Can the Patrick Beverley effect spark the Rockets off the bench in the playoffs?

USA TODAY Sports

Since joining the Rockets in January, Patrick Beverley has found his way onto the court and into the rotation in no time. Now, he's one of Kevin McHale's most trusted bench players. What is his secret?

The Houston Rockets must lead the league in players that make people say "who the hell is that ?"

Ok, maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves have them beat in that department, but not by choice and not by much. The Rockets have the league leading offense, and they are one of the bigger surprises of the 2012-2013 season (sorry, the struggles of the Lakers beat them out for the biggest surprise).

NBA scribes all over the web have written and raved about the Rockets and how different and unique they are, and now could be on a collision course to a massively hyped playoff matchup against the heavy favorite for the Western crown, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Rockets may not be a team with a lot of national buzz, but they are certainly very trendy among basketball fans. Yet if you asked people to name 5 Rockets players, a lot of them would stop short at just 3, maybe 4 if you give them a little hint. James Harden, Jeremy Lin, and Chandler Parsons grab most of the headlines and attention. Omer Asik leads the league in total rebounds, but he is ironically one of the more obscure names on the roster. After those 4, the notoriety of the players on the roster really falls off a cliff. Night in and night out we listen to announcers making up stuff about the players' game, pretend to know things about them. Patrick Beverley is one of those players that people have to pretended to know.

Not everyone can have a documentary about his life and yet still remain a relative unknown; Patrick Beverley has somehow managed. No one saw "Hoop Reality" because it was an unworthy sequel to its brilliant predecessor "Hoop Dreams," but Patrick Beverley’s story has a better ending than Arthur Agee. Unlike Agee, Patrick Beverley has managed to make his hoop dream a reality. The 6 foot 1 athletic guard from the mean streets of Chicago has taken the long way around, traveling halfway around the world before finally making his way to the NBA, but now that he is here, Beverley is doing everything in his power to make sure he stays.

Beverley makes his mark on the game by doing the one thing that every team loves: hustling. There is a sense of innate ruggedness, relentlessness, and desperation in the way that Patrick Beverley plays that’s fitting of a Chicago guard. He is not just tough, he is aggressively so. The player that he guards may not be any less effective than usual, but the team as a whole often is.

When he is on the court, opponents score about 5 points less per 100 possessions than when he is off the court. Even though the sample size is limited, McHale has been very liberal with his usage of Beverley, which means that these numbers did not exclusively come against bench players or garbage time, but rather a mixture with some serious starter minutes thrown in.

Part of why Patrick has such an effect comes from his ability to create extra possessions when he is on the court. His single game stats usually do not jump out at you, but as a collective whole, they demonstrate how active he is on the court. He steals, grabs offensive rebounds, blocks shots, and draws charges, all in limited time. Every time he gets one of those, he single-handedly eliminates an opposing position and converts it to a Rockets possession.

How good is Patrick Beverley at this task? In the 636 NBA minutes, Patrick Beverley has grabbed 42 offensive rebounds, blocked 19 shots, stole 34 balls, and drew 3 charges, essentially converted 98 extra possessions for the Rockets. That calculates out to be 5.5 extra possessions for every 36 minutes Patrick Beverley plays which places him 2nd among all guards behind the ultra athletic Eric Bledsoe. For comparison's sake, elite big men like Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah creates 8.6 and 7.3 respectively per 36 minutes, and athletic wing Josh Smith only creates 5.0 extra possessions per 36 minutes. He and Eric Bledsoe are far and away the best among the guards at doing this, with next best in line being Tony Allen and Ricky Rubio at 4.8 per 36 minutes, lagging nearly a full possession behind Beverley and Bledsoe.

There is no glamourous secret to how Patrick Beverley does this, it basically boils down to basic defensive fundamentals, vigilance and elite reaction speed. At times, he does not particularly stand out as an individual defender. He is only 6'1", weighing in at 180 lbs, so he is forced to fight against bigger, stronger guards on a nightly basis, but his team defense is where he earns his keep. There is not much tactical or schematic brilliance in the way he plays defense, he simply just plays defense the only way he knows how: hard. He approaches defense by going on the offensive, actively attacks the ball.

The Rockets happen to feature a pair of backcourt players in Jeremy Lin and James Harden that are among league leaders in steals, but the way Patrick Beverley steals the ball is fundamentally from the 2 of them.

This is often how James Harden gets his steals. He either:

1) Attacks an unsuspecting big man on a double team

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2) Or capitalizes on errant plays from the other team

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Jeremy Lin is also very opportunistic, but he specializes on anticipation. He knows where the passing lanes are and he often times his steals very well.

Here Jeremy is trailing Goran Dragic by a couple steps. Instead of accelerating to get on Dragic and deny the pass, he reads Wesley Johnson’s eyes.

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Bang, Jeremy zooms in and deflects the pass and steals the ball.

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In the case of both Lin and Harden, they tend to steal the ball from someone else other than the players they are guarding.

Patrick Beverley is not as opportunistic as James Harden, nor is he very anticipatory off the ball; the vast majority of his steals comes directly from the guy he’s guarding.

I lied when I said Patrick Beverley does not have physical advantages. He has one very distinct advantage, a pair of go-go gadget arms. Beverley’s 6’7" wingspan at his height combined with his tendency to get uncomfortably close to the guys he guards allows him to unexpectedly reach past guards’ body protection and tip the ball away.

Here Beverley is having a staring contest with Brandon Jenning on the perimeter. He’s so close to Brandon Jennings that he can tell you what Brandon Jennings ate for his pre game meal. Drew Gooden, who apparently is still in the league, is coming over to set a pick for Jennings on a wing pick and roll.

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Patrick Beverley is one of the better pick and roll defenders on the team, and typically executes the right coverage for the right situation. Here he bodies up Jennings to prevent him from getting to the middle of the floor, and Greg Smith comes up to cut off Jenning’s sideline lane as well, properly executing ice coverage. If Greg Smith were not so foul prone, he’d probably trap more aggressively.

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Jennings pulls back his dribble to look for a pass in order to re-initiate the offense from the triple threat position, but Patrick Beverley never leaves him after he bodied him up. Brandon Jennings underestimated Beverley’s reach and Patrick Beverley easily pokes the ball away from him.

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Patrick Beverley also likes to pressure the ball and aggressively get a step ahead of screens, starting 94 feet from the basket.

Here just off the inbound, He fights over a Jermaine O’Neal screen.

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He reaches right around Kendall Marshall’s body and tips the ball away.

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And takes it in for a free slam.

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Did I forget to mention that Patrick Beverley is also pretty athletic? He’s got a 37 inch max vertical and won a dunk contest in Europe.

That athleticism enables him to do number of unexpected thing from the guard position, Including:

1) Chasing down players on the fast break for a monster block,

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2) Skying for offensive rebounds like Andre Johnson catching passes.

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Both plays require immense athleticism, but also a sense of timing that’s difