Can Jeremy Lin Get Back on Track in Time for Houston Rockets' Playoffs?

John WilmesContributor IMarch 12, 2014

Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin (7) drives past Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic (1) in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin is slumping.

He’s averaging just 9.8 points per game since the end of January, shooting 40 percent from the floor in February—way down from his season average of 45. In March, Lin has been just 22 percent from beyond the arc.

Even his assist totals are way down: Lin hasn’t had more than six helpers since Feb. 10.

The former New York Knicks sensation had previously been playing terrifically, even garnering attention as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. He was almost nearing Linsane levels of efficiency and was a critical part of the Rockets’ fast-charging offense.

What happened?

Michael Pina of Red94:

Lin is missing wide open three-pointers on a regular basis, forcing drives into the teeth of the defense, and scoring nearly all his points in transition. In his defense, Lin was yanked in and out of the starting lineup with various parts of his body aching at any given moment, but since New Year’s Day he’s made just 26.2% of his three-pointers (out of a mushy 42 attempts). Lin’s per game numbers shouldn’t be better than last year, but his jumper is a critical weapon in Houston’s offense; for it to stall out is very troublesome.

Lin seems to have fallen behind as his team develops—his slump is nearly concurrent with the best streak of basketball the Rockets have played, collecting the league’s best record since Jan. 1.

The hope for Lin is that this is merely a funk and not the result of increasingly sophisticated scouting reports on him or of an accumulation of injury problems—those kept him out of the playoffs last year.

Watching Lin struggle to get past 38-year-old Ray Allen (55-second mark) is a pretty sure sign, however, that he just lacks his usual speed:

Lin’s 26-point outing in the Rockets’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday does encourage, suggesting his health is returning and his invaluable first step too—without it, Lin’s drives hold much less muster and defenses begin to isolate him as a slightly above-average shooter.

Without proving that he’s back to his lightning self, Lin may be in jeopardy of losing minutes to newcomer Jordan Hamilton, who’s showed himself to be an effective shooter and also versatile elsewhere since coming over from the Denver Nuggets.

Lin is still respected enough and has an impressive enough acumen and resume to keep averaging quality minutes—but his playing time has dropped, as he’s averaged 20.2 minutes in March after clocking 32.9 per game in January and 27.1 in February.

Lin’s value to the Rockets needs to be proved down the stretch for him to regain his more voluminous spot in the rotation. When push comes to shove, coach Kevin McHale is going to give the floor to whoever gives him the best chance to win in a seven-game series.

Rockets fans should wish for a resurgent Lin.

Houston is simply a more difficult team when he’s around as the back-breaking extra player, delivering slashing action distinct enough from James Harden’s and Chandler Parsons’ to push defenses into overload. He’s also an ace at operating within the Rockets’ uniquely relentless full-court mode.

Lin has a chance make noise in the playoffs and give us something more than a postscript to Linsanity. Let’s just hope his body lets it happen.