News of Patrick Beverley's torn meniscus came at a critical time in the Houston Rockets' season. As the Rockets try to hang on to the fourth seed in the Western Conference playoff standings and home-court advantage in the first round, they need every weapon in their arsenal to stave off the looming Portland Trail Blazers.
Luckily for Houston, Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Beverley decided to hold off on surgery to make a return in the playoffs. Though Beverley doesn't help much on the offensive end, it's his defense of the West's top point guards that could make a huge difference for Houston's playoff chances.
We all know what the Rockets can do on the offensive end: James Harden is one of the league's most dynamic scorers, Dwight Howard is a monster inside and Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin both provide three-point shooting and off-the-bounce spark.
There's lots of firepower, and points have never been Houston's problem. Their 108.3 offensive rating puts them fifth in the league, according to NBA.com. It's on the defensive end that they have been inconsistent, though their 102.6 rating is still 11th best.
That slightly above-average defense is really a function of two things. First, pace: Houston is the fifth-fastest team in the league, wearing down opponents with their up-and-down style of play.
And second, personnel: With Dwight Howard manning the back line, Houston's inability to contain dribble penetration is masked by Howard's ability to both alter and block shots.
Much of the time, an offensive player will get by his man but backs out when Howard rotates over early into position. A lot is made of Howard's imposing physicality, length and shot-blocking timing, but it's really his top-notch defensive IQ that allows him to be so successful.
But the other part of personnel is the lone Rockets player who can actually stay in front of his man: Patrick Beverley. Though he's more known for his ongoing feud with Russell Westbrook, Beverley is in fact one of the league's premier on-ball defenders for a number of reasons.
Not only does he hound his opponent with constant contact and by picking up full court, Beverley has displayed a sharp eye for offensive weaknesses. He understands not only his opponents' shortcomings, but also how to guide opponents into them.
In a Western Conference playoff picture loaded with high-caliber point guards—Tony Parker, Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Goran Dragic, Stephen Curry—defending primary ball-handlers will be a key in any series.
Jeremy Lin, despite all his allure as an offensive talent, still struggles defensively. It's why Beverley took over the starting point guard position, becoming one of their key pieces on that end of the floor.
But more than Beverley's immediate on-ball ability, his cornerback-like approach allows the Rockets to leave him on an island. In terms of the rest of the defense—Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, most notably—weak-side defenders don't hold help rotations for quite as long.
If the ball then swings to the opposite side of the floor, the help is ready to close out on shooters and handle any blow-by's due to shorter rotations.
Let's take a look at an example here, with Beverley fighting over a screen by Chicago's Joakim Noah. Because Beverley's path is impeded by the screen, his teammate, Terrence Jones, steps up to handle Kirk Hinrich until Beverley recovers.
Most players, after having been run off a number of screens, would fall into a trail position. Although Beverley does as well, he only lets his disadvantage remain for a split second.
Once he realizes Hinrich is going to snap a pass back to Carlos Boozer at the top of the key, he alertly jumps to alter the pass. Notice that on the catch Boozer doesn't quite grab it in a position to rip and attack the rim.
There's also the matter of Howard, who is now covering Terrence Jones' man, Noah, after he rolls to the basket. Due to Beverley's ball pressure, there's plenty of time for Jones to slide back to Noah and Howard back to Boozer.
When Boozer tries to dunk over Howard, he is unsuccessful. Howard is ready and waiting.
It's all a chain reaction that starts with Beverley. His ability to muck up the passing lane despite being in a compromised position saves an easy basket and gives his team's best defensive player a chance to make a play.
This type of on-ball pressure is Beverley's calling card. He's a gritty player that gets up in his man's shorts, always fighting the physical battle. But this style of play does more than mess with an opponent's head; oftentimes, it can completely destroy the timing and execution of an opponent's play.
Here, Beverley picks up Westbrook just as he crosses half court. The Thunder's play design calls for Westbrook to swing it to Serge Ibaka at the top of the key and then onto Caron Butler on the weak side.
Beverley's pressure, however, speeds up the play and forces Westbrook to make the pass a bit early. This pushes out where Ibaka catches the ball, and subsequently pushes Butler out as well. While this might seem like an insignificant detail, it becomes important later in the play.
The next part of the sequence calls for Kevin Durant to pop to the top of the key off of an Ibaka down screen. Just as Durant gets ready to lift, Beverley, who's now in the corner, gives Durant a bump to throw him off his line.
This bump, in combination with the ball's farther distance from the rim, makes the pass to Durant slightly tougher. Beverley's slowing down of Durant also allows Francisco Garcia to fight over the screen and deny the pass.
Eventually, Butler is forced to dribble the ball over to the other side of the floor, and the play has been completely blown up.
None of Houston's players display this type of defensive intensity on every possession. They're more free-flowing and offensive-minded, preferring to finesse their way to victory.
Beverley, while certainly fast and capable of getting up and down the floor, prefers to battle. He's a physical defender among offensive stars, and doesn't quite fit with the rest of the roster.
But that's exactly what makes him a vital part of this Houston Rockets team. In the playoffs, things will slow down. Defense, therefore, will become more important, and the inherent value of Beverley will increase.
That said, Beverley is not a complete game changer. He will not be the reason Houston does or does not win multiple playoff series, but his presence will certainly help their chances.