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.