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Lin and Harden are paying dividends for Rockets: NBA A-Z
One month into the 2012-13 NBA season, the James Harden-Jeremy Lin backcourt for the Houston Rockets sputtered.
It reached a point where some analysts suggested the Rockets might be better off bringing Lin off the bench. At $8.3 million perseason, that was one expensive backup point guard.
There were traditional and advanced statistics to prove Harden and Lin weren’t clicking. In the first month of the season:
- The Rockets scored 102.8 points per 100 possessions, allowed 102.7 points per 100 possessions, shot 43.6% from the field, including 35.2% on three-pointers, and averaged 97.75 possessions per every 48 minutes.
- With Lin on the bench, the Rockets averaged 103.9 points per 100 possessions, allowed 100.8 points per 100 possessions and shot 42.5% from the field. With Lin on the court, Houston averaged 102.4 points per 100 possessions, allowed 103.5 points per 100 possessions and shot 44% from the field.
- With Lin and Harden on the court at the same time, the Rockets averaged 102.5 points per 100 possessions, allowed 104.2 points per 100 possessions and Harden was a minus-3. With Lin on the bench and Harden on the court, the Rockets averaged 104.9 points per 100 possessions, allowed 96.3 points per 100 possessions and Harden was a plus-20.
Now, 15 games is a small sample size for sure, but the early returns suggested Lin and Harden weren’t the dynamic combo the Rockets expected.
But beyond a small sample, a series of other factors were neglected. Harden was acquired just before the start of the regular season and didn’t have a training camp to work with Lin and his new teammates. Lin was in his first season as the known starter headed into Game 1 and was learning a new offense with new teammates on a very young team. Houston’s opening-night starting five included Harden (fourth season), Lin (third season), Omer Asik (third season), Marcus Morris (second season) and Chandler Parsons (second season).
Rockets coach Kevin McHale understood it required time and patience, with patience being the most trying part.
“Until the team really understands how you play – every team has a style and a lot of teams are trying to find that style – but once you find out what works, you have to be dedicated to doing it,” McHale said. “I liken back to Houston and the old Hakeem Olajuwon days. The team didn’t one day all of sudden say, ‘We’re never going to throw the ball to Hakeem tonight. We’re going to ice him out. We’re going to come down shot jumpers.’ They threw the ball to him every single time because that was their style.
“Our style has to be ball movement, moving the ball side to side. You’re going to have turnovers the way we play. We just can’t be throwing the ball to the other team. … But we have to play our style.”
When the Rockets didn’t play well, he pinpointed the reasons.
“The ball was too sticky on offense, too many mistakes defensively. … There’s a lot of teams in the league that are young, asking the same question,” McHale said. “A lot of guys are searching for themselves, trying to figure out who they are. When you pass all of that, it just makes it easier to play basketball. There are times when guys are searching for their offense. The ball gets sticky. Guys are looking to say, ‘Hey, I have to get off.’ ”
However, in December – the second month of the season – signs appeared that Lin and Harden can make it work as they found a better balance between who had the ball and their attacking natures. Lin likes to attack with finesse and the idea that he can pass to open shooters on the perimeter. Harden likes to attack with force and draw fouls.
Take a look at some of the numbers in December:
- The Rockets averaged 106 points per 100 possessions, allowed 104.5 points per 100 possessions, shot 46.8% from the field and had 101.19 possessions per 48 minutes. The pace picked up, the scoring increased, the shooting percentage increased and the defense allowed a few more points but the net margin between points scored and points allowed was much better in December.
- With Lin on the court, the Rockets averaged 106.2 points per 100 possessions, allowed 102.3 points per 100 possessions and shot 48.1% from the field. With Lin on the bench, Houston scored 105.7 points per 100 possessions, allowed 108.4 points per 100 possessions and shot 44.7% from the field.
- With Lin and Harden on the court together, the Rockets averaged 106.8 points per 100 possessions, allowed 101.1 points per 100 possessions and Harden was a plus-54. With Lin on the bench and Harden on the court, Houston averaged 108.4 points per 100 possessions and allowed 110.2 points per 100 possessions and Harden was a minus-1.
Again, that’s a small sample size – 16 games in December for a 10-6 record with victories against the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Memphis Grizzlies, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves and Atlanta Hawks. But it’s a sample size that proves it can and does work.
“For us to be successful, we’ve got to move the ball and we’ve got to move our bodies. … Regardless of who we play, we’ve just got to attack and move the ball,” McHale said. “We have a style that we have to play which is up and down and ball movement.
“We’re all getting to know each other a little bit. We have a really young team, and we haven’t been together that long. … As a team, we have to find our footing.”
In a recent victory, Harden had 28 points and five rebounds and Lin had 16 points, eight assists, four rebounds and four steals. In another recent victory, Harden had 26 points, six assists and five rebounds and Lin had 20 points and 11 assists. In Lin’s return to New York to play the Knicks, he had 22 points and eight assists, and Harden had 28 points and 10 rebounds.
“It’s a good example of what we can do,” Lin said.