Beverley broke out in the 2013 NBA playoffs. An unknown rookie brought over mid-season from Europe, he was suddenly sending the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder into fits. Beverley caught a tough break as a draftee, cut by the Miami Heat in final trim of their 2010 roster.
But with the Houston Rockets in 2013-14 season, Beverley showed that his playoff surge was no gimmicky fluke. He earned a place on the All-Defensive second team, and it wasn’t an accident; he solidified himself as one of the best point guard defenders in all of the league.
Watch this prototypical instance of what Beverley does for his team. Here he agitates the man with the ball (Minnesota Timberwolves guard Alexey Shved) without giving up space, and ultimately overwhelms Shved, causing a turnover. It’s an example of how his incredible work ethic and intensity pays off—perhaps no perimeter defender in the league can afford to take as many chances at the ball as he can.
He has a militaristic devotion to his footwork. As Beverley told Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling about his training:
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.
This clip of one of Beverley’s pregame routines speaks volumes about how his specifically-tailored regiments impact his playing style:
But here’s the thing: Beverley could be even better. If he weren’t on a Rockets team that’s otherwise so defensively challenged outside of the paint, he could be not only a lockdown defender but the sort of free safety that Eric Bledsoe was for the Phoenix Suns this past season. Bledsoe led all point guards with an astonishing 3.96 defensive real plus-minus, per ESPN advanced statistics. Beverley’s number, comparatively, was 1.29—good for sixth among point guards.
Roving for more turnover creation opportunities would go a huge distance for Beverley’s team, but he also knows he needs to get stronger to guard more shooting guards and wing players, per Zwerling. “I have to worry about being in the post and all that, so that's definitely my next step,” he says.
Beverley is just 6’1”, but Bledsoe and his old teacher with the Los Angeles Clippers, Chris Paul, have recently proven that height doesn’t need to be much of an impediment defensively. Paul’s shockingly effective defense of the gigantic Kevin Durant during the Western Conference Semifinals was the most visible proof of this truth. Memphis' Tony Allen did it in the previous round, too.
Both pushed into Durant’s body, leveraging their strength and lower center of gravity to undercut the MVP’s momentum. Beverley surely took notice, and will look to attack taller, lengthier players in the same fashion next season. It’s what his team will need from him.
Part of the equation for Beverley will be using his energy more strategically. From Bleacher Report’s Joe Flynn: “The second-year guard from Arkansas has developed a reputation as an unrelenting pest on D, picking up his man full court and hounding him for all 24 seconds of the shot clock.”
This manic style is a big part of what made Beverley such a popular player this season, and it’s fun to romanticize such a relentless ethic. But falling back and knowing the limits of the pieces on the chess board would benefit him, as he could reserve his defensive ferocity for circumstances, game settings more appropriate for such urgency.
It's safe to say that Beverley's non-step energy can be a bit reckless. Everyone remembers that he bothered Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard, but both players were able to take advantage of his eagerness later on in games.
Especially if Beverley’s going to assume defensive assignments that involve guarding bigger-bodied players—a surely exhausting next step to take, regardless of how much weightlifting he puts in—he has to learn to marshal his defensive intensity into something more efficient if not artful.
Beverley was a defensive marvel last season. But he wants to improve this next one. And with some more strategy and conditioning, he easily can.