While the Los Angeles Lakers lost out on retaining a marquee free agent for the first time in franchise history, the Rockets established themselves as legitimate 2014 championship contenders overnight.
With both Howard and James Harden in the starting lineup, the other Rockets need only to get in line behind their team's two superstars. Houston won't need a third ball-dominant star alongside them, as Howard and Harden should be expected to consume a majority of the team's offensive possessions.
That's why Patrick Beverley, not Jeremy Lin, should be the Rockets' starting point guard in 2013-14.
On the surface, it may sound heretical to bench the team's marquee free-agent acquisition from 2012, especially considering his $17 million price tag through 2014-15.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you realize just how much sense it makes.
Lin vs. Beverley in 2012-13
Below, I've highlighted a handful of per-36-minute stats from Lin and Beverley during the 2012-13 regular season.
One look at the disparities speaks to the strengths and weaknesses of each player.
Lin packs more of a scoring punch than Beverley, as evidenced by his advantages over Beverley in points per 36 minutes and field-goal percentage. He also dished out a slightly higher number of assists every 36 minutes than Beverley did in 2012-13.
Beverley, however, averaged significantly fewer turnovers than Lin per 36 minutes and knocked down three-pointers at a much higher rate, too.
With Howard attracting so much attention in the post, the Rockets will thrive driving and kicking out to the perimeter for open three-pointers. The Rockets need to surround their two stars with players who can both knock down threes and limit their number of turnovers, as each miscue means one fewer possession for either Howard or Harden.
In that sense, Beverley holds the clear advantage over Lin. However, these per-36-minute statistics come with the caveat that Lin played nearly four times as many minutes as Beverley in 2012-13.
Next, let's look at advanced statistics from both players during the 2012-13 regular season.
Here, Beverley holds the advantage over Lin across the board.
Neither player posted a phenomenal PER in 2012-13, but Beverley (15.4) did manage to at least surpass the league average (15.0), while Lin (14.9) did not. He also trumped Lin in both measures of shooting efficiency: true shooting percentage (.551 vs. .538) and effective field-goal percentage (.513 vs. .490).
While Beverley managed roughly 1.3 fewer turnovers per 100 possessions, his usage rate was significantly lower than Lin's during the regular season. Whichever point guard plays most with Harden and Howard needs to be capable of making an impact despite utilizing a low number of possessions.
The Rockets were better on both ends of the court in 2012-13 with Beverley as their point guard compared to Lin, according to each player's offensive and defensive rating. Again, these specific metrics must be taken with a grain of salt, given each player's respective playing time, but having a defensive rating that's higher than an offensive rating (as Lin did in 2012-13) can't ever be seen as a positive.
While Lin finished with roughly 2.5 times as many win shares as Beverley (5.4 vs. 2.2), that advantage is solely attributable to his higher amount of playing time.
Per 48 minutes, Beverley contributed roughly .148 wins in 2012-13, while Lin finished with .099, just below the league average of .100.
The Rockets' Outlook in 2013-14
Of all NBA players during the 2012-13 season, Harden finished eighth in usage rate, consuming roughly 29 percent of the Rockets' possessions while on the court.
Howard, during his one and only season with the Lakers, finished 43rd in usage rate, having used just over 22 percent of his team's possessions. It was his lowest usage-rate figure since his sophomore season back in 2005-06, as he finished three of the past five seasons with usage rates above 26.0.
The point is this: Between Howard and Harden, 50 percent of the Rockets' possessions are as good as gone when the two of them share the court.
Howard's greatest success in the NBA came back in the 2008-09 season, when the Orlando Magic surrounded him with three-point shooters. The four-out, one-in look allowed Howard to do his dirty work down low, with teammates spread around the perimeter to punish any opponent that sent a double-team Howard's way.
Assuming the Rockets seek to emulate that strategy—and, based on their other 2013 offseason acquisitions, that appears to be the plan—Beverley appears to be a much better starting option than Lin.
Since Beverley can thrive more off ball than Lin, Harden can do his typical damage taking the ball up the court or in transition. When the Rockets settle into their half-court offense, Beverley's consistency behind the three-point arc will help space the floor for Howard in the post, too.
Lin, meanwhile, could be a perfect anchor for the Rockets bench, which grows deeper by the week. There, he'd be free to consume a higher volume of possessions himself, and he'd be able to generate offense for his second-unit teammates as well.
Convincing Lin to settle into what could be perceived as a diminished role could prove challenging for Houston. It's not as though the Rockets signed Lin to a three-year, $25 million deal in 2012 with a sales pitch of "you can come dominate some poor suckers off the bench."
A reduction in Lin's opportunities could also easily lead to a diminished payday after the 2014-15 season, when he's due to become a free agent once more. If Lin can't grow comfortable with his role of being the leader of the Rockets bench, it may be the final nail in the coffin of Linsanity.
If, however, Lin can adapt to the challenge, it could end up bolstering the Rockets' chances of winning a championship within the next season or two.
With Harden and Howard in tow, Houston has little margin for error these days.
Even if benching Lin for Beverley would prove unpopular, Houston's coaching staff must do what's right for the team.
Besides, winning a championship would quickly help heal any damage from the move.
Note: All statistics from the 2012-13 season come from Basketball-Reference.
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