Jeremy Lin was the starting point guard last season for the Houston Rockets, sharing the backcourt with James Harden. However, by the end of last season, there was much doubt regarding whether Lin could adapt his game to play effectively with James Harden. Now, with the addition of Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets, is Lin going to be able to adjust his game to be able to play alongside these two ball-dominant superstars? A closer look at Jeremy Lin’s offensive skill set should provide an answer to the question: Can Jeremy Lin be an effective third star for the Houston Rockets?
Statistics show that Lin was not very effective when playing with Harden. The Lin/Harden two man combo was only 2.2 points better per 100 possessions than their opponents. By comparison the Jeremy Lin/Francisco Garcia combination was 6.6 points better per 100 possessions than their opponents, granted in a much smaller sample size. However, what this comparison does show is that one of the main reasons Lin and Harden were not effective on the floor together is that both players are ball-dominant guards. Both Harden and Lin excel at running the pick-and-roll as the ball handler and attacking the rim in order to create for other teammates or score. Because Harden is an elite-level offensive player, he should and does control the Rockets offense when he is on the floor. This leaves Jeremy Lin to play off the ball more often than not on offense. However, Lin is a weak off-the-ball player because he is a 33 percent career 3-point shooter. Lin cannot consistently hit open outside shots and therefore cannot create space for Harden, as the defense does not have to respect his below-average 3-point shot. Lin had this same problem when playing with Carmelo Anthony in New York. “Linsanity” ended after two magical weeks when Carmelo came back from injury (Carmelo came back on Feb. 20, 2012), causing Jeremy Lin’s offensive production to become very inconsistent because of Lin’s inability to play off the ball-dominant Anthony. The past two seasons have shown that Lin is most effective when he can create off the dribble and get into the lane. With Harden possessing an elite-level penetration skill himself, Lin’s skill set becomes superfluous.
Unfortunately, Dwight Howard’s arrival only exacerbates the fact that Lin duplicates a lot of what Harden does better (even though Lin does it well himself). Howard will command attention from the defense in two ways. The first is drawing double teams in the low block and the second as the dive man in the pick-and-roll. Lin will benefit from having Howard’s elite dive-man skills in the pick-and-roll, but again, if Harden and Lin are sharing the floor, Harden should run the lion’s share of pick-and-rolls with Dwight. Lin should receive more opportunities on the perimeter from kickouts from either Howard or Harden this year. However, unless Lin develops a reliable outside shot, the defenses will sag on him and it will be difficult for him to create off the dribble when those opportunities present themselves. Not to mention that Lin’s inability to consistently hit the 3-ball will constrict the Rockets’ free-flowing offense. With Harden’s elite offensive skill set being paired with Dwight Howard, the Rockets must surround that duo with shooting to maximize spacing and offensive efficiency. Lin is not going to be able to contribute to that.
Lin did excel when Harden sat last year. As the sole ball handler on the court, Lin played at or near his New York “Linsanity” levels. However, with Harden playing 38 minutes a night, this leaves little time for Lin to play at his full potential. If Lin cannot develop a reliable jump shot, it may be in the Rockets best interest to move Lin for a point guard that is an excellent spot-up shooter and good relief ball handler. The Rockets may feel they already have that in Patrick Beverley, which only further limits Lin’s value to the Houston Rockets.