HOUSTON - With training camp less than two weeks away, Rockets players are already back on the Toyota Center practice court, working to get ready for the upcoming season. To find out what they’ve been up to this offseason, Rockets.com’s Jason Friedman will sit down with each player over the days to come to discuss what they’re working on, what their goals are, and how they’ve been spending the summer both on and off the court.
Taking his turn in the hot seat today is point guard Jeremy Lin. What follows is a transcript of their conversation.
JCF: Believe it or not, I only want to talk to you about basketball. And I’d like to start the conversation by discussing the importance of pattern recognition in point guard play – or that of any other playmaker for that matter. I assume it goes without saying that the faster one is able to recognize defensive looks or subtle player movements and what they mean, it can only enhance one's ability to pick apart a defense, whether you're a point guard or a quarterback. What does that concept mean to you and how does it apply to your duties as a playmaker?
JL: Especially being in a pick-and-roll league, the first thing you have to look for and recognize is figuring out what kind of coverage the defense is in. Now your strategy at that point changes based on the type of players you have around you – are they shooters, slashers or post-up players? – that can really change the equation, but it all starts with that initial recognition and the faster you can do so the better. That’s what I’ve got to get better at actually.
JCF: Well I assume it’s just like anything else: regardless of whether you have a natural gift for recognizing certain types of patterns or not, you still need reps in order to get to where you want to be. As a young player, how do you make up for a lack of experience?
JL: I’m going to make mistakes, I just have to be able to learn from them as quickly as possible. To learn faster, I watch film of myself and other good point guards, and then breaking down my mistakes and really analyzing them and seeing where I could have made better decisions. I think you definitely need your reps but how fast you learn I think is really up to the player in certain ways.
JCF: So when you go back and look at the film of your play last year, what are you critiquing and what are you specifically picking apart?
JL: Definitely I find myself in the air too much. I need to stay on the ground and not get caught in bad situations. I have to cut down on lazy passes. Coach McHale calls them “same plane” passes where it’s one spot and I just fire in a direct line; I have to use more deception and different angles. Then I just have to solidify my left hand and dribbling and keeping guys from reaching in. Those things accounted for most of my turnovers last year.
JCF: You mentioned you watch film of other players as well – who are the guys you are watching? There are obviously a ton of great point guards in this league right now and certainly there are lessons to be learned from all of them, but are there a handful you focus on the most?
JL: I’ve watched everybody and some of the names might be shocking, but the thing is every point guard does something better than me, so the key is learning from whatever that is. Players that I’ve watched – the obvious ones: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, John Stockton, Gary Payton. And then you can go on to the ones who have very specialized skills: Juan Carlos Navarro and then Chris Duhon and Raymond Felton. They do things that are really, really good and better than me that other people might not see.
JCF: I’m curious, what do you feel guys like Duhon and Felton do better than you?
JL: Quick reads. If they draw two, they get rid of it quick. I tend to hold onto the ball too long. They read the floor and there’s a certain type of pass where they pick it up real fast and fire it – they’re great at that, and that’s something I needed to learn and see. You can’t always go against a double-team; once you’ve drawn it you’ve done your job and the question becomes: How do you get rid of it to the right person? They’ve done that really well.
JCF: You talked the other day about tailoring your workouts so that you can improve your left hand and also improve your ability to make quick, efficient decisions. What did you do specifically to make strides in those areas?
JL: I just worked on different types of passes, trying to be able to pass as well with my left hand as I do with my right. That would open a lot of things up. Then in terms of reading the floor, we’d simulate situations in my workouts where I come off a pick and work on certain passes so that I hit my teammates right in their shooting pocket. Little things like that.
JCF: This goes back to my initial question about pattern recognition: What sort of visual cues are you looking for when you begin the pick-and-roll?
JL: The first thing I do is locate where my guys are set up to see if they’re in the right place, and then I’m looking to find any possible holes in the defense – if the defense isn’t where it’s supposed to be, or if a defender’s feet are in an awkward position. I’m looking for any way to expose that, any holes that I can attack, or quick passing lanes that I can fire through.
JCF: Do you pay much attention to advanced stats at all?
JL: A little bit. Mostly just my advanced stats.
JCF: So you’re probably familiar with your Synergy stats then. In pick-and-roll you did well, your isolation numbers were off the charts …
JL: Catch-and-shoot was low ... Yeah, we broke all that down this summer and that’s what we used to kind of structure my workouts. One-on-one defense, things like that. There were some workouts where it was just all defense; defending guys off the close-out and things like that. We like to get creative with our workouts.
JCF: Well I wanted to ask: This team as currently constituted appears best suited for an up-tempo style. Yet your advanced stats from last year would seem to indicate you really thrive in half-court situations. Now I know we’re working with a rather limited sample size here, so I wanted to ask about your own personal comfort level when it comes to playing transition versus half-court basketball.
