Could Lin be the league's next great sixth man?
It's no coincidence that Jeremy Lin's best days as a Houston Rocket have come in a sixth man role.
One year removed from "Linsanity," the Harvard product didn't disappoint in his first year as a starter in 2012-13—13.4 PTS, 6.1 AST, 3.0 REB, 33.9% 3PT. But he didn't come close to fulfilling the unrealistic expectations of him and James Harden combining for one of the league's best backcourts.
During the average (by Lin's standards) season, Patrick Beverley blossomed into a dynamic player and emerged as a more attractive option for the Rockets' brass as the team's starting point guard.
What was largely built up as a disappointing development for the 25-year-old has ended up being perhaps the best thing that has happened to Lin. Instead of struggling to score double digits each game, he's enjoying Linsanity-like from the field.
Lin is averaging 18.1 points per game in 11 games this season entering Tuesday night—five of which he started. The numbers comparing his starts to the games in which he came off the bench don't lie.
In his first four starts, Lin averaged a respectable 15 points per game on a little over 31 minutes played.
In the seven games since (only one of which he started), he's put up 20 points per game and 35 minutes on average.
He's also proving to be a much more confident shooter in that sixth man role. While he's shooting an average 33.3 percent from beyond the arc in starts, he's shooting at 45.1 percent from deep off the bench (including an epic 9-for-15 performance from three on Wednesday against the Sixers).
These aren't big sample numbers, I know, but they tell the Rockets all they need to know about how to handle this situation moving forward—give Beverley the start, but Lin more minutes.
There's a never-ending fallacy regarding sixth-man players. It's assumed that a player in that role won't play as much, and while that may be true on many occasions, it's also proven wrong many times.
Out of Lin's two monster games this season—49 minutes on Nov. 13 and 46 minutes on Nov. 11—he only started one. His immersion into the lineup only came because of a late decision for Harden to sit out. He also surpassed 30 points in both of those games.
Oh, and did I mention that he followed up those two straight 30-point outings by scoring 21 points and winning in his old stomping grounds—Madison Square Garden—against his former team? Off the bench?
Playing as a sixth man allows a player to be the feature offensive guy on a team that may not be able to give him that opportunity in a starting role. That's especially true with Harden in the fold.
Harden—a versatile scorer and a former sixth man in his own right—is best suited for a pass-first point guard. And while Lin may fit into that category to a degree, he's most effective when firing from deep and using his extra attention to feed teammates.
When Lin is anchoring the bench unit instead of acting as a starting point guard, he's more likely to let it fly—and the numbers prove that it only helps his effectiveness in the game.
All Lin has to do is look at the current star (at least in the backcourt) on this team to see how playing as a sixth man can jump start a career. Harden became one of the league's premier players coming off Oklahoma City's bench.
What should Jeremy Lin be for the Rockets?
While Harden couldn't prove worthy of being the premier offensive weapon while accompanied by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, he could do so in those late-first, early-second quarter or late-third, early-fourth quarter moments. He excelled, and now is doing the same as a star player.
Lin obviously isn't ready to be the guy night in and night out, but he's slowly showing that it wasn't a fluke when he took over the Big Apple's sports scene way back when.
And he's also slowly showing that coming off the bench allows him to do more of what he does best—put the ball in the hoop.
Now, the Rockets owe it to him to put him in the best position possible to continue succeeding.
It just so happens that the best place for him is on the bench and anchoring that sixth man role.