The Houston Rockets finally have a starting point guard.
Although Jeremy Lin is the household name, it's Patrick Beverley who has emerged as the opening-day starter for the new power in the Western Conference. The Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen told us as much with this tweet:
Same starters, Chandler Parsons said. That would be Dwight, Omer, Parsons, Harden, Beverley. Go nuts.— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) October 29, 2013
There's been much discussion about the Lin-Beverley competition throughout the offseason, so the news should allow everyone to take a big sigh of relief. Even if you don't agree with the decision, at least a choice has been made.
Plus, it just so happens that it was the right one.
Better Defensive Presence and More Floor Spacing
The Rockets don't need to worry much about their offensive exploits. They're going to score points in bunches, especially if last year is any indication. (Hint: It is.)
In 2012-13, Houston averaged 109.7 points per 100 possessions, which gave the team the No. 6 spot in the NBA, according to Basketball-Reference. Now, the only major change to the roster involves the addition of Dwight Howard, who will take on Omer Asik's role as the primary big man.
Last I checked, D12 is a rather significant upgrade over the Turkish big man on the offensive end of the court. That offense that trailed only the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets is getting stronger.
Offense doesn't need to be the priority for Houston's starting point guard. It's defense that is much more important from the position, especially because James Harden can effectively function as a de facto offensive floor general.
And in 2012-13, the defense didn't fare so well.
As Basketball-Reference shows, Houston allowed 106.1 points per 100 possessions, which left it in the bottom half of the league. In fact, it finished at No. 16, leaving no doubt that it is that end of the court that requires the most improvement.
That's why it's so important that Beverley plays with the starters.
While he isn't a much better individual stopper than Lin, he already understands the rotations quite well and is pesky enough that he makes the team defense much better. Plus, the team play is likely to continue improving with time, as he was experiencing the occasional rotational struggles that almost every rookie guard endures at the start of his career.
Just take a look at the average number of points per 100 possessions the team surrendered when Lin and Beverley were shuffled on and off the court:
It should be abundantly clear just from those four columns.
Not only is the Houston defense significantly better when Beverley is on the court, but the team actually got worse when Lin played. And he was commonly lining up next to Asik, who was unquestionably the best defensive big on the roster last year.
But Beverley also brings one more crucial aspect to the table: He can space the court more effectively than Lin. That's particularly important so long as Kevin McHale insists on running out the "Twin Towers" lineup that features both Howard and Asik in the starting five.
Even though he doesn't have a reputation as a score-first point guard, Beverley is a much better perimeter shooter than his positional counterpart. His 37.5 percent from beyond the three-point arc last season is much more threatening than Lin's 33.9, and it gets better.
Beverley shot 38.8 percent from downtown after the All-Star break, which is notable because he was A) getting more comfortable in the NBA and B) playing a much bigger role in the Houston rotation (an increase of 5.9 minutes per game). Especially given the attention that D12 and Asik are sure to draw on the interior, a mark that tops 40 percent wouldn't be at all surprising in 2013-14.
Although Lin adds a lot to the starting lineup, he's the inferior shooter and defender, and that's the biggest priority at the 1 spot—at least among the starting group.
Ball Is in James Harden's Hands More
Another benefit of having Beverley spend the majority of his time next to Harden is the inherent distribution of the rock. While the young Arkansas product isn't a ball-dominant player, Lin certainly is.
And so is Harden.
Below, you can see the usage stats from 2012-13 for each of the three guards:
|Player||Usage Rate||Assist Rate|
Honestly, not much more needs to be said. Those numbers basically speak for themselves.
I've chosen to include both usage rate and assist rate because the former doesn't account for passing, even though distributing the ball involves starting with that orange sphere in your hands.
Not only does Beverley have—by far—the lowest usage rate, but he has the lowest assist rate as well. And that means that pairing him with Harden enables the bearded shooting guard to have the ball in his hands more often.
Seeing as how he's the best offensive player on the roster, that's not a bad thing.
Given Harden's multifaceted offensive skills, it's never a bad thing when he's running the show. He can create his own looks, facilitate for others and drive to the basket, drawing enough contact that he works his way to the free-throw line with incredible frequency.
Harden meshes with both players, but playing alongside Beverley takes defensive pressure off of him and allows him to lead the team on the more glamorous end slightly more often. Both are beneficial.
After all, don't you want Harden to do things like this with regularity?
I certainly do, purely for my selfish desire to see highlights. I can't even imagine how much more the Rockets and their fanbase would like to see plays like those.
Jeremy Lin Is More Useful with the Second Unit
Houston's bench wasn't particularly great throughout the 2012-13 campaign. It was just missing that extra "oompf," an offensive spark who could both score and create for others.
According to HoopsStats.com, the Rockets bench accounted for 30.8 points per game, the No. 18 mark in the league. But the reserves also produced the 22nd-most assists and were highly inefficient, finishing No. 18 in the appropriately named "efficiency" stat.
Unless we're discussing the Indiana Pacers, all elite teams have a solid bench. And Houston needs to get one if it truly hopes to assert itself as one of the top dogs in the brutally difficult Western Conference.
Lin can make a big difference, simply because he's that offensive jolt that the second unit was sorely lacking. And, as he made clear to the Houston Chronicle's Jenny Dial Creech, he's well aware of the situation.
"Obviously, I would love to start. I think every player would love to start but I think given our current situation, being able to be an offensive spark off the bench, being able to be a primary ball handler in that second group are big things too," Lin said.
Creech also relayed a quote from Beverley along those same lines. The former backup stated simply that Lin "is a phenomenal playmaker."
And that's the key for the second unit. It desperately needs a playmaker.
Lin is better at both creating his own looks (39.4 percent of his shots were assisted, as compared to 55.7 percent of Beverley's) and distributing to others. You already saw that he boasted the more impressive assist percentage, but it's also abundantly clear from watching games that Lin is the vastly superior operator in a pick-and-roll system.
Due to the dearth of backup big men, it's highly likely that either Howard or Asik will still be on the court with the second unit. Without a healthy Marcus Camby, there literally isn't a backup center on the roster unless you strangely consider that to be the natural position of Donatas Motiejunas or Greg Smith.
And if D12 or Asik is playing, there will be plenty of pick-and-rolls.
Is having Patrick Beverley start at point guard the right decision?
Saying that Lin is better suited to run the second unit is by no means an insult. If anything, it's a compliment, because the dynamic floor general has always prided himself on his playmaking abilities.
The Rockets are lucky to have two point guards with such unique skill sets, especially since they've become natural fits for the starting lineup and the second unit. Plus, it's not like the starter is going to receive too many more minutes (if any more).
Count your blessings, Houston fans.
Most teams would do crazy things to have this type of situation on their hands.