Rockets More Dangerous with the Ball Starting Out in Lin’s Hands with the Game on the Line

The conventional wisdom in basketball is that you want the ball in the hands of your best player during clutch time and most of the time, this is the right thing to do. In the Rockets’s case, I think they’re more dangerous with the ball starting out in Lin’s hands when the game is on the line, rather than Harden (their best player). Critics may accuse me of being a blind Lin fan, but it’s really not about making Lin a hero. It’s all about what I think is best for the Rockets team as a whole.

Although Harden is a gifted scorer and, at times, a very good play maker. Harden has the disadvantage of the defense collapsing on him during clutch time. Admittedly, the Rockets have only played a limited number of games together, but Harden hasn’t shown that he helps the Rockets with the ball in his hands when the game is on the line (this is probably one of the reasons why the Rockets have been losing so many close games). More often than not, Harden ends up playing hero ball or gets trapped and doesn’t know what to do with the ball.

I think, although Lin is struggling tremendously with his shot, it actually makes sense to start off with the ball in Lin’s hands in the final minutes of the game. This may seem counter-intuitive, since you don’t want Lin putting up another air ball, but I would argue that when you start the ball off in Lin’s hands, you have a lower chance of him ending up with the final shot. I think Lin is more likely to give the ball up to one of his teammates so they can take the final shot.

Harden is a good play maker, but I think Lin has slightly better court vision and decision making. He also has a better knack for giving the ball to his teammates where and when they can be most successful. But lets say that Harden is just as good at Lin at these things. Even so, the key advantage that Lin has over Harden is that the defense is much less likely to collapse on him than Harden. So Lin can make decisions with a clearer head than Harden with the game on the line.

When we put the ball in Harden’s hands, we make it easier for the defense, because they mainly have to worry about one man. As a result, the Rockets become a one-man team, because Harden ends up playing hero ball. But with the ball in Lin’s hands, the Rockets have four or five weapons (depending on whether or not you trust Lin with the final shot–Lin did put the Rockets up by three with an and-1 drive to the basket against the Blazers in Houston that should have won the game for the Rockets). The Rockets have a lot of players, other than Harden, who are capable of hitting clutch shots (e.g., Parsons, Delfino, Morris). However, when Harden has the ball, all these players tend to just stand around watching Harden (thus, Rockets become a one-man team), whereas when Lin has the ball, these players are more motivated to move around to get open, because they don’t trust Lin with the last shot. This is another counter-intuitive benefit of not starting the ball off with your best scorer. So when the ball starts out in Lin’s hands, the defense has to worry about all four or five Rockets players, including Harden.

This is why I think the Rockets are more dangerous with the ball starting out in Lin’s hands with the game on the line. I’m not sure if the Rockets will figure this out. This is nothing against the Rockets organization. This more has to do with how entrenched the conventional wisdom of having the ball in the hands of your best player during clutch time is in basketball. Add that to Lin’s air ball in the Miami game and the fact that Sampson inexplicably took Lin out in the OT game in Portland and the prospects don’t look good for the Rockets trusting Lin with the ball in clutch time. However, Morey is data driven enough that I’m hoping his data will reveal to him that the Rockets aren’t very successful with the ball in Harden’s hands in the final minutes of the game and it will encourage them to experiment with the ball in Lin’s hands. I mean, after all, Lin had elite clutch stats last season. Sure, he’s not the same player he was during Linsanity, but I think his court vision and decision making are still intact.

One encouraging sign that the Rockets may want to experiment with Lin with the ball in the final minutes is that in the game at Portland, they did give Lin the ball in the final possession of two quarters. I forgot which quarters they were. We’ll see if they continue this experiment in future games so they can start gathering data. I hope they do, rather than just rely blindly on conventional wisdom. Morey is an unconventional thinker, but I just don’t see Sampson and McHale bucking convention. Usually, I’m humbled by the fact that the Rockets organization knows way more about the game than I do, but in this case, I think I’m in a more advantageous position, because I’m not as entrenched in conventional basketball thinking. So I think I’ve discovered something that may take the Rockets more time to figure out if they ever do. We’ll see.

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28 thoughts on “Rockets More Dangerous with the Ball Starting Out in Lin’s Hands with the Game on the Line

  1. not sure what’s going on. the utah game was pretty bad but i saw Lin drive to the hoop more…even though he basically had to outrun his man rather than get proper screens set for him.

