Is Jeremy Lin's Strong Start a Sign of Turnaround or a Fluke? Comparing the Stats
Five games into the new NBA 2013-14 season, and Jeremy Lin is looking better than he has in quite some time.
Last season, Lin, fresh off a move from New York and having to adjust to the addition of a new superstar in James Harden to the Houston Rockets, was looking pretty uncomfortable at the start of the season, and it reflected in his play and in the stats. For the entire month of November, Lin struggled to get acquainted to the new system of the Rockets, averaging 10.3 points and shooting a poor 37.3 percent from the floor-and an even worse 26.2 percent from three-point range.
He wasn't looking good, and while he had a few better months that followed, his underwhelming performance in November didn't set a good tone for what ended up being an inconsistent season that he finished with 13.4 points and a 44.1 percent shooting average on the season.
It looks like things are starting to change a little for Lin, however, in a brand new season.
In the last five games for the Rockets, Lin has started off strong. While losing the starting point guard role to Patrick Beverley in the Rockets' season opener last week, an injury to Beverley's ribs that sidelined him for several games opened up an opportunity for the Palo Alto, Calif., native Lin to capitalize on, and it looks like he has done just that. Over the last five games for the 4-1 Rockets, Lin has been showing strong signs of consistency across the board.
The biggest difference has been in shooting. So far, Lin has started off shooting at an efficient 53.3 percent from the field, with a respectable 42.9 percent range from three-point territory. Let's compare that to last year after Lin's first five games in his debut season with the Rockets. At that time, Lin struggled to find the mark, shooting a marginal 23-for-60 for a 38.3 percent clip from the field. From downtown, it was even worse, Lin shooting a paltry 5-for-17 for a mere 29.4 percent from three-point range.
The difference, this time around, appears to be practice. Over the summer, Lin dedicated himself to working on the mechanics of his shot, focusing on obtaining a more natural motion for a smoother three-point shot, and it appears to have paid dividends thus far.
"It's smoother," Lin told the Houston Chronicle last month. "It was a conscious decision. We worked on it in the offseason to make it more natural. I rely on my shooting coach a lot. This is an evolution of it. You can't do too much change at one time."
The difference is a more accurate shot with a smoother trajectory and it has worked wonders so far for his accuracy. Heading into Thursday's game against the L.A. Lakers, Lin is scoring an average of 15.2 points per night, and has been providing a level of consistency on the offensive side at a critical time for the Rockets, who are trying to start jelling together with the addition of Dwight Howard during the offseason.
However, while things might be looking on the upside for Lin, it might be too early to think that this is the start of a turnaround.
While Lin has started to visibly improve on the court, the fact remains that Rockets coach Kevin McHale still sees a lot of upside in Beverley, who surprised people with his bravado and defense in the playoffs last season against a more talented OKC Thunder squad, Beverley being a huge part of the reason why the Rockets nearly pushed the previous year's Western Conference champs to a seven-game series. That's part of the reason why Beverley, considered to be the better defender of the two, was tapped to start on Opening Night instead of Lin before an ill-timed rib injury provided Lin more minutes.
And while Lin is more familiar now with his role on the Rockets after a season, there are still other variables to consider. The biggest one is simple-Howard. The seven-time NBA All-Star center that made Orlando a powerhouse in the East will be another major factor in an offense that is dominated by Harden and bolstered by the sweet stroke of Chandler Parsons. Lin's share of the shots and possessions pie was decent last season, Lin having 10.9 shot attempts per night. However, with more starpower added to the roster, Lin's share may inevitably go down as the season progresses and the Rockets start getting into their true NBA season form. If that is the case, will Lin still be able to make his shots count and provide solid contributions on offense, or will he struggle as he did last season when he had to make adjustments to a system that had him handling the ball and controlling the offense less frequently than he did in New York?
Plus, there is the one added knock-inconsistency. Fans have seen this before. From the birth of "Linsanity" in New York in 2012 to the oddly-timed hot spurts he enjoyed at times in December and in March and April for Houston, Lin has shown the capacity to get hot-really hot-only to cool down afterwards, typically after a big scoring star like Harden or Carmelo Anthony return from injury to the lineup. Inconsistency has been a thorn in Lin's side since he emerged off the shadows of the Knicks bench. When he is allowed free reign in the offense, he responds very well, but when he's limited, he has been prone to struggling on the court. Lin has blamed part of his struggles in Houston last year to the pressure of having to live up to the hype of Linsanity, but with Howard now in Houston, expectations shift largely from Lin to Howard and Harden in getting things done.
With the pressure off of him, there are two ways Lin can go. Either he will flourish thanks to his rededication to shooting and fewer burdens holding him down, or possibly fewer shots and sharing playing time with a talented Beverley will marginalize his role to the point where his confidence may lower and his ability to make an impact further diminishes. With a full season of basketball left to play, where Lin goes from here is anyone's guess.