I’m Okay with Lin Being 6th Man IF He Finishes Games

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.

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Even More Important for Lin to be THE Floor General this Season

Last season I wrote a post about how Rockets are more dangerous with the ball starting out in Lin’s hands during end of game situations. Well, this season, with the addition of Dwight Howard and the emergence of Parsons as a near All-Star, it is even more critical for the ball to start out in Lin’s hands not just in end-of-game situations, but for the majority of the game. The reasons I gave in the post I referred to last year become magnified even more now that we have two superstars and a near All-Star in Parsons.

Harden is an elite scorer, but Lin is still a better floor general. Lin is all about the ball finding the optimal scoring situation, whereas Harden is more about scoring the ball himself. But the Rockets are no longer a one-man team (not that I thought it was last season). Now we have four great scorers in our starting lineup (Harden, Howard, Lin, Parsons), so we need to have the ball in the hands of the guy who’s all about the ball finding the optimal scoring situation, Lin. Lin was like this even back in high school. This is the creed that Lin lives by as a baller. Also, as the season progresses, I’m sure Howard is going to figure out that he’ll have more opportunities to score if the does PnRs with Lin vs. Harden, since Lin is an even more willing passer than Harden is. So if McHale wants to make Howard happy, he should let Lin be the main distributor. I just hope McHale figures all of this out. If not, then Rockets won’t be as good as everyone expects them to be this year. But if they do figure this out and Lin’s usage rate surpasses Harden’s then Rockets will be in the Western conference finals and I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up winning the whole thing this year. It always takes time to gel, of course, but they’ll gel much quicker if Lin is allowed to be THE floor general. I just have very little confidence that McHale will let Lin do what Lin does best. I think it’s more likely that McHale will decrease Lin’s role even more and let Beverly take away even more minutes from Lin this season. Let’s hope McHale wakes up.

A recent article, pointed out to me by one of our readers CH, speaks to the importance of letting Lin be the main distributor on the team. I have written about many of the points that this writer makes in his article, so just wanted to highlight it for you all who may have not seen the article. I’m glad to see someone in the somewhat mainstream media echoing a lot of things that I’ve been writing about here.

McHale’s Gamble Almost Pays Off, Rockets Almost Steal Game 2

After getting blown out in game 1, McHale decided to try something new and insert Beverley in the lineup, going very small. Analysts thought he was out of his mind, but McHale’s out of the box thinking ended up working out and Beverley provided a lot of energy and ended up with a double-double in his first playoff start (16 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 3 turnovers). Harden also ended up with a double-double (36 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 turnovers, 1 steal). Lin didn’t play in the second half due to a shoulder contusion. No update on Lin so far.

The ball movement was good, tonight. It’s been a while since I’ve seen good ball movement by the Rockets. I can tell that McHale drilled ball movement in during practices, because the players definitely made an effort to get the ball moving from side-to-side. They also made the extra pass to night–especially in the first half. Things got bogged down a bit in the second half without Lin and it got even worse when Beverley had to sit with 4 fouls. Beverly ended up playing 41:13 minutes tonight, but he didn’t seem tired. That kid is full of energy. He reminds me of Tigger in Winnie the Pooh–constantly bouncing around. Also, he was not intimidated by his first playoff start. He just played his game. Harden did a slightly better job of playing within the offense, although, he still continues to settle quick threes. He was 1 for 7 from three tonight, so his shooting struggles continue. Another guy who’s still struggling with his shot is Delfino. He was 3 for 10 from three tonight. I’m still mystified why McHale continues to trust Delfino when he’s got a much more reliable Garcia. Garcia plays a very similar game to Delfino, but he is also taller, which is a definite plus. Garcia only played 6:29 minutes tonight, while Delfino was out there jacking up one missed three after another, wasting valuable possessions. But I can’t complain too much about McHale tonight, because he made the unconventional decision to start Beverley and it almost won the Rockets the game. Now it could also be because the Rockets got over the first game jitters, so they might have just been playing better. But Beverley was definitely a big factor for the Rockets tonight. He was everywhere and made a name for himself in the spotlight.

Even with the valiant effort by the Rockets, I expected a loss tonight. Even when the Rockets were up by 4 points on a three by Delfino with over 3 minutes left in the game, I fully expected OKC to come back and win the game. So I guess because I expected OKC to win, I just shrugged off the loss. It wasn’t a heart breaker to me like it should have been. But I’m sure Rockets fans are heartbroken, because Rockets were so close, then Durant took over and refs missed that foul committed by Perkins (I think) against Parsons, which left a wide open three by Sefolosha, putting OKC up by 4 with a minute left to go in the game.

So, lots of questions for game three. Is Lin going to be back? Is McHale going to go back to the unconventional lineup if Lin is back? Has McHale figured out how to beat OKC? At least with tonight’s game, the Rockets can come back home without their tails tucked between their legs. So that will make for a more fired up crowd.

