Jeremy Lin's Pedestrian Play a Clear Sign Linsanity Won't Return with Rockets

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 17, 2012

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  Jeremy Lin #7 of the Houston Rockets is knocked to the court against the Toronto Raptors at the Toyota Center on November 27, 2012 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Jeremy Lin's two-month run atop the basketball world was as captivating as it was fleeting.

But Linsanity is gone now, and it's not coming back.

Through his first 23 games with the Houston Rockets (11-12), Lin's numbers have done little more than reinforce the improbability of his stretch with the New York Knicks in 2011-12.

His scoring has dropped, thanks in no small part to a field-goal percentage bordering on bench-worthy.

The basketball world has started asking questions. So far, Lin has no answers:

"I’ll be my harshest critic, so I’ll go ahead and say it: I’m doing terrible.” - Jeremy Lin

— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) December 16, 2012

 

The lasting power of a Lin-James Harden backcourt pairing has recently come under scrutiny. Simply put, the Rockets have been a much better team when either one of their starting guards is off the floor.

And it's not just a theory brought about by some analysts; the numbers back this up (via nba.si.com's Rob Mahoney).

It's not too hard to comprehend, either. Lin isn't an offensive force, or certainly hasn't been the force that he was as a member of the Knicks.

Online Graphing

Given the offensive limitations of Houston's starting frontcourt (Patrick Patterson, 13.2 points per game and Omer Asik, 10.3), coach Kevin McHale's lineup consists of three offensive liabilities. Defenses have to respect James Harden (25.0 points per game) and Chandler Parsons (15.5), but they can apply extra defensive pressure by cheating off any of Houston's other three starters.

Lin's magical run in 2011-12 suggests that he shouldn't be an offensive liability. But that run coincided with his inheriting the keys to New York's offense.

McHale can't afford to take touches from Harden to help Lin work his way out of this funk. The coach's hands are tied, unless Lin can find a way to play well off the ball.

Lin isn't the kind of shooter that McHale can run off screens. While Harden is capable of playing off the ball, he's at his most effective when he's in control of the rock. And Harden's peak effectiveness gives Houston the best chance to win games.

So what is McHale to do, then?

Despite their financial commitment to the Harvard grad ($25 million over three years), Houston can't feel compelled to keep trotting out the underperforming Lin with the starting group.

If anything, a move to the second unit could offer the Rockets the best chance to see a return on their economic investments to Lin and Harden ($80 million for five seasons).

Toney Douglas is as limited a point guard as there is in an NBA rotation. He isn't just a shooter first, he's a shooter and nothing else.

But with Harden assuming the ball-handling tasks, Douglas would be a better fit to pair alongside him. With his 43.5 three-point percentage on the year, Douglas has been the best perimeter shooter on the roster. Lin, meanwhile, ranks eighth on the team, converting just 31.7 of his three-point attempts.

The threat of Douglas on the perimeter opens up the floor for Harden to create his own offense. It also gives Harden an outlet when opposing defenses cheat from the wing.

Moving Lin to the bench won't be the kind of demotion that it may sound like. In fact, his increased on-ball responsibilities could even be sold to him as a sort of semi-promotion.

Houston's second team is in dire need of a distributor. The Rockets reserves aren't bereft of offensive skills, just hindered by their inability to create offensive opportunities.

With Lin at the helm, shooters like Daequan Cook (39.3 three-point percentage), Marcus Morris (36.4) and Carlos Delfino (33.3) take on new life. With big Greg Smith (6'10", 250 pounds) setting punishing screens for Lin, the point guard will find more opportunities to do what he does best—penetrate the defense.

Lin will never be the star that media outlets portrayed him as last season. His contract alone should have tempered any lingering superstar hopes (good money, yes, but not a superstar deal by any stretch).

But he's far from being wasted roster space.

His play in 2011-12 defied expectations. This season has been easier to understand.

Lower that impossible-to-reach standard, and Lin may yet again force us to rethink the type of player that he is.