So, there’s been a lot of talk about Lin not starting in the game against the Pacers in Manila. I actually wasn’t too surprised, as I expected McHale to experiment with Lin and Beverley in the preseason. As for whether or not this had anything to do with the whole McFale/Lin dynamics I’ve discussed in the past, the jury is still out on that. I’m sure there’s some of it, because McHale has said in the past that you want your starters to be the BEST five players on the team. So, him even considering not starting Lin does tell me that he doesn’t consider Lin being clearly one of the five best players on the team. But setting the McFale/Lin dynamics all aside, I can understand the decision to use Lin as a sixth man ala Ginobili.
Here’s my reasoning for it. Lin makes ANY four guys on the floor better, because he’s the consummate floor general. He just knows how to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. What was so captivating about Linsanity in New York is it brought back the fun in basketball. After endless Melo iso’s, the ball finally moved around and a bunch of no-names, such as Steve Novak, suddenly played like stars. And MOST importantly Linsanity won games. This is what Lin does. He makes his teammates better and helps teams win games.
There’s no doubt Parsons, Howard, and Harden (PHH) are better with Lin on the floor. The second unit is also better with Lin in the floor. Like I said, Lin makes ANY four guys on the floor better. So, as a coach, trying to figure out what is best for the team, I think an argument can be made for bringing Lin off the bench to help bring cohesion to the second unit. In other words, the second unit needs Lin a lot more than the starters need Lin, because Beverley can’t run the offense. The bench needs someone to run the show a lot more than PHH do. I’m not saying that PHH doesn’t need someone who can run the offense. I’m just saying that they don’t need it as much as the second unit. And, there is only one Jeremy Lin. I didn’t see the first quarter of the game, so I’m not sure how Howard faired without Lin. That would be the main concern with using Lin as a sixth man, since Howard is now a big focus for the Rockets. And that all depends on how well Harden can work with Howard.
Against the lowly Pelicans, the Rockets second unit looked discordant on both ends of the court, but against a great Pacers team, the second unit looked like stars for the Rockets, all because Lin was running the show. There was a lot of cohesion and guys like D-Mo looked great. There’s a lot of talk about Beverley’s defense. And there’s no denying the amount of effort that Beverley puts forth on the defensive end. But what is often overlooked is that Lin is also a great defender. What separates Lin from Beverley, on the defensive end, is that Lin is an all-around great defender, while Beverley is just great at harassing his man. Lin is good at harassing his man, but he also understands spacing and has excellent instincts on the defensive end. This is how Lin gets so many steals. He’s able to anticipate where the ball is going and he knows when to lay off his man and focus on helping out on another man. Of course, sometimes he gets caught and looses his man. But this is just the risk you take if you are trying to help out on defense. All this is to say that too much is made of needing Beverley’s defense to start the game. I think that’s total bogus. The ONLY reason why you wouldn’t start Lin is not because of Beverley’s harassing defense (i.e., Beverley’s main strength), it is because of Beverley’s main deficiencies (i.e., running the offense). Like I’ve said in the past, Beverley and Toney Douglas are like twin brothers to me, but Beverley is just a better Toney Douglas. I never saw Toney Douglas as a Point Guard. He’s just an under-sized Shooting Guard and that’s EXACTLY what Beverley is. So when he’s the only guy running the offense, then you’re in trouble. This is why it makes sense to use Lin as a sixth man. Again, the main concern is how Howard does without Lin. Only time will tell.
Lin may also be able to up his scoring average playing as a sixth man. And Lin does look even more aggressive playing with the second unit, because he no longer has to defer to Harden. So it could be a very good thing for Lin to be the sixth man in the same way that Ginobili is the sixth man for the Spurs and in the same way that Harden was for the Thunder. What this means is that Lin needs to finish nearly all if not all of the games this season.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this season is Linsanity 2.0. Lin looks really good. And if you don’t see this, then you’re still blinded by your preconceptions of Lin. He was able to work on his game injury-free in the off season and he looks ready to play. If Lin wasn’t the third or fourth option on a team, Lin would be averaging All-Star numbers. I know many will scoff at this as being Lin fanaticism. But if Lin manages to average 14.5+ scoring this season and 5.5+ assists as a third or fourth option with a low usage rate, then those are All-Star numbers, because he would be averaging 20+ and 8+ assists if he was on any other team that didn’t have two superstars (one of whom needs the ball in his hands, just as much as Lin).
Anyway, that’s a whole other discussion. The most important part about Lin being sixth man is that he needs to finish nearly all if not all of the games this season. And this is where the whole McFale/Lin dynamics comes into play. If McHale uses Lin as a sixth man and lets Lin finish nearly all if not all of the games this season, then using Lin as a sixth man is not influenced by the whole McFale/Lin dynamics. If Lin doesn’t finish games, then this is ALL about the McFale/Lin dynamics. I don’t care how McHale wants to spin it in press conferences, saying that he needs Beverley’s defense at the end of games. The truth is, Lin every bit as good of a defender, because Lin is an excellent all around defender, whereas Beverley is an elite on-ball defender. So there’s no reason to not let Lin finish games, unless you have your blinders on and fool yourself into thinking that Lin is not a good defender because there’s no way some Asian from Harvard can keep up with NBA players.
I think McHale and the coaching staff is honestly still trying to figure out whether or not they want to start Lin or Beverley. So I don’t think they’ve made up their minds. And I don’t blame them, because it really is a difficult decision. The Pacers game in Manila does give a lot of credibility to using Lin as a sixth man to run the show with the second unit. I think it does make the Rockets more dangerous as a team. Rockets are going to have the deepest bench in the NBA and I think they’ll have a top offense and a top defense. This Rockets team looks so scary, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they end up winning the whole thing. No one expects them to, but I just don’t see how any team is going to stop this Rockets team, as long as there are no major injuries. But this is a whole other discussion.
Apparently, McHale will be alternating their starting positions throughout the pre-season, so Lin will start in Taiwan. I don’t mind this experimentation and I think it’s smart for McHale to use the pre-season to test out different lineups. That’s one big part of what the season is like and when you have a deep team like the Rockets do, that becomes even more critical. I just hope that once he figures it out, he sticks with the same starters for nearly all if not all of the regular season games. I don’t think it’s good to keep switching lineups at whim. At least this is my initial bias. That being said, I do expect McHale to continue to play with the starting lineup during the regular season. Who knows, it may be good strategically to keep starting lineups fluid. I just think it might have an adverse effect on team chemistry. But I’m sort of open to it. At the end of the day, all I care about is that Lin finishes the games and plays 30+ minutes a game. If McHale allows him AT LEAST that, then Lin will take it from there. Thank you very much.