POSTED: Oct 15, 2013 11:36 AM ET
With attention focused on Dwight Howard and James Harden, Jeremy Lin can just play.
A year ago on the cusp of the season opener, he was the face of the Rockets, his image high up on billboards along the freeways, plastered on the sides of parking garages, buses and in TV and print ads.
Twelve months later, Jeremy Lin is hoping that just being a face in an All-Star crowd that includes James Harden and Dwight can help him become more comfortable and productive.
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"I think learning to manage expectations, learning to deal with expectations, learning which voices to tune out, that takes time," Lin said. "You have to fail at it to get where you want to get to."
It's not as if Lin's performance was a belly-flopping failure. He averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 assists while playing in all 82 games as the Rockets made a return to the playoffs. The trouble was that he could never live up to that five-week explosion a year earlier in New York that made him the talk of the NBA and turned "Linsanity" into a worldwide phenomenon.
Every turnover was scrutinized, each missed shot was viewed through that spectrum of brief brilliance with the Knicks and there were times when the burden did seem to weigh upon Lin.
Now with Harden and Howard coming together as the league's new high-powered tandem during the offseason, Lin believes he is better prepared to simply do his job.
"I hope so. I hope I'm better at it," he said. "I've had such a wide spectrum from literally no expectations to every expectation. Now it's gone back down to lower expectations.
"I think for our team a key thing for us is to block out what's coming in from the outside. We're going to have losing streaks. We're going to have slumps. Every team does that. It's a matter of being focused, making all of our concerns internal, communicating openly, directly with each other. I think those are some of the keys when you talk about turning out outside noise and staying focused on our own expectations.
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"I think for me I can [just] be a point guard and make sure everybody gets the ball and control the tempo of the game. There is a little bit of a different role, but I still want to be the same attacking player that I've been in the past along with being more efficient in terms of picking my spots."
The truth is that Lin was probably never cut out to be an alpha-dog type star that could carry a team on his back and it was not his fault that the hype machine from his experience in New York raised the level of expectations outlandishly for his first season in Houston.
He was pushed by the midseason arrival of rookie Patrick Beverley and even supplanted in the starting lineup by Beverley during the playoff series against Oklahoma City. That led to speculation over the summer that the Rockets were looking to trade Lin.
"I've said this before, if people hadn't seen that month, five weeks in New York, then last year was truthfully Jeremy's first full year of playing [in the NBA]," said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. "Starting the season, playing 82 games, going through all the drudgery of playing back-to-back and stuff, they'd be saying, 'Hey, that was a heckuva rookie year for the kid.' I think he really had a very good year for us. I think he'll be better. I think he had an opportunity to look at his game more realistically in the scope of 82 games, in the scope of being a starter, in the scope of not surprising people.
"You know, once you come out and only hit with your right hand, believe me, some guy's gonna put his left hand up and say, 'OK, punch me with your left hand.' That's all the stuff you've got to do. All of a sudden he's got to start playing differently.
"Now this is the next move on the chessboard and he worked really hard this summer. He was up in Aspen and I thought he looked really good. He was ready to go."
Lin's 44.1 field goal percentage and 33.9 clip from behind the 3-point line were obvious weak spots as he struggled to develop a consistent offensive rhythm and there were times when his defense was lacking.
"I've tried to get better from a defensive standpoint and I've also worked on my jump shot and my left hand, so hopefully you'll see some of those things translate into games," he said.
"I think there's more pressure in the sense that more people will be focused on the Rockets this season. But from a personal standpoint, there will be a lot less pressure. I feel like I have more freedom to just be myself."
1. The hole in the starting lineup is at power forward, where the Rockets could very much use a tough, rugged rebounder to cover Howard's back.
2. Lin was by no means the failure that his critics painted him, but it is possible he could be better-suited to coming off the bench.
3. Asik was not happy being cast into role backing up Howard and could resurrect his request for a trade if his playing time is too restricted.
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