Jeremy Lin or Patrick Beverley?
It's a question the Houston Rockets must grapple with until they decide which talented player is going to be the starting point guard for the 2013-14 season. Although it's by no means a permanent decision—we've seen starters moved to the bench countless times—it's still an important one.
As head coach Kevin McHale told the Houston Chronicle's Jenny Dial Creech, he's working with "two starting point guards." It's one of those good problems, but the Rockets still have to figure out what to do.
An elite team can't have question marks at multiple positions, as made clear by B/R's Dan Favale, who wrote, "This particular decision is one the Rockets must get right. They'll already playing with fire at power forward and center, and can't afford to get burned at another position too."
Lin's Offensive Superiority
Across the board, Lin is a more effective offensive player than his counterpart at the point guard position, even if Beverley possesses a more impressive shooting stroke.
The limited nature of Beverley's game allows him to post efficient numbers, but Lin is a vastly superior player when running pick-and-roll sets, which are the true staple of the Houston offense. He's a great passer, even when he gets caught in traffic around the rim. His drive-and-kick game is quite impressive if you can live with the inevitable turnovers.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Lin put up 0.85 points per possession throughout the 2012-13 season when running pick-and-rolls as the ball-handler, ranking him No. 43 in the NBA. Beverley was similarly effective, but he didn't bring the same level of dynamic passing to the table.
Lin posted a 29.4 assist percentage last year, courtesy of Basketball-Reference, and that exceeded Beverley's 24.2 by a rather significant margin.
While the young point guard from Arkansas (Beverley) can make the basic passes without turning the ball over too frequently, he doesn't possess the same level of creativity with the rock in his hands. Unless you're asking him to score.
Beverley just can't make plays like the one you see below, which occurred during the first-round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder:
As the play begins, Lin dribbles at the top of the key as Omer Asik begins to set a screen. Once he's made contact, he'll roll to the basket while Lin drives to the rim.
So far, there's still nothing special here.
Any NBA point guard could get to this spot, but it's the way Lin finishes the play that differentiates him from Beverley.
All it takes is a pump fake and a jump.
Then Lin gets his defenders in the air and has the vision necessary to make a dump-off pass to Asik. From there, it's an easy standing dunk for the Turkish big man.
Plays like this give Lin a leg up on the more glamorous end of the court, but is that enough to trump everything that Beverley brings to the table?
Beverley's Defense Is Better
Unless you're asking your point guard to defend spot-up shooters, Beverley is the better option when the Rockets are trying to prevent points.
You can see that below by looking at the points allowed per possession in each situation, as shown by Synergy:
But it was about more than just the individual numbers.
The Rockets defense thrived when Beverley was on the court because he attacked constantly and wasn't afraid to stray far from his man if that's what it took to disrupt a play.
That's why the spot-up numbers are bad, but it's also why Houston's overall point-preventing numbers were better when he played. In fact, they weren't just better.
They were the best.
As shown by Basketball-Reference, Houston allowed 101.9 points per 100 possessions when Beverley was on the court and shutting down the opposition. That number would have allowed the Rockets to finish as the No. 4 defensive team in the Association, a far cry from their actual spot at No. 15.
Beverley has quick hands, and that allows him to both rack up steals and shut down passing lanes. He gets a solid number of deflections, and he tends to be in the right place at the right time, as he was during each of the two situations against the Thunder that you can see below.
The point guard has switched over to Kevin Durant, but he won't stick there for long. Beverley likes switching back and forth and jumping from man to man, so he's about to shift to Reggie Jackson.
He does, and his quick hands allow him to poke the ball away following an ill-advised pursuit of the basket.
Then Beverley displays his tenacity, diving onto the floor to secure the loose ball.
He doesn't need to display as much hustle on this next play, but his hands are still quite impressive against a driving Durant.
As Durant drives, Beverley is playing help defense.
He shifts over and swipes the ball out of the small forward's hands.
But the defensive prowess obviously goes deeper than just his ability to produce turnovers.
No one on the roster had as much of a positive effect on the defense, and quite frankly, it wasn't even close. The second-lowest defensive rating when a certain player was on the court—among those who played significant minutes—belonged to Omer Asik. When he was on the court, the Rockets allowed 104.2 points per 100 possessions.
Beverley's defensive impact was just that massive.
Last Year, the Rockets Were Better with Beverley
However, the Rockets weren't just a superior squad on defense. They played better across the board when Beverley was on the court.
Let's compare the points scored and allowed per 100 possessions when Lin and Beverley were on and off the court:
Not only do the on-court/off-court splits work in Beverley's favor, but the Rockets were clearly a superior offensive and defensive team when he played instead of Lin.
So, why does this matter? Can't he still have an impact off the bench as a sixth man?
This would normally be true, but he also has a sizable effect on the team's best player: James Harden.
A point guard's job is typically to make the players around them better, and it's something that Beverley did with the bearded shooting guard. He didn't need to control the ball as much, and he took defensive pressure off Harden, allowing him to concentrate even more on his offense.
In fact, the disparity between Harden's per-36-minute numbers with Lin and with Beverley, as provided by NBA.com's statistical databases, is rather striking:
Across the board, Harden was more involved and effective, even if he shot a lower field-goal percentage while playing alongside Beverley.
And it's for that reason that Lin must move to the bench and effectively take on the sixth-man role.
While he's a marketing sensation and a talented point guard who can capably run an NBA-style offense, his talents just don't fit in with the rest of the starting five. His offense is more valuable coming off the bench, where Houston needs players who can create for themselves. And his defense just isn't up to snuff when compared with Beverley's.
But the biggest reason still centers around a certain follicular forest.
Harden is the Rockets, even with Dwight Howard in town. Kevin McHale must do everything possible to appease him and make him as successful as possible, because the team will ultimately go as far as he can take it.
Who should start at point guard for the Rockets?
There won't be a definitive answer until we're deep into the season. In all likelihood, Lin and Beverley will each start games at the beginning of the season until it becomes abundantly clear that the former Razorback should have his name called out during introductions.
Plus, as McHale said, "As a player, I always found it irrelevant. I came off the bench in a lot of games. What is the big difference in playing 27 1/2 minutes off the bench and playing 26 minutes as a starter?"
There shouldn't be a difference, and that's the mentality Lin must adopt in order to maximize Houston's chances at emerging as a truly elite team in the Western Conference.