When the Houston Rockets outbid the New York Knicks for Jeremy Lin’s services in the offseason, Carmelo Anthony called Houston’s offer ridiculous. Lin had played well in his 25 starts, but the $25.1 million offer seemed outrageous to Anthony and many others.
Lin’s first 57 games as a Rocket, however, suggest Houston knew it could benefit more from Lin than almost any other team.
The Rockets’ up-tempo offense, along with their commitment to spreading the floor around the pick-and-roll, fits Lin’s skills wonderfully. The result is not exactly Linsanity redux, but he is developing into a point guard who could be a factor in the NBA for years to come.
Lin, 24, has been a solid if unexceptional contributor for the Rockets as his 12.8 points and 6.2 assists a game through Friday attest. He is a young role player with some room to grow but has a fixed ceiling somewhere south of stardom.
Lin’s statistics plummeted last season when Anthony returned to the Knicks’ lineup and he had to adjust to playing with a franchise player. He has had to do the same this season with the rising star James Harden, an especially shifty scorer who, like Lin, thrives in the open court.
Luckily for Lin, Houston has more than enough possessions to go around. The Rockets play faster than any other team in the NBA and form impromptu fast breaks, even off opponents’ made baskets.
Although Harden is the gold standard in the NBA for pick-and-roll scoring, the Rockets will position Lin on the opposite side and, when the defense shifts to Harden, run a second pick-and-roll for Lin against a scrambling opposition.
It has taken time for Lin and Harden to develop chemistry, Rockets forward Chandler Parsons said.
“James is a very dominant ball handler and I think he,” Parsons said of Lin, “had to learn how to play off the ball better and he did great with that, learning when to cut, when not to cut.”
It is a complicated role for Lin. He not only has to be aggressive at all times, but also has to know how and when to get out of the way and let Harden run the show. Lin’s role parallels the one Derek Fisher once occupied with the Lakers next to Kobe Bryant. Lin must steady the offense while also regularly yielding control of it.
His game-by-game numbers have reflected his ambiguous role. After scoring 29 points on 22 shots against Oklahoma City on Wednesday, Lin managed just nine points on 12 shots Friday against the Nets.
Lin is no longer front and center, in contrast to his days with the Knicks, when he was free to dribble all over the court for large chunks of the shot clock.