    I hate the lin haters…with each poor shooting game, they get louder and louder. I have fait in the kid though.

    • I did not get to watch the Utah game. It sounds bad from all the commentaries I’ve read.

      Just ignore the Lin haters, CW, and enjoy watching “the kid” grow! 😉

    • Lin’s been playing more aggressively since the game in Portland. Last night, Harden had the flu, so they released the reigns on Lin even more, but I don’t think he performed up to their expectations, so I think they might reign Lin back in again. Lin’s horrendous shooting is really going to hurt his ability to run the offense. I noticed that he stopped being aggressive after he kept missing shot after shot–even one where he was under the basket by himself. That was demoralizing for Lin. After that I noticed that he just passed the ball off and essentially stopped playing.

      Lin’s shot looks so awful right now. I have no idea what’s going on with his shooting. It has nothing to do with the pressure of the game. I think he just lost his shot for whatever reason. I don’t know what he can do to get it back, because it might be something fundamental to the way he’s shooting the ball and it’s going to be hard to change that during the season.

      I think analysts expected Houston to lose the Utah game no matter what, because it was a back-to-back and it’s very tough to win in Utah. So I wasn’t surprised at the loss. But we looked pretty awful out there. Probably just tired legs. We’ve been looking pretty bad the past couple of games. Gonna have lots of up and downs this season. Lets see if we can bounce back.

    • Thanks for the link, CH. These comparisons are inevitable, but I don’t think they are very constructive. I think they end up just being subjective and a lot of them don’t take into consideration the different circumstances, as well as the GM side of it. Morey really had no choice but to let go Dragic for strategic reasons, so it wasn’t like Morey let Dragic go to get Lin.

    • Thanks for the link. Your airball comment actually went to the “Harden to Rockets” post.

      I think fatigue may have had something to do with Lin’s Miami airball, but fatigue doesn’t explain why his shot has looked so awful every other time. His shot is bad at the beginning of games, middle of games and end of games. I think there’s something screwy about the mechanics. The release is not fluid at all. It’s also a slower release than he had last season. I think there’s too much hesitation involved, so maybe lack of confidence is a big factor. Just hope it’s not something fundamental, because that’s going to be tough to change. Lin has never been a great shooter, so there was always something wrong fundamentally with his shooting. But last year, his shot didn’t look bad. This year, they look terrible. They look so bad that I know they won’t go in well before they even reach the basket.

      • yeah, dunno. apparently he brought his shooting coach with him to china and his coach says he’s been shooting better than last year? so idek.

      • Yeah, I saw that interview with is shooting coach and was looking forward to him shooting well this year. It is indeed very strange what’s happened to Lin’s shooting.

  2. I only had glimpses of the last few minutes of the Bull game last night. Lin did not play well but the Rockets won. I think that’s the stats Lin most cares about: the win-lost numbers.

    In some earlier post, I scripted that Lin would lose his starting job to TD as a joke, but it seems to be happening for real and for good reasons. So may be the GOB are really telling me something in my dream.

    I have no idea what is happening to Lin these days, but I will say this to Lin just to get it out of my chest: fake right and go left if your left knee is still bothering you, and believe in yourself and not in some kind of divine intervention.

    Have wonderful Thanksgiving day to all!

    • Dunno what happened to him. Very sad to see his poor performance and him being replaced by TD. Hope he will get over it soon. Will see the game tomorrow. Can’t bear it if he is playing like this with the Knicks.

    • Lin did well in the first quarter, but then did terribly after that. The main issue is his shooting. It’s really difficult to be effective running an offense if you don’t have your shot. You become a liability, because the defense doesn’t have to worry about you and can focus on your teammates. So Lin really needs to get his shot back so he can hit the open shots to keep the defense honest. That’s really the only thing lacking in his game, right now, but it’s a huge thing.

      I thought Lin took good shots last night as he does every night. They’re just not falling. However, I think The Rockets tried to reign him in tonight, but he wanted to make plays and Sampson wasn’t too happy with that. At one point, I saw Sampson very animated screaming “move the ball” after a possession in which Lin was trying to make plays. I think Sampson felt that he was forcing things. To be fair, I think Lin did for things a bit, but not a whole lot. Just a little. The released the reigns on Lin in Portland and even more so in the Jazz game, but he didn’t perform up to their expectations, so I expected them to get Lin to play more passively last night and they did just that. I think they’re going to continue to make him play passively until he gets his shot back. But that’s a catch 22. So it’ll be a challenge for Lin going forward.