Rockets, Full of Jeremy Lins, Make Playoffs In Spite of, Not Because of McHale

NOTE: If you’re going to read this post, please read the ENTIRE post and give me the chance to at least lay out my argument, before you dismiss it, based on just reading the headline of the post. Also, you may think I’m a McHale-Hater, but if you followed this blog since the beginning of the season, you’ll know that I was a McHale defender early on, because I wasn’t familiar with his coaching and I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. Anyway, read on and it’ll all be clear what I’m trying to convey.

The Houston Rockets is a team that’s made up of a bunch of Jeremy Lins. In other words, it’s made up of a bunch of guys who have suddenly been giving bigger roles than the ones they had prior to joining the Rockets and also guys who don’t quite fit the mold of a good to great basketball player:

  • Asik: from bench to starter
  • Lin: from third or fourth big name on a team to “face of the Franchise” (that is prior to Harden’s arrival)
  • Harden: from third best player, 6th man on a team to best player, starter on a team
  • Parsons: from second round pick no name rookie to one of the leaders on the team

Because Rockets are full of Jeremy Lins, analysts severely underrated their capabilities (granted, they had a lot of reasons for doubting this young squad full of first-time starters). As a result, Analysts didn’t have very high hopes for the Rockets. In fact, there was a general consensus that the Rockets wouldn’t win more than 29 games (I believe that was the over-under in Vegas, as well as the over-under for some analysts). I don’t go onto message boards very often, but here’s a message board posting I made back on November 1st on The Dreamshake:

Post on Dreamshake about Underrated Rockets

The mistake that a lot of analysts and Rockets fans made was to let their preconceptions of these players get in the way of actually seeing these players for their innate abilities and attributes. It’s the same mistake that Lin Doubters/Haters made (and are still making) with Lin. Lin just doesn’t look the part and doesn’t have the “right” background to be a very good player. And this is sort of the same thing that went on in people’s preconceptions of the Rockets: a starting lineup of bench players and second round picks can’t possibly win more than 29 games!

To me, although I understood where people were coming from, I thought the absurdly low expectations many fans and analysts had of this team was ridiculous. What I saw was a starting lineup of very talented players with unique basketball skills, high basketball IQs, strong work ethic and high character. I saw a starting lineup of guys who have potential to have great chemistry on the floor, because of their unselfishness. So I didn’t hesitate to say on a post on October 29, 2012 that the Rockets are a LOCK to make the playoffs. I looked past the preconceptions that hold so many back (not just as basketball fans and analysts, but in life in general) and saw the players as they are, not based on my judgments of them.

So what does all of this have to do with McHale? I’m getting to that. A lot of analysts and fans are giving credit to McHale now that the Rockets have made the playoffs. It’s something that they didn’t think was even within the realm of possibility, but rather than giving credit to the players, they reasoned that it was McHale who got a bunch of bench players and no names to play well and make it to the playoffs. In other words, analysts/fans highly underrated the Rockets’s players, because of their own erroneous preconceptions, and rather than admitting that their initial judgments of the players were wrong, they work on the assumption that they were right about the players, but somehow McHale got all these players to play much better then they were capable of. What has really happened is that the players played EXACTLY the way they are capable of. Because I didn’t let preconceptions get in the way of evaluating these players’ capabilities, the Rockets did EXACTLY what I expected them to do back in October 29, 2012: make the playoffs. To me, it’s unfortunate that McHale is being given credit for basically being at the right place at the right time. This is unfortunate, because McHale has actually been more of a hindrance than a help to the Rockets. By giving McHale credit he doesn’t deserve, it covers up the reality that McHale has performed well below average as a coach this season and should probably be fired, rather than be a candidate for Coach of the Year. People who think he should be a candidate for COY only see the surface of things and draw simplistic conclusions.

In the beginning of the season, I really liked the game plan that McHale had for this young Rockets team: uncomplicated, free-flowing offense. I loved McHale’s emphasis on ball movement/player movement, as well as running after every possession. He also appeared to have the trust of the players. So this is why I was a defender of McHale early in the season and these are the things I still like about McHale. The ESSENTIAL question to ask, when evaluating McHale is whether or not you think any average coach would have been able to do these things or is this unique to McHale. Here’s where I stand on this question:

  • Any average coach would have been able to come up with the uncomplicated, free-flowing offense. From an X’s and O’s perspective, there’s not much to it.
  • Ball movement/player movement is something that every coach emphasizes, but not every coach can actually get their players to do it. Rockets have players who are unselfish and willing to share the ball, so that makes McHale’s job easier. I would give McHale a little credit for this, but with McHale’s free flowing offense, it is often very confusing to players about where they should move to on the floor. So points deducted for that. So I pretty much come out on this with giving a tiny bit of credit for McHale for ball movement/player movement.
  • Running after made baskets is something that I give McHale the most credit for, because that’s something that every coach says, but not many coaches have the patience to keep preaching it over and over and over until it is ingrained in the players. McHale did this and he did a god job of this earlier and midway through the season, but I think even he has lost some patience with this. I deduct points for McHale’s poor management and usage of player minutes, which makes it very hard for players to run after every possession, because he has tired them out by playing them too many minutes without rest. So at the end of the day, McHale gets a pretty good amount of credit for this, but less than you would think, because of his poor management of player minutes.
  • McHale is often called a player’s coach and it appears that many of the players do enjoy playing for him. They have good rapport with him. Players have good rapport with a good number of coaches, simply because of the nature of the relationship. So McHale just gets some credit for this. Rockets are also full of high-character guys, so I think pretty much any average coach can come in and elicit a similar level of respect and comradery. So, again, McHale gets less credit than you would think, because it’s easy to have rapport and comradery when you’re coaching a bunch of high-character guys.

