NBA PM: Jeremy Lin Making Strides in Houston
The thought of Jeremy Lin being overshadowed in Houston seemed ridiculous several weeks ago. Lin, who signed a three-year deal with the Rockets over the offseason, was brought in to be the face of the franchise and make the team relevant. The 24-year-old had become a global icon after his meteoric rise with the New York Knicks and Houston lacked star power.
Not only was Lin the only household name on the roster, he was the only recognizable name to most casual fans. The Rockets stockpiled prospects in an attempt to acquire a superstar, but were unsuccessful in their attempts to add Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Rudy Gay among others over the summer. Houston was left with a roster full of inexperienced players and it seemed like Lin was going to have to put the team on his back and carry this group on a nightly basis.
However, that all changed after the Rockets acquired James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Harden signed a max deal with Houston and then delivered two monster performances – 37 points and 12 assists in a season opening win over the Detroit Pistons and 45 points in a second win over the Atlanta Hawks. It was Harden, not Lin, who was the overnight sensation and talk of the league.
While Harden has been spectacular, Lin’s play has been impressive as well. He’s contributing on both ends of the court and forming a high-octane one-two punch with Harden. Entering the season, many wondered if Lin would be able to live up to the high expectations that come with signing a big contract. Fans watched him take the league by the storm during his 25 starts in New York and they wanted similar results in Houston. While that seemed like a lot to ask, Lin has quietly delivered. He’s averaging 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals, which are all up from his 2011-12 stats.
Lin is still getting comfortable with his new teammates, coaches and system, but he has done a solid job running the offense in Houston. He’s scoring the ball when necessary and setting up teammates. He’s also emerging as a leader and improving the team’s communication. Lin hasn’t dominated headlines or been in the spotlight much this season, but he’s making strides as a point guard.
The addition of Harden only makes Lin’s life easier. Lin, who was thrilled when the Rockets finalized the deal for Harden, describes the acquisition as “a big-time move” and raves about his new teammate.
“How good is he?” Lin asked rhetorically after Harden’s 45-point outing. “Amazing, right? Teams really have to pay attention to James. He’s always been efficient, and someone that’s easy to play with.”
Having Harden in the backcourt helps Lin because, in addition to scoring at will, the newest member of the Rockets can handle the ball, create for others and run the pick-and-roll.
“I think it’s different this year,” Lin said. “James is playmaker. I think last year I was, primarily, the only one coming off of pick-and-rolls and now there’s going to be somebody else doing it too. I think it’s going to be harder for teams to key in.”
Now, Lin and Harden need to balance their scoring and playmaking. Through five games, they are Houston’s leading scorers, but Lin acknowledged that they need to do a better job of setting up their teammates such as fellow starters Patrick Patterson, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik.
“At the end of the day, me and James will shoot when we have good shots, but we need to get everyone else involved too,” Lin said. “We need to make sure that the ball is moving and the offense is flowing. We need to give everyone a chance because I think that’s when we’re at our best, when we’re cutting and swinging the ball around.”
Harden and Lin are still trying to get on the same page. After all, they’ve only had four games and a handful of practices together. However, it didn’t take long for Harden to realize that he and Lin have a lot of promise. If they both realize their full potential, Houston may have the best backcourt in the NBA.
“It’s good, it’s easy,” Harden said of playing alongside Lin. “He does a great job of creating for me and for other teammates as well. He can score the ball, but he also does a great job of passing it. That’s what makes us so good together, because I can do the same thing.”
Harden’s emergence has also made things easier for Lin off the court. Prior to the blockbuster trade, all eyes were on Lin. He was expected to carry the team and deal with the hordes of reporters. With Harden, the Rockets now have a second star to take some of the pressure and focus off of Lin, who admits that the attention is “dispersed a little bit more” since the trade. Lin, who may be one of the most humble and down to earth stars in sports, is happy to share the spotlight. When someone asked him about starting a Jamesanity or Beardsanity craze, similar to last year’s Linsanity, he loved it.
“I’m on board with it,” Lin said. “Shoot, let’s do it. Let’s starting spreading it. Make a hashtag!”
Lin is taking the next step in his development and building on his stellar play from last season. While Harden has somewhat overshadowed Lin since joining the Rockets, his arrival in Houston is the best thing that could’ve happened to Lin on and off the court.
Hayward Making Huge Progress in Utah
The Utah Jazz was a pleasant surprise last season, winning 36 games and sneaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Utah was one of the youngest teams in the league and they were clearly ahead of the curve. Even though the team was swept in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs, they exceeded all expectations and the season was considered a success.
Now, after experiencing a taste of the playoffs, Gordon Hayward and his teammates want more. This season, they’re trying to build on last year’s success and make a run in the postseason.
“Last year, we fought our way into the playoffs but then we had a disappointing first-round exit,” Hayward said. “This year, we want to improve on that and hopefully make it further in the playoffs. We have to be better as a team, both offensively and defensively. I think the Spurs showed us that we need to have all five players playing on the same page at the same time if we want to be successful.”
The Jazz are 2-3 with quality wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks. They’re still getting everyone on the same page, but they feel like they can make some noise come playoff time.
“I think [we’re overlooked] a little bit, which is fine with us,” Hayward said. “We just go out there and compete every single game. We feel that we can play with any team on any given night so we don’t worry too much about what teams the media puts in different places. We just go out there and play.”
Utah added three veterans over the summer to bolster their roster for a playoff run. The Jazz traded for Mo Williams and Marvin Williams and signed Randy Foye. Suddenly, the Jazz went from being looked at as a young team with a lot of potential to being looked at as an experienced team that could win now.
“All three of those guys have done a great job just coming in and doing their jobs,” Hayward said. “I think they provide leadership with their experience; they’ve all been around and know exactly how to win ball games. That’s been a major part of what they’ve brought to us.”
While veterans such as Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are leading the Jazz this season, the future of the team rests in the hands of the team’s young players like Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. They’ve each emerged as contributors this season – Hayward, in particular, averaging 13.2 points and 3.6 rebounds – and will play bigger roles going forward as they continue to develop.
“We’ve all put in a lot of work during the offseason,” Hayward said of Utah’s young core. “During the season, we all stick together and get shots in before and after practice. We just want to improve as a unit and to do that, you have to put in the time and effort.”
At the end of the day, Hayward believes Utah’s success depends on how well the team defends. Utah is currently holding teams to 43 percent from the field (ninth in the NBA) and 96.20 points per game (twelfth in the NBA).
“Defensively, we have to be good, “Hayward said. “If we can get stops, we can get out on the fastbreak, run and get easy buckets. To do that, we have to get stops. That’s going to be the key.”
The West has improved and the Jazz will have to play well to ensure another playoff berth. The Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers are among the teams looking to make the same jump that Utah made last season, from the lottery to the playoffs. If the Jazz can hold onto their playoff seed, they could be an intriguing team when May rolls around.
Landry Coming Up Big for Warriors
Carl Landry is once again showing why he’s one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Year in and year out, Landry puts up impressive numbers and makes impact plays on both ends of the court. The 29-year-old is productive no matter how he’s used. He can play multiple roles – starter or reserve – and multiple positions – power forward or center. This year with the Golden State Warriors, he has been one of their best players, averaging 17 points and 7.4 rebounds in 25 minutes off of the bench.
“He’s having the time of his life,” Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said of Landry. “He’s been great for us. He’s a guy that can flat out score on the block and he won’t settle. He’s very crafty and tough to defend. He’s given us a lot both defensively and rebounding. I’m very comfortable down the stretch playing through him because he is unselfish and does a great job reading and making plays. He’s been quite a find for us and a big-time backup four and five.”
“Carl is a guy that we are going to run offense through in that second unit and he puts pressure on big players. He’s a big-time scorer, a big-time post presence with that second unit. He’s going to get a lot of touches. I love the fact that he doesn’t settle. He’s a guy that, our ownership and our front office, we targeted him and we’re happy to have him.”
Landry, who signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Warriors over the offseason, is thriving in Golden State and loving the change of scenery.
“My teammates do a good job of finding me and putting me in positions to make buckets,” Landry said.
Jackson has used Landry at the four and five. While most veterans are upset when forced to play out of position, Landry is fine with any role, as long as he gets to see the floor and contribute.
“I’m just happy to be out there on the floor, wherever coach puts me,” Landry said. “I can play the four or the five. If he puts me out there and wants me to bring up the ball at point guard, I’ll do that too. I’m just happy to be out there.”
The Warriors have had success going small and playing Landry alongside David Lee.
“When we’re on the floor together, I think we bring versatility,” Landry said. “It’s a smaller lineup, but at the same time I think we’re both good rebounders and defenders so we make it work.”
Golden State’s biggest strength is their depth. They have several former starters coming off of the bench including Landry, Jarrett Jack and Richard Jefferson.
“This is a good team, a deep team,” Landry said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can make plays. I think we have a good bench. Those guys as well as Festus [Ezeli], Draymond [Green], and [Andris] Biedrins have been great. We have a pretty good bench.”
Landry has become a fan favorite and he appreciates the support that he’s receiving from the fanbase.
“Whenever I would come in here with other teams and play against the Warriors, the fans were always great,” Landry said. “That’s one reason that I chose to come here. The fans, they played a part in my decision. Everywhere you go there are Warrior fans. This is the only basketball team in the Bay Area even though there are two football teams and two baseball teams. This team definitely gets a lot of support and the fans are definitely pumped up and ready to go every night here at the Oracle.”
While Landry has been exceptional for the Warriors, he feels like he and the team still needs to improve on the defensive end.
“Coach has put an emphasis on defense from day one,” Landry said. “We work on it every day in practice. We study it every day in film sessions. He continues to preach it throughout the game. We’re not where we want to be defensively yet, but we’re going to continue to get better. We’re getting there. We just have to take it day by day.”
Landry is proving to be an excellent acquisition for the Warriors, once again performing at a high level, regardless of his role or surroundings. Maybe now he can start to get the credit he deserves.