      I think the coach made the right call to bench Lin tonight. I actually expected him to bench Lin a lot earlier in the fourth quarter. Lin had one of his worst games of the season (not including the first quarter) and I think Douglas is a better match up defensively for Nate Robinson. So I was expecting Lin to be bench for most of the fourth quarter. Sampson made the right call last night and it paid off big time. This does not, by any means, mean that Lin will lose his starting job. It’ll take a lot more than one game to lose your starting job. So I don’t expect Lin to be coming off the bench anytime soon, although, maybe Lin would work better coming off the bench, because He’ll have more free reign to make plays. So that could be a good thing, just as long as he stays on the court at the end of games.

      • Hey, Lin’s not going to lose his starting job but starting means nothing if you’re not closing out games. Closing out games is the most important thing. There is such a thing as a role-playing starter and that could be Lin. Sampson putting TD in crucial moments (end of 4th/OT) shows that Lin can’t be trusted (yet) and is a role-playing starter.

    • I agree with the Philosopher on this catch-22 situation.
      To break out of it, Lin has got to make the shots that he is supposed to make. Go for it, young man! (Yes, I am older than Lin’s parents).

      I am going to the Knicks game tomorrow with my son. He will be wearing Lin #17 Knicks jersey! I am trying to convince him to port a black beard as well! 🙂

      Can’t wait!

  3. Yes, CW, I went to the game!
    I could not sneak in my HD video camera; as a result no “behind-the-scene” video to post. Sorry!

    Lin tried a lot of 3-pointers during pre-game warm up. I’d say he made about 30% of them. At one point coach KS came and talked to Lin, gave him a big pat on the back. I don’t know if they showed it on TV or not, but Tyson Chandler walked over to Lin when Lin was doing his routine stretching and they hugged each other. Before tip-off, Lin ran over to the Knicks bench and greeted the Knicks coaching staff. At the end of the game, Shumpert ran over and hugged Lin. I did not see it, but my son told me Carmelo also gave Lin a hug. Knicks assistant coach Herb Williams put his job on the line by approaching Lin, shaking hand with Lin and hugging Lin before leaving the court, in defeat. The whole thing seemed genuinely congenial.

    As to the game, the Knicks were clearly one-dimensional, with Carmelo doing all the scoring, while the Rockets were all over the map with amazing ball movements and scoring from inside, outside, fast breaks… WOW! It was so much fun! The crowd went crazy. The Knicks were clearly frustrated: Tyson got a flagrant 1 foul elbowing Asik, Carmelo got a technical arguing with the ref, etc.

    Yeah, Lin is getting his game back, not completely, but he is being entrusted with the ball more. The crowd erupted when Lin hit that 3-pointer! As always, I believe this young man. The team is gelling with each game, with each bitter defeat and each sweet victory. It’s a long season. It’s a war of attrition to get to the playoff. I will try to attend as many Rockets home games as I can afford to support Lin and the team.

    In case you don’t know it already, here’s a link to part of the game. This youtube uploader seems to be able to post game videos without being flagged by the NBA. Watch his/her Rockets game videos while you can:

    Enjoy!

    PS – Philosopher: your game analysis please! I promise to agree with everything you say this time!

    • MrPingPong, that must have been a fun game to be at! I hope your son agreed to put on the beard.

      So you also saw the same thing with Lin’s pregame shooting? It has to be something fundamental if he can’t make practice shots.

      It’s great to hear that Lin had amicable exchanges with his former teammates and coaching staff.

      Glad to hear that the crowd cheered when Lin hit his three. In Portland, they also cheered loudly for Lin during the starting line up. So he’s still getting a similar level of support he had last season.

      • Yes, my son wore the beard: Linsanity with a beard! That was fun!

        Sitting two rows behind me were a couple of beer drinking Knick fans. When Woodson threw in the towel and pulled out his starters, they started bellowing out, ‘We want Tebow!’

        🙂

        That was even more fun!

        Nope, Lin is not nailing practice warmup shots as expected. Carmelo does not miss during his warmup, nor does Novacaine. ‘Wonder how Lin does during close practice. There must be a reason why McHale was saying Lin was not 100% yet earlier in the preseason.

        Here a video link showing highlights of the game and Lin interacting with his former teammates and coaching staff at the end after the game.

        Aren’t you going to write up a post game analysis for us fans, Philosopher? It’s post Black Friday, ya know…

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