A few concerns about Rockets’s first season loss, but too early to worry about

I only had a chance to watch the second half of last night’s game. Just wanted to point out a few concerns I have about last night’s loss. The big caveat I want to stress, before I talk about some of the concerns is that it is ONLY the third game of the season. So I think it’s way too premature to jump to any conclusions about how this team will play with each other going forward and whether or not the coaching staff is up to the task.

The third quarter has been an issue with the Rockets. However, it has only been three games, so no need to see this as a trend, yet. One thing I want to just mention is that I’ve always believed that how a team plays in the third quarter speaks to the merits of the coaching staff and how a team plays in the fourth quarter speaks to the hearts of the players. I know this is a complete generalization. But just something I think about, because good coaching staffs make adjustments at half-time. Since it’s only been three games, I think it’s way too early to draw any conclusions from this.

I know from reading some comments from Lin fans that there is concern about Lin’s role diminishing with the addition of Harden. I think it is way too early to start thinking this way, but I understand where they’re coming from. In one of my comments to a reader in my previous posts about the Linharden synergy, I stated the following: “What I’ll be watching to see is what role Lin will play during clutch time. That’s the real concern if you’re a Lin fan. I suspect they’ll give Harden the final shot, but how will Lin be involved. After all, Lin’s got some ice in his veins too, down the clutch. Are the Rockets just going to completely disregard that now that they have Harden? I think having two clutch threats would be the smart thing for the Rockets to do and this would mean valuing both players pretty equally during clutch time. This way, opponents will have to worry about not one, but two players. We’ll see if McHale feels the same way.  Since McHale doesn’t see Lin as a star, I’m not optimistic about this.”

Last night, we saw a glimpse of how badly things can go when McHale depends too much on Harden. I think it was especially apparent in overtime when Lin just gave up the ball to Harden the moment he passed the half court line. I assume Lin did this, because this is what McHale wanted. I think last night, this was especially the wrong decision by McHale. Lin was well-rested in the fourth, because Douglas was doing a very good job defensively and Lin didn’t check back into the game until 5:30 left in the fourth quarter or so. Harden, on the other hand, played the entire fourth quarter and he tweaked his ankle. Harden looked dead tired, while Lin was looking very fresh. I mean, that And-1 floater to put the Rockets ahead with less than a minute left to play was the most explosive I’ve seen Lin since he’s been in Houston. Last night, McHale and the players should have recognized this and trusted Lin more down the stretch. Also, in the last couple of games, Harden has made some careless passes that caused turnovers (he had 5 TO last night, again) that were converted into points by the opponent. The one I remember is when Harden was on the left wing and made a very dangerous pass to Lin, who was at the top of the three point arch area. He made the pass through a congested lane. I think overall, Lin has been a much more consistent floor general than Harden from what I’ve seen so far. Floor general duties should be split something like 70-30 in favor of Lin in my opinion. Not to get too side-tracked or play the blame game, but Harden made a very bad defensive mistake when he doubled Aldridge and left his man open for the three that sent the game to overtime. That was a rookie mistake, because when you’re up by three with less than a minute left, you have to protect the three even if it may mean giving up a two. Lin also made a very bad mistake with his low percentage ally-oop attempt to Parsons. He knows he made a terrible mistake, from the post game interview. But listening to Harden, Harden didn’t seem to acknowledge his defensive mistake. Also, Harden felt the pace of the game and ball movement was good, while Lin and McHale felt the pace of the game was poor. I was a little concerned about that disparity. Hopefully, we’ll get everyone on the same page with these much-needed days of practice.

All this being said, I think concerned Lin fans need to have a little patience. This team is still so new to each other. They need more time to get used to how they play, where they like the ball, etc. I think Harden’s getting a lot of turnovers, because he’s still so new to the team (although a lot of his turnovers are more due to carelessness then him trying to make plays). I don’t think they’ve worked out what role Lin will play vis a vis Harden, yet. And this is very much expected. It’s still way too early to solidify roles when you have a player of Harden’s and Lin’s talents. There’s so much you can do with these players on the court together that it’ll take some time to figure out the most efficient way of using them.

