In order to realize his maximum potential Jeremy Lin needs to be the No. 1 offensive option.
He needs to initiate offense, primarily through pick-and-roll. He needs to take 15+ shots and a bunch of free throws. He needs to be the guy who the ball inevitably rotates back to when the shot clock gets low.
That is when he's most effective. During Linsanity — which we'll define as the 15-day stretch of nine games in February of 2012 — Lin was in an ideal situation.
Carmelo Anthony was hurt, leaving the Knicks devoid of a primary offensive scoring threat. So they put the ball in Lin's hands and ran the offense as if he was Chris Paul or Derrick Rose. It worked because Lin is a creative and efficient pick-and-roll guard — he's able to run it over and over again and still create quality shots without becoming predictable.
He was the centerpiece of the offense. He averaged 25 points, 9 assists, 18 shots, and 8 free throws in 39 minutes per game during that stretch.
Almost two years later — after leaving New York and signing a $25 million deal with Houston — Lin has lost his starting job and, at least initially, struggled to figure out how to play alongside James Harden.
There's a catch-22 at work here:
1. For Jeremy Lin to be his best, he has to be his team's No. 1 option.
2. If Jeremy Lin is a team's No. 1 option, they aren't going to win a title.
For all the things he does well, you can't build your team around Lin. He's just an okay three-point shooter, he turns the ball over too much, he's a below average defender, and he's injury-prone.
He was so good during Linsanity because the Knicks treated him like Derrick Rose ... but he ain't Derrick Rose.
The Rockets trading James Harden in the fall of 2012 — before Lin had played a single game — was a recognition of this fact.
Lin suddenly became an off-ball scoring guard, a role in which he has proven significantly less effective.
Harden initiates the offense and takes the bulk of the shots. He does all the things that Lin did in New York.
Lin's job is to make open three's and exploit the mismatches when Harden breaks down the defense. Since he's neither a great three-point shooter nor an explosive guy off the dribble, his numbers have slipped.
The old Lin is still there. On Wednesday night in Philly he scored 34 points on 19 shots, with 12 assists and eight turnovers in 48 (!) minutes played — a throwback Lin stat line.
But it came with Harden out injured, and Houston lost in overtime.
All of this is probably unfair to Lin. Who knows how many anonymous NBA players would look like superstars if they were given the keys to the offense like Lin was during that miracle run.
The Rockets have made a smart move by trying to stagger his and Harden's minutes. There are also early signs in 2013-14 that Lin is learning how to play without the ball. But he'll never be the type of player he was during Linsanity with guys like Harden — essentially better versions of Lin — are on his team.
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