The NBA, A-through-Z: Jeremy Lin

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Kelly Dwyer
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The free agents have just about all been signed up. The NBA is down to a series of Instagram photos from moving yachts and crossed fingers from worried teams hoping their players stay safe in the summer off. There’s nothing going on, save for that clock on the wall that is ticking down to the 2013-14 season.

And it’s moving SO SLOWLY.

This is why we’ve decided to pick 26 things we’re looking forward to in 2013-14. Or, at the very least, 26 things that intrigue us as we wait out an offseason that feels like it has thousands of miles left to cross before we can get to Halloween and opening week. Because there are 26 letters in the alphabet – you guessed, NBA A-through-Z.

We continue with Jeremy Lin.

Even with two stars that we’ve heard plenty about, the Houston Rockets remain the NBA’s great unknown. Despite the presence of Dwight Howard and James Harden, the team still has a ways to go before it can establish its identity, and that’s presuming that the Rockets know what sort of style and ethos they want to exude, a bit of guesswork from our end that I think is a pretty big leap. Howard is coming off one of the stranger years and a half of any player in NBA history, while Harden will attempt to once again dial back his offensive arsenal in order to accommodate his team’s franchise player. All while Kevin McHale, regarded in some circles as a bit wily when it comes to strict play-calling, runs the show.

Actually, McHale doesn’t really run anything; not with that back of his, 20 years after his retirement. No, it’s point guard Jeremy Lin that will be asked to push the offense once again, coming off of a so-so year that saw the one-time wunderkind take uneasily to his first full year as NBA starter.

Lin’s two-year run between a stint on Dallas’ 2010 Summer League team, through Golden State, through the D-League to the height of Linsanity in late winter in 2012 to Houston after strange negotiations last summer was nearly as confounding as Howard’s. He could be excused for needing a second to catch his breath, and in reality that’s understandably what the 2012-13 campaign was to Jeremy. Lin played in every game, but he struggled at times to contribute consistently alongside Harden, who was dealt to Houston after both training camp and the preseason, hamstringing their chemistry from the get-go.

Jeremy steadily improved after a slow start, and his averages of nearly 15 points and almost seven assists per 36 minutes were respectable enough, but they were a step down from his work in New York, and Houston’s fast pace may have inflated his raw numbers a bit. By the time the playoffs hit, a crippling abdominal strain got in the way of Lin contributing meaningful minutes, and though he gamely attempted to play through the injury, he missed three-quarters of his shots from the field.

All last year, in various columns, we preached patience with a player in Lin that really had never done this before, still acclimating to life as an expected starter, some three years removed from playing against limited Ivy League competition at Harvard. He got the reps in, though, and the soon-to-be 25-year old Lin needs to turn back into the straw that stirs the drink. If he manages to mix that scoring ability, derring-do and creativity into a consistent mix that keeps teams on their heels, the Rockets could be something else. Like, 60-win “something else.”

Things will be a bit trickier if Lin rounds into an average, starter-level-and-little-else, point guard. It wouldn’t be a massive disappointment, the Rockets don’t technically pay Lin like a star, and Harden is more than capable of dominating games from the perimeter even against postseason competition, but it would frustrate. On a team with a player like Howard, you need a creative touch. Orthodox pick and roll types like Jameer Nelson pair well with the man, but Dwight will beast at his best when the plays aren’t telegraphed, and when Howard himself doesn’t even know what’s coming. Things have to be unpredictable, with this crew.

Harden will help in that area, but if the Rockets have two players taking chances within this ever-shifting, always-entertaining Houston experiment, the outlook could be that much scarier for Western Conference opponents. A year and a half ago Lin found his calling in New York as a ball-dominating point guard that thought to score first, and take chances on a pass secondly. If he relegates himself to a more conservative role, or isn’t allowed to dominate that ball, he’ll be a wasted talent on a team he doesn’t fit in with.

Or, fully healthy and with his first full season as a starter under his belt, he could come into his own. This could be the year that Jeremy Lin turns that corner, and the result of him doing so should leave the Rockets close to the Finals again for the first time that John Stockton sank all their dreams from 25-feet away.

(Sorry for the reminder, Houston. Enjoy your team anyway.)