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Examining the Lin/Harden pick-and-roll

It’s safe to say that Jeremy Lin and James Harden are two young basketball players infatuated with the pick-and-roll. Moments before magically transforming it into an Omer Asik-looking-catapult that hurls them towards the basket, they salivate at the site of a ball screen.

For Harden, the pick-and-roll has played a major role in solidifying him as one of the league’s most capable and efficient scorers (according to Synergy Sports, Harden is the second most efficient pick-and-roll ball handler in the league, averaging 1.1 points per possession). In Lin’s case, it waffles between safety raft and stepping stone to consistency (on nearly a third of all his possessions, Lin uses the pick-and-roll, according to Synergy).

Both use it a ton, and both wouldn’t be the same without it. Unfortunately for the Rockets, only one ball exists in play at a time, and while one is taking advantage, the other is rendered useless. Or so we think.

Much has been made of Lin and Harden’s ongoing struggle to coexist, and rightfully so. But in Houston’s victory against the Sixers on Wednesday night, something interesting happened on Jeremy Lin’s second basket. Here it is.

There’s nothing all that crazy about this play: Lin runs a side pick-and-roll, drives to the right (which he basically always does) and scores on a pretty floater at the basket. But notice anything peculiar? Look at who’s setting the screen. It’s not a usual culprit like Asik, Marcus Morris, or Greg Smith. It’s James Harden.

The move takes Philadelphia by surprise. Evan Turner is absolutely petrified to leave Harden alone for a second, so instead of making the easiest play and switching onto Lin, he stays glued to his man while the helpless Maalik Hayns is left to fight through a screen he didn’t know was coming.

Using Synergy, I went back and looked at all 106 plays that end with Lin initiating a pick-and-roll, and in only four others did Harden act as the screener.

This is less of a traditional pick-and-roll, and more of Harden sticking his butt out to knock Jason Kidd slightly off balance. But the result is successful. Similar to Turner, Knicks forward James White is hugging Harden in an effort to deny him the ball. With all the focus blatantly set on Houston’s leading scorer, Lin is afforded an extra step and a clear lane.

In the two plays above we have Ron Artest as Harden’s defender. He’s smart enough to realize the priority in each situation, and quickly switches onto a driving Lin (who surprisingly goes left both times).

This play feels more chaotic than the others, as Lin uses Harden’s screen to give himself a running head start at the basket. Still, it leaves the Hornets scrambling on defense, and ends in a layup.

A Jeremy Lin/James Harden pick-and-roll can be quite useful for the Rockets once both players figure out how to make it consistently work. So far we’ve barely seen them use it at all—and when they do it’s just to get Lin a look at the basket.

If they go to it more as the season progresses, and defenses make their appropriate adjustments, look for the Rockets to counter with some action to hit Harden either rolling to the basket, or wide open for a spot up jumper.

Twitter: @MichaelVPina

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