Thursday, August 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Jeremy Lin's new reality

A year after "Linsanity," normalcy returned to Jeremy Lin's life in Houston. He wasn't on the cover of Time or leading Sportscenter; he wasn't even the most high-profile new guard on the Rockets. James Harden is the face of the franchise; Lin is just one of a number of young players trying to find their way playing next to him. In his first season as a full-time starter, Lin had respectable statistics, averaging 13 points and six assists a game on 44 percent shooting.

But while Harden took a lot of pressure off Lin, the fit between the two guards was hardly perfect in their first season together. Harden, one of the most gifted playmakers in the NBA, needs the ball in his hands. As a result, the other perimeter players have to be comfortable playing without the ball, spotting up around the three-point line and living off his penetration. Lin, in contrast, is an inconsistent shooter who likes to create his own offense.

On the other side of the ball, Harden's defense was often inadequate. That's partly the result of his offensive responsibilities -- he finished a gargantuan 29 percent of Houston's possessions last season when he was in the game -- and partly because, unlike most NBA stars, he isn't an elite athlete. He dominates through size and feel for the game, two traits that don't necessarily translate to the defensive end. The guard next to him should be an excellent defender, which has never been one of the strengths of Lin's game.

Great shooting guards don't need to share a backcourt with a high-level point guard. Look at Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade; for the most part, they've played next to relatively limited guards like Derek Fisher and Mario Chalmers. In his one season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Gary Payton struggled, standing in the corner while Kobe dominated the ball. Harden's ideal backcourt partner is a defensive specialist who can make threes and stay out of the way.

Lin's skill-set replicates, rather than complements, Harden's. His best game of the season -- a 38-point, seven-assist showing against the San Antonio Spurs -- came when Harden was out. While he can be effective as a secondary playmaker in half-court sets, a starting point guard who shoots 33 percent from three-point line in the Houston offense is leaving points on the board. Lin, who shot 33 percent from the college three at Harvard, simply has to become a better shooter.

In their first year together, Lin and Harden shared the court for more than 2,200 minutes, outscoring opponents by +2.2 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball Reference. In contrast, in the 365 minutes that Harden played with backup Patrick Beverley, the Rockets were +7.1 per 100 possessions.

Beverley, a 25-year-old who began last season playing in Europe, is everything that Lin is not. He's a ballhawk who averaged 1.9 steals per 36 minutes and shot 37 percent from beyond the arc. On a per-minute basis, Lin and Beverley were remarkably similar last season; Beverley had a 15.3 PER and Lin had a 14.9 mark. And while Lin struggled with a chest injury in the playoffs, Beverley had a coming out party after being moved into the starting lineup, averaging 12 points and five assists on 43 percent shooting. He became known for injuring Russell Westbrook while lunging for a ball, but his ability to pressure the ball for 94 feet helped the Rockets turn the series around.

This is a business where teams often make decisions based on finances, not skills. Going forward, as the Rockets front office tries to improve its talent base, it might wonder why it is paying Lin $8 million when it can get the same production for $1 million from Beverley. The Rockets gave Lin a big contract last offseason, but it was only for three years.

To justify his salary, Lin will have to improve as a shooter, playmaker and defender. Heck, Beverley may not be his only competition. Isaiah Canaan, the Rockets third-string point guard, was a second-team All-American who lead Murray State to a 31-2 record as a junior. He would love to get the same opportunity Lin received in New York.

As hard as Lin worked to get a starting spot, he'll have to work even harder to keep it. That's life in the NBA.

This article originally appeared on SBNation.

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