Overall the positive things that McHale provides, I think pretty much any average coach can provide to a similar extent. Maybe McHale does these things slightly better than the average coach. If McHale performed every other aspect of his coaching duties at an average level, then I wouldn’t have too much of a problem with McHale. And this explains why I was a McHale defender earlier in the season. I hadn’t seen him coach enough to fairly evaluate how he performs in in-game situations. All of the positive things McHale does that I mentioned above has to do more with off the court coaching duties, such as providing an overall offensive scheme/structure and player communication. My attitude back then was that there are better coaches out there, but McHale is good enough. I mean, if Morey and Les thought there was someone else they could bring on who can do a better job, I wouldn’t have complained, but at the same time, I wasn’t calling for his head.

Now that I’ve had a chance to see McHale perform for an entire season, I’ve been very disappointed with him as a coach overall. He performs below average or well below average on every other aspect of coaching from player evaluation to player rotation and has committed an alarming number of in-game mistakes and lacks any sort of end-of-game strategy. As the season wore on, I accumulated more and more evidence that McHale is a terrible coach and that’s why I went from being a McHale defender in the beginning of the season (when all I knew of McHale was his general free-flowing offensive scheme) to calling for his head now at the end of the season. I’m not just calling for his head, because I’m a LOF and don’t like the way he’s been misusing Lin, I’m calling for his head as a basketball fan who has been shocked by the number of mistakes McHale has made as a coach. I have nothing against McHale as a person and he has been through a lot this season. I also think he is great at communicating with his players. I’d be fine with keeping him on as some sort of motivational coach or an assistant coach or something. For example, I give a lot of credit to McHale for making the correct decision to show the players clips of them when they were rolling to get them over the psychological drain of losing seven games in a row, rather than dwelling on their mistakes. But McHale is not ready to coach an NBA team–especially one that has aspirations of becoming championship contenders. If Morey and Les are serious about making the Rockets championship contenders, they need to find a coach who can help take the Rockets to the next level or at least a coach who won’t get in the way. It’s hard to prove a “what if” but I do believe that Rockets would have had a much better record and maybe been a 50+ team if McHale wasn’t the coach. It is said that players lose blow outs and coaches loose close games. Well, the Rockets have not been good in end-of-game situations this season, and I think the blame rests squarely on McHale. If we just got at least ONE of those close games back, the Rockets are playing the Spurs with a very good chance of advancing to the second round. This alone should be a fire-able offense, because it has direct playoff implications. Again, if Morey and Les are serious about being championship contenders, they need to look long and hard at this.

For those who say that this is not fair, because I’m not looking at all the games that McHale made good decisions. I say, the games that McHale made good decisions, any average coach would have made those same decisions. In fact, I can only think of ONE decision McHale made that can be called somewhat unique that won the game and that was going with Beverly in the Magics game and benching Lin. But even I (a LOF) would have done that in that game, so I think any old coach would have done that. So McHale has really made NO positive in-game decisions that any average coach wouldn’t have made and he has made PLENTY of poor in-game decisions that any average coach wouldn’t have made. To me, this is the definition of a way below average coach.

Throughout the season, McHale has committed many mistakes and poor judgments. Here are just a few. NOTE: What follows is admittedly poorly written, because I’m more concerned about just throwing out a bunch of evidence, rather than the prose, so feel free to skip over this part unless you are looking for specific evidence for McHale being a below average coach.

