When James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets, expectations were that he’d be their top scorer and a terrific fit. Then, Harden started his Rockets career with 82 points over the first two games and expectations soared through the roof. Murmurs of an All-Star appearance and a playoff berth began and Harden found himself in a tough spot.
Jeremy Lin knows a thing or two about expectations that rise so high that they’re impossible to meet. He went through the same thing with the New York Knicks, where he burst onto the scene and put up tremendous numbers. The hype started to overtake reality and Lin found himself unable to escape the grip of unrealistic expectations.
Houston isn’t the same as New York by any means, but the situations are very similar. Both players were looked at as the answer to each franchise’s problems and were expected to change the team’s fortunes. What can Lin teach Harden about dealing with this difficult situation?
Handle the Hype
The hype that is created around a player is often enhanced by the media. Whoever acquires the label of the “next big thing” is hammered with constant attention and scrutiny. Most people are simply unequipped to deal with that life, as there’s a significant difference between how a regular player and a star are treated.
Interviews and pressers after games are things that are expected from NBA players. How they handle the questions are what’s important here. After a tough game, it’s the responsibility of the star to handle difficult questions with grace.
Jeremy Lin did a wonderful job of interacting with the media when questions arose about how he would deal with playing next to Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Even as things started to break down in New York, Lin did his duty and answered the same questions over and over.
He could have lashed out at the media, but he maintained his positive public perception by acting professionally. Because of that, he got the benefit of the doubt more often than not. Harden needs to follow suit, and has handled himself well to this point.
Accept the Blame and Spread out the Credit
This is more of a leadership quality than anything, but it does a lot to help deal with expectations. Strong leaders will accept blame when things go poorly and will credit their team when things are going well. Whether that credit goes to the coaching staff or teammates, it’s important that James Harden learns to spread out the attention.
Giving teammates a part of the spotlight has a few major benefits. First, it builds a lot of goodwill among the team. Having great chemistry and simply liking each other is extremely important on a team. Second, players that like and care about each other will play much harder and will perform better. That makes everyone look better.
Instead of talking about himself after a game-winning shot, it would greatly benefit Harden to accentuate the differences his teammates made on the play. Talking about a great pick, a pass that put him position or even the defense that led to the possession goes a long way.
When Jeremy Lin and the Knicks started struggling, Lin pointed out that he needed to learn his teammates’ tendencies and needs as opposed to pointing out others’ faults. Harden has struggled with shooting and instead of pointing to the fact that the Rockets don’t have enough offensive options, he can simply point to his own issues and state how he plans to deal with them.
At the end of the day, the only person that truly needs to be satisfied is the player himself. If a player is secure and knows they’ve played to the best of their abilities, it won’t matter what anyone else says and any negativity won’t affect them.
Jeremy Lin had to deal with a lot of scrutiny when the Houston Rockets signed him away from the New York Knicks during the summer of 2012. As a very polarizing figure, Lin heard how he was worth it and was going to be a star in one ear, while hearing he was overrated and the Rockets wasted money in the other.
He handled the situation well by showing maturity and continually playing his hardest regardless of outcome. Lin knew that if he continued to work his hardest then he could lay his head down at night in peace.
Harden hasn’t reached the point where his detractors have become louder than his supporters, but that point will come. If he can be secure within himself, it won’t affect his play, and more importantly it won’t affect his life.
Stats Silence the Critics
It’s an unfair situation, but it’s the way sports are looked at these days. If a star player puts up monster numbers and his team loses, it’s often because he doesn’t have enough help. If a star puts up mediocre numbers and his team wins, then there’s something wrong with the player.
This isn’t meant to encourage James Harden to go for his own and put up numbers in spite of winning games, but it is something to consider. Jeremy Lin was on top of the world putting up monster numbers during a winning streak. He was fortunate to be playing next to a megastar in Carmelo Anthony, because when the losses started piling up, the heat fell on Anthony’s shoulders.
Harden doesn’t have that safety net and is walking a tightrope right now. In wins, he’s averaging 29.4 points and 6.4 assists while shooting 52.8 percent from the field. In losses, he’s averaging 18.9 points and 4.4 assists while shooting just 31.8 percent.
Because the Rockets are outperforming expectations as a team, those splits are being ignored. When the expectations as a team start to rise, the spotlight will start to shine brighter and Harden won’t be given a pass for that enormous drop-off.
There’s zero question that likable athletes receive the benefit of the doubt. The dynamic between James Harden’s former teammates is a wonderful example of this. When Kevin Durant has a bad game, the public seems to look the other way. When Russell Westbrook has a bad game, the Internet explodes.
Jeremy Lin’s story was (and still is) a good one. He was relatively unknown coming out of Harvard, has fun on the court, suffered some personal setbacks and still came out on top. If he was bitter instead of gracious, the media and public would have gotten all over him and wouldn’t have treated him so well.
The truth is that Lin is struggling mightily with his shot right now. Because he’s a sympathetic figure, he isn’t receiving the criticism that Metta World Peace or Paul Pierce would receive. Harden has already seen the benefit of this in his personal career.
Harden didn’t “leave” Oklahoma City, he was traded. However, he was traded because he turned down the last offer that the Thunder offered him. Because he’s liked by the public, they didn’t focus on him being “greedy” or “selfish.” If Westbrook was in the same spot, don’t you think he’d be crushed publicly?
Piece originally written by HoopsHabit for Bleacher Report
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