation of shots will be huge for the Rockets because you want to keep everyone happy. The quickest way for that to be achieved is for Howard and Harden to develop a relationship with the man in charge of getting them the ball. 

Step 4: Improve on the Pick-and-Roll

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    As mentioned in the last slide, Jeremy Lin and Dwight Howard have the potential to be a lethal pick-and-roll combination. That is contingent on Lin improving as the ball handler in that area.

    According to SynergySports, Lin turned the ball over 20.9 percent as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll last season. A big reason for this is Lin rolling to the wrong side when his teammate sets the pick (For example, check out the play at the 1:30 mark in this clip). When he does that, he shows a tendency of forcing a bad pass. 

    Better decision-making and understanding of the pick-and-roll will be a huge boost to Lin's career. Taking advantage of Howard's screens could work wonders for Lin, if he utilizes them properly. It will also help if Howard shows more of a willingness to be the roll man as well. 

    The Rockets have enough offensive firepower that they can beat you in a number of ways. Chandler Parsons gives them a versatile forward that is dangerous from the outside. Howard will continue to be a monster in the post. James Harden is going to earn his pay attacking the basket. 

    The pick-and-roll, however, can be this team's bread and butter. It all depends on the point man being able to pull it off. 

Step 5: Improve with the Left Hand

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    Jeremy Lin struggles when he has to utilize his left hand. 

    It is a criticism that Lin and his supporters have heard for a while. While Lin has made the occasional play going to his left, it is clear that he favors the right side. It could be that he simply finds has a comfort zone in that area of the floor or it could be a lack of confidence in his non-dominant hand. 

    The shot charts show that Lin prefers going to his right. It is where he takes the majority of his shots and the success rate is higher on the right side than the left. In fairness, the chart would suggest that Lin's biggest hot spot is at the top of the key, where he's converted 58 percent of his shots from just inside the three-point line. 

    Still, improving on the left side will only stand to help Lin down the road. It will make him less predictable, especially when coming off screens in the pick-and-roll. Defenders know he likes to go right. If he's able to finish with either hand, it will make him more versatile.

    It will also give the naysayers one less thing to stick in Lin's craw. It may seem like nitpicking to the pro-Lin crowd, but shoring up that area will benefit Lin in the future. 

Step 6: Improve Defensively

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    In his list of the NBA's best defensive point guards, fellow Bleacher Report columnist Kelly Scaletta put Jeremy Lin at No. 10. That's not a bad standing for a guy with just a season and a half of pro experience.

    Still, in a league that is very deep at the point guard spot, Lin must get better at defending his colleagues. At 6'3", the Harvard product has good size and length for his position. He lacks ideal quickness, which is problematic when facing the likes of Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook

    Dwight Howard protecting the rim will help a little in deterring opponents from attacking the basket. Lin has to improve at stopping the ball and making guys work for their points. According to 82games.com, Lin finished last season with an "effective field goal percentage allowed" of nearly 51 percent. 

    Like with many aspects of his game, Lin's defense will improve with a strong work ethic and experience. A kid that has played 117 NBA games isn't going to become Gary Payton overnight. It is up to Lin and the Rockets coaching staff to develop their starting point guard on the defensive side of the ball. 

    Houston could certainly stand to gain from any improvement on the defensive front. The team allowed 108.5 points per game last year, which was 28th in the NBA. By becoming more of a two-way guard, it will ensure that the team keeps Lin out on the court during the crucial parts of the game. 

    At worst, Lin funnels opponents into Howard as they are driving to the hoop. At best, Lin improves on his 1.6 steals per game from last season and the Rockets become more than just a pure offensive team. 

Step 7: Improve the Outside Jumper

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    Jeremy Lin's outside shot is arguably his biggest weakness. He shot nearly 34 percent from behind the arc last season, which is actually an improvement from two years ago. In the playoffs, he really got cold from the three-point line to the tune of an abysmal 17 percent. 

    It is imperative that Lin becomes more than a slashing point guard. Making opponents respect his jumper will open the door for him to make plays in other ways. 

    A good example of this is teammate Chandler Parsons. Since Parsons is such an effective outside shooter, he routinely gets defenders off of their feet with pump fakes because they always have to be mindful of his jumper. 

    Once Parsons fools them with the fake, he can drive to the basket, move up for a better shot or choose to get others involved. 

    Defenders don't have the same concern for Lin and, really, why should they? He's a career 33 percent shooter from three-point range. 

    He has to get better as a shooter to keep defenses honest and make himself a more well-rounded player. With Houston's "big three" hogging most of the attention, Lin will see a lot of open looks.

    He can't capitalize on those opportunities if his shots keep hitting nothing but iron.