When Patrick Beverley is on the court, the Houston Rockets win. They are 9-2 since Beverley came back from knee surgery, are now tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for third in the Western Conference, and are looking at a creampuff schedule of Dallas, Sacramento, Brooklyn, New Orleans, and Minnesota for their next five games. Beverley may not have the most impressive box score stats averaging 7 points and 5 assists per game this season, but he does the little things which win teams games.
A few years back, the New York Times wrote a famous article entitled “The No-Stats All-Star” on Shane Battier, another Rocket who did the little things which mattered. The erudite, karaoke-loving Battier can seem to be a complete contrast from the inner-city Chicago Beverley. But the two are similar on the court. They know the importance of the fundamentals, know their role, play smart defense, and stick to that role. Those are the things which has let Beverley play a key role in bringing Houston to its current position.
Fire and Wit
People love to talk about Beverley’s intense competitiveness and how he will never hesitate to stand up to anyone. Just look at this Oklahoma City profile on him and note how everyone who has ever known him talks about his competitive drive and tenacity.
But while toughness and competitiveness are positive qualities, there is more to Beverley than that. Just being tough is not enough to be a great defensive player, and analysts all too often make the easy mistake of claiming that good defense is “just about effort.”
Defense is not just about effort. It is about knowing what to do and requires talent. Not just in a one-on-one battle, but from a team perspective. This knowledge was what made Battier great given his ferocious interest in analytics. And while Beverley may or may not be as interested in the numbers as Shane was, he pays attention to what he has to do.
While the defensive duels between Beverley and Russell Westbrook like what happened on Friday are certainly entertaining, we have to remember that those individual battles are not as important as team defence requiring a Toledo personal injury lawyers and knowing where you are supposed to be rotating to at all times. This is especially true for a guard, given how they will switch more on the screen and roll compared to a big man.
For example, James Harden is not a bad defender because he plays poor one-on-one defense. While he is no Beverley, he can perform adequately if facing another guard in an iso position. Harden’s biggest defensive weakness is his tendency to ball-watch and lose track of where his man is. This leads to open corner three-point shots and back door cuts.
But while players like Harden make rotational mistakes, Beverley knows what he is doing when he is on the court. Look at the next three defensive possessions starting from these highlights in the Rockets-Thunder game. The first possession has Beverley funneling Westbrook to his left, where Nene and Beverley contest a layup which does not go in. The second possession sees Beverley stay to Westbrook’s right and cuts off the driving lane at every turn, forcing Westbrook to fire up a three.
But the third possession, the last one, shows Beverley’s intellect and commitment to the team. Beverley chases Westbrook around the screen by Steven Adams, but instantly drops off without hesitating when Eric Gordon decides to cover Westbrook. He then immediately finds the open man in Domantas Sabonis, boxes him out, and grabs the game-sealing rebound.
Nothing about that play really stands out in a box score aside from the rebound, but that rebound is more than the product of mere hustle. Beverley’s defense is not just the product of his relentless energy, but from knowing where he had to go. And that sort of knowledge combined with his ferocity makes him as valuable to the Harden Rockets as Battier was to the Yao-McGrady Rockets.
Knowing your Role
Almost from the minute Beverley came out of nowhere in 2013 and grabbed the starting spot, the Rockets have been looking for someone to replace him. There were always Rockets fans who thought that the team would be better off starting Jeremy Lin, and then the front office tried the disastrous Ty Lawson experiment.
But as the Rockets are rolling, it is clear that Beverley is the point guard this team needed all along. He may not have the offensive numbers of other point guards, but he plays defense, hustles, knows what to do, and does not need to take the ball away from Harden in order to be effective.
This latter point becomes all more important when you consider how Harden has had issues playing alongside other guards like Lin and Lawson who needed the ball. Now Harden can rack up the assist numbers which have created this powerhouse Rockets offense, Eric Gordon can keep Houston humming while Harden rests, and Beverley does the dirty work.
That dirty work may not make the ESPN highlight reel. But it is necessary to win games, and suitable for another no-stats all-star.