The Houston Rockets have sputtered to a early 4-5 start as the defense continues to hemorrhage points and the offense struggles to find an identity. In an attempt to fix both problems, the team should consider moving prized addition Ty Lawson out of the starting lineup and into a sixth-man role once Patrick Beverley is fully recovered from a sprained left ankle.
After his tenure in Denver was marred by off-the-court drama, Lawson took a chance on his own ability to turn things around in Houston. As part of his trade to the Rockets, Lawson agreed to make his 2016-17 salary non-guaranteed, which would allow the club to cut ties after one season without any financial ramifications if things didn’t work out. So far, that gamble has yielded ho-hum results.
Despite playing the second-most minutes of anyone on the roster, Lawson is averaging a pedestrian 9.3 points and 5.3 assists while shooting just 31.4 percent from the floor, including a mere 28.6 percent from three. Making matters worse, Lawson was held scoreless in his return to Denver on Nov. 13 as the Nuggets coasted to a 107-98 win over Houston. Defensively, opponents are shooting 44.9 percent from the field with Lawson defending, which is 1.1 percent better than their normal rate.
In fairness to Lawson, the Rockets as a whole have struggled to put pressure on opposing offenses. The team is 27th in both defensive efficiency (106.3) and points allowed per game (108.1). As seen in the chart below, the team’s perimeter defense is a problem area:
By swapping out Lawson for Beverley in the first five, the Rockets would be putting its three best defensive players (Beverley, Trevor Ariza and Dwight Howard) on the floor together. Meanwhile, Lawson can spearhead the offense on the second unit instead of sharing touches with another ball-dominant guard in James Harden. Lawson will also benefit from playing against other reserves, which will hopefully help him find his groove again.
Beverley missed two games earlier this season with a concussion. In only his second game back, he suffered a sprained ankle in the team’s most recent contest against the Nuggets. Fortunately, X-rays came back negative, but Houston will await the results of further testing before deciding how much time Beverley will miss, if any.
When healthy, Beverley is one of the game’s best defensive point guards. He earned NBA All-Defensive Second Team honors in 2014, and his brand of physicality has been known to get under opponents’ skin, most notably the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook. Offensively, Beverley has proven to be more productive as a starter than as a reserve. In his past two seasons as a starter, he’s averaged at least 10 points per game. Coming off the bench this season, he’s contributing just 4.7 points per game. Beverley is also a career 36 percent three-point shooter who won’t command a lot of touches and can knock down the occasional open jumper. This will also allow Houston to spread all of its offensive firepower across both units instead of bringing out all of their big guns at once.
There’s still plenty of time for Lawson to find his rhythm and be the offensive spark the Rockets were hoping he’d be when they acquired him. For right now, the team needs someone who can provide a boost to its leaky defense, and Beverley is just the man for the job.