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Assessing Jeremy Lin: Part 2

This post is Part 2 of this series.  You can read Part 1 here, written back on June 25, where I discussed some of Jeremy Lin’s weaknesses.  

The following facts have been stipulated:

  1. Jeremy Lin will effectuate an $8.37million cap hit next season.
  2. Lin shot 34% overall from ’3′ last season.
  3. In the month of February, Lin shot 42%; for March, he shot 40%.
  4. The ideal guard next to Harden would possess some adequate long-range shooting proficiency. 

The above points are almost universally undisputed.  From there, things become a bit more unclear.

Lin’s greatest quality is his ability to attack the defense off the dribble, especially in utilizing the pick and roll.  Here in Houston, next to Harden, he’s been harnessed, not getting as many opportunities as he did in New York, often relegated to the role of a spot-up shooter.  Lin showed late last year that there’s hope for sustained shooting accuracy.  But the circumstances beg the question: if an accurate shooter could be acquired at a cheaper price tag, would it not be smarter salary allocation to simply trade Lin?

In example, now, you’re taking an $8million cap hit on a player whom you hope can shoot 40% on 3′s for the year.  Does that really make sense when you can most likely have someone who definitely can shoot at that accuracy but at a fraction of the cost?  (e.g: Aaron Brooks or one of many other options).

Now the obvious response to that question is that Lin brings many other skills to the table.  Unlike any sweet shooting alternative, he can get to the rim and in fact is among the best in the league in the pick-and-roll.  But does this really matter if he isn’t being allowed to attack?

The critics of Lin often brush the immediately aforementioned reality under the rug, rolling their eyes and hoping that denying its veracity will make it less true.  But to any neutral observer, the situation last year was indisputably clear: out of all of the team’s regulars, Jeremy Lin was the one player in whom Kevin McHale had the least faith.  Lin routinely sat on the bench at the end of games, regardless of whether it was Tony Douglas or Beverley playing in his ‘stead.  He was routinely the quickest to be pulled when the team got off to slow starts.  He was rarely ever the focal point of attack and in fourth quarters, he rarely handled the ball.*

(*One interesting thing I noted last season was that after crossing half-court, late in games, if Lin was on the court, he rarely ever set up the play.  This was in contrast to Beverley who, when in the fourth quarter, if not initiating the play, at least was allowed to handle the ball until Harden got free.  I’m not suggesting that this observation is probative of any greater implication, but at the least, it’s an interesting nuance of interteammate dynamics.)

It’s been beaten to death whether this shackling was for good cause.  But it happened.  Yet unlike Beverley, Lin is a player who, if given reps in isolation, is capable of production.  If that’s the case, shouldn’t he be getting them?  After his December 10th explosion against the Spurs where he scored 38 points–a game in which James Harden did not play–I mused:

In scoring 38 points in his first outing without James Harden, Lin put to rest any doubts regarding his overall ability.  It just simply is not possible that that performance (against the league’s best team) and last year’s Linsanity stretch were flukes.  It just cannot be.  One cannot achieve such heights in such a manner, in that many instances, by mere luck or random chance.  These games are indisputably probative of actual ability.  Jeremy Lin is not elite, but he can be a very good, game-changing player in this league.

It makes perfectly practical sense to want to keep the ball in Harden’s hands as much as possible.  But inevitably, at some point, he’s going to get bottled up by a long wing defender.  We saw it against Andre Iguodala and again against Paul George.  It’ll happen in the playoffs.  When that time comes, the Rockets need the one other guy on this roster that can create a shot to be ready; they need Lin to already have been fully acclimated as a second option; they need Lin to have already gotten enough reps to be comfortable in the role.  That definitely was not the case last year in the playoffs.

Aside from staggering Harden and Lin’s minutes to the full extent possible, Harden’s touches should be reduced with Lin’s increased.  Not only will it wet Lin’s feet but it will keep Harden fresh for the stretch run (he badly wore down late last year, as we all saw.)  Such tinkering might come at the cost of a few wins early on but it’s for the best in the long run.  It’s an adjustment that has to be made.

The Rockets need to make Lin more a part of the offense or trade him.  This isn’t some novel suggestion – you’ll see it parroted all across the ‘web.  But much of those who posit the call do it with just Lin’s interests in mind.  I’m saying it in the interests of the Rockets.  It simply does not make sense to keep a player at an $8million cap hit and play him out of role.  You either play him to his strengths or you make better use of that money.  But there are far cheaper alternatives to an $8million spot-up shooting Jeremy Lin.

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About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.