Jeremy Lin May Need Return to ‘Linsanity’ to Save Rockets From Themselves

Tony Wroten, Jeremy LinIf it’s true that everything is bigger in Texas, then this version of “Linsanity” should be apocalyptic.

Less than two years after Jeremy Lin set the sports world on fire with his ridiculous two-month run in 2012, the one-time Harvard stud who couldn’t find a suitor on draft night is playing the best basketball of his career. Yes, it’s early. Yes, the Rockets have thus far failed to live up to their lofty preseason expectations. No, the media blitz in Houston will never rival that of New York.

But once again, Lin may be poised to save a listing franchise from itself.

The Rockets are nowhere near the dire straits the Knicks were in lockout-shortened 2011-12, when they entered February with an 8-13 record and would not have made the playoffs without Lin’s epic emergence. Ten games into this campaign, the Rockets are 6-4 and one spot out of the playoffs in the extremely early postseason picture, but hopes of them getting into the top eight seem much safer than they were for the Knicks in 2012.

Still, the Rockets are mired in problems of their own. Dwight Howard has been nowhere near the difference-maker the Rockets thought they were getting when they lured him to Houston this summer with a four-year, $87.6 million contract. James Harden is one of the game’s most dynamic scorers, but his porous defense exceeds even Lin’s futility there, since at least Lin seems to give an effort. Patrick Beverley, who earned the starting point guard spot over Lin out of training camp, has taken a step back after his promising rookie season. Now, miscast power forward Omer Asik reportedly is asking to be traded. All the Rockets’ best-laid offseason plans are coming unraveled, threatening to make them the 2013-14 version of last season’s Lakers.

From that rubble rose Lin.

Through 10 games, half coming off the bench, Lin is averaging 18.4 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting. Those numbers are on par with his stellar February in 2012 and exceed his strong March the same year. (He was 20.9/47 percent and 14.6/41 percent in those months, respectively.) His turnovers are high, as they probably always will be, but not enough to hurt his offensive rating, which is a gaudy 116 points per 100 possessions.

All of that means, of course, that people are talking about Lin — and that could not be better news for the Rockets. Even if Lin’s performance is flawed, unsustainable fool’s gold, the more the media and fans focus on Lin, the less time they will have to ponder Houston’s problems. As in 2012 with the Knicks, Lin is serving as the ultimate distraction for a club that otherwise would not have much to celebrate.

No matter how well Lin plays, it would be overly generous to call him the key to the Rockets’ season. Houston still harbors much higher hopes than for Lin to recapture his old magic and make a nice fairy tale story again. Howard must begin to show some assertiveness on offense. Beverley needs to grow into at least a serviceable backup point guard if Lin can keep up his pace. Asik either needs to find his niche or be traded for someone to help the Rockets become the contender they envision being.

Yet while Lin’s weeks-long outbursts may not make him anyone’s savior on the court, he can be the Rockets’ saving grace in print and on the airwaves. If the best thing that can be said about Lin is that he is an $8.3 million distraction, he will be halfway to being a solid investment.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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