With the addition of All-Star center Dwight Howard, the Houston Rockets improved from playoff team to NBA title contender during the 2013 offseason. In order to attain those championship aspirations, however, X-factor Jeremy Lin needs to thrive as Houston’s franchise point guard.
The blueprint Lin must follow in order to flourish under head coach Kevin McHale includes a variety instructions. Some are simpler than others.
Honestly speaking, Lin doesn’t need to be the game-changing superstar that he was during February 2012 with the New York Knicks. Instead, he simply needs to keep the boat steady while D12 and James Harden shoulder the load.
Lin fell back to earth last season with the Rockets after a magical run with the Knicks, but that lackluster performance doesn’t have to define him as long as he adjusts his game accordingly.
By Jeremy Lin’s own admission, he became “obsessed with trying to be Linsanity” during his first year with the Houston Rockets, according to an article by Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated, which quoted a speech Lin gave to a youth conference in Taiwan.
The Harvard product also said the following:
The coaches were losing faith in me, the basketball fans were making fun of me. Journalists were criticizing me. My Twitter feed was filled with all types of hateful words. I heard ‘overrated, overpaid, a flash in the pan, a bust, a nobody.’ As a result I became really, really frustrated.
Often times fans forget about the daunting crucible most athletes have to go through on a daily basis. Lin was preoccupied with living up to his previous hype as “Linsanity,” which set him up for disappointment.
Moving forward, Lin needs to put that part of his career behind him.
His days of pouring in 38 points against Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers and notching a 28-point, 14-assist, five-steal game against the Dallas Mavericks are no longer feasible now that he is no longer playing in a hyper-offensive system run by Mike D’Antoni (who made Chris Duhon look like an All-Star at times during the 2008-09 season).
In order for him to realize that, he needs to tone down his own lofty expectations.
Jeremy Lin may have shot a career-high 33.9 percent from three-point range a season ago, but that percentage ranked him out of the top 100 in the NBA.
Now that Dwight Howard will be drawing attention in the post and looking for open shooters to find out of double-teams, Lin needs to improve his shooting stroke to keep defenses honest.
Last season, Lin hoisted 257 attempts from beyond the arc, and there’s a good chance that number will remain a constant next season.
On the 2008-09 Orlando Magic squad that made the NBA Finals with Howard, four players attempted more than 200 three-pointers over the course of the season: Rashard Lewis (554), Hedo Turkoglu (376), Mickael Pietrus (223) and Courtney Lee (203). All four of those guys shot a higher percentage that season than Lin’s 33.9 percent.
Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Francisco Garcia and others will get plenty of open looks now that Howard is patrolling the paint. Cashing in on those chances will lead to devastating scoring runs.
Unlike players with ugly shooting form like Shawn Marion and Rajon Rondo, Lin’s shooting stroke is mechanically sound. He simply needs to put in the practice to knock down outside shots consistently.
Jeremy Lin has to limit the success of opponents across from him if he hopes to get big minutes. This may be a roundabout way to say that he needs to improve his defense, but that’s not necessarily the black-and-white answer to his problem.
Lin could certainly stand to improve his defensive abilities. He's not a terrible defender, but improving on that end would only mean good things.
Backup point guard Patrick Beverley, though, has proven himself as a tenacious defender who provides a change of pace when Lin goes to the bench. So at least the Rockets have an option who can complement Lin's shortcomings.
Instead of suddenly morphing into an above-average defender, the Harvard product can limit the production of opponents by different means.
Last season, Lin posted a player efficiency rating of 15.5, while his opponents posted a PER of 17.3, per 82games.com. That was a net production of minus-1.8 for the Rockets point guard.
So while he can help himself by becoming a stingier defender, he can also close the gap by outplaying opponents and shifting that net production to a positive number.
For example, David Lee of the Golden State Warriors is an abysmal interior defender. He surrendered an opponent PER of 17.6 last season, according to 82games.com, but pulled off a net production of plus-2.8 by posting a 20.4 PER himself.
Lee’s poor defense hurt the Warriors, but not nearly as much as it would have if he failed to best his opposite number on a consistent basis.
Everything comes down to efficiency for Lin. As long as he isn’t making defensive mistakes, Houston will be able to live with the outcome.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jeremy Lin is a far more efficient scorer when he attacks the basket. Most players are.
However, his numbers at the rim are not only far superior than his percentages everywhere else, but they’re also better than All-Stars at his same position.
Lin shot 63.7 percent at the rim during 2012-13, according to Basketball Reference. His ability to finish at the basket was better than Russell Westbrook (61.2 percent), Rajon Rondo (59.8 percent) and Kyrie Irving (57.4 percent).
Due to his proficiency to finish at the hoop, Lin should never be settling for mid-range shots unless the 24-second clock is about to expire. His scoring ability at the rim isn’t the only reason why he should be on a constant attack, though.
In addition to scoring points and drawing fouls that send Lin to the charity stripe, his dribble penetration opens up options for the entire offense. When defenders collapse to thwart his drives, it opens up lanes for shooters and cutters to get open.
The Rockets point guard must make the correct decisions in these scenarios to prevent turnovers. Nevertheless, his entire team benefits when he’s aggressive. That is, of course, as long as his aggression is calculated and controlled.
Even during his run of “Linsanity,” Jeremy Lin struggled to limit turnovers. That problem has persisted in Houston.
During the 2012-13 season, Lin turned the ball over 236 times for an average of 2.9 turnovers per game. Only nine other players in the entire league recorded more. Included in that list was teammate James Harden, so turnovers are a huge concern for the Rockets moving forward.
The 2.9 turnovers per game average was lower than the 3.6 he totaled in 35 games for the New York Knicks, but that isn’t much of a consolation.
In order for the point guard to limit them, he needs to slow the game down and make smarter decisions.
As you can see in the embedded video, Lin receives an outlet pass from Omer Asik after the Turkish big man thwarts a drive to the basket. Lin thinks he’s off to the races, but the Utah Jazz do a tremendous job getting back on defense in transition—if you pause at 0:05, you’ll see four Jazz players and only two Rockets in the picture.
At this point, the logical choice for Lin is to slow down, wait for teammates and set up a half-court set. Instead, he tries for a heroic one-on-two drive and gets the ball stolen from behind by a trailing defender—which leads to an easy transition hoop for Utah on the other end.
Turning the ball over is one issue, but when it leads to easy baskets for the opposing team? That can’t happen.
The analysis is critical, but it’s important to note that Lin has only played one full NBA season. He’s still young at just 25 years of age, so he should be able to cut down on turnovers and bad decisions as he gains more experience.