Like any young point guard, Jeremy Lin has a few things that he needs to work on during training camp. Entering his second season as the Houston Rockets' starter, the 25-year-old playmaker could develop into the team's ace in the hole with continued improvement in a few key areas.
Lin's first season in Houston had its ups and downs. He didn't miss a game until suffering a chest injury at the tail end of the team's first-round battle with Oklahoma City. He averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per game and shot 44 percent from the field.
"If people hadn't seen that month or five weeks in New York—and Jeremy's first year of playing was last season—people would be saying, 'Dang, that was a heck of a rookie year for the kid," said coach Kevin McHale at Rockets Media Day, via the team's official website.
The instant attention that Lin has drawn since getting his first break with the Knicks has overshadowed the fact that he's still a work in progress. He's played a total 150 games (including playoffs) in his very brief career.
That's a small sample size to cast a final judgement on any player, especially Lin. With the pressure to carry the Rockets reduced by the addition of Dwight Howard and the emergence of James Harden, the Harvard product should make a mental to-do list of aspects of his game that need work in training camp.
1. Be Smarter with the Basketball
It's a known fact that guys who earn their paychecks by driving to the basket and making plays are going to ratchet up more turnovers than, say, catch-and-shoot guys that hang out around the perimeter. A look at those among the worst at holding onto the basketball will read as a who's who of the league's best talent.
By comparison, Lin's 2.9 turnovers per game isn't horrendous. In fact, it is down from the 3.6 turnovers a night he averaged with the Knicks (although he played significantly more games with Houston, so that comparison is a bit skewed).
Again, last season was the first time Lin played a full 82 games and went through the rigors of being a starting point guard. There are going to be some growing pains.
Still, Lin can continue to reduce his mistakes by putting that Ivy League education to good use on the court. At times, he forced passes into tight spots and made some really bad mistakes with the basketball in an effort to make plays.
In this clip from Game 1 of Houston's opening-round showdown with the Thunder, we see some of Lin's costly errors. The video starts off with Lin making a risky cross-court pass to Omer Asik that ends up going the other way.
On that play, the intentions were reasonable, but the execution was poor. The pass didn't have much zip, and the distance between Asik, and Lin gave the Thunder enough time to jump into the lane. Lin could have been a little more patient and waited for something better to open up or even passed the ball around.
At the 1:27 mark of the reel, Lin's carelessness strikes again. He attempts a rather foolish pass from one corner of the court to the other, and it is easily stolen by Kevin Durant. Those are the kinds of passes you shouldn't bother trying against a good defensive team like Oklahoma City. Lin would have been better off dumping it off in the paint.
A few seconds later, Lin succumbs to an Oklahoma City double-team. In his defense, that's a tough spot to dribble out of, especially with an athletic defender like Russell Westbrook in pursuit. Still, better ball-handling might have changed the outcome of that play, as would some better court vision.
All of these mistakes can be attributed to inexperience and increased pressure (especially in the playoffs) to make plays. This season, Lin can't use those reasons as a crutch. He can reduce turnovers simply by being a little wiser with his decision-making.
With his intelligence and a litany of options around him, Lin shouldn't have much trouble finding someone that can make things happen this season.
Improving in this area is a critical need for pretty much any Rockets player not named Omer Asik or Dwight Howard. The Rockets were a bit too generous in terms of letting other teams score on them last season. The team gave up an average of 102.5 points per game.
The tandem of Howard and Asik will help Houston protect the rim better. Chandler Parsons and James Harden have both made becoming better defenders a focus of their offseason planning. It all starts with Jeremy Lin being able to stop the ball, though.
In a league filled with good point guards (particularly in the Western Conference), it is imperative that Lin gets better at hindering the opponent's offense. Even if it is something as simple as funneling guys into Dwight Howard, it will be an improvement.
Last season, opponents shot 50.9 percent against Lin as opposed to 48.7 percent when he was on the bench, according to 82games.com. In the earlier video, we saw Lin routinely leave his assignment, which allowed Derek Fisher to drain some open threes.
Even at his advanced age and with his skills diminished, Derek Fisher is not someone you leave open behind the arc. Russell Westbrook also seemed to have little trouble putting up points against Lin.
In terms of the league's worst defenders, Lin doesn't possess the same lackadaisical approach that guys like Greivis Vasquez or Luke Ridnour do. At 6'3" and 200 pounds, he has good enough size to be a capable defender.
The Rockets have a backup point guard with defensive chops in Patrick Beverley. While Lin shouldn't worry about Beverley taking his job just yet, an inability to stop opposing guards will certainly lead to Linsanity losing minutes to his understudy in crunch time.
3. Improve from Behind the Arc
Dwight Howard's presence in the paint is going to cause defenses to collapse on him inside. That will lead to some open opportunities on the perimeter for Houston's bevy of skilled shooters. One of the guys who will benefit from these open looks will be Jeremy Lin.
That's why it is important for Lin to become a better outside shooter. He shot just under 34 percent from deep during the regular season last year, which was up from the 32 percent he managed as a Knick. In the playoffs, that number dropped to a putrid 16.7 percent.
Lin's shot charts during the regular season and playoffs gives a deeper look into where he struggled. In the regular season, his weak spots were at the top of the key and in the right corner.
In the playoffs, he missed nearly every attempt with the exception of two makes from the left side.
Fortunately, there has been a noticeable change in Lin's jumper during training camp. According to The Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen, Lin made some tweaks to his shot and has a "more natural shooting motion."
"It's smoother," Lin said. "It was a conscious decision. We worked on it in the offseason to make it more natural. I rely on my shooting coach a lot. This is an evolution of it."
With so many mouths to feed in Houston's offense, Lin will have to make the most out of his touches. In a weird twist, Lin can do to opposing defenses what Fisher did to him in the playoffs: make them pay for sagging off on the perimeter.
If the alterations to Lin's shot work out, the Rockets will become even more devastating from behind the arc, and defenses will be forced to pick between Howard on the inside or the marksmen on the outside.
Lin enters this season as the Rockets' X-factor. Houston has enough star power to be formidable even without extraordinary contributions from their starting point guard. However, strong development in the aforementioned areas as well as improvement in Lin's left hand could turn the team's "Big Three" into a "Big Four."
With a season under his belt, the learning curve will be less of an issue. The pressure may have dwindled, but Lin will remain one of the NBA's most talked-about players. His supporters will continue to glorify his rise to stardom, while his detractors will find ways to nitpick his game.
The need to improve isn't lost on Lin. In an interview with Craig Sager during Rockets Media Day, Lin said his focus this summer was on "my left hand, my jump shot and my defense."
With Dwight Howard on board, fans and opponents alike have a new reason to shift their focus away from Jeremy Lin. It is now up to the beleaguered guard to make them understand why everyone was watching in the first place.
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