James Harden brings a new element to the Houston Rockets that Kevin Martin didn't. Let's make no mistake about that. Harden is a better ball-handler, defender and all around player with more upside. It was a good trade for the Rockets, even if all it does in its immediacy is make them a contender for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
While I was trying to imagine Harden and Lin on the court together, I couldn't help but think of exciting basketball, with a lot of pick and roll, penetration and distribution -- all the good stuff. The thought process led to a fairly simple question: is this going to be as good a backcourt as Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley from the previous decade?
Let's just look at the makeup to start; left-handed volume scorers in Harden and Mobley, ball-dominating point guards in Lin and Francis. The difference here is that the roles are swapped whereas today's lefty is the franchise player, while Mobley was more of the underdog success story.
The Francis-Mobley tandem played alongside an aging Hakeem Olajuwon for their first two seasons together, then there were the Kelvin Cato years while we waited on Yao Ming to come into his own. (No chance in hell, I know, but we still want our money back, Kelvin.)
I mention it because it's important to note, even though Francis-Mobley are going to often be associated with Yao and Dream, they didn't play with the best of either player.
For all intents and purposes, Omer Asik could be better than Cato. We won't disrespect an undeveloped Yao or grandpa Dream with comparisons beyond that.
But think of this in the context of Houston's backcourt being the focal point of the offense in a similar fashion to what's been seen before.
There's no comparing Francis and Lin, but it comes down to whether or not Harden will be any better than Francis and if Lin is anywhere close to the wingman Mobley was.
Mobley and Francis had their best individual seasons as scorers in '01-02, the year before Yao was drafted. Houston won 28 games and had the league's worst defense. This group didn't make the playoffs until its last season together, and they were bounced out in the first round by the Lakers -- who at the time had Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Shaq and Kobe (sound like a familiar summer scenario to you?).
B-Mac's Rockets preview sums up the questions about how well Lin and Harden are going to fit together. At the least, Harden will take pressure off Lin when it comes to handling the ball. What I think is clear of Harden's game is that he can adjust. He talked about being the main guy at Arizona State and making the adjustment when he came into the league.
Now he's back to being the focal point. He's the franchise like Stevie was, though we don't know if Lin turns out to be as good as Cuttino. And even if he does, we saw that it was never enough.
Respectfully, the Rockets are still a Josh Smith or Paul Millsap away from a 5th seed in the West.