Jeremy Lin missed the NBA All Star Game this season, but there might be a way for him to make the team next season. (Photo : Reuters)
James Harden is in, and Jeremy Lin is out for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game after the coaches decided on the final 14 spots for the Feb. 17 gala event in Houston, where both Lin and Harden play for the Rockets.
It doesn't come as much of a surprise, as Harden's numbers have been at a superstar-like level this season (fifth among NBA scorers with 25.8 points per game), while Lin--while spectacular at times this season--has been erratic on offense, his numbers up one or two games and then down for the next.
Consistency is key for being an All-Star.
To be considered among the best, you have to be excellent on many nights, repeatedly, over and over again. Even though he has been in a shooting slump as of late, Harden's numbers and scoring have kept the Rockets competitive in games and in the standings. While Lin has shown that he has it in him to be the game-changing scorer that Houston thought they were getting when they plucked him away from New York in free agency last summer, he has failed to be aggressive on the offensive end, too often taking less than double-digits in shots and deferring too much to Harden or focusing on being a passer more than a scorer.
And while that's a good trait to have for a point guard, unless you're putting up monster assist numbers like Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul or Jrue Holiday--all of them in the Top Five in NBA assists--12.0 points and 6.0 assists for a half-season isn't going to get you to the All-Star Game.
Lin said earlier this season that one day, he would be an All-Star. Odds are, he probably will. His popularity alone brought him within 46,000 votes of Chris Paul, who secured the starting point guard spot.
But he would have made the team if his numbers were a little higher and more consistent.
There are a lot of factors that go into that--he was new to Houston, getting used to new teammates and a new system, maybe he hadn't recovered quite as well from that leg surgery at the beginning of the season as expected, perhaps he didn't want to ruffle any feathers by taking shots from Harden, maybe Rockets coach Kevin McHale hasn't been able to find enough ways for Lin to be a bigger part of the offense, the list goes on and on.
But what does he have to do to make the All-Star Game next season? Here are five things that could help Lin get there:
1. Be more aggressive on offense
For the season, Lin has been taking only 10.5 field goal attempts per game. And for his career, those numbers are down further, at 8.5 shots. That's not a good sign. Fewer shots means fewer points, and on a Houston offense predicated on high-scoring, Lin isn't helping anyone by taking fewer shots. Harden and Chandler Parsons can give Houston decent production, but Patrick Patterson and Omer Asik don't necessarily come up with game-changing offensive numbers.
Lin has shown against San Antonio (38 points on Dec. 10) and New York (22 points on Dec. 17) and for the latter half of December that he can be very productive when he shoots the ball 12 or more times. But when his shooting figures go into the single digits, his offensive contributions become less impactful. He needs to be less gun-shy and more of an aggressor, the way Tony Parker, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook are.
2. Drive more to the hole
Lin can draw fouls. And he can take the hard fouls and still get up to sink free throws. The trouble is, he hasn't attacked the basket enough to get those critical free throw shots.
For his career, Lin is a 78.6 percent free throw shooter--a pretty good statistic. That means three out of four times when he gets to the free throw line, it's going in. But he isn't driving into the lane to get those freebies enough.
Consider this: this month, Lin is averaging only 3.8 field goal attempts. Harden, on the other hand, is getting to the line about 9.2 times this month. That's six points more. That's five or six points that not only could mean the difference in these close-scoring games Houston gets involved in, but could have closed the gap and gotten Lin more votes for the All-Star Game.
He's got a very good first step to the basket, and he has youth and speed on his side, but Lin has to exploit those strengths more; it will help him and his team.
3. Reduce the turnovers
Yeah, it's an old knock by now. But it still holds true. Harden actually turns the ball over more times than any other player in the NBA except the Sixers' Jrue Holiday. And among the top ten players who have the highest turnover rates in the NBA, five of them are point guards.
But four of them are also NBA All-Stars and either contribute with a high numbers of assists (Rondo) or produce consistently on offense (Holiday, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Greivis Vasquez). That being said, Lin turning the ball over 3.0 times a game--13th worst in the NBA--is not only hurting the Rockets, who have struggled with turnovers this season, but his stock, as well.
He has to do a better job of taking care of the ball and find a way to cut down on turnovers. How he does it is a matter of practice and coaching, but he has to solve that problem.
4 . Work on becoming a top-notch defender
Contrary to popular belief, Lin is probably a better defender than people give him credit for. Case in point: Lin is fourth in the NBA in steals, with 1.95 picks per game. He has quick hands, obviously, and that's a big plus.
But he's not quite at a level where he can be labeled a defensive stopper. With a few more strategies on defense and how to guard players more effectively--something that coaches can work with him on--he has the tools (size, quickness) to be a better defender. If he can work on shutting down the other team's point guards, not only will it help the Rockets gain a few wins in the standings, but it will gain him much more respect around the league as a well-rounded player.
5. Become more of a team leader
The Rockets are James Harden's team. There's no question about that. He's their best player, their biggest offensive weapon, and he has proven this season that he is a true superstar.
That being said, there's no reason why Lin can't step up and help lead the team, as well.
Last season in New York, Lin showed that he can have teammates rally around him, like they did during the "Linsanity" craze. He needs to bring that same energetic confidence back to his role in Houston. But leaders lead by example, and that means he will have to step it up in the aforementioned areas for the Rockets to see Lin as someone that can inspire confidence and teamwork the way he did when he saved the Knicks' season.