They say that playoff basketball exposes all of a team’s weaknesses. After Sunday night, I realized that that statement couldn’t be any more true.
The Rockets’ greatest flaw all season had been their lack of interior depth. Outside of Omer Asik, they really couldn’t count on anyone with any size to give them anything consistently. And while Jeremy Lin’s shooting has vastly improved over the course of the season, his overall play at the point guard position has been shaky. It’s been no secret, even dating back to the days of Linsanity, that Lin’s game isn’t particularly refined.
The Rockets will enter tomorrow’s Game 2 with adjustments needed to be made. Greg Smith, who did little of anything–aside from clogging the lane–will likely see a drastic cut in minutes. There are those who hope that Lin’s minutes also are reduced.
Lin, on Sunday, was atrocious. He missed most of his shots, he forced bad passes. Since he couldn’t blow past his man, he couldn’t do much of anything. On the other hand, his backup, Patrick Beverley, was the sole bright spot for the team. But to bench Lin now–as some have proposed–would be foolish.
There’s no harm in benching Smith because it’s unclear whether he fits into the team’s long term plans. He’s battling for the spot with Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones; Josh Smith, in the summer, might also be an option.
But Lin, presumably, is ‘the man’ at point, locked in for another two years. If he’s going to be around, if he’s intended as part of the core, he needs to be on the court for the thrashing. No matter how bad he plays, Lin won’t learn from sitting on the bench.
He needs to understand the flaws in his game by having them exposed, as they were on Sunday. He needs to see why a point guard must have nuance in his arsenal and must be able to play at different speeds. He needs to see why he must learn to drive left and why he must learn to be effective even when unable to get a first step on his man. He needs to see just how far he still needs to go in the area of skill development.
One of my biggest complaints with Kevin McHale this season was his handling of Lin. If the latter was having a poor game, McHale almost always would bench him in the 4th quarter. Given that Lin is the only other player than Harden who can get his own shot, the practice was downright short-sighted. Most good coaches, like Gregg Popovich, take their lumps early in the year, sacrificing some in the present for player development. If they know they’ll need a guy later, they’ll build him towards that. McHale didn’t do that. Predictably, now, when the Rockets have needed Lin, like late in the Laker game, he hasn’t had the confidence to step up. Lin just deferred to Harden, just like the other players, because he hadn’t been in that position too many times. He couldn’t learn because he was sitting on the bench.
Hopefully the Rockets won’t make that similar mistake with Lin’s overall playing time. Beverley needs to play more, but that should come at the expense of the young ‘bigs.’ Lin needs to play now because if he is to be a part of the team’s future, he needs to take the lumps with his teammates.