  • Lack of end-of-game strategy. McHale’s end-of-game strategy amounts to giving Harden the ball ALL THE TIME and praying Harden does something. When I refer to “end-of-game” I’m not just talking about the very last possession. I’m talking about the last few minutes of a close game. Sometimes, McHale’s “strategy” works, but most of the time, it ends up with Harden turning the ball over, throwing up a prayer, throwing up highly contested shots, or giving it up to his teammate with the clock winding down, because he can’t figure out what to do with it. The problem with McHale’s strategy, is that when Harden has the ball, everyone just stands around ball-watching, waiting to see what Harden is going to do. Since McHale doesn’t run any sets, players don’t know where to move on the court, because they don’t want to mess up the spacing for Harden. I get that this is a strategy that a lot of teams employ: iso your best player. In GENERAL, it is okay to fatten out a good majority of the time in end of game situations. This is very common in the league. I think this is so commonplace in the league, because not too many teams have multiple clutch players who are also great ball handlers and play makers. Rockets happen to be a team that has two guys who are great ball handlers, play makers, and are also clutch, so I think it’s a mistake to fall into the convention. It shows a lack of understanding of your team to use a cookie-cutter approach. I’m fine with Harden being “the man” a majority of the time, but I think to have Harden be “the Man” ALL the time has hurt this team tremendously and it’s the reason why Rockets don’t do well in close games and this is going to really show in the playoffs if McHale continues to follow this cookie-cutter approach blindly. McHale ONLY uses Harden during clutch time and ignores the rest of the team to their detriment. Rockets become a one-man team. I actually think it’s much wiser to have the ball in your best decision-maker’s hands rather than your best scorer at the end of games. And to me, that’s clearly Lin. Go here for a more detailed discussion: https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/rockets-is-more-dangerous-with-the-ball-starting-out-in-lins-hands-with-the-game-on-the-line/. I’m not saying to ALWAYS do this. But I’m saying it’s wrong to ALWAYS do the same thing every time and give the ball to Harden and flatten it out. It’s way too predictable and causes everyone to stand around. When the ball is in Lin’s hands Lin has a higher probability of make the right decision and find the optimal play and guys move around when Lin has the ball, since they don’t expect Lin to just go iso. Rockets also have another clutch player in Parsons. And I think if Lin handles the ball in end of game situations, you have a guy like Parsons that suddenly comes into the fold. There have been an over reliance on Harden in clutch time and that’s been a detriment to the Rockets, I believe. It has caused us to lose a lot of close games and this is all on McHale.
  • Poor understanding of his players. McHale’s singular focus on Harden during clutch time points out that McHale is actually blinded to the talent on his team. He doesn’t recognize that Parson and Lin are actually clutch players in their own right and have the ability to deliver in end-of-game situations. McHale also has fixations on a lot of his players–either seeing only faults or only strengths. He doesn’t seem to see them as they are. With certain players, he’ll stick with them no matter what and relies on them heavily, even when they’re clearly not doing well. Delfino is a great example of this. Ever since Delfino messed up his elbow a couple of months or so ago, Delfino hasn’t been the same player. His shot has been unreliable, going 2 for 10 from three on some nights. Delfino also tries to do too much on the court and often turns the ball over. But McHale can’t seem to see any of Delfino’s faults, since Delfino was his only veteran player in the beginning of the season. So McHale let this fact cloud his judgment of Delfino. McHale also inexplicably uses Beverly as a floor general, even though Beverly is just a talented defender, but an inadequate floor general. McHale also over-value’s Beverly and finds every reason to keep Beverly on the floor. It’s as if 1 good thing Beverly does counts as 4 good things that Lin does. I’m a fan of Beverly for his defense and his energy, but McHale often rides Beverly for too long–past the time that Beverly is effective. Beverly is an energy guy and should only be used sparingly. Beverly also shouldn’t not be used as the floor general anywhere close to 100% or even 50% of the time when he’s on the floor. And, of course, the big one is McHale’s lack of understanding in Lin’s game, as well as his doubt in Lin as a player. I’ve beat this horse to death, so there’s no need to say anymore about it here. If you want more information, you can watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPStYh4Zxj8. Also, McHale has been a big reason for Lin’s struggles early in the season. Go here for a more detailed breakdown: https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/reasons-for-lins-scoring-struggles-and-why-the-spurs-game-is-his-breakout-game/. Since Lin is a key player on the Rockets, I think McHale has hurt the team by his lack of trust in Lin and his misuse of Lin. Had Lin been allowed to play Lin’s game more this season, I think the Rockets would have been a 50+ winning team, but again, it’s hard to prove a “what if.” Just to give you an idea, however, here are a few games in which Lin was not just misused (since Lin is misused all season and continues to be misused), but not used or under-used altogether (in terms of minutes) that MIGHT have made the difference in Rockets winning the game: Benching Lin vs. Lakers on April 17, 2013 (McHale sat Lin with 4:24 to play in the third and didn’t bring Lin back again until 6:19 to go in the fourth, even though Lin was hot in the third); vs. Dallas on March 6, 2013; vs. Indiana on March 27, 2013 (https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/rockets-lose-to-pacers-due-to-poor-management-of-player-minutes-by-mchale/); vs. Denver on January 30, 2013 (https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/rockets-lost-a-game-they-could-have-won-against-denver/); vs. Dallas on December 8, 2012
