Jeremy Lin Exerts His Will

Jeremy Lin exerts his will: Rockets coach Kevin McHale forced to treat guard like a star

Jeremy Lin exerts his will: Kevin McHale forced to treat him like star

Jeremy Lin drive
Jeremy Lin is capable of bringing the Houston Rockets to new heights. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Kevin McHale, Jeremy Lin, Rockets, basketball, November 2012
When Kevin McHale treats Jeremy Lin like a true starting point guard, the Rockets thrive. Houston Rockets/Facebook
James Harden arms up
James Harden cannot carry the Houston Rockets by himself. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Jeremy Lin drive
Kevin McHale, Jeremy Lin, Rockets, basketball, November 2012
James Harden arms up

It all starts with Jeremy Lin pushing the pace, driving the lane, moving the ball. The Houston Rockets' biggest win of the season will be fueled by its most doubted player.

He won't get much of the credit of course. That largely goes to box score stuffer James Harden, rebound machine Dwight Howard and even budding male model (and 40-percent 3-pointer shooter) Chandler Parsons. But make no mistake, Lin sets the Rockets course with a brilliant first quarter, propelling Houston to a 40-25 lead and that eventual statement-making 111-98 Christmas night victory in San Antonio.

This is what the Rockets look like with a real starting point guard. They're fast, explosive and precise.

Lin finishes the quarter with four points, four assists and one highlight block. He gets everyone involved, sets Terrence Jones up for an easy dunk with a no-look bounce pass, feeds Howard for another uncontested slam. The Spurs will be running uphill the rest of the game.

 Few players in the NBA have been more efficient than Jeremy Lin this season. 

It all happens with Lin playing nine minutes and 19 seconds in the first quarter — starter's minutes. This is what happens when Lin is treated with the same respect as Mike Conley, the point guard of the Grizzlies, the Rockets' Thursday night comeback victim. This is what happens when Lin is trusted as much as a Kemba Walker, the Bobcats' hardly superstar point.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale has little choice but to play Lin more at the moment. With Patrick Beverley out for more than a month with a broken hand, McHale's essentially forced to do what he should have been doing from the season's opening tip: Play Jeremy Lin like a true starting point guard.

The result in the Christmas national TV showcase is compelling. Lin finishes with 13 points on only 10 shots, eight assists and two blocks in 34 minutes of action. His plus-minus is at team-high +24 for the game. This one game after he scores 20 points on only 10 shots in his return from a back injury.

And the night after Christmas? Lin scores 18 points on 13 shots, with 14 of those points coming in the fourth quarter as the Rockets roar back for a 100-92 win.

Few players in the NBA have been more efficient than Jeremy Lin this season.

If he was starting all season like he should have been, Lin easily would be averaging around 17 points and six assists right now. More importantly, the Rockets would be higher than fifth in the Western Conference standings.

Jeremy Lin's Time

Over the next several weeks with Beverley out, Lin will make his case, prove he should be starting. McHale can only play Aaron Brooks so many minutes before the veteran's flaws become magnified.

Still it's a little hard to imagine McHale making the permanent switch to Jeremy Lin once Patrick Beverley is back. It's one of the curious things about a Rockets season that has been both promise packed and perplexing.

Lin's level of play has been consistent. His role and minutes are not.

 It's a dangerous way to treat a 25-year-old with star potential. Good players have been crippled with far less yo-yoing than Jeremy Lin's received. 

It doesn't seem to matter if Lin answers McHale's direct defensive challenge and shuts down Spurs All-Star point guard Tony Parker on Christmas night (a season-low six points, 3-for-11 shooting) like Beverley could not in the teams' earlier Alamo City meeting (when Parker went off for 27 points on 13 for 27 shooting).

Or if he helps harass Conley — the Grizzlies' head — into a 4 for 14 shooting night while logging 37 crucial minutes.

Lin's still the one who still must prove his worth night after night after night. He's still the one who is sure to have his defense dissected while Beverley is unquestionably lauded as a "stopper."

It's a dangerous way to treat a 25-year-old with star potential. Good players have been crippled with far less yo-yoing than Jeremy Lin's received in his time in Houston. McHale's coaching is the NBA equivalent of Gary Kubiak yanking Case Keenum in and out of games.

Bob McNair and Rick Smith stepped in for Keenum with the Texans. Will Daryl Morey step in with McHale for Lin?

With Dwight Howard playing with more force than he has in years, it's the perfect time for the Rockets to have a real point guard in the starting lineup. Lin will get Howard some easy baskets and keep the ball moving. The weeks to come should bring plenty more highlights and wins.

And if McHale doesn't realize it, some other team in the NBA will: The Houston Rockets are sitting on a very underappreciated asset. Every full-court push, every fearless foray to the rim, every easy set up, every quarter like that opening stanza in San Antonio drive home the real point.