I think the concerns about McHale’s trust in Lin is warranted, since McHale doesn’t see Lin as a star. At the same time, I feel very strongly that McHale respects and appreciates Lin’s game and I really think McHale understands Lin’s game very well. McHale’s post game interview last night made me even more optimistic that my instincts about McHale are right. He said something like we have to let Jeremy play off of a more broken floor. This tells me that McHale noticed that Jeremy wasn’t getting the ball as much as Jeremy should have–especially when, say, Harden breaks down the defense or something. I think he recognizes that we need to take advantage of Jeremy’s strengths to get in the lane and make plays more. He also said that we need to help Harden more, which is basically code for: Harden needs to give up the ball when he’s double-teamed and find open teammates. There were numerous times last night when Harden should have simply given the ball to Lin who was nearby to let Lin attack when all the defense is focused on Harden. I mean, I think this could be one of the most effective “plays” that the Rockets have. Since Lin is able to get past his man with ease, imagine how ridiculously easy it would be for Lin if Lin’s man is double-teaming Harden or something. Or if the lane is wide open, because one of the Bigs are double-teaming Harden. I hope the Rockets recognize this. I suspect this is what McHale means with his post-interview comments about “broken floor” that I referenced above. Just don’t know how often they’ll take advantage of this. To me, this is a big part of the Linharden syngergy.

There were a lot of these little things that I noticed throughout the game last night, regarding team chemistry. I’m sure the coaching staff recognized all of these things and 1000 more things. I have no illusion that I know more than them, since they have the experience and the luxury of looking at tape over and over again. So my message to concerned Lin fans is to be patient and don’t jump to conclusions. I have a lot of confidence in this coaching staff that they know what to do to make the team successful and fully utilize Lin’s strengths. I’m sure they’ll recognize that Lin should assume more of the floor general duties going forward. We’ll see how it plays out. But give it a couple of months. Unlike the Knicks organization, I think this Rockets organization is full of people who are very smart and have a deep understanding of the game of basketball and notice all the little things. They’ll make sure to do as much as they can to maximize Lin’s and Harden’s strengths. I, for one, can’t imagine a better place for Lin than with this Rockets team. He will be successful. At the end of the day, it is up to Lin. If Lin performs to his full potential, this Rockets organization will notice.

About JLintel

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  • CharisHope

    Thanks for the objective and neutral analysis as always. Enjoy reading your post, insightful and informative as usually. Many thanks!!

    • standupphilosopher

      Thank you so much! I really appreciate the kind words.

      • CharisHope

        Actually, read every article you posted so far. And emailed your forum link to Jeremy Lin Foundation. Bet that Jeremy would be reading your analyses. Again, many thanks to your hard work.

        The Knicks organization was really ugly to him during his free agent period. Rockets has showed appreciation of him so far. So, totally agree that when you said Jeremy Lin’s God miraculously did something and put him in Rockets. Truly believe that his God put him in Rockets with a purpose. Can’t wait to see great things coming up.

        Looking forward to seeing him play against Knicks in person the day after the Thanksgiving in Toyota Center.

      • standupphilosopher

        Wow! Thanks for the support, CharisHope.

  • MrPingPong

    I don’t understand. I copied and pasted the links, but something else showed up. Anyway, look at the video list for this “sandraguzmanhelp” and you should see the links to the Rockets vs Blazers game.
    My apology again.

    • standupphilosopher

      No worries. Thanks for trying! Must have been a thrill to be at the home opener. The crowd sounded deafening at times on TV–especially when Lin hit what could have been the game winning And-1 floater.

  • emz

    I always love reading these. Been following your blog since your ‘flat earth’ post and am glad that you followed Lin, as I did, to the Rockets, and seem to support them as much. Just wanted to let you know.

    Also, I seem to remember you doing a post with numbers and stats somewhere back there, so here’s a question I’d like to throw to you: how much more effective is Harden (how much higher are Harden’s stats) when he is on the floor with Lin? Much has been made of the fact that Harden’s numbers were ‘inflated’ by Westbrook or Durant, when in fact it was the opposite.

