Most NBA fans are still trying to parse Jeremy Lin from Linsanity and gauge his true worth as a player. But those paying his career extra scrutiny hold one clear truth: Lin is an essential member of his team.
The Houston Rockets’ offensive style is built around a predominance of shot attempts from near the rim and behind the three-point line. A surplus of neither type of shot is possible without the healthy dosage of speed, intuition and ball penetration that Lin gives them.
Eschewing a more formal playbook, the team has learned to trust each other and follow the lead of every possession on a more individual basis, taking advantage of how Lin, James Harden or Chandler Parsons breaks down the defense for them. Or it could be Dwight Howard, receiving the ball in the post, who compels the action that will almost inevitably end in one of the team’s high-return shot attempts.
Lin might not be at the level of Harden in terms of inciting his team’s motion, but the Rockets are built to need both of them.
Perhaps more important are the strides Lin’s game has taken without the ball.
A chorus of doubt and skepticism met his and Harden’s pairing, since both were known to need the ball in their hands to be effective. Lin, however, has adapted to this reality, now boasting an impressively effective field-goal percentage of 68 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts, making him second in the league in this category (only Jose Calderon is better).
Fans calling for a Lin trade as Patrick Beverley continues to look serviceable would be wise to keep Lin’s offensive role in mind. Beverley commits just 1.2 turnovers per game to Lin’s 2.8, making him the often less frustrating point man. And he is an arguably superior (if only marginally) defensive player.
But he cannot offer the firepower Lin does, and firepower is the Rockets’ currency.
The truth of Lin’s value can be hard to keep track of, given his cultural significance and the insane floor productivity he had for that one fateful stretch with the New York Knicks.
But without him in 10 games this year, Houston’s winning percentage dips to .600, down from its average of .650. With him, it's at the elevated clip of .666.
Beverley’s surer handles are simply a somewhat illusory advantage over Lin, as Houston’s principles account for extra turnovers. They make the usually successful bet that they can draw more benefit from a wild, open-court game than their opponents can. Beverley may keep the ball better, but he does less with it.
He can’t bring the heat that Lin does.
Lin is also an important locker room figure. He understands where his team is and where it needs to go as well as any Rockets critic does.
As Lin stated in the video above, “We need to be more cold-blooded as a team. We need to put teams away...we need to build an identity.”
Such a presence can't be overlooked when we consider that the Rockets still boast one of the very youngest squads in the league. Harden is a bit more mum than your average superstar, and Howard—their rotation's elder statesman—has his history of being a distraction.
Despite the media whirlwind constantly around him, Lin’s head has never left the game. His lead has been one for his teammates to follow as the hype, coverage and expectations around them have risen hugely this season.
Simply put, he’s a terrific leader.
Those who want to continue questioning Lin's value should catch up to today. Jeremy Lin is no flash in a pan—he's an indispensable Rocket.