JL: I love the transition. I was surprised that my transition numbers were off last year because traditionally I’ve been a good transition player. I like to play fast. I like to get it on the go and just run with it, make plays quickly and get the ball up very early in the shot clock.
JCF: So you don’t think those numbers are necessarily indicative of the player you are or are going to be?
JL: I think they tell a lot of the story but they don’t tell all of the story. I think it would be silly and naïve not to listen to the numbers but I think it would also be silly to make that everything.
JCF: After you signed with the Rockets, did you spend much time thinking team strategy in terms of how you might utilize and play with your new teammates?
JL: I didn’t really think about it too much just because I think in order to do that you have to really know your teammates well and I didn’t know most of them. Now that I’m getting a feel for them while we’re working out, I’m trying to figure out who likes the ball where, what they’re really good at, when to give them the ball, when not to give them the ball, what types of plays are really effective – that sort of thing.
JCF: Well I know it’s incredibly early, but are there any observations that stand out so far that you’ve been able to make?
JL: Omer, people don’t give him enough credit for his offensive ability. He’s known for his defense but he’s not bad offensively. I think he’s surprised everybody. That’s the biggest thing so far. I haven’t been able to see the rookies play enough yet to draw any firm conclusions.
JCF: This is a random question and a reference that almost certainly is way before your time, but if some sort of Scott Bakula-esque Quantum Leap situation were about to unfold thirty minutes before a game and, God forbid, I was about to assume control of your body, what would you tell me beforehand to make sure I was able to competently do a decent Jeremy Lin impersonation during the game? Basically, in the dumbest way possible, I’m trying to ask how you think and approach the game.
JL: I would just say be confident and just stick to what you’re good at – so just attack, attack, attack. For me, it’s playing for God; not worrying about anything else, not worrying about everybody watching, or the reporters or the general managers – just playing the game and letting it be free-flowing and natural. I think that’s what I try to remind myself.
JCF: Has your approach to the game changed one iota in the past year?
JL: I don’t think so. I hope not. I haven’t had a game in awhile but I hope not.
JCF: Did you ever notice it changing during crunch time? Did the added pressure, stress and excitement have any effect?
JL: In crunch time it’s all about winning. My mentality then is just about making plays. There’s not too much that really goes on in my mind during crunch time besides the fact that I just have to make a play to get my team up one by the time the buzzer sounds. It really just depends what my role is. That play might be a rebound or a steal or a hockey assist – just whatever it takes. I think that’s true for the whole game but there’s definitely extra focus on doing those things at the end.
JCF: Does the fear of failure enter into the equation at all during those moments? Or is it something that merely manifests itself as extra motivation?
JL: I don’t really think about the fear of failure during game situations. I feel like once you’re in the game you just think about the game.
JL: Well if it’s the last shot and I have the ball in my hands, I’m just focused on getting a quality shot up and hitting it. You have to hit that shot. There’s definitely a little more sense of urgency then than during the rest of the game, but I think the concepts are still the same: attack, be aggressive and play your game.
JCF: In those last second situations when you have the ball in your hands, do you want to take the shot yourself or is your primary focus just getting a good shot for your team, period.
JL: In the Toronto situation, it was take the shot. But in most situations I just want to get a good shot for me or a teammate. I’m not a big believer in shooting a bad shot at the end of the game. I’d rather have somebody shoot an open shot than have me shoot a bad shot.
JCF: Is that just your personal philosophy or is it because you’ve seen research that would lead one to believe that’s the ideal way to approach end-game situations?
JL: I think that’s just the way you should play basketball. There’s usually a good shot and there’s usually a bad shot within every possession. The more you get the good shot, the higher the probability that you’re going to win.
JCF: Why did you say that the Toronto situation was different for you?
JL: Because they weren’t doubling me, so it was a good shot. It’s not a good shot if you’re going one-on-two. But if they play single coverage that obviously changes things. In the Toronto game I waved off the pick-and-roll because I didn’t want to give them an opportunity to double. So if you’re one-on-one, just get a quality shot up. I think most players in this league will get a quality shot in a one-on-one situation.
JCF: Let’s wrap up by playing fill in the blank: Personally, this season will be a success for you if …
JL: If we as a team can work as hard as we can, but also to build the right culture – that would be a success for me. Obviously we want to make the playoffs. But if we don’t make the playoffs, if we’re close to making the playoffs but we had a lot of adversity or injuries or different things that we had to get through, and we still manage to establish a good culture and build and get better – I think that’s a success.
JCF: What constitutes a good culture?
JL: Hard work, ownership and responsibility, unselfishness, sacrifice and integrity. That’s where any sort of sustained success has to start.