The Houston Rockets have a star-studded lineup that has received no shortage of praise from the local and global media. Dwight Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, James Harden is a top-five scorer and Chandler Parsons is one of the fastest-rising all-around players in the world.
For all of the star power that was previously alluded to, Jeremy Lin is still the key to the Rockets' title aspirations.
Lin has been subject to one of the most unbelievable roller-coaster rides in the history of the NBA.
From the period of Linsanity that captivated millions to his follow-up campaign that was solid but unable to live up to the All-Star-caliber hype that a breakout year tends to breed, Lin hit both ends of the spectrum.
If Houston is hoping to legitimize its championship dreams, it will need Lin to develop consistency—and that's a two-way street.
According to John Hollinger of ESPN.com (subscription required), Lin posted a usage rate of 20.6 in 2012-13 after tallying a mark of 27.6 during his breakout season. In 2013-14, Lin's has begun to make the most of his opportunities and prove that he deserves more touches.
It's on coach Kevin McHale to give him those opportunities.
Lin's playing aggressive basketball and shining with a scorer's mentality. He's topped 30 points in consecutive games and continues to display how much his jump shot has improved.
Lin's scoring prowess is where it all begins.
As previously alluded to, Harden is one of the best offensive players in the NBA. He can create his own looks with his dribble, spot up for jump shots and get to the line with as much proficiency as any other player in the game today.
As we learned in the 2012-13 playoffs, that isn't enough.
Harden shot 43.8 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three-point range during the regular season, and posted a slash line of .391/.341/.803 in the playoffs. It was the third time in four playoff appearances that Harden shot 43.5 percent or worse from the floor during the postseason.
Some might chalk that up to Harden's wild and uncontrolled tendencies on that stage, but the only way to cure those woes in Houston is to have a player who can take over the ball-handling responsibilities.
Parsons is a budding star, but Lin is the player who's best suited to step in and shine as the lead ball-handler. His strength is running the pick-and-roll, which will open the door for Harden to hit spot-up jumpers to develop his rhythm.
As a result, the Rockets can avoid hero ball and become the well-oiled machine that they should be. Forcing Lin off-ball, however, will continue to waste his upside by allowing two stars to dominate the possessions when depth is in place.
By giving Lin the ball and the opportunity to run the show, every player will be at their best.
He hasn't been spectacular on offense, but come the playoffs, the Rockets will turn to Howard on a consistent basis. Whether he's diving off the pick-and-roll or posting up, D-12 will attack the rim and be trusted to score at least 20 points per contest.
That isn't going to happen without a cast of reliable jump-shooters to space the floor.
Lin has gone from a jump-shooting liability to one of the more reliable point guards in the game in that area of play. He converted 37.5 percent of his three-point field goals after the 2012-13 All-Star break and has made 19 of his first 37 in 2013-14.
People love to overlook the fact that Lin is still just 25 years old, but his youth has permitted rigorous offseason workouts to breed improvements.
The key to Lin being a jump-shooter is that he can serve the same role for Howard as Harden does. Not only can he facilitate by running the pick-and-roll, but his ability to shoot or drive will keep every opposing defense honest and prevent double-teams on D-12.
Once that begins to work out, the Rockets will be able to slow games down and score in the half court. As a result, Houston will allow Howard to get back on defense without forcing him to play in transition.
Whether or not you believe in his upside as an All-Star, Lin is the key to the Rockets' title aspirations.
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