    Is this opposite as well, with Lin? My gut feeling is that Lin may have helped Harden’s numbers, just from watching the three games, but I don’t have the numbers to back this up. This ability of Lin’s to improve his teammates’ numbers is, to me, the true sign of a facilitator of Nash’s ilk. imo, players like Westbrook, and sometimes Rose, play more like scorers than facilitators.

    It’s also my intuition that Parsons tends to be more along the lines of a facilitator than a pure forward, and that Harden is a hybrid facilitator too.

    It amuses me to no end that Lin used to play SG and is now PG; while Harden used to play PG and is now SG. Sort of like how one likes to go to his right and the other likes to go to his left.

    • standupphilosopher

      Thanks so much emz for the kind words and for continuing to read my blog. Always love hearing from my readers!

      It will be very difficult to assess Lin’s impact on Harden or vice versa using statistics alone. The problem is, they’re on the floor together most of the time. Whereas when Harden was with the Thunder, he was the sixth man, so didn’t share the court with Westbrook/Durant nearly as much. So it’s more meaningful to isolate those statistics. With Harden and Lin, they’re on the court together pretty much all the time so analyzing when they’re not on the court together wouldn’t really get very meaningful results, I suspect. But who knows. Maybe there is something to learn from doing it. I’m sure someone is going to crunch the numbers once we have more of a significant sample size.

      For the most part, though, I think people will have to rely on their gut feeling on this one. Not that you’re saying this, but I think it’s an overstatement to say that Harden isn’t Harden without Lin. However, I would say that it’s equally wrong to not acknowledge that Lin helps Harden become Beardsanity (this is what I call Harden’s two debut performances). I think a lot of people simply make the assumption that Harden makes Lin better, but few people say that Lin makes Harden better. I think Harden acknowledge that Lin makes things easier for him in one of Harden’s interviews. So that’s nice to see. Also, McHale tempered an interviewer’s over-exaggeration of Harden’s impact on Lin when he asked McHale to comment on how Lin seems to be a completely different player from what Lin was in the preseason when Harden came on board. I was happy to see that McHale immediately pointed out that Lin did well in the last preseason game, which was prior to Harden’s arrival. McHale went on to say that Lin is just simply getting back into form and implied that it would have happened whether or not Harden showed up. This is one of the reasons why I’m confident that McHale respects Lin’s game.

      I think you have a very interesting point about the role reversals of Lin and Harden (I hadn’t really thought about that before), except I think Harden has always been a shooting guard. Not sure about this. Just my guess. I think he played Point Guard for the Thunder because their back up PG was injured. Regardless, I think Harden is as close to a hybrid PG/SG as any player can get and I would say that he would have made a better Point Guard than Westbrook, because he’s more of a facilitator than Westbrook.

      • emz

        Yeah, the sample size is incredibly small right now. (I’m not even taking the team rankings or anything at all seriously because no team has even played double-digit games yet, and it’s all much too soon to tell imo. Hell, I thought the Nuggets were supposed to be doing good and they’re 0-3.) Plus, the data the entire next month is suspect to me because everyone’s essentially still learning each other.

        I wouldn’t even be surprised if they all REGRESS in the next game and lose to the Nuggets, because they’re learning new things. It’s like learning how to type properly when before you were doing chopsticks… you’ll eventually type faster and better but at first you’re going to slow down immensely and nothing will seem right. (And I just know all the haters are gonna come out then, not like they really even backed off when there was success.)

        I also think it’s an overstatement to say that Harden isn’t Harden without Lin, but I just wonder as to how much help it actually is. Some articles say, for instance, that pretty much all of the Suns under Nash should really have given part of their paychecks to him because of how much he makes them look better.

        I really do think they help each other out though; they make the game ‘easy’ for each other to play because they both react how they’d want someone to react and they both have high basketball IQ.

