Pressure is all Patrick Beverley knew before finding a steady home with the Houston Rockets and becoming arguably the best hard-nosed backcourt defender in the NBA.
Pressure, as in trying to improve his social status while growing up in the rough west side of Chicago and attending what he referred to as the "worst high school in the area, which they called a mini prison."
Pressure to resist selling drugs in his neighborhood, where some of his cousins ended up in jail and a close cousin and friends died of gun violence.
Pressure to find a hoops job after being dismissed from the Arkansas basketball team in 2008 for cheating on his classwork, and waiting months for an overseas opportunity, unsure if he'd ever play again.
Pressure to keep his NBA dream alive after being the last cut in Miami Heat training camp in 2009, which "killed" his confidence, thinking he wasn't good enough anymore.
And pressure to do everything he could to stick around the league after getting a call from the Rockets in January 2013. For Beverley, that meant only one thing: being an unrelenting gnat on the defensive end. That specialty enabled him to become the starting point guard this season on a team that needed a physical defensive spark.
When teammate Chandler Parsons told Beverley the news on the final day of training camp that he would be the starter, he pulled over to the side of the road on his way home after practice and broke down in tears. It sunk in that he had finally made it, and he knew defense was a key catalyst.
"I think that some people call it a chip. Mine was more like a mountain," Beverley, 25, told Bleacher Report. "I just had so much aggression and so much built up and so much anger, especially because many other teams passed up on me. I just wanted to go out there and every single night just make it hard for the opponent to dribble the ball up the court—be fearless out there and do whatever it takes to try to put my team in a position to win basketball games.
"I continued to play that way, and I think that's one of the biggest traits I have. The mountain that I have on my shoulders helps me just to prove myself every single day I'm on the court. I'm happy that I have that trait because it helps me to play at the level that I am today."
That trait defines Beverley, who certainly wouldn't be the Rockets' starting floor general based on his scoring average (10 points), shooting percentage (.407) and assists per game (2.7, the fewest in the league for a point guard with a minimum of 20 starts). Despite his limited offensive numbers, the Rockets have a plus-7.9 when Beverley's on the court and a negative-2.3 when he's not.
Beverley said he never played AAU hoops as a youth; only on the streetball courts, where he claims he never lost a one-on-one challenge. "I was strapping it up on the court, scrapping my knees, getting up, playing again, winning again," he said.
When he was a big-time scorer at John Marshall Metro High School, averaging 32 points per game as a senior, a big reason why was a 1-2-2 press his team ran, which led to many steals and points. Beverley was the 1 in that set, facing top counterparts like Derrick Rose and Sherron Collins, and from there, his defense developed.
"I was the head man on top of the press and I was just getting steals," he said. "It translated to college, where I was solid but I was considered more of a scorer than a defender. Then I got to Greece (in 2009), where I didn't play a lot, which was a very humbling experience for me, and I had to find a way to get on the basketball court.
"That way was defense. They really allow you to play overseas. They let you play through everything—holding, grabbing, illegal screens, tough hand-checking and tough defense. Playing overseas for five years, that's all I knew. When I got to the Rockets, I brought that same mindset."
An NBA scout sees that same drive in Beverley, saying "he plays like it's his last game, as if he's trying to survive."
"I don't believe there's anything malicious about his play," the scout said. "He just loves to compete and is a team player, so I think any coach and player would appreciate that. I wish more guys played 48 minutes like he does. He appears to be an emotional guy and at times that can affect his play, but overall I have much respect for his defense and determination."
Reflecting on his rocky path to success, Beverley said his foundation will always be Chicago, which he has plastered all over his house and phone—"My screensaver says 'Chicago raised me,' " he said—and the three women who raised him: his mother Lisa, aunt Karyn and grandmother Celeste.
And that foundation has translated to his trademark defense through the years, his way of expressing everything he's been through.
But what exactly makes Beverley such an effective defender? He shared his 10 main defensive principles with Bleacher Report:
1. No one likes pressure. "You have to think no one really likes pressure, and that's just not in basketball; that's in everyday life. It's more comfortable when things are just OK. Being the point guard, I know what I don't like and I know what's comfortable for me. I know when I'm bringing the ball up the court, many times no one is pressuring me, the guy is sagging back and that gives me a confidence that, 'OK, I can run my offense free, I don't have to worry about the pressure.' But if someone is all over me and forcing me to use my handle and pressuring me and reaching in and slapping the ball, I know I don't like that. So I just use reverse psychology. I try to do everything that I don't like to other people, and it's been working out for me."
