Jeremy Lin: Why Houston Rockets PG's Play Has Markedly Improved in Recent Weeks

Jared Dubin@@JADubin5Featured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 02:  Jeremy Lin #7 of the Houston Rockets drives past Roger Mason Jr. #8 of the New Orleans Hornets at Toyota Center on January 2, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Jeremy Lin got off to a slow start to the 2012-13 season. Through December 10, he had made just 38.1 percent of his attempts and had shot a below-league-average percentage from five of six zones in the NBA.com media stats site’s database. 

Like last season, Lin was shooting well below league average in the restricted area and on above the break three-point shots.

However, after shooting 5.3 percent better than league average on shots inside the paint but outside the restricted area last season in New York, Lin was shooting 14.6 percent worse than league average from the same location through December 10. And after shooting 5.5 percent better than league average on mid-range shots last season in New York, Lin was shooting 14.4 percent worse than league average on mid-range shots through December 10. 

On December 10, Rockets coach Kevin McHale returned from a prolonged leave of absence due to the health and eventual passing of his daughter. Since McHale’s return to the bench, Lin’s play has markedly improved.

He’s gone from 14.6 percent below league average on shots inside the paint but outside the restricted area to just 0.9 percent below league average. He’s improved from 14.4 percent below league average on mid-range shots to 9.9 percent above league average. He’s also drastically improved his finishing from the restricted area, jumping from 52.3 percent to 65.8 percent, the latter figure 5.9 percent above league average. Overall, he’s shot 49.4 percent from the field since McHale’s return.

Much of the improvement in Lin’s play can be traced to his performance on pick-and-roll plays. Last season in New York, Lin averaged 0.8 points per play (PPP) as a ball handler on pick-and-roll plays, shooting 43.5 percent from the field and turning the ball over on about one-quarter of those plays.

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Through December 10 of this season, Lin had produced 0.73 PPP as the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls, shooting 42.6 percent from the field and turning the ball over on 20 percent of his plays.

Since McHale’s return, Lin has produced 63 points on 66 plays as a pick-and-roll ball handler—about 0.95 PPP, representing a massive improvement not only over his play earlier this season, but over last season as well. He has made 57.1 percent of his shots during that time.

What’s changed? Lin has gotten back to the things that made him a successful pick-and-roll player before—namely, straight-line drives to the rim. While earlier in the season, Lin would often come around a screen and hesitate before probing the lane, he’s been much more aggressive of late.

Taking a straight path to the rim has always been Lin’s best plan of attack. He is an athletic and creative finisher with a quick first step, so turning the corner aggressively and attacking the rim should almost always be his primary option when coming around a screen.

In the first clip above, Lin gets a screen from small forward Chandler Parsons. The Bucks try to use the “hedge-and-over” strategy of pick-and-roll defense, wherein the screener’s man quickly jumps out into the ball-handler’s path to momentarily throw him off and the ball-handler’s man chases him from behind. Because Lin keeps his forward momentum and continues straight for the rim as Parsons’ man backs off, he’s able to make a beeline for the rim and get himself a layup.

In the second clip, Lin is running a high pick-and-roll with James Harden, and his defender goes under the screen rather than over. Often when defending a subpar outside shooter in pick-and-rolls, teams will have the defender go under the screen to try to bait them into taking a pull-up jump shot.

Here, though, Lin attacks the space he’s given when coming around the screen and gets right into the lane. By the time the defender recovers, he’s going full speed, so when Lin throws an up fake at the defender, he easily creates room for a short jumper in the lane. 

In the third clip, Lin is running another one-two pick-and-roll with Harden, this time in delayed transition. Though some players would shy away and take a pull-up jumper when Josh Smith is approaching for a block, Lin stays aggressive and finishes over him at the basket.

Showing aggression turning the corner also allows him to create more space for short jump shots in the lane and from the mid-range. When defenders think he’s going to attack the basket when coming around the screen, they’ll back off, allowing him to get to a spot on the floor he likes, pull up and let it go. 

In each of the two clips above against the Chicago Bulls, Lin comes off the screen hard and forces the big man defender to retreat into the lane. When they do, he stops on a dime and puts up a short, open jumper. 

Getting into the teeth of the defense not only affords Lin better shot opportunities, but it can suck in the defense to create easy shots for his teammates.

In the first clip below, Lin draws two Cleveland defenders after aggressively attacking the lane off a pick-and-roll with Patrick Patterson, so he dumps it off to Greg Smith for a baseline dunk.

The second clip almost looks like a mirror image of the first. Again Lin runs a high pick-and-roll with Patterson, turns the corner and gets right into the lane. As Lin gets just below the free-throw line, the eyes of four of the five Hornets on the court are on him, so he throws one of his patented look-away passes to Smith for a baseline dunk. 

In the end, it all comes down to aggression for Lin. When he sits back, plays passively and willingly goes where the defense wants him to, he’s not a very effective pick-and-roll player. But when he makes up his mind that he wants to get into the lane when he comes around a screen, he becomes so much more dangerous.