        I really like how McHale sticks up for his players; it’s not only an indication of trust but it helps his players trust him. He stuck up not only for how gassed Harden was and the thing with the ankle, but also for Morris, appreciates Parson’s ‘glue’ efforts, and pretty much repeatedly shot down the people trying to say that Lin would have drama with Harden (with the whole Lin being most excited about the trade, bit, and the ‘I’m not Dr. Phil’ bit).

        imo, also the way McHale talks about Lin and the way he talks about rookies makes me think that he thinks of Lin as a really good rookie. And essentially, if you count his starts, Lin can be thought of as a rookie about 3/4ths of the way through his first season, maybe a sophomore; he’s still figuring things out, but the scouting report’s out on him and he’s in the process of adjusting. I don’t think McHale thinks of Lin as a star yet because he hasn’t finished developing; and he’s not playing at that level, consistently, yet. He’s still going through rookie up and downs, even though it’s smoother than the actual rookies (ie. that bit about not playing the rookies in the first games).

        Yeah I’m not sure where I read that Harden played PG before, I can’t find it, and wiki isn’t helping me. Apparently he played a forward in HS if that’s what the F means on his HS site.

        Given what the Heat is doing and with how many combo guards and the ‘point guard revolution’ happening, I think a lot of the old labels are being thrown out. I mean, even the 5-man labels are now three: guard, forward, center. Along those lines, yeah I agree that Westbrook is more of a scoring guard than a facilitating guard.

        And I’m really excited to see how it pans out with so many facilitators on the floor at the same time. Apparently, hell, it works out for the Knicks because they won both their recent games with playing Kidd and Felton at the same time.

        (the troll part of me says that that’s because they need two facilitators to unstick the ball from Melo’s hands)

      • standupphilosopher

        Man, emz, all the points you made are EXCELLENT! One thing I forgot to mention about how Lin makes Harden Beardsanity is just look at the highlights for Harden’s 45-point career high game and count the number of easy baskets Harden got from a Lin assist. So you can argue that Harden wouldn’t have had a career-high night without Lin.

        Yeah, I’m also a little concerned about how Rockets fans will act when Lin has a bad game or several bad games. I mean if they’re hard on him now, what’s it gonna be like when he has some bad games?

        Also, I think McHale’s attitude towards Lin is healthy, because Lin is essentially a rookie and people don’t give him enough credit for how much he plays like a veteran. Because of the hype, people are overly fixated on every single mistake he makes on the court and forget that he is essentially a rookie. People should actually be pretty amazed at how mature he is as a player for the limited number of games he’s played in the NBA. It’s funny how people lose all perspective and context sometimes. That’s why I was so motivated to write that Haters/Doubters Flat Earth article.

  • cary washington

    Great analysis, love your optimism! I saw Coach’s post game interview too. It was nice that he acknowledged Lin but the main thing he kept stressing was Harden. When he gets double teamed/trapped, “everybody has to help him out with flow.” That sounds like the team needs to accommodate Harden (get him open) and not what you said, “Harden needs to give up the ball when he’s double-teamed and find open teammates.” Harden has to be a willing passer and he wasn’t a willing passer yesterday.

    It worries me when Harden says that the ball movement and pace were good in yesterday’s game. I can see why he might say that though. If you’re getting 25-30 attempts a game, you’re not going to notice a lack of ball movement bc you’re not affected by it. He’s still getting his shots no matter how poor the spacing is; so to him, it’s not as big of an issue.

    I may not be as optimistic as you are but I believe in Jeremy Lin and I know that he will work his hardest to adapt to this new environment/team. I hope the coaching staff puts him in a position that maximizes his strengths, rather than putting him in a position to fail.

    • standupphilosopher

      Thanks, Cary! Yeah, Your interpretation about what McHale said about Harden is probably more right than mine. Or we both could be right. We’ll see.

      You also make a great point about why Harden didn’t have a problem with the ball movement.

      Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, because the Knicks were so bad for Lin and the Rockets seem a million times better in comparison. Or maybe I’m being too naive about the Rockets coaching staff and management, since I’m new to them. We’ll see how this all plays out.

      • cary washington

        You’re awesome philosopher, love the discussion on here. The main rockets forum is very tough for honest conversation. They’re negative and aren’t very supportive; it seems like they don’t even want him on their team. You’d think that they’d be more supportive since he’s on their team, but not really.

