After having Jeremy Lin pre-Linsanity, the Houston Rockets made up for cutting him before last season by agreeing to pay Lin around $25 million over the next three years. While that may seem like a lot for a player who had success for just 36 games as a New York Knick, Lin is coming in as the presumed starting point guard for the Rockets, ready to prove that those games weren’t a fluke. As it turns out, Houston wanting to make up for their mistake might be the best thing for Lin, because when looking at the tape and the numbers, the fit seems pretty good, especially when you look at Lin’s play in pick-and-roll situations, and especially in comparison to how Kyle Lowry — who ran point for Houston last season and is now on the Raptors — played in the pick-and-roll last season.
If there is one play that defined Linsanity, it was the pick-and-roll. Lin coming off of a screen and finding a way to get all the way to the rim or hitting a teammate, whether it be the roll man or a player spotting up outside of the pick-and-roll, for the open shot. The pick-and-roll was a big part of what made Jeremy Lin successful; as he ran it on 42.5 percent of his possessions, it’s only natural to expect that the Rockets will use Lin in that way as well. It’s not going to be much of a change for the Rockets, who ran PNRs (10.9 percent of possessions) almost as much as the Knicks (12.9 percent of possessions). When the Rockets do use Lin in pick-and-rolls, they aren’t going to have to change much of their offense because Lin and Lowry both use ball screens in an almost identical way. Let’s start by looking at where these screens were used.
Synergy Sports uses three locations to define where a pick-and-roll takes place: the left side, the right side, and the top. Comparing Lin and Lowry, and looking at where they both used ball screens last season, you see that they favor the same spots (with point guards, a large chunk of your ball screens are going to be set at the top of the key). Once the screen is set, the next step is looking at how the ball handler uses the screen. Does he dribble off the screen or does he go away from the pick?
Once again, the numbers are pretty similar. Both guys like to use the ball screen, doing so at a pretty high rate. With that being said, both are willing to go away from the screen, mixing things up and reading the defense to take advantage of a defense overplaying them. Once they use the screen, what do Lin and Lowry do with the basketball? Again, it’s pretty similar.
Both guys like to look for their shot, but they also like to get their teammates involved more than they score. The numbers from Synergy Sports show that. The willingness to defer to teammates in pick-and-roll situations forces the opponents to be somewhat honest when defending ball screens. When that happens, you force the defense to start thinking, and this is what allows a point guard to have success in the pick-and-roll. For the Rockets, being able to replicate pick-and-rolls in the same fashion Kyle Lowry executed them is very important. It means the Rockets won’t have to change much of their offense. You can teach Lin the offense and you don’t have to deviate from what you do or what you had success with last year to maximize Lin’s value.
Is Lin an upgrade from Lowry? It’s tough to say. According to the numbers, Lowry was one of the best scorers in pick-and-roll situations, posting a PPP of 0.969, placing him in the top 10 percent of all NBA players. Lin’s PPP? 0.797. Still above average, that PPP places him in the 63rd percentile, but not as good. However, when you look at each player’s use of all ball screens, including pass-out situations, things get a lot closer. Lowry’s total pick-and-roll PPP (including both scoring and pass-out situations) was 0.919, placing him in the 63rd percentile. Lin’s was 0.893, placing him in the 53rd percentile.
What makes Lin so successful in the pick-and-roll? It’s his ability to keep the defense honest by mixing things up. He simply takes what the defense gives him.
Lin doesn’t force things. If he doesn’t have a lane in pick-and-roll situations, he knows that he should have a teammate open and works to try to get them the ball. In addition to that, he keeps his dribble alive, forcing the defense (especially the hedging big) to stretch out, prompting a tough decision: Either the big continues to hedge and he leaves his man open, or he returns to his man and creates a scoring opportunity for Lin. Now, Lin did struggle with turnovers, especially when being blitzed, giving up the ball on about 26 percent of possessions, but I think those numbers will naturally improve. This will be the first camp that Lin comes into as a starter. He’s going to get starter reps in practice, and he’s going to be much more comfortable with how defense will attempt to stop him. If he can get that turnover rate down to the 15 to 10 percent range, Lin’s efficiency will only improve. This means that when Houston runs pick-and-rolls next season, the sets will look quite similar to last year’s sets. That’s a good thing — and with Lin’s decision making, the Rockets should have success in the pick-and-roll next year.