It’s been a little more than a year since Linsanity began to sweep the NBA landscape. The lights aren’t shining quite as brightly on the budding star this season, but he’s still playing like one of the best point guards in the league.
When Lin signed with the Houston Rockets, fans expected him to pick up where he left off in New York. He hasn’t completely lived up to expectations, but Lin isn’t entirely to blame. With averages of 12.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, he is doing exactly what he needs to in order to help the Rockets reach the postseason.
The reason Lin has failed to stack up numbers consistent with the top point guards in the league is twofold: James Harden needs to play with the ball in his hands to be ultra-effective, and Houston’s coaching staff has failed to provide Lin the consistent playing time he needs to maintain tempo late in games.
The issues with Harden won’t change—nor should they. He’s one of the best scorers in the league, and allowing him to play with the ball in his hands creates scoring opportunities for everyone else on the floor. As long as Harden and Lin share the floor, the offense will have to run through both players.
The issue that raises the most questions is Lin’s lack of consistent playing time, especially late in games. Of the 16 players averaging more assists than Lin this season (15 of them point guards), only two are averaging less minutes on the court. For an offense that benefits from playing up-tempo basketball, the lack of more consistent playing time for Lin makes very little sense.
Lin has some areas that he needs to improve on, of course. He can play reckless and out of control at times, and his turnover rate is still higher than one would hope to see in a starting point guard at the NBA level. Still, what he brings to the table is a quality defensive presence and a player at the offensive end who can keep up the tempo and create a lot of scoring opportunities by living in the lane.
Lin will never be able maximize his skills without seeing more time on the floor facilitating Houston’s offense, which is exactly what the Rockets need to be a more efficient team on offense.
Houston doesn’t have an offensive facilitator. Harden is a score-first guard who creates some opportunities by penetrating, and Lin is forced to do much the same with Harden sharing the backcourt. The two play a similar style, and without a more balanced share of minutes, Harden (38.2 minutes per game) will continue to score 26 points per game while Lin (32.8 minutes per game) struggles to find consistency and control of Houston’s offense.
The Rockets will find success when they establish more balance at the offensive end. Harden is an exceptional player, but he doesn’t create balance—he creates scoring.
Perhaps Houston will adjust its philosophy in the second half of the season, but right now the Rockets are 28-24 and clinging to their hopes for a run in the playoffs. Lin has to be given an opportunity to establish a role as a facilitator, and that starts with more playing time.