Beyond the boxscore

Jeremy Lin shackling hurts the Rockets: Almost treated with Tim Tebow disdain

Jeremy Lin shackling hurts: Treated with Tim Tebow disdain

Jeremy Lin dribble
Jeremy Lin is the one Rocket who had something of a hot hand against Golden State. But it didn't get feed. Photo by Scott Hallern/Getty Images
Kevin McHale, Jeremy Lin, Rockets, basketball, November 2012
Kevin McHale's trust — or lack of it — in Lin could determine the Rockets' playoff fate. Houston Rockets/Facebook
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Kobe Bryant is still looming in the background.
Jeremy Lin dribble
Kevin McHale, Jeremy Lin, Rockets, basketball, November 2012
News_Kobe Bryant_basketball player_Lakers_basketball

The Houston Rockets have one near superstar player, one second round draft pick turned surprise shot maker and one attacking point guard. James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin are the only three players in Kevin McHale's rotation who can put consistent pressure on an opposing defense.

So why are only two of the three treated like indispensable pieces while the other is often left to languish and allowed to get lost?

It's the side story of the Rockets' endlessly entertaining season and it will become the story if Houston somehow blows it and fails to make the playoffs for the fourth straight year. It comes up again because the Rockets managed to lose by 30 points to the team they are chasing in the playoff race and shoot 32.6 percent from the field Sunday night while not feeding the one hot hand among their admittedly small-time version of a big three.

Why is it so hard for McHale to feature Jeremy Lin?

 They paid him $25 million, but they sometimes act like Lin is Tim Tebow on the New York Jets: A novelty act they don't know what to do with. 

Even Calvin Murphy, the CSN studio commentator who often seems to be holding back a little to make sure he doesn't offend anyone in the team's front office, noted the lack of touches for Lin.

"Jeremy Lin was shooting the ball well," Murphy said on air. "He should have gotten more shots."

Yes, much of the Rockets' offense depends on moving the ball and hitting the open man. But when a team like Golden State is happily daring guys like Parsons (2 for 13) and Donatas Motiejunas (2 for 11) to shoot, it's time to put the ball in Lin's hands and let him attack the rim.

The Rockets never have any difficulty in highlighting Harden or Parsons when they have the hot hand. Only Lin is never force fed. He is the only one among this little big three who would be left with just 16 shots on a night when he is the one player firing at anything close to a 50 percent rate.

It all goes back to the Rockets perplexing reluctance to treat Jeremy Lin like a bona fide, budding potential point guard star.

They paid him $25 million, but they sometimes act like Lin is Tim Tebow on the New York Jets: A novelty act they don't know what to do with — and a talent they've never fully embraced. It's no secret that Rockets owner Leslie Alexander pushed general manager Daryl Morey to reacquire Lin after the cut blunder.

 An advanced stats guy like Morey should be thrilled. Jeremy Lin's Player Efficiency Rating of 15.07 is ultra close to the beloved Parsons' 15.13 PER. 

Heck, Alexander hung up on Morey during the height of Linsanity in anger.

But the crazy thing is Alexander has been proven to be largely right. Whether the Lin signing is owner driven or not, it's proven to be a smart basketball move. Lin is playing better than could reasonably be expected considering the circumstances: Young player in a new offense on a new team coming off knee surgery.

He's shown flashes of being the difference maker he was in New York (see that post trading deadline win over Oklahoma City when Houston was short handed and the coaches had no choice but to play Lin huge minutes). He's certainly outplayed his Gotham replacement Raymond Felton of the sputtering Knicks.

An advanced stats guy like Morey should be thrilled. Jeremy Lin's Player Efficiency Rating of 15.07 is ultra close to the beloved Parsons' 15.13 PER.

Yet Lin only plays an average of 32.5 minutes per game, far below guys like Arron Afflalo (36.6), Klay Thompson (35.7) George Hill (34.8), Kemba Walker (34.2) and Mike Conley (34.1). And beyond even the numbers (which say plenty), it's the way Jeremy Lin's time is yo-yoed around that brings up serious questions about how committed the Rockets are to developing him. Long fourth quarter benchings are not uncommon for Lin.

When Kelvin Sampson filled in during McHale's heartbreaking absence, he clearly favored the horrific-shooting Toney Douglas (he of the 12.59 PER) over Lin, showing as much care and sense as he did while running Indiana's program.

Getting rid of Douglas has helped some, but the Rockets still seem hesitant to fully embrace Lin as a prime building block.

And please don't bring up defense. Parsons hasn't played much defense his second season either and he's still guaranteed big minutes. Everyone knows Daryl Morey does not care about defense.

NBA Playoff Implications

For a while the curious use of Jeremy Lin arguably only affected Lin. But now it's threatening to deliver a critical blow to the team's playoff chances. The Los Angeles Lakers are not going to stop surging because Kobe Bryant is hobbled. The Warriors finally showed the same type of fight as their coach Sunday night in Houston. And as poorly as Utah has played it's only a Wednesday win in Toyota away from throwing a serious panic into the Rockets.

 These work-in-progress Rockets do not have a real big three yet. They can only rely on the three they do have. 

"There's something wrong with your determination," Murphy said of Houston's showing against Golden State.

No, there's something wrong with the rotation.

If you're going to go down, you have to go down with your best players. These work-in-progress Rockets do not have a real big three yet. They can only rely on the three they do have.

That means turning Jeremy Lin loose and letting him play free. There's no question Lin deferred too much on his own earlier in the season. Now, it's clearly more about coaching and opportunity.

It's too late to turn Lin into Tim Tebow. It's time to commit. He's one of the Rockets' best options and has to be treated like one.

Time's running out. Grab the playoffs and the future. Stop running from Jeremy Lin.