Are James Harden and Jeremy Lin a Viable Duo in the Long Term?

Marshall ZweigContributor IIDecember 31, 2012

One's an underdog. The other's a scoring machine. Together, they're "The Rockets' Backcourt," now showing at the Toyota Center.
One's an underdog. The other's a scoring machine. Together, they're "The Rockets' Backcourt," now showing at the Toyota Center.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

One's an underdog. The other's a scoring machine.

Recipe for a buddy cop movie?

Nope. It's the Houston Rockets backcourt of Jeremy Lin and James Harden.

Underdogs fascinate us. Scoring machines transfix us. The question is, how long will this dynamite duo remain together?

In a buddy cop movie, the ultimate pairing are always diametric opposites: If one's, say, a brash naive rookie, the other's a by-the-book, worn-down veteran a week away from retirement.

Likewise in a conventional NBA backcourt. In a perfect world, one guard would have the deadly outside shot, so if the other guard draws coverage attempting to penetrate, he can kick it back out to the first guard for a jumper.

By contrast, Lin's and Harden's games are very similar: they both prefer the ball in their hands for the majority of the possession, and they work best when they first look to attack.

It's an unconventional pairing for sure. More unconventional than, say, teaming up Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy for a buddy-cop flick. (The Heat, from 20th Century Fox, slated for release April 5.)

In addition, Lin's jumper, so deadly for so much of last year, has been spotty. One reason for that could have been Lin working with a shooting coach to learn a new, more consistent stroke. It takes time to learn how to shoot differently. But it looks like the time has finally paid off: Over the last seven games, Lin is 45-of-84, a shooting percentage of .536.

The jumper is still not Lin's preferred shot, but if he can make it when he needs to, it will certainly enhance the duo's success playing together.

But here's the interesting twist: In the last spate of games, the pair seem to have begun to embrace their similarities.

Both are getting chances to control the ball at the start of a possession; over the last five games, Lin's begun almost a quarter of the Rockets' possessions, the most this season.

Both are moving well off the ball. Both are helping create space for the other to attack.

In buddy-cop-ese, it's kind of like pairing up Reggie Hammond, Eddie Murphy's character from 48 Hrs., and Martin Riggs, Mel Gibson's character from Lethal Weapon...and then watching them both share loose-cannon punchlines. Weird...but can't you kinda see it working?

Also, both buddy cop movies and great backcourts depend on timing. When the bad guy says to Bruce Willis in The Last Boy Scout,  “Just once, I’d like to hear you scream in pain, " Willis waits the exact perfect beat before responding, “Play some rap music.”

Likewise, in a great backcourt duo, one guy always knows where the other guy will be. Harden and Lin had very little time—one day—to practice together before the NBA season began. But they've begun to develop that sense of timing.

Watch this Lin assist to Harden and tell me Lin hasn't figured out exactly how fast Harden is, or where he'll be running to. Likewise, Harden knows exactly where this pass is going to be.

Finally, all buddy cops have to help each other succeed. You know, a "you stop me from killing myself, I'll fix your marriage" kind of thing.

Both Lin and Harden rely on the pick-and-roll like Howard Stern relies on strippers to show off their plastic surgery. Well, recently both guys have been setting screens for each other more regularly.

They're the perfect guys to do it for each other too. After all, who can truly understand how much Lin loves the pick-and-roll more than Harden? And vice versa?

That's what oddly gives me hope for this partnership. I get the sense that these two are starting to really get each other. Plus, both are unselfish players (Lin is 12th in the league in total assists; Harden is 25th). And when each unselfish player understands the other, both will do what needs to be done to help the other succeed.

In reality, that's what would truly make cops buddies.

Okay, so they're more fast break than Point Break. The point is, Harden and Lin are looking more like a backcourt that could play together for a long time—and win together for a long time.

As Danny Glover's Roger Murtaugh would say, let's hope they never get too old for this s---.

                                               Stats are accurate as of 12/31/12.