2. The first objective is to set the defensive tempo of the game. "That's one of the reasons why coach (Kevin) McHale actually put me in the starting lineup, to set the tone defensively. When I go out there, I know some people might not like my defense, but I really don't care. I'm out there to do my job and put us in the best position to win basketball games. So I could care less if you cry to the refs about me grabbing you or pushing you or whatever. I'm playing physical basketball. Sometimes I might foul out, sometimes I won't. That's just how the game goes, but I'm setting the tone that nothing is going to be easy today. You have to work hard for it, and I try to have that same approach every game."
3. Steals are great, but the little things—like throwing off a player's timing—can be just as good. "I'm a 6'1" guard, but I'm blessed to have a wingspan of 6'7". I have good lateral movement. For me, fighting over screens and using my hands, I kind of get tips on the ball. People don't understand getting a hand on the ball—not just stealing it—means a lot, especially in this league because everything happens so fast. So I just try to be disruptive, I try to use my hands, keep them high, I try to read my defenders' eyes. If I'm fighting over a screen then I know that I'm fighting over a player that might pop or jump in the air. So I just look to mess up the timing of the pass—not try to steal the ball. If I save a half a second or a second then my teammate will be able to get back to defend the guy who pops."
4. If you're going to give up anything, give up contested two-pointers. "I look at like this: Any player I guard, long twos or shots like that, if they make them I still think that's good defense. You can't make those shots at a high percentage the whole game. It's just hard to make long two-pointers, step-backs, fadeaways, off-the-dribble crossovers. The exception of (Stephen) Curry, of course. Other than that, it's really hard. I'm lucky because sometimes when I get beat, I have Dwight Howard or Omer Asik back there trying to block every shot. So the way our team is set up, it definitely helps."
5. Preparation? We're talking about preparation? Please. "I don't like to look at individuals because if I see a weakness then I might try to take them for granted, and in this league you can't do that. So I don't, other than the film (of the opponent) that the coaches provide for us, I don't watch any film on any player. Being a defender, you play in so many different situations throughout the season that you kind of know what's going to happen in certain situations. I guard everyone exactly the same, and that's aggressive and that's physical and that's all that stuff. I don't look at the numbers, I don't see what they shoot from the field—none of that. I just go out there and I guard everyone exactly the same."
6. Going head-to-head with the best can only make you better. "That starts with James Harden. Ironically, me and James played against each other in high school. He was bigger than everybody then. We play one-on-one all the time, at UCLA this past summer, sometimes after practice. So we compete. He's the best 2-guard in the NBA, and I feel like I'm one of the best defenders in the NBA, so when we go at each other in practice, it's pretty intense for sure and our matchup translates to the game. We're better because of each other."
7. Learn from MJ. "I used to watch Michael Jordan to the Max. They said that Michael Jordan wasn't a good defensive player, but he made himself into a great defensive player. And that comes with getting stronger and having the mental toughness. People were in awe of him and the shots that he made—of course, he was a phenomenal offensive player—but he defended the other team's best player. He defended well, he moved his feet well, he was so strong and had a hard base. And he won some defensive awards."
8. A lot of conditioning goes into defense. "I do track, I run football fields, I run hills. I run until you feel like you can't run any more. I do the pool, I do anything that takes my body to the limit. I push myself all the time, and the Rockets have great strength coaches. I'm in the gym after we play games. I just try to stay on top of my body because I understand that defense is my key, this is my niche for this team. I'm just kind of old school with (my training). In high school, my coach put 60 minutes on the clock and he had us doing stairs and running around the whole school. So that was instilled in me as a young kid. Up to this point, it's definitely helped me."
9. Keep getting better. "My next step is to guard the bigger 2s—the Dwyane Wades, the James Hardens. To do that, I've got to get a lot stronger. I have to worry about being in the post and all that, so that's definitely my next step. Strength training is big with anything I do. I lift weights after the games. I lift weights about five times a week. I lift weights every day. When I have a day off, I lift some weights and get shots up. So strength is the No. 1 key for me because actually I'm a skinny guy, so me having that added weight and all that stuff has really helped me."
10. Be the best, as a player and a team. "I know Dwight will be mad when I say this, 'I want to get Defensive Player of the Year.' I also want to make either the first or second team defensively. I think the biggest thing right now is to win a championship. (Rockets GM) Daryl Morey and the owner and the president and the coaching staff have put a great team together, and that's our focus. We just want to put ourselves in the position to win the championship. Everyday is not going to be good as gold; we're going to have our ups and downs, but one thing I can say about this team is we're getting better and we're focused. That's my overall goal—to win a championship."