      • standupphilosopher

        🙂 I’m glad you’re enjoying the discussion here. I try my best to keep it as constructive as possible and try to be as honest as I can in my responses.

        I’m actually a lot happier about the Rockets forum than the Knicks form with all the Melo vs. Lin comments. I kind of understand Rockets’s fans hesitation for embracing Lin, because Dragic was a fan favorite so they miss him. Also, they aren’t as familiar with Lin, since they only know him from ESPN highlights and things and I don’t think many of them actually followed Lin as closely as us Lin fans, so they may not grasp just how good Lin was. They just saw it all as media hype and being from Houston, they hated the hype, because it came from New York. So I kind of get the whole attitude of “is this Lin guy for real?”

        I’ve actually found that Rockets fans are a lot more knowledgeable and fair than Knicks fans when analyzing games and players. But that’s just my opinion. I also think the Lin haters are diminishing and will continue to diminish as Lin shows them what he can do. To watch Lin is to believe in Lin. A lot of Rockets fans just haven’t seen him play the way we know he can play, yet.

      • emz

        re: main forums, I notice that the more ‘general’ a forum is, the more it goes to the least common denominator (note the difference as you go from SB -> Bleacher -> ESPN forums). And then you get an infestation of trolls and negativity. It’s easy to be negative, in a way, and it looks ‘cooler’.

        And good lord the Melo v. Lin comments, I know exactly what you mean.

        Also I totally get where you’re coming from about the Rocket’s fans hating Lin for the hype. Because there was SO MUCH HYPE. I think Lin will win them over just by being himself; I think that if you’re honestly watching him that you can’t help but respect the guy.

        It kinda sucks tho, that Houston residents CAN’T ACTUALLY WATCH HIM because of the media blackout. And the euro feeds are kinda really crappy in comparison to league pass.

        I freely admit that I got the league pass for myself and my parents because of Lin. I call it an early x-mas present to all of us.

      • standupphilosopher

        Yep, emz, you’re right about the differences in the forums. I think ‘genera’ forms go to the least common denominator, because the people on these forms are least familiar with Lin and are only reacting to the hype.

        What a great x-max present to your parents and yourself. That’s awesome. I remember reading comments on forums last season that families in Taiwan and China had big family gatherings with lots of good food just to watch Lin games. That was heartwarming to think about. I hope it’s still happening. Lin bringing families together. I bet that would warm Lin’s heart.

    • MrPingPong

      How can one not be optimistic about Lin? This young man is someone right out of a fairy tale. Forgive my expression but what in the hell is this phenom doing in the NBA? The NBA does not deserve Lin. OK, so Lin will become a pastor when his NBA days are over. :-()

      David Robinson used the French expression “Je ne sais quoi” to describe Lin.

      http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNDM0Mjg2MTk2.html

      Bob Cousy, Bill Bradley, etc… praised Lin. Don’t tell me that these basketball legends are caught up in the “hype”.

      Television and video replays simply cannot replicate the indescribable feeling one has when watching Lin playing live! There is a mixture of calmness and excitement when the ball is in Lin’s hands. And when he is taking a breather on the bench, one can’t help but feel that everything will be alright when he comes back in. I am at a loss of words on how to describe this.

      Coach KM is an NBA HOF with three championship rings. He played with the best (Larry Bird) and against the best (Magic Johnson). It is only natural for me believe that he understands basketball and that he can give a fair assessment of Lin’s current basketball state and potential. My interpretation of coach KM’s comments on Lin is that he is trying to protect Lin from all the media hype that will undoubtedly result in over expectation. Didn’t he admitted to going to a sports bar to watch Lin play during Linsanity?

      • emz

        Thank you for the point about them trying to protect Lin from the hype! I forgot where was this article (it wasn’t from one of the main publications/sites) but there was this one throwaway line about a journalist following Harden mentioned that they were happy that Harden’s locker was on the end of a row, because they gave Lin the locker all the way in the corner and it’s been giving all the reporter’s fits because it’s hard to access.

        I don’t think they gave Lin that locker did that on accident.

