The past two seasons I’ve worked on a project leading up to the NBA Draft, creating comparisons between prospects and draftees from previous seasons based solely on their statistical profiles. Two years ago when Jeremy Lin left Harvard he slipped through my net because he wasn’t projected to be drafted in the first round. Having subjected New York and the entire NBA to a four-week supernova, I thought it might be interesting to go back and run his numbers.
The system I’ve created, detailed at the link above, creates a Similarity Score between the prospect and other drafted players. This Similarity Score is on a scale of 1-1000, with 1000 being a perfect match. It’s based entirely on statistical profiles from a player’s final year in college and therefore doesn’t take into account many, many factors which contribute to a player’s success, or lack thereof, in the NBA. The table below shows the five players who rated most similar to Lin.
Jeremy Lin Similarity Scores
|Player||Jeremy Lin||Marcus Banks||Reece Gaines||Tony Allen||James Harden||Elliot Williams|
While he wasn’t the closest comparable, the similarity that I find most intriguing is James Harden. As teams adjust to Lin and the continued re-assimilation of Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, Lin’s role and opportunities will change. The process has just begun and so far the results have been underwhelming. In the three games since Anthony returned, Lin is shooting 14-40, 35.0%, with 21 assists to 15 turnovers. Anthony obviously hasn’t found solid footing either, having gone 18-47, 38.2% since rejoining the team. Stoudemire, Anthony and Lin will all have to make accommodations for each other in the quest for continued success, but the largest adaptations will likely be asked of Lin. The niche Harden has chiseled for himself in Oklahoma City seems like it could be a template for him to follow.
The numbers above, and what we’ve seen over the past month, point out that Harden and Lin have many of the same skills and capabilities. Both are versatile offensive players, capable of creating off the dribble, finding shots for themselves and their teammates. Neither overwhelms with speed or raw athleticism but both are incredibly effective at getting to the free throw line. Both also face a similar challenge in finding space to co-exist offensively with two high-usage and previously established stars.
Harden has been able to use his offensive skills to both, complement Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook when all three are in the game, and help drive the offense when one or both is on the bench. When working as a complementary piece Harden relies on his abilities as a spot-up shooter, cutter, finisher in transition and as a ball handler in the pick-and-roll. When working without Durant and Westbrook his skills as an isolation player and in the pick-and-roll take on much greater significance.
Although there are plenty of differences between the Durant/Westbrook combination and the Anthony/Stoudemire pairing that Lin has to work with, being able to fill those same roles as Harden is paramount. The good news is that Lin has already demonstrated significant aptitude. The table below shows offensive possession data from mySynergySports. For each possession type you can see what percentage of Harden and Lin’s total offensive comes in those situations, and how efficient they are.
Jeremy Lin and James Harden: Offensive Possession Types
|Possession Type||Jeremy Lin % of Possessions||Jeremy Lin PPP||James Harden % of Possessions||James Harden PPP|
|Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler||46.7%||0.78||31.1%||1.03|
Lin has been excellent in isolation, and as we saw over the past few weeks, is more than capable of driving the Knicks offense when Anthony or Stoudemire are on the bench. He’s also showing up strongly in some of the situations he’ll find himself in more frequently as a complementary piece. He’s been a capable spot-up shooter, although developing consistent three-point range is crucial. Lin has also been a solid finisher in transition. He’s had very few opportunities, but getting better at working off the ball as a cutter or off screens could help as well.
However, the most glaring difference between Harden and Lin is their ability to score efficiently in the pick-and-roll. These numbers are somewhat misleading in the Lin is doing much more shot-creating for his teammates than Harden does, but the fact that he’s scoring just 0.78 points per possession in those situations is a limiting factor.
Part of the problem is ball-handling. Many of his pick-and-roll possessions still frenetically skirt the line between disaster and success. 27.3% of his pick-and-roll possessions result in a turnover, 8.3% result in a shooting foul, meaning he’s about three times more likely to turn the ball over than earn a trip to the line. That ratio was certainly influenced by the absences of Anthony and Stoudemire, meaning teams were able to focus on him in those sets. For Harden those numbers are very different, with a turnover just as likely as a shooting foul, each occuring on 19.1% of his pick-and-roll possessions.
Jared Dubin, of Hardwood Paroxysm, wrote an excellent piece yesterday suggesting that a partial solution may be to get Anthony involved as the screener in pick-and-rolls with Lin. Dubin points out that teams have been trapping Lin hard in the pick-and-roll, leaving plenty of space for Anthony to operate. I would guess that the more this set is run, the less space Anthony will be given by the defense. However, that means more space for Lin to attack the basket or find a cutting Stoudemire or Tyson Chandler. The heart of pick-and-roll success is having multiple viable scoring options. As Anthony and Stoudemire are continue to be reintegrated Lin needs to follow the lead of James Harden, making sure he is a pick-and-roll threat of equal potency.
I don’t mean to take anything away from his terrific performances, but Lin has undoubtedly benefited from chaos and confusion. Consistent minutes for Stoudemire and Anthony will actually bring order to that chaos, for both the Knicks and their opponents. In three seasons, Harden’s offensive skills have advanced to the point where he can do what he wants against even the most structured opposition. For Lin the challenge is to move beyond making something out of nothing, and start making something out of something.