James Harden joins Jeremy Lin on the Rockets
How does Harden view his new backcourt partner? Harden responded:
How does Jeremy Lin’s game complement your style of play?
Harden: We’re similar. He’s a point guard but he can obviously score the ball. He makes tremendous decisions. He can pass the ball and it’s tough to guard him. It’s the same with me: I can score but I’m unselfish as well. We’re going to work off each other and then we’ll find a way to get our bigs and shooters involved.
I think it’s going to be great. You saw what he did last year when he had that great run and he’s capable of a lot more. So we’ll sit down and talk and figure things out and how to make the most of each other.
This statement by Harden was the piece in the Harden trade I was looking for to project Harden's beneficial impact on Lin.
On paper, Harden's game should enhance Lin's game. Harden is the next-generation Ginobili, meaning he combines basketball smarts and an all-around floor game with point ability, creative breakdown ability, and scoring and shooting ability. His experience playing with Russell Westbrook, a college combo guard converted to NBA PG like Lin, should help him adjust quickly to Lin. The Ginobili-Parker comparison is also apt.
I'll highlight three ways Harden should make Lin better. One, the most important goal for Lin this season is to log a full season, and Harden will allow Lin to pace himself and save wear and tear. Two, Lin's streaky shooting is less of a concern with Harden's superior shooting ability. Three, Harden will allow Lin the option of playing off the ball. If Lin struggles running the Rockets half-court offense against a top NBA defense, as happened at times last season with the Knicks, Lin can stay on the floor while Harden steps into the point role. When the Knicks signed Jason Kidd, I looked forward to pairing Lin with a cross-matching big point guard so that Lin could use his strengths as an off-the-ball, creative scoring and playmaking combo guard - a better version of 2011 Finals Heat-killer JJ Barea. Lin excelled in that role at Harvard. I believe Lin would be a devastating playmaker from the weak side initiating his offense (including secondary pick and rolls) against rotating defenders and mismatches. Of course, Kidd is on his last NBA legs and only scores as an outlet 3-point shooter, so it would have been a limited option for the Knicks. But coming to the Rockets, playing Lin off the ball was no option because Lin would be forced to dominate the ball again at PG. Now with Harden sharing the backcourt with Lin, the big guard with point ability will allow the Rockets to better exploit Lin's versatility by playing him on or off the ball. Lin's points and assists should bump up as a result.
My concern with Harden was that the ambitious, hungry, former 3rd guard would look to make his NBA rep as a front-line starter with a Kobe-esque approach that the ball belonged to him, and his new teammates, especially Lin, must co-exist with Harden on his terms. The Harden statement shows that he is joining the Rockets with the right attitude and views Lin as a complementary partner, not a competitor. I like it.
In terms of the team leader question, the NBA is not like the NFL, where the starting quarterback must always be the undisputed alpha male for the team to function. NBA teams need more than 1 star playmaker/scorer. As Harden should understand from playing with the Thunder, dynamic duos, and preferably big threes or even fantastic fours, are the baseline necessity to contend for the NBA championship. With the Knicks, the versatile Lin had the potential to form one of the best G/F combos in the NBA with the versatile Carmelo Anthony. Indeed, at the point Lin was lost to injury, the two players under Woodson were showing incipient signs of a legit dynamic duo. But by leaving the Knicks for the Rockets, Lin was going to be stuck as his team's lone star playmaker/scorer - good for Lin's personal stats, perhaps, but bad for team wins and the wear-and-tear load on him. Now the Rockets can stretch out defenses with Lin playing off Harden and vice versa. In principle, I still prefer a G/F combo like Lin/Anthony over a G/G combo, but a big/small-guard dynamic duo can work well, too, when both guards can run the point, make plays, and create scores.
Finally, nothing secures an athlete's reputation like a track record of clutch, even when the athlete has flaws in his game. When Kidd joined the Knicks, he emphasized that games are mostly won or lost in the last 5 minutes (ie, end of regulation or the full over-time), which is the only stage of the game the aged Kidd expected to play. Closing a game in clutch fashion is a Lin specialty, and depending on how much ability Kidd has left, a Kidd-Lin combo would have been effective at the end of games. Harden, based on his track record with the Thunder, should help Lin close games, too. One, while Harden took his share of clutch shots with the Thunder, he smoothly worked with Kevin Durant and Westbrook so that Harden's star teammates excelled in clutch situations. Two, Harden struggled to score in the clutch when his star teammates were contained in the Finals, which may make him more inclined to set up Lin for game-winning shots. If Lin game winners become a regular highlight on ESPN, his skeptics will have little to say, even if Lin's shooting remains streaky and his turnovers remain relatively high.
Harden sounds like his mindset is in the right place to play with Lin, which means the two smart, unselfish, multi-talented, hungry young guards should be a joy to watch playing together. Paired with Harden, Lin is now better positioned to sustain his play over a full season, which is his main goal for this season. But more than that, Lin can win with Harden. The Rockets have a competitive core of versatile guards with Lin, Harden, and Delfino. The team just needs one or two of the young bigs to step up and fill the offensive hole left in the frontcourt by the amnestied, reliable Luis Scola.
Add Oct 31, 2012: Lin on Harden. The Rockets 1st game of the 2012-13 season is tonight. Finally, Lin will begin to settle the spirited debates over his NBA future that have been non-stop since he went down with his knee injury in March.
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