      • standupphilosopher

        Hey MrPingPong, I’m glad you used the word “hype” in quotes, because I do feel the same way: that all the attention Lin got was warranted, because it was one of the most amazing sports stories in history. I mean, it felt like you were in a movie (I discussed this in a previous post about Lin’s Time 100 selection). So I think the hype was in proportion to the event. But I also understand people who felt it was over-hyped. I’m not one of those people, but I tend to tone it down, because I get why people feel it was over-hyped.

      • standupphilosopher

        Very interesting fact about Lin’s locker location, emz. I did not know that. It is definitely not coincidental on the Rockets part and more evidence that they’re looking out for Lin, unlike the Knicks organization.

      • emz

        Found that thing about the locker room, it’s right above the first picture here:
        http://www.red94.net/houston-starts-ends-harden/10267/

        • standupphilosopher

          Cool. You found the link. Thanks!

      • cary washington

        Did you see the Lin 50 second clip on red94? they asked a great question about Lin deferring the ball to Harden. I thought Lin was being nice and PC.

      • standupphilosopher

        No. I didn’t see the Lin clip on red94. Yeah, Lin is always being nice. Sometimes too polite.

      • standupphilosopher

        Just found the clip, cary. I thought it was a smart response by Lin, as always. In his response, he was being PC, but also implied that it shouldn’t always be Harden getting the ball at the end. It should be whoever has the hot hand. Unfortunately, I think McHale is gonna go with Harden every time. I think this is a mistake, because Lin is also deadly during clutch time. Makes sense for Rockets to value both Lin and Harden almost equally, so teams have to worry about both players. That way they might not trap one player (i.e., Harden) like they did in Blazers game.

  • cary washington

    i agree philosopher!

  • cary washington

    philosopher! share your thoughts on tonight’s game against denver so we can discuss!

    • MrPingPong

      Just came back from the game. Lin was not attacking the basket, not playing aggressive the way he knew he should play. He looked to pass instead of to attack. Attack not solely to score but to break down the defense, create space and find the open men. He was not the floor general. Nobody was. The team looked lost out there.

      Lin seemed to have lost confidence in his shot. Even during pre-game shoot around, the shots weren’t there. The energy wasn’t there. Lin tried to do something in the 4th quarter, but it was too late.

      It was a bad game by the Rockets overall. Do not despair, Lin will find a way. 4 down, 78 more to go! Let’s go.

      • cary washington

        are you a season ticket holder?! thanks for the info! Was Lin not being aggressive bc Denver was packing the paint though? I think this was Houston’s worst game. You are right, there was no floor general and everyone looked confused. I think I even saw Lin/Chandler go at it (yell at each other) and then as Lin was walking to the bench, I think I saw him snap at coach too.

        something’s not right, especially his shot, it looks terrible. honestly, i don’t think it has anything to do with his knee, I think it’s more mental than anything else.

        what a terrible game, Lin played like a scrub. scrubs do all the little things, like steals and rebounds bc they can’t score.

      • MrPingPong

        No, I am not a season ticket holder, CW, just buying back tickets from season ticket holders who can’t make it to the game, CHEAP!

        I think you are right about Denver packing the paint. The reason they could do that because the perimeter shots were not falling. Lin (and Harden for that matter) posed no threat to them from the outside.

        Do you remember that cover page of SI showing Lin surrounded by 5 Lakers under the basket with no Knicks insight? Lin was fearless then. I don’t know what’s going on in Lin’s mind now. He will find his way, I hope.

        Perhaps Lin has not been able to attack effectively because he has lost some of the explosiveness he had before his knee injury. I had two knee surgeries on the same knee, and I no longer can run. Of course, my injuries were much more severe than Lin’s. I am concerned that Lin rushed and pushed himself too hard in the rehab and did not give his knee time to heal properly. That’s what happened in my case. I don’t know about Lin.

        Win or lose, I am having a great time watching Lin play live. It’s a long season. There will be ups and downs like the stock market. Pistons come next. Tickets are cheap for that game. But for the Heat game, ticket price almost triples! Free market at its best!

        Have a good night/morning/afternoon/evening, wherever you are on this WEB!