Several conditions need to be met before any and every non-superstar NBA player can reach his absolute ceiling. He needs the right system, the right teammates and the right role.
Lin’s also found the perfect role, coming off the bench as a scorer who’s been given a fast-paced offense, loose flow and the freedom to attack the rim whenever he sees fit. Pick-and-rolls are numerous.
Peak Lin requirements are to be surrounded by big bodies who crash the glass, outlet the ball and debilitate opposing guards with screens on the perimeter.
He needs shooters on the wing and the floor always spread. He needs a secondary (or primary) ball-handler able to penetrate the defense then kick it out, allowing him to attack an off-balance recovering defender.
Houston loves playing as fast as possible whenever Lin is on the court, averaging 100.06 possessions per 48 minutes—only Casspi has a higher number. Last season when he was a starter, Houston was faster with Lin on the floor, too.
And two seasons ago when he was with New York, the Knicks had a pace of 97.5 with Lin in the game, and 94.9 with him out.
Despite showing off an improved jump shot and improved range this season, the Rockets rarely run plays for him off the ball. He doesn’t come off screens or cut into open space for an easier look. That's fine, though.
He’s slowly becoming someone who can space the floor standing out on the perimeter, but despite shooting a career-high 37.5 percent from behind the three-point line, opposing teams have yet to treat him like a real threat out there.
Just look at this shot chart. Lin's been above-average in all the areas he attacks most often.
The best play for Lin is to give him a high screen and get out of the way, which is wonderful considering a convenient partnership with Howard, who's one of the best pick-and-roll bigs of all time.
According to mySynergySports, 28.4 percent of Lin's possessions end with him as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. That's good news for the Rockets, because he's shooting 51.3 percent in those situations and is the 27th-most efficient player in the league.
Of the top 25 players who lead the NBA in drives per game, only one makes at least 60 percent of them. That’d be Lin, who’s at an astounding 63 percent, higher than Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker. Not bad.
Here are two clips that highlight just how effective Lin can be attacking the rim off a high pick-and-roll.
The first comes against the Knicks, with Houston deploying a super-small unit that spaces the floor perfectly by placing reputable spot-up shooters in each corner, with a third drifting above the three-point line behind the play, dragging his defender out there with him.
Without hesitation, Lin blows past a Terrence Jones-assisted screen and heads straight to the rim before any Knicks are able to rotate over and get in his way. The result is exaggerated because New York is an atrocious defensive team, and Tyson Chandler was out with a leg injury. But Lin is this aggressive against everybody.
Had the man defending the weak-side corner rotated over, Lin would have simply hit Francisco Garcia with a dart, and Houston would end the possession attempting a wide-open three.
Here we have Lin and Howard working together against the Denver Nuggets. Lin first uses Howard's screen to get a slight step on his defender, Ty Lawson. He then meanders toward the rim, keeping his dribble alive while Howard rolls into the paint.
As Lin nears the baseline, Lawson's help (and Howard's defender), J.J. Hickson, is forced to come off the ball and drop back toward Howard, eliminating the alley-oop as a viable option. It doesn't matter, because Lin's primary objective here is to score, and as soon as Hickson shades over to Howard, he slivers in for the reverse layup.
Other offenses around the league would work to Lin's strengths—especially speedy ones deployed by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder—but as you saw in the previous clip, the players on Houston are a perfect complement to his skill set.
Short of playing with Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks (inarguably the most ideal situation for any guard who loves running a pick-and-roll), Lin has everything he needs in his current situation.
Michael Pina has bylines at Bleacher Report, Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Sports On Earth and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.