Jeremy Lin: Agent of Chaos
By FORREST WALKER | MARCH 27, 2013 at 4:00 PM
As the season rounds out and sample sizes loom large, we can finally see just what this new Houston Rockets team is. After having by far the highest player turnover in the league, a Rockets team full of question marks has filled in a few blanks. One such question mark was the puzzling Jeremy Lin, a third string point guard who suddenly electrified the world with superstar level play for a dazzling month last February. Now that heís spent a year as a starter, who is Jeremy Lin? Is he a star, a role player or a bust?
So far, heís an exceedingly promising ball of chaos. While his shooting may not be as efficient as the team average, and he may not be likely to top ten in assists this year, heís begun to find his role in Houstonís offense. Linís potential role looks similar to that of another point guard and agent of chaos, Oklahoma Cityís Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook is an integral part to the Thunderís elite offense, despite the fact that he subsists on what are traditionally thought of as poor shots. As his game has matured, heís improved his scoring and more importantly his assists. Heís liable to take any shot with any coverage at any time, and heís increasingly likely to find an open teammate, too. The value of Westbrook comes from the fact that his actions are unpredictable and somewhat outside of the defenseís gameplan.
Harden seems to be following Kevin Durantís gameplan, shooting about twenty to twenty-five times a game, and looking for those shots to be efficient. Harden tends to end up poor shooting more often, but his free throws generally keep his true shooting percentages high. Westbrook offers an outlet for those other shots, the shots which make up the other 57 or so attempts per game. Westbrookís willingness to shoot from midrange has been controversial, but the Thunder have been excellent under his stewardship.
Lin also has a propensity to shot the dreaded midrange two. Of all the players whoíve spent all season in Houston, heís the only one who scores 10% or more of his points from midrange. Linís 12.6% may be well below the league average, but itís well above Hardenís 7.7% and Parsonsí 6.3%. Even the range-happy Carlos Delfino only scores 8.9% of his points from midrange twos. Some of Linís most effective plays have come from his willingness to pop out from behind screens and nail a two point jumper, a shot thatís increasingly rare in Houston.
But this is exactly what Jeremy Lin can keep doing. Heís shoes that he can keep his dribble alive for long stretches, probing and circling the defense. Heís prone to no look passes from reckless drives into the lane, as well as circus shots in the teeth of the enemy defense. Just when heís curled around the basket, looking to reset the offense, the defense will find another two point shot instead. If Harden is the embodiment of efficient offense, Lin is instead a disruption to the court, and heís at his best when heís most unpredictable.
The hope, then, is that he can develop along similar lines to Westbrook. After being known primarily as a scoring point guard, Westbrook has improved his assists per game by a whopping two from last year (5.5) to this year (7.5). Thereís no reason the think that Lin canít follow a similar trajectory. While itís not clear if Lin could ascend to a star level of play as Westbrook has, he can definitely play a similar role. When defenses have to account for unpredictable action and moves uncharacteristic of the team, the Rocketsí offense has that many more opportunities. If opposing players are pulled into planning according to the unplanned, and preventing unlikely attempts, the planned and likely is even easier.
The drawback to Linís madness is that itís madness. His propensity to go up without a plan for when he comes down leads to turnovers, and his fearless forays into the paint often end in misses. But thereís value to staying at it, even when the chaos sours. Opposing defenses have to see Linís confidence and aggression for the chaos to work. As he improves, his internal entropy engine will only improve with him. While Linís style of play might result in some high turnover, low field goal games, the more aggressive he is, the better. In the middle of the Rocketsí efficient offense, some chaos is in order