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Is Patrick Beverley Injury Actually a Blessing in Disguise for Houston Rockets?

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2015

USA Today

For the Houston Rockets, it's one step forward and another step back on the injury front.

Or is it? 

Just as Dwight Howard returned from a knee injury, point guard Patrick Beverley is hitting the shelf with a wrist injury. 

According to the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen, Beverley will forgo playing through the pain and miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery:  

Jonathan Feigen @Jonathan_Feigen

Rockets guard Pat Beverley has opted for surgery to repair ligaments in left wrist, source said. Will miss the remaining of season, playoffs

To be sure, that's dreadful timing. The Rockets are nine games away from the playoffs, and the on-court energy Houston needs to invest in forming a continuous new starting five figures to be significant. 

However, Beverley's extensive time on the floor this season reveals Houston may actually be in a spot conducive to rebounding from his ailment. 

Beverley is without question a defensive mad dog, and his intimidating demeanor gives Houston some extra panache. But surprisingly, the Rockets have actually been better with Beverley off the floor this season. 

In a twist, Houston's offense has flowed more efficiently when the 26-year-old floor general has been providing supplementary scoring than when he's chased prospective scorers through the motions in the pick-and-roll. 

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According to NBA.com, the Rockets' offensive rating jumps from 103.0 to 104.5 when he's on the floor, while their defense posts a net differential of minus-4.2 points per 100 possessions during those same minutes. 

CBS Sports' Matt Moore dove a little deeper to explain the phenomenon: 

The Rockets are better defensively with Harden on the floor and Beverley on the bench than with both of them on the court.

One very key aspect that I noted was that the Rockets give up the same frequency of three-point attempts with Beverley on vs. off. Containing 3-point attempts, not just percentage, but just the raw number thrown up, is a big part of modern defense, and the Rockets aren't affected much by that.

And while Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is still exuding confidence, he's not willing to write off Beverley's absence as a minor hurdle the team can clear easily.  

"We think we can win the title with or without Beverley," Morey said on ESPN Radio's Basketball Insiders show, according to ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins. "Obviously it gets more challenging without Beverley; he's the key to our ability to guard a lot of these very good point guards in the West."

The good news—and this runs counterintuitive to conventional wisdom regarding the Rockets—is they rank No. 4 overall in defensive rating and 13th in offensive rating. In other words, Houston's defense is finally stable enough to withstand the loss of a perimeter staple. 

That doesn't necessarily mean Houston will avoid feeling the ill effects of Beverley's injury from time to time, but it should also prevent fear from setting in with the postseason on the horizon.

As the following chart indicates, the Rockets' backcourt has done a superb job of stymying opponents in just about every essential play type, according to Synergy Sports data provided to NBA.com.    

Houston's Defense By Play Type
Play TypePoints Per Possession AllowedLeague Rank
Ball-Handler in Pick-and-Roll0.755
Handoffs0.773
Isolation0.82T-11
Off-Screens0.8911
Spot-Up0.891
Source: NBA.com/Stats

Compensating for his production on offense figures to be even easier.

Among all guards, Beverley is one of just four who averages more than 30 minutes with a usage rate (percentage of plays used by a player) lower than 17 percent, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Courtney Lee, Jose Calderon and Ben McLemore are the other three. 

Basically, Houston's offense rarely—if ever—runs through Beverley because James Harden is slowly and steadily ripping out opponents' hearts with trips to the free-throw line and smooth step-back jumpers. 

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 21:   Patrick Beverley #2 of the Houston Rockets takes the basketball up the court in front of James Harden #13  during their game against the Phoenix Sunsat the Toyota Center on March 21, 2015 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User exp
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Beverley's also averaging the fewest assists (3.4) among point guards playing at least 30 minutes per game. That total has him saddled up next to the likes of Norris Cole, Andre Miller, Steve Blake, Shaun Livingston and J.J. Barea. You know, backups.

Lackluster accumulation of helpers isn't Beverley's fault since so much of the offense runs through Harden, but it unequivocally speaks to his relative level of importance. 

As Moore explained, Houston's been using Harden as a de facto point guard all season long, and that isn't likely to change come playoff time. 

"The Rockets can use Harden as point in bigger lineups with Brewer at the 2-guard, Ariza at the 3, Smith or Motiejunas at 4, and Howard at 5," Moore wrote. "They can go smaller with Motiejunas at the 5, and unleash Harden in the full court. The Rockets are designed for Harden to carry them."

But for the time being, it's expected that Jason Terry will slide in and start at point guard alongside Harden. According to Feigen, that alignment has been plenty prosperous in a brief sample for the Rockets this season: 

Jonathan Feigen @Jonathan_Feigen

With Beverley out, Rockets have started Terry, going 9-0 in his starts. He and Prigioni have been splitting time.

Truth be told, Terry might actually be better suited to provide stability on offense come playoff time. 

Beverley vs. Terry (Per-36 Minute Averages)
PlayerPPGAPGFG%3P%Catch-and-Shoot 3P%Corner 3P%
Patrick Beverley11.84.038.335.638.138.0
Jason Terry11.73.441.838.840.049.6
Source: NBA.com

As the numbers indicate, Terry is the more reliable three-point shooter by a significant margin. He's also a similarly competent distributor when allotted equal playing time. And during those nine starts Feigen alluded to, Terry has averaged 11.9 points and 3.4 assists while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 46.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc. 

The obvious downside is that starting Terry precipitates a shift in the team's depth at point guard, meaning Pablo Prigioni could see increased playing time should Houston's backcourt encounter foul trouble. On the other hand, the flexibility Moore discussed leaves Houston with options galore. Such is life with a slew of versatile wings and capable ball-handlers.

"Got to break the curse this year and get out of the first round," Dwight Howard said, according to Watkins. "We got a great opportunity in front of us. We want to seize this moment and not take anything for granted, and everybody is on the same page."

After failing to crack the postseason code each of the past two seasons, Houston has put itself in a position to succeed with or without Beverley. 

Now it's time to validate the hype. 

All statistics are current as of March 30 and retrieved from Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless noted otherwise. 

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