  • Poor management of player minutes. McHale plays Harden and Parsons to death–even though Rockets have players who are capable of spelling both players. Anderson is a player who has been severely under-utilized by McHale, because McHale doesn’t trust ANYONE to spell Harden. But I don’t understand why McHale would trust Anderson to start in place of Harden when Harden was injured, but then not play Anderson any minutes when Harden isn’t injured. That rationale doesn’t make too much sense to me and I think has to do with McHale’s fixations. There have been far too many games in which Harden plays an entire half with no rest. Same with Parsons, although McHale is finally trusting Garcia (again his eyes were only opened due to injuries when he was forced to play Garcia big minutes in the Clippers game on March 30, 2013 https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/rockets-success-against-clippers-should-put-mchales-usage-of-players-into-question/) to spell Parsons towards the end of the season. Most recent examples of McHale playing Harden to death: vs. Pacers on March 27, 2013 McHale played Harden for the entire second half in a game in which Harden was clearly struggling and playing hurt, which resulted in Harden having to sit out the next couple of games due to injuries. And when Harden came back, McHale, again played Harden for entire second halves vs. Suns on April 9, 2013 and vs. Grizzlies on April 12, 2013. McHale severely over-utilizes a few players and under-utilizes the rest of the team. I think this is even more misguided considering that McHale’s ENTIRE offensive scheme relies on having fresh bodies that can hustle up and down the court. I think for McHale’s offense to run the way he designed it, it’s actually more important to have fresh bodies than to run a few guys to the ground, because you don’t trust anyone else. Also, McHale’s poor management of player’s minutes is partly responsible for Rockets’s turnovers. In particular, Harden has been racking up the turnovers in those games that he played the entire second half: 9 turnovers vs. Suns and 8 turnovers vs. Grizzlies.
  • Player Match-Up Mistakes. Going with a Lin-Harden-Beverly lineup vs. Grizzlies on April 12, 2013. This lineup was clearly ineffective (having both Beverly and Lin on the court didn’t do much against the Grizzlie’s lineup), but McHale stuck with it for the ENTIRE fourth quarter, I believe, or nearly the entire fourth quarter, simply because of his fixation on Beverly. McHale wants to play Beverly any chance he gets and since he knew he’d be ridiculed for benching Lin, he kept that ineffective trio in the game, when he should have had Garcia out there for a more reliable spot up three and also for defense against a lengthy Prince, so Harden wouldn’t be forced to match up against Prince. Aside from Harden having to expend maybe more energy than he needed to to guard Prince on the defensive end, Prince made Harden’s life on the offensive end tough by making it harder for Harden to shoot over a lengthy Prince (Prince had at least one block on Harden at the three point line). Using Delfino as a Power Forward against Gasol vs. Lakers on April 17, 2013. This is so obviously bad that I don’t even feel the need to explain it. This being said, player match-up is probably the one in-game area in which McHale actually does do a good job of. He is very versatile with the lineup and will make quick changes depending on the flow of the game. But this only applies to any player that’s not named Harden, Parsons, Delfino and Beverly.
  • Slow learner who doesn’t seem to recognize what works and what doesn’t. One example, of course, is McHale’s insane end-of-game tactics. The defninition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. McHale is, indeed, insane when it comes to his end-of-game tactics and he has made no progress the entire season. He also seems to fail to learn what works and what doesn’t. The Rockets played their best ball back in December when the talk about Lin-Harden co-existing really heated up and McHale started really focusing on making it work. After Lin had his breakout game against the Knicks, McHale FINALLY let Lin be the primary floor general and he also staggered Lin’s and Harden’s minutes. The result was one of the best stretches the Rockets had with blowouts against a very strong Grizzlies team, as well as the Bulls. Inexplicably, McHale has gone completely away from this and seems to have stopped trying to make the Lin-Harden synergy work. He seems to have disregarded all of it and stopped staggering Lin’s and Harden’s minutes, even though that clearly was working. The strategy for making the most of Linharden is so clear to me. I don’t understand why McHale still doesn’t get it. When Lin and Harden is on the floor, Let Lin be the floor general 65% to 75% of the time. Either Lin or Harden should be on the floor at all times or nearly all the time. When Lin or Harden is on the floor without the other, Lin or Harden should be the floor general 80% to 90% of the time. Beverly should rarely be used as the floor general. Beverly should generally be used as the floor general to give Lin or Harden a rest from ball-handling duties. Right now, McHale has the usage of Lin, Harden and Beverly so backwards it’s laughable. Harden is on the floor pretty much 100% of the time so there’s no chance for Lin to be on the floor without Harden. And he’s even inexplicably sat both Lin and Harden and let Beverly be the only ball handler on the floor. Lin is rarely on the floor without Harden and when Harden is on the floor with Beverly, Beverly is the primary floor general, but when Lin is on the floor with Harden, Harden is the primary floor general. McHale has had an entire season to learn about his players and how to play them, but I don’t see him making any measurable progress. It takes a lot for McHale to change his views. I think this is partly why Morey traded away the Power Forward lineup to force McHale to play the other Power Fowards on the team. It also took injuries to Harden and Parsons for McHale to discover that Garcia is someone who deserves to be in the rotation. TJones is another player that McHale took a long time to trust to play any minutes–even though he was stellar in the pre-season, in the summer league and in the D-league. And Anderson has been a guy that’s been forgotten all season and McHale still doesn’t recognize that Anderson can actually spell Harden and keep Harden fresh and less turnover prone. As a coach, you’re the closest to the players, so there’s no excuse for not having a deep level of understanding of their capabilities and how to use them. McHale seems to only see his players through his preconceptions of them and it takes McHale a very very long time to break free of these preconceptions and see the players as they are.
  • Specific Boneheaded In-Game mistakes. Left Harden in after he picked up his fourth foul with less than a minute left to go in the third quarter vs. Spurs on December 28, 2012. Harden ended up committing his 5th foul before the end of the third quarter and had to sit out for most of the fourth quarter. For more info go here: https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/valiant-effort-by-rockets-in-loss-to-spurs-i-blame-the-loss-on-mchale/. There were also a few games in which he lost track of Asik and left Asik on the bench when we needed him to get rebounds in end-of-game situations when the opponent was shooting free throws. I don’t remember specifically which games these were, but I do remember that the opponent got offensive rebounds off of their missed free throws and not having Asik in cost us those games.

