The Houston Rockets finally got a taste of Linsanity last night as Jeremy Lin tied his career-high with 38 points in their overtime loss to the Spurs at Houston’s Toyota Center. It was just a soupçon of Linsanity, though, and that’s because before last night’s explosion, Lin came into the Rockets’ second game against the Spurs in less than a week (they got blown out by them, 114-92, on Friday) averaging under 10 points a game while shooting under 40 percent from the field. He isn’t playing as awful as he looked in the preseason, but it’s a far cry from his MSG exploits less than a year ago. So what’s changed in Houston?
Part of the blame falls on the acquisition of James Harden. That’s no slight on Harden, and the two of them are often working pretty well in concert together this season as the young backcourt of Houston’s future, but Harden needs the ball to get the most out of his abilities. The problem is Lin needs the rock to get into the lane and break down opposing defenses too, and there’s still just one ball between them. But it’s not simply touches that have been holding Lin back this season. It’s Lin’s midrange shooting that is the primary difference from last season’s exploits for New York.
Lin’s actually attempting more shots at the rim (4.1 vs. 3.9), and connecting on more of them than he did last year (56 vs. 53 percent), per Hoopdata. Unfortunately, he’s not getting fouled as much as last season, where he attempted twice as many free throws (2.6 vs. 5.2) on a per game basis. Even though he’s attempting more threes than he did last year (2.7 vs. 2.1), he’s still shooting at close to the same effective three-point field goal percentage (47.3 vs. 48.0). So Lin’s ability to get into the lane and make shots at the basket while also knocking down his three-pointers isn’t the issue; although, Rockets fans would like to see him at the line more where he’s shooting over 84 percent this season. No, the issue is the no man’s land in-between the rim and the three-point arc.
Last year, Lin attempted 4.8 shots between three and 23 feet from the basket, per Hoopdata. He connected on 2.1 of those shots, good for a 44 percent average on his midrange shots. This season, he’s attempting more than a shot less from that range. Not only that, but he’s only connecting on 1.1 of 3.6 attempts, which translates to around 31 percent. That’s more than 10 percentage points lower in the midrange game than last season’s run for the Knicks.
While the space in-between the three-point line and the hoop is generally considered the least efficient spot on the floor (long twos are the worst), it’s the space where Jeremy Lin often thrived with the Knicks. Interestingly, it’s also a spot where Tony Parker has made an impact for San Antonio, and there were a number of comparisons between the two guards leading up to their game last night.