Tuesday, October 30, 2012

James Harden joins Jeremy Lin on the Rockets

Yesterday, after the Oklahoma City Thunder and 3rd guard James Harden were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension, the Thunder traded Harden to the Houston Rockets. Harden will now be joining Jeremy Lin in the Rockets backcourt. A good pic of the two standing together.

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.

Eric

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3 Comments:

Blogger Unknown said...

Hey, I like some of the stuff you write on jeremylin.net. Hopefully you're not just trolling there...i don't think you are.

What do you think about Lin's 10 game shooting slump? How do you think the coaches have utilized him? What are your expectations of him this year?

I want the kid to do well. I'm a tortured Knicks fan and Lin brought back my passion that had died during the Isaiah years.

Your input would be greatly appreciated!

11/19/2012 4:18 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

At the time the Rockets contract was finalized, these were my thoughts: http://learning-curve.blogspot.com/2012/07/jeremy-lin-now-houston-rocket.html

Excerpt: "PG areas for improvement: running set plays, on-the-ball defense, tightening his combo-guard handle into a PG handle, reading defenses, half-court passing, and court awareness (his court vision is fine)."

So, Lin is on target with my pre-season expectations for his improvement as a PG. But at the same time, I assumed the strengths that Lin showed off as the Knicks PG, including "versatility, energy, playmaking, high basketball IQ, big-moment clutchness, and creative isolation scoring" as a "do-everything playmaking SG/PG combo guard" would carry over to the Rockets. Lin has been versatile with high bball IQ, and he's made plays when given the chance. But he's had too few opportunities to show off his big-moment clutchness and creative isolation scoring, whether by his own choice, coaches' choice, or both.

As far as how I think the Rockets coaches have utilized him, I think the Harden trade took away the role they expected and planned for Lin. Harden's role now was Lin's role. Which isn't to say Lin would have played like Harden or compiled the same numbers, but the deference, control, and status given to Harden was Lin's before the trade. Since the Harden trade, I don't believe the coaches have figured out yet Lin's new role nor how to synergically mesh Lin and Harden's redundant skillsets.

In other words, Harden is the new Lin, but Lin isn't the new Kevin Martin, so what is Lin to the Rockets now?

Harden can be the best thing or worst thing to happen to Lin, a backcourt partner who will share the load and enhance Lin's game or a higher-status ball-handling competitor who will take the ball away from Lin. A redundant G/G combo is harder to figure out than a naturally complementary G/F combo, like Lin had with Anthony, but it can be done. If they can figure out how to add or multiply rather than cancel out, Lin and Harden have the potential to be the best backcourt in the NBA.

But if they can't figure it out, Harden's contract is longer and bigger than Lin's contract.

Also, Lin's 34.3 MPG so far is good. 34-36 MPG for the season was the range I wanted for Lin. (MPG, however, doesn't describe how Lin is used within his minutes or what parts of the game, like OTs, he's used.)

I also want Lin to pace himself better, invite less punishment in view of his 'wear and tear' injury last season, and pick his spots to shine. Making it through the whole season, including and especially the whole post-season should the Rockets qualify, is the number one goal.

11/19/2012 7:35 AM  
Blogger k.smith said...

you're awesome, love your insight. I agree with everything you said. We'll see how the season progresses...there's 72 games left, so i know Lin will do whatever it takes to make it work with Houston.

Don't you think he gets beat up pretty bad when he goes to the line, especially these last two games?

It seems like he's been given a little more control the lat two games, you agree?

11/19/2012 2:57 PM  

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