A year ago, there was absolutely no question as to who the Rockets starting point guard would be. In fact, just 366 days ago, the Rockets starting point guard, Jeremy Lin, was expected to be the most prominent figure on the team and the team leader on and off the floor. It's amazing how so much can change in a year. Since then, the Rockets have added James Harden and Dwight Howard to the mix, Patrick Beverley has returned from Russia with love, and the Rockets have vaulted into contention in the very deep Western Conference.
As our pal Taylor Swift would say, everything has changed, and central to that change has been the development at the point guard spot of a two-headed monster. With both Lin and Beverley playing at a high level, Kevin McHale has a very big decision in front of him. Does he go with the incumbent starter in Jeremy Lin and bring Beverley off the bench, or does he give Beverley starting minutes and allow Lin to captain the second unit?
To me, this seems like an easy call. As much as Lin improved in terms of his shooting and ball control over the second half of last season, Beverley simply fits what the Rockets want to accomplish with their first unit better than Lin does. Lin is a more dynamic playmaker on offense, while Beverley is a much better complementary player, and with Dwight Howard and James Harden seeing a lot of the ball, the Rockets need to find a complementary point guard to start.
Both players are going to play similar amounts of minutes, so choosing a starter who works best with the first unit is the biggest consideration. In Beverley's case, his ability to be effective off-the-ball and disruptive on the defensive side of the ball makes him an ideal fit alongside James Harden.
On top of that, Lin would also likely be far more effective in a sixth man role. As the season wore on, Lin and Harden improved as a pair at the guard spots, but playing Lin alongside a ball-dominant guard nonetheless was never the best use of his skills. Lin thrives with the ball in his hands, and if you allow him consistent touches in the pick-and-roll, he will take advantage and score with ease. Contrast that with the time he spent as a starter, often ball-watching as Harden isolated against his man, and it's clear that a sixth man version of Lin could have a big year.
Looking at the numbers, the on/off-court stats bear that out. With Harden off the court, Lin was far more aggressive with the ball, as he took more shots, set up more assists, and scored at a higher efficiency. Alongside Harden, he shot 43% from the floor and 30% from three point distance. Without him, both of those figures increased to 45%.
In a more specific context, we saw Lin step up without Harden in a number of games, most notably in his 38 point shootout against San Antonio early in the season. With the ball to himself, he simply thrived, and putting him in a sixth man role would allow him that freedom. With Harden sitting on the bench, Lin averaged 17.2 points and 8.6 assists per 36 minutes, while he managed a bland 13.6 points and 6.4 assists per 36 alongside Harden. For comparison's sake, during the 2011-12 season, the year of "Linsanity," Lin only played marginally better, notching 19.6 points and 8.3 assists per 36 minutes with lower efficiency.
If Lin can come close to replicating last year's performance without Harden, a task made less difficult by the fact that he would be playing more time against backup point guards, the Rockets would have a tremendous weapon to take off their bench. The Rockets have two major shot-creators, and just like they will stagger Howard and Asik's minutes to make sure that there is a rim-protector in the game at all times, they would do well to always have a shot-creator on the floor by starting Beverley and bringing Lin off the bench.
It might be difficult for some to understand, but it's a simple case of allocating your resources as efficiently as possible. If the right things broke his way, Lin could play himself into the running for Sixth Man of the Year.