When Jeremy Lin signed with Houston, everyone thought the same thing — he would take 20 shots a game and put up huge stats on a bottom-tier team.Pro Basketball Prospectus wrote that Houston “will need to build its offence around Lin,” and predicted that he would take a ton of shots (25.3 usage rate), while shooting slightly better than last year.
ESPN’s John Hollinger said the same thing in his preview, writing:
In this system, with the point guard as the focus, he will thrive just as he did during the heights of Linsanity under Mike D’Antoni. And despite scouts’ misgivings about some of his weaknesses, Lin simply does too many high-value things (drawing fouls, assisting at the rim, steals and rebounds) to not be an effective player.
But these previews were written before the Rockets acquired James Harden in a shock trade. And seven games into the season, Lin is something that absolutely no one saw coming — an afterthought.
Lin is a smaller part of the Houston offence than anyone predicted. The stats:
- Usage percentage (the percentage of possessions a player either shoots or turns it over when he’s on the court): 18.3 vs. 28.1 last year
- Points per 36 minutes: 12.3 vs. 19.2 last year
- Shots per 36 minutes: 11.1 vs. 14.7 last year
- Assists per 36 minutes: 6.7 vs. 8.3 last year
- Turnovers per 36 minutes: 2.7 vs. 4.8 last year
He’s scoring less, shooting less, and initiating the offence less.
And the big reason why: James Harden.
As great as Lin is, he needs the ball in his hands to succeed. Last year in New York, Lin was the only ball handing guard that the Knicks had. When he was on the court, he was the one initiating the offence and trying to make plays happen at the end of the shot clock. The only other Knicks player that really needed the ball in his hands was Carmelo Anthony. As you can see from his stats with and without Melo on the floor, Lin was dramatically better without Carmelo:
Since he left OKC, Harden has revealed exactly what kind of player he is — a brutally efficient scoring machine who is more of a ball-dominating guard than we realised. Harden’s usage rate is 6th in the league, and his 22.7% assist rate is the highest of his career.
Basically, he’s running the show for this Rockets team, not Lin.
This stat box probably means nothing because of the sample size, but the disparity between Lin’s scoring stats with Harden on and off the floor is dramatic:
This is a problem for the Rockets, but it’s really not a terrible one to have.
Lin is young and may still be recovering from a knee injury. It’s totally plausible that he’ll learn to effectively play without the ball, and improve as a de facto combo guard as the season goes along.
Or, the Rockets could simply stagger Lin and Harden’s minutes. So far Lin has only played 16 minutes without Harden on the court. If he is still struggling in a few weeks, and it’s clear that these two players have redundant skill sets, it would make sense to play Lin more minutes at his favoured point guard role with the second team.
The Harden trade shifted the balance of power at the top of the NBA considerably, but no one saw how dramatically it would affect Lin. Yeah, it’s only seven games, but it’s clear that things are not as simple for Lin in Houston as they were in New York.