When discussing the Rockets playoff hopes, the same line of thinking usually emerges: Is Jeremy Lin going to be good enough to carry this young team to the playoffs? With the amount of attention the Rockets are drawing to the acquisition, it's fair to call Lin the face of the franchise, but is he the best player? If not, the debate begins and ends with Kevin Martin. This morning, we're going to compare the two.
First up is offense. Martin, in his career, has been a perennial 20 points per game scorer, with last season being the first time as a regular starter that he didn't eclipse the mark. In his career, he's been top five among shooting guards in true shooting percentage every season except for two, with injury riddled 2010 and 2012 as the lone exceptions. In short, he may be a one trick pony, but he's very good at what he does.
Jeremy Lin is much harder to evaluate. Last year, he burst onto the scene with New York, scoring 38 against the Lakers and 20 points ten more times. As a starter, the results speak for themselves: 18 points, 8 assists, and 2 steals, albeit with the red flag of nearly 5 turnovers a game. He was excellent, but statistically, Martin's performances had been just as good or better in four of the last six seasons.
As we've seen so painfully here, it's extremely difficult to maintain success as a young player after a breakout season. Patrick Patterson, Chase Budinger, Carl Landry, and others all took steps back after promising early campaigns as teams adjusted to their weaknesses. In Lin's case, given that his weaknesses are quite apparent, he'd better be working on his left hand or next year is going to be a struggle.
In the end, with Martin due for some positive regression to the mean and Lin with some negative regression to the mean, it's really too close to call.
Oh, but Kevin Martin is horrible defensively, right? He's weak, he can't stay in front of anyone, and he just doesn't care? Unfortunately, Lin is probably just as bad as Martin. Once again, a brief sample size is more difficult to evaluate than a career of below-average defense, but it's obvious that Lin does not have the foot speed to stay in front of point guards on the NBA level. In the above article, Sebastian Pruiti notes that Lin was in the bottom 16% of isolation defense, a pretty damning stat for a front-line point guard.
Remember that Martin is injured like every two weeks? At just 23 and in his first season of regular play, Lin went down with a knee injury after just 25 starts. If we're going to apply the injury disclaimer to Kevin Martin, it's unfair to completely ignore Lin's injury history.
I'm not ready to declare Martin as the Rockets best player given his struggles last year, but the gap is much smaller than you think. Lin is younger and will be far and away more valuable in two or three years, but next year it will be close.
The fact is that our perception of a player colors our evaluation of him, and that is evident in our discussion of Kevin Martin. Because Kevin Martin isn't the most likable guy, it's easy to dismiss any context given for his struggles last season to be nothing more than "excuses," but we have to apply the same standard to Jeremy Lin.
Lin of course caught flack in New York for not playing through an injury in the playoffs, but Houston fans have (rightly) dismissed that as nothing more than sour grapes from the New York media. One mention of Kevin Martin's torn labral, however, and "excuses" card gets pulled out again.
It's the same phenomenon that we all observed with Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard. Because Bynum expressed a passing interest in joining the Rockets, he was seen in a positive light by Rockets fans, and the evaluation of both players reflected that.
Dwight Howard's balky back was obviously a concern, but he was in no way "crippled" like some would claim. Additionally, that line of thinking completely ignored the repeated knee injuries Andrew Bynum suffered over the years. And Howard's maturity? As much of a pain in the butt as Howard is, Bynum has had vastly more concerns about his level of maturity and behavior as a teammate.
The many reasons that Bynum was seen as a better option as Howard were nothing more than rationalizations by people eager to discredit Howard's potential as a future Rocket. Bynum perhaps would have been the more worthwhile acquisition because he might stay long term, but to say that he's a better player is ridiculous.
So yes, Jeremy Lin is probably going to be the best Rocket on the floor next season, but to say he doesn't have any help is not fair. The only thing that is for sure is that if Kevin Martin isn't traded by the beginning of this season, Omer Asik is going to be a very, very busy man.
Jump for your links!
Rockets Owner Leslie Alexander Is Expected To Buy Houston Dynamo - SB Nation Houston
The latest report on Les Alexander's interest in the Dynamo is that he's "expected to buy" the Dynamo. It'll be an interesting story to watch as a Houston sports fan.
Jeremy Lin Video Highlights: Linsanity Returns To The Basketball Court - SB Nation Bay Area
Jeremy Lin is back playing basketball and looks pretty decent in this return to action.
Could Josh Harrellson Be The Next Jeremy Lin?
Scott Anderson of Nation Of Blue asks if Jorts is going to be the next Jeremy Lin.
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