Just over one week into the 2013 NBA regular season, the Houston Rockets are displaying signs of long-term weakness. The perimeter defense is dreadful, and the offense has been poor in the half court, falling into periods of inefficiency.
In order to cure those two potentially fatal flaws, Houston must name Jeremy Lin its full-time sixth man.
The Rockets are currently 4-2, and due to the fact that Kevin McHale's crew has played just six games, there's no reason to panic. In order for Houston to make the leap to the next level, however, it needs to create the proper rotation early in the season.
According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Lin acknowledged how poorly Houston's current rotation has played on defense.
"I think that last play was just kind of a theme for the night in terms of miscommunications on defense and not being totally locked in," Lin said. "We as a team need to be locked in on defense. It can't be something where we (say), 'Hopefully tonight if we're locked in and we hit a lot of shots, then we're OK.' Our defense has to be constant."
If communication improves, Lin was asked, does this group have the defensive wherewithal and guidance to get it done?
"We have good defenders," he replied. "We have a good system. I think we'll be OK. I just think we came out a little slow today, and we were fighting uphill."
That last part is the key.
Houston has come out slow this season, and its 99-98 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on November 7 was evidence. The Rockets trailed by 17 points at the end of the first quarter, and that was a result of both poor defense and underwhelming execution on the other end.
For that reason, a change must be made.
Erupting on Offense
Lin has played well through six games, averaging 15.3 points, 4.2 assists, 1.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals on a slash line of .547/.438/.750. He hasn't been the problem for Houston, but Lin can be a part of the cure.
The best chance of him doing so is to name him as the full-time sixth man.
Love him or hate him, Lin provides an extraordinary level of energy and aggressiveness when he has the ball in his hands. He's dynamic as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, a menace in the open court and a significantly improved three-point shooter.
Before detractors jump the gun on the short nature of his 2013-14 success, note that Lin shot 37.5 percent from beyond the arc after the 2013 All-Star break.
That type of production is exactly what Houston needs coming off of the bench, as Houston has struggled to score without James Harden. There are players who step up on occasion, but in terms of consistent contributors on offense, the bench is thin.
Lin can change that.
Making Things Fit
Patrick Beverley is a strong point guard with limited offensive upside, while Harden is a scoring superstar with minimal on-ball effectiveness on defense. The second unit has promise, but in terms of what it can do on offense, it's limited.
The only way to make things work is to move Lin to sixth man, and to thus complement Harden with a defensive-minded player: Beverley.
Beverley has battled injuries, but when healthy, he should be the starting point guard for the Rockets. He's more than capable of scoring in small spurts, but his specialty is on defense, where he can lock a man down, crash the boards and force turnovers.
This isn't to say Lin lacks that same potential, but instead to acknowledge that his strengths are on offense.
Historically, the best sixth men are the ones who can create their own shots, and Lin falls into that category. His ability to convert spot-up jumpers is a strong development, but Lin is at his best with the ball in his hands and the court in front of him.
Playing alongside Harden, that just isn't going to happen.
Harden is a ball-dominant player who neutralizes the value of a point guard on the offensive side of the floor. The Bearded One had the eighth-highest usage rate in the NBA last season, per ESPN, and that stems from his desire to both score and facilitate on offense.
In order to make things work, the Rockets need to put Lin in a position where he can lead the offense without Harden cutting into his touches. Lin needs to be the sixth man to make that work.