The man who spawned "Linsanity" has now played a full season as a starter, and he needs to take his game to the next level if he wants to keep his job as the Rockets' floor general.
The way I see it, Lin's season can go in three directions:
1. Lin Emerges as a Legitimate Starting Point Guard
Last season, the Rockets were an upstart team, so they drew very little criticism. Due to Harden's breakout year, the main stories coming out of Houston were about Harden making a name for himself as a marquee player, which overshadowed Lin's disappointing play. As Harden filled up box scores, and poured in nearly 26 points per game, Lin scored a pedestrian 13.4 points per game, despite averaging over 32 minutes a game.
Lin had the freedom that most point guards dream of last season, with free reign to push the ball down the court at full speed. But he struggled mightily to create shots for himself in the half-court offense. Many Lin enthusiasts argue that Harden hogged the ball and played selfishly last season, but that's absolutely ludicrous. Yes, Harden did take more shots than Lin. Yes, Harden did turn the ball over more than Lin. However, Lin struggled to get shots off constantly, and many times would toss the ball over to Harden with less than 10 seconds remaining on the shot clock, after dribbling in and out of the lane for 14 wasteful seconds.
If Lin is going to assert himself as the team's definitive starting point guard, he'll need to improve his 3-point shooting, his left-handed dribbling, and his on-ball defense. Lin's lack of strength and foot speed led to him being a defensive liability, which is something that will be more noticeable as the Rockets try to take the next step in their development.
Last season, opposing teams began to give Lin some room to drive, and then closed out on him as he got closer to the basket, which was an effective method due to Lin's lack of lift on his jumper. Lin needs to emerge as a guy who can force a second defender when he enters the paint, although Lin's athletic limitations may stop that from ever happening consistently.
2. Lin Is Packaged With a Young Big Man for Either a Point Guard or a Power Forward
I have been pushing for this move ever since Patrick Beverley burst onto the scene in the middle of last season. If Houston has the ability to trade Lin with either Donatas Motiejunas, Greg Smith or Terrence Jones for an upgrade at the 1 or the 4, I have no doubt in my mind that it will make the move. If Lin gets moved without Houston receiving a point guard in return, I have faith that general manager Daryl Morey would find a third point guard to fight for backup minutes with rookie Isaiah Canaan.
While it may not look like there are too many forwards available for Houston, Morey has always been crafty in his moves (cough, LaMarcus Aldridge, cough). Honestly, who would have thought that Thomas Robinson was available last season for as little as Patrick Patterson? The catch with this plan is that Houston can't act out of desperation. If Lin struggles next season and losses start to pile up, his trade value will drop dramatically and the prospective incoming talent won't be as talented. The ideal time for Morey to make a move like this would be right before the season starts -- before Dwight Howard starts indirectly throwing Lin under the bus to reporters.
3. Lin Loses the Starting Point Guard Job to Beverley
At first glance, this may look like a bad option, but after giving it some thought, this would help everyone involved. First of all, it would make Houston's starting five exponentially better defensively, as Beverley is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. Also, Beverley's a solid 3-point shooter, unlike Lin, which is what the Rockets need with Howard operating out of the low-post and Harden working out of the pick and roll.
While losing his starting job might be a shot at Lin's pride, it would actually help his game. He'd be able to run the offense while Harden is on the bench, giving Lin the opportunity to dominate the ball. Lin would also get to play against second-string players, which would help him regain the confidence and aggressiveness that he so often lacked last season. With Lin running the second unit, Houston could find more time to rest Harden and Parsons, both of whom played way too many minutes last season.
M. De Moor is an NBA junkie and who currently writes about all things NBA on HoopsHabit.com. He has followed the Rockets from the championship days of Hakeem Olajuwon, to the years of Francis and Mobley, to the McGrady and Yao era, and will continue to follow them through Harden and Dwight's reign of destruction.
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