If you wanted to define Jeremy Lin's game over the past two years, you'd start with streakiness. Since his breakout with the New York Knicks, the current point guard for the Houston Rockets has often switched seamlessly between hot (31 games with 20-plus points) and cold (40 games with fewer than 10 points).
That context is important to consider as we experience shades of Linsanity again these days, most recently Thursday night at its place of origin, Madison Square Garden. But rather than frame this latest hot streak from the point guard -- three games, 86 points, 27-of-53 from the field, 13-of-27 from three, 17 assists, 13 rebounds -- as another blip on the radar, it may actually signal his growth as a player.
But before we get into that, let's simply commend what Lin's done recently. With nine made three-pointers against the 76ers on Wednesday night, he may have just delivered the best shooting performance of the season thus far:
- Jeremy Lin, Nov. 13 vs. 76ers, 9-of-15 from three
- Stephen Curry, Oct. 31 vs. Warriors, 9-of-14 from three
- Arron Afflalo, Nov. 13 vs. Bucks, 8-of-11 from three
- Andre Iguodala, Nov. 4 vs. 76ers, 7-of-11 from three
- Bradley Beal, Nov. 10 vs. Thunder, 6-of-8 from three
- O.J. Mayo, Nov. 6 vs. Cavaliers, 6-of-7 from three
- Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard and Trevor Ariza have also each had a game with six made three-pointers.
Still, as exciting as it is to watch Lin star in these situations -- dominating the ball and making big shots, albeit with the usual penchant for turnovers -- his maturation in other aspects of the game may be far more exciting for Houston's title prospects. Because as good as Dwight Howard and James Harden might be, Lin's quiet emergence as a super-efficient scorer this season is exciting.
Many of Lin's numbers speak for themselves. Through 10 games, he's shooting 53 percent from the field and 47 percent from three-point range, the kinds of numbers of which most guards can only dream. But Lin's real evolution this season comes by taking a page straight from Harden's book: getting to the free throw line.
Entering Friday's action, only 14 players had taken more free throws than Lin this season. And frankly, the list is pretty incredible -- Howard, Durant, Harden, Love, CP3, Davis, Griffin, LeBron, Favors, Sessions, Bledsoe, Teague, George, Monta.
That aggressiveness from Lin turns Houston into a devastating offensive attack capable of pounding teams into submission with a coach's favorite shot-types, free throws and uncontested three-pointers. This season, with Harden, Howard and Lin waltzing to the charity stripe, the Rockets are taking six more FTs per game than any other team. You can do some pretty quick math to see the advantage created there, even with Howard's ineptitude.
With Lin on the court this season, the Rockets are averaging 105.6 points per 100 possessions and outscoring teams by six points per 100, according to NBA.com. Even with his heavy tendency to turn the ball over, he's clearly learned some things from Harden and it's allowed him to become a dangerous, well-rounded perimeter scorer.
For all of the talk of Howard's arrival, Harden's defense and the myriad of other factors affecting the Rockets early this season, the effect of Lin shouldn't be understated. Right now, he's the third-best player on the Rockets and an integral part of Kevin McHale's offense, defense be damned.
The question, of course, is whether this can all last. The hot shooting certainly will not, at least to this degree, but the increased aggression could be sustainable. If it is, this improvement shouldn't be doubted.