If you’re still doubtful about whether or not McHale should be given most of the credit for the Rockets making the playoffs, just ask yourself this question: Would McHale be as successful coaching on another team? I think we already have the answer to that, because McHale did unsuccessfully coach on another team (granted he is a little more experienced now). Would the Rockets have made the playoffs with another coach? I’ll leave this answer up to you.

Perfect Results Vs. Grizzlies, but Poorly Coached Game by McHale + No Ball/Player Movement by Rockets

Rockets lost to the Grizzlies last night on Harden’s wide open shot that could have sent the game to overtime, so why am I saying that it’s a perfect result? Well, because if Rockets beat the Grizzlies last night, then Denver will surely secure the #3 seed, since they have the tiebreaker against the Grizzlies. But, because the Grizzlies won last night, they still have a shot, albeit a very small chance, of overtaking the Nuggets for the #3 seed. Right now, both the Grizzlies and the Nuggets have identical records, but the Grizzlies have a tougher schedule going into the home stretch (vs. Clippers, at Mavs, and vs. Utah) than the Nuggets (vs. Blazers, at Bucks, and vs. Suns). So the overwhelming odds is that Denver still hangs onto the #3 seed, but that would have been pretty much a certainty if the  Rockets beat the Grizzlies, last night. It was also a perfect result, in my eyes, because the Rockets proved to themselves that they could compete against the Grizzlies and they proved to me that they can win a series against the Grizzlies.

Rockets played with a lot of heart, but they weren’t given much of a chance by McHale’s terrible player rotation and the ball movement has looked really bad ever since Harden has come back into the lineup. That’s a big concern for me that I will go into a little bit more after I rant on about McHale’s terrible usage of players last night. First of all, McHale, once again played Harden the entire second half. He also included Lin in this crazy scheme of his, last night. Both Harden and Lin played an entire second half. McHale doesn’t seem to understand this concept that players need a little rest and he doesn’t seem to grasp that the KEY to his offense is that he needs fresh bodies AT ALL TIMES. That having fresh bodies is probably even more important than having the best players on the court, if he truly runs his offense the way it’s meant to be run. That means stressing that the ball and player need to constantly be moving and consequences will be paid for those who don’t buy into this, with the exception of the Point Guard who has the license to hang onto the ball AT TIMES. We didn’t have fresh bodies out there last night, because McHale played Harden and Lin to death. I can’t blame him too much for trying out the Lin-Harden-Beverly trio, but thought it was pretty ineffective last night. I thought we should have had Garcia out there for a more reliable spot up three and also for defense against a lengthy Prince, so Harden wouldn’t be forced to match up against Prince. Aside from Harden having to expend maybe more energy than he needed to to guard Prince on the defensive end, Prince made Harden’s life on the offensive end tough by making it harder for Harden to shoot over a lengthy Prince (Prince had at least one block on Harden at the three point line). Because of these reasons, I think McHale should have realized this more quickly and brought Garcia back. But McHale stuck with the Lin-Harden-Beverly trio for the ENTIRE fourth quarter, I believe, or nearly the entire fourth quarter. That was another rotational mistake by McHale. The other big rotational mistake came at the end, when McHale brought Delfino back into the lineup for the last possession. I get why McHale would play Delfino some tonight to get the rust out, so I was fine with McHale playing Delfino, even though Delfino had like three air balls from three point. But why in the hell would you go back to a guy that just got back into the lineup and is obviously very rusty for the last possession of the game when you have a guy like Garcia, who’s been shooting like 45%+ from three? That makes absolutely no sense to me and it’s further proof that McHale has some sort of crazy blind spot for Delfino. So ridiculous. As the season is nearing a close and I’ve had a chance to see McHale, I have to say, he’s one of the worst in-game coaches I’ve seen. I’ve never had much of a problem with a coach’s player rotation. I mean, I can’t recall ever complaining about it last year with D’Antoni or Woodson. But this year, it’s become a very common theme in my blog. Player rotation is how a coach directly influences the game and McHale gets an “F” for his player rotation. This Delfino mistake wasn’t the only one player rotation he’s made in end-of-game situations. There have been a disturbingly large number of end-of-game substitution or lack of substitution errors. Too much so for a professional NBA coach. I’m sure Morey and Les see this. I don’t know how anyone can NOT see it.

The other thing that is becoming more and more concerning is that Harden seems to be reverting to Hero Ball mode more and more as the playoff approaches. And I mostly blame McHale for this. Here’s why. Harden is untouchable for McHale, either because McHale worships Harden and doesn’t want to criticize him or because McHale worships Harden and is blinded to all of his mistakes. Harden, once again, almost got another double-double with 8 turnovers last night. Again, I think fatigue plays into this, so McHale is to blame for Harden’s fatigue. But it’s also because I feel like Harden is wanting to be THE hero as the playoffs are approaching and he has been given no consequences for his Hero Balling by McHale, so he has no reason to change. Again, McHale is largely to blame. In fact, I think McHale encourages Harden’s Hero Balling–whether McHale means to do it or not–by the way he relies SOLELY on Harden’s Hero Balling at the end of games. I think this feeds into other parts of the game and it causes the guys to subconsciously stop moving when Harden has the ball at the top of the key, because they expect Harden to just score himself. And when guys aren’t moving, Harden really has no one to pass it to, so this perpetuates Harden’s Hero Balling. Harden also expects to get fouled when he gets in the lane so he presses too much and forces up bad shots, rather than passing to his teammates when he’s driving into a congested lane. Harden had an EXTREMELY RARE (meaning I think it’s the first time I’ve seen it) play last night where he drove into a congested lane and passed it back out to Lin for a game tying three. This play is open to Harden pretty much every time, but I’ve never seen him do it, whereas Lin does this often (probably a little too much) to give his teammates open looks rather than forcing up a bad shot. This is why it baffles me why McHale would think that Harden has better decision making than Lin. Lin, to me, has elite decision-making skills, whereas Harden is only pretty good when it comes to decision-making. Harden misses way too many open teammates. For example, what I see quite a bit is that during transition–not in a fast break context but in a missed shot context–when Harden is dribbling past the half-court, Lin is usually running really hard to Harden’s right and the defense isn’t set. Rather than passing the ball up to Lin to see if Lin can make something happen before the defense gets set, Harden just stops and waits for the defense to set. I see this time and time again. Lin usually has a wide open lane, but Harden is too caught up in figuring out how he’s going to score himself that he misses Lin and his other open teammates and doesn’t take advantage of a defense that isn’t set in transition. Often, the defense is focused on Harden, so this is why other Rockets players are wide open in transition. I have no idea why the coaches aren’t showing this to Harden. How do I know they haven’t shown it to Harden? Because Harden hasn’t changed on bit in this regard. Actually, I do know exactly why they haven’t pointed this out to Harden. It’s because McHale worships Harden and either doesn’t want to point out something that Harden is doing wrong or is blinded to any of Harden’s deficiencies. This is also how Harden can rack up turnovers without consequence. McHale needs to go back to having Lin be the primary point guard. Lin barely played Point Guard last night and that’s a big mistake by McHale. It’s a big reason why the ball got so “sticky”. Also, when Lin checked back in in the beginning of the second quarter, Lin barely touched the ball, because my “favorite” player Delfino still has a blind spot for Lin on the court. I don’t think he passed it to Lin once when they were on the floor together. He would either try and make plays himself or look for Beverly. Lin also wasn’t aggressive enough at calling for the ball. He pretty much just hid in the corner. Lin should be taking over in the beginning of the second quarter now that McHale is giving him the chance to be on the floor without Harden. This is one of the few rotations that McHale has gotten right. McHale’s first half-rotations have been spot on, lately. But then he just has some sort of mental lapse in the second half.

Anyway, enough harping on McHale. I can go on and on, but I’m sure you’re all tired of it. Lets move on. The other reason last night’s result was perfect, in my eyes, is because it had no consequences in terms of how I want the playoff standings to shakeout. The standing pretty much stayed the same, because the Warriors lost against the Lakers. Even though I want Lakers out of the playoffs, I now want the Rockets to get to the sixth seed since there’s still a slim chance that the Grizzlies can overtake the Nuggets for the third spot. Also, the Lakers win last night was fine, because Utah also won, so Utah still has a pretty good chance of knocking the Lakers out of the playoffs–especially now that Kobe has come down with an injury and is probably out for the season. This is even more motivation for me to root for the Lakers out of the playoffs, because Kobe won’t be able to play even if they make it. I hate to see players go down with injuries, but that being said, everything worked out more perfectly than I could have hoped last night form a playoff standings perspective. Also, with Kobe out, the Rockets have a much better chance of beating them in the last game of the regular season. So everything worked out so perfectly last night in the NBA for what I want to see.

Rockets.com Front Page Looks Pretty Awesome

I just went on the Rockets.com Web page and I dig the picture they have of Lin. He looks like he’s out for blood. Normally, I just skip right past this front page, but seeing Lin’s face made me stop and I even checked out the video they had posted. It’s not bad. Check it out when you have a chance: http://www.nba.com/rockets/splash-playoff-bound

Rockets Front Page

 

Young Rockets Clinch Playoffs in One of the Oddest Finishes I’ve Seen

So, it’s official. The Rockets have clinched the playoffs. Of course, this comes as no surprise to me, as I wrote in a post back on October 29th that the Rockets are a LOCK to make the playoffs. I said this back when most analysts predicted that Rockets wouldn’t win more than 29 games. So ridiculous. The reason is because this Rockets team is full of Jeremy Lins and, as a result, analysts highly underrated their abilities at the time. I guess it was understandable that analysts would underrate this team, because many of the starters hadn’t started before and they are the youngest team in the NBA this season. Still, I was sure they’d make the playoffs, because I saw the talent in the guys. I also saw them as a bunch of players with really high basketball IQs, strong work ethic, great character and I knew they’d be able to mesh on the floor. I was also very optimistic of the Linharden synergy. I’m hoping that will get better next season as McHale learns to play Lin the way Lin is supposed to be played. We still haven’t seen the Linharden synergy in full effect.

Here’s a great write up on Rockets making the playoffs, by Jason Friedman from Rockets.com: http://www.nba.com/rockets/news/unexpected-journey

Tonight’s game was somewhat lackluster. Rockets played down to their competition somewhat and didn’t play much defense. The good thing that came out of it is that Smith and TJones are showing that they may be the answer to the Rockets Power Forward void just in time for the playoffs. Smith ended with 12 points, 5 rebounds and TJones finished with 11 points, 6 rebounds. These were two players I was very high on early in the season.   Asik also finished tying his career high 22 rebounds.

McHale didn’t do a very good job with the rotation tonight–especially when it comes to Harden. Once again, he played Harden to death by not giving him any rest in the second half. Yep, Harden played the ENTIRE second half. I kept waiting to see when McHale would give him some rest and then with the 8 minute mark rolled around in the fourth quarter I just shook my head, because I knew that McHale was going to stick with Harden the entire second half. I guess McHale really wanted to clinch the playoffs, so I can understand where he’s coming from. But I think it’s a mistake in thinking on his part, because I actually think it hurts the Rockets to not give Harden ANY rest–especially with Rockets high tempo of basketball. I thought McHale should have rested Harden in the beginning of the fourth for like three minutes or so, because I think Harden got sloppy in part due to fatigue. Harden almost had a double double with NINE turnovers. Yep, you read that correctly. This is what happens when you play a guy to death and don’t give him any rest. McHale better not pull this stunt in the playoffs, although, I’m sure he will. He just can’t seem to trust anyone but Harden in that position so McHale is going to play Harden to the ground in the playoffs. It’s just another one of McHale’s crazy fixations. I wish he understood the concept that you need fresh bodies to run and keep the pace up and also keep the ball moving and players moving, which is what Rockets basketball is all about. When players are tired, no matter how good they are, they stop moving the ball and they stop running. They also try and force shots, because they’re too tired to make good decisions and play optimally. And Harden is even more prone to that than most, because Harden tends to go into Hero Ball mode and this gets even more magnified when he’s fatigued.

Lin’s shooting was off tonight. I hope that’s an aberration, because he’s been shooting well for a while now. I noticed that he didn’t wear his arm guard. I wonder if that was a factor. Maybe he should start wearing his arm guard, although he had been shooting pretty well before that. But I think he shot even better with his arm guard–not just percentage wise, but the release and trajectory of the ball looked especially good in the games that he has been wearing his arm guard. Beverly played well tonight and I thought McHale was going to bench Lin in the fourth, because of how well Beverly was playing. And I have to say that I think that would have been fine with that decision tonight. Not that Lin was playing terribly, but Lin didn’t really have it tonight and I thought Beverly brought a lot of energy. What I would have preferred is for Harden to get some rest and for McHale to play Lin and Beverly together for some of the fourth to give Harden some rest. Anyway, I was surprised McHale went back with Lin. It ended up being a good decision, because Lin did tie the game up and Harden finished with a horrible shot that wouldn’t have made it, but Rockets caught a lucky break on a goal tending call against the Suns. That ball had no chance of going in. What a heart breaker for Suns fans, although I doubt they care too much about their season. But still. You hate to lose that way. In the playoffs, McHale has to come up with some better plays than to just iso Harden every time. He has to mix it up.I’ve said this before. I actually think Rockets are more dangerous with the ball STARTING OUT in Lin’s hands during clutch time, than Harden’s because when Harden has the ball–especially during clutch time, all four Rockets players end up just standing around ball-watching. So Rockets essentially become a one-man weapon. When it’s in Lin’s hands, players continue to move around, because they don’t expect Lin to just go iso. Also, Lin is a better floor general than Harden and is better at finding the optimal play. When the ball starts out in Lin’s hands, it tends to end up in someone else’s hands, so Rockets have five weapons when the ball starts out in Lin’s hands. Now, I’m not saying that Lin should have the ball EVERY time down the stretch. What I am saying is that McHale needs to mix it up. This is especially important in the playoffs when you’re facing the same team multiple times and they start to learn your tendencies. Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent. I’m glad Rockets made it official today and clinched the playoffs, proving all analysts, coach McHale and nearly every Rockets fans wrong. Like I said, this Rockets club is full of Jeremy Lins. And what Jeremy Lin does best is to prove doubters wrong.