When news broke early this week that Patrick Beverley, the Houston Rockets’ starting point guard, would miss the remainder of the season with a wrist injury requiring surgery, my gut reaction was to think that the Rockets were finished. In a league dominated by point guards, to have a starter go down right as the postseason is set to begin would seem to be a death sentence. Playing in a conference that features All-Stars Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, the Rockets appear to be at a serious disadvantage with Beverley on the shelf going forward. But taking a closer look at Beverley reveals that he has a dramatically smaller impact on the team than expected.
Beverley’s classification as the point guard of the Rockets is due only to his 6’1″ frame. Offensively, Beverley played off the ball far more often than not, a trait rare among starting point guards in the NBA. The reason for this is that Beverley started alongside MVP candidate James Harden. Harden isn’t just a shoot-first wing for the Rockets. He has also developed into the main creator for this team, taking on the play-making responsibilities that typically fall on the back of a smaller guard.
To form a clearer understanding of Harden’s huge responsibility compared to Beverley’s, I took a look at some of the player tracking metrics on NBA.com. On average, Harden has possession of the ball for six minutes a game, the 17th-highest total in the league. The only non-point guard to have the ball in his hands more often during a game is LeBron James at 6.2. (John Wall leads the league in this particular category at 8.2 minutes per game.) Meanwhile, Beverley had possession of the rock for just 3.9 minutes a game this season, the exact amount of time Goran Dragic got to touch leather in the overcrowded Phoenix backcourt prior to his trade.
For most teams in the league, the point guard runs numerous pick-and-rolls throughout the game, creating opportunities to drive to the hoop, shoot, or find open teammates as defenses scramble to contain the NBA’s most popular play. But the Rockets don’t operate like a typical NBA team. Or rather, Beverley isn’t a typical point guard and Harden isn’t a typical shooting guard. Harden has been the ball handler in the pick-and-roll 496 times this season, according to NBA.com, and averages nearly 11 drives per game. Beverley handled just 112 pick-and-rolls this season and penetrated the lane just five times per contest.
Beverley’s role on offense for the Rockets was to space the floor and be ready to launch threes when the ball was whipped around to him. Beverley attempted 5.8 threes a game, converting them 35.6 percent of the time. While Beverley’s long-range efficiency wasn’t bad, it wasn’t exactly high enough to justify his number of attempts. Jason Terry, still kicking around after a wasted season in Brooklyn and Sacramento, is the player who will likely absorb the majority of Beverley’s 30.8 minutes per game. Terry has shot 38.3 percent from three this season and is at 38.0 percent for his career, solid numbers and better than Beverley’s.
Houston has been ravaged by injuries across the board this season. Before his most recent injury, Beverley had already missed nearly 20 games this season due to a variety of maladies. Dwight Howard has suited up in just 36 games this season, and Terrence Jones has appeared in just 27. Because of this injury bug, five-man lineup data on the Rockets is very unreliable. Only 12 units have logged 50 or more minutes this season. Beverley is a member of exactly half of those lineups, including the five that have seen the most court time this season.
Despite his consistent presence on the court, Beverley didn’t have much of a positive impact on the game. He’s a member of the five worst five-man units in terms of net rating, per NBA.com. The worst of those lineups is comprised of arguably the five most talented Rockets: Beverley, Harden, Howard, Josh Smith and Trevor Ariza. That quintet appeared in twelve contests this season for a total of 93 minutes. They scored just 96 points per 100 possessions and surrendered 114.5.
Beverley and Harden shared the floor for just over 1500 minutes this season, the fourth-highest total for a pair on the Rockets. In their time together, the team had a net rating of +3.0, just a tick below the Rockets’ overall 3.5 net rating, per NBA.com. In lineups featuring Terry alongside Harden, the Rockets have both scored and defended better, posting a 107.9 offensive rating and 100.8 defensive rating. Throughout the course of the season, Houston has played better with Beverley off the court.
Beverley carries the reputation of being a pesky defender, someone who opposing point guards dread facing every night. His famous exchanges with Russell Westbrook have solidified this reputation, and the casual observer doesn’t need to look too hard to see which player is exerting the most energy on the average defensive possession. But despite passing the eye test with flying colors, advanced metrics simply don’t back up Beverley’s reputation as a defensive stopper. Beverley’s propensity to gamble for steals can put his teammates in uncomfortable positions trying to cover up for his mistakes.
Look, anytime a starter has to miss extended periods of time due to injury, it’s a bad thing for a team. It forces everyone to take on a little more responsibility, thrusting players into roles they sometimes aren’t suited for. And heading into a grueling postseason, it’s always incredibly important to be as close to full strength as possible. But for the Rockets, given the makeup of their team and the way that they’ve been successful this season, the loss of Patrick Beverley shouldn’t be enough to cripple a potential championship run.