The Houston Rockets are one of the four most entertaining teams in the league (along with the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks in my opinion). Offensively, Houston provides a combination of European finesse and NBA smarts, fueled by advanced analytics and original offensive prototypes.
That being said, Houston probably won’t get out of the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. Of everyone on the roster, Jeremy Lin is by far the biggest variable. Lin’s the guy who could be the spark plug for any extended playoff run this spring, or he could be the guy Houston is desperately trying to unload this summer.
Lin has been up and down all season long. He started hot, averaging 16.3 points and 4.7 assists per game on 40 percent shooting from three-point range in his first 15 games. Then he tapered off a little bit, with his three-point shooting dipping down to 34 percent by Jan. 15 as injuries contributed to his declining numbers.
When Patrick Beverley returned from a broken hand in late January, Lin was back on the bench and Houston started a win streak. Since the third game of the win streak (when James Harden returned from a minor injury), Lin has struggled. In the last 26 games, including four starts, he’s averaged just 11.2 points and 4.0 assists per game with his shooting plummeting to just 42 percent.
So, what’s the problem with Lin? Inconsistency. On a given night, there’s no way to tell what kind of game he’ll have, and Kevin McHale knows that. On Mar. 9 against the Portland Trail Blazers, Lin was instrumental in one of Houston’s most impressive victories of the year, scoring 26 points, including 10-for-12 from the free-throw line. If you had only seen Lin play that game against Portland, you would have to think he was a sure-thing All-Star, as confidence oozed from his every pore, attacking the basket with reckless abandon.
On the other hand, if you only watched Lin play against the Clippers on Mar. 29, you would have wondered how this guy was given $25 million. He shot just 1-for-9 from the field, turned the ball over three times and was caught in the lane after picking up his dribble at least eight times (a poor habit he picked up mid season). Meanwhile, his counterpart Chris Paul scored 30 points and dished out 12 assists.
The bottom line is that on a given night, there’s no telling what Lin will give you, but the same doesn’t apply for the rest of the roster. Everyone else on the roster has pretty much cozied into their roles, with the exclusion of Terrence Jones, whose role continues to expand as he gains experience.
The point here is that what Lin does the rest of the year is crucial to his team’s success, his wallet and his NBA future. McHale lacks faith in Jones late in games (and rightfully so), which means that going small down the stretch of playoff games is not just an option; it’s going to happen.
If Lin can’t be a difference maker, he’ll be part of the problem in Houston; that’s the way it’s been all season long, and I don’t see that changing now. As fans, we just have to hope Lin is shooting the ball well, engaged and most importantly, confident for the rest of the year.
Hopefully, he can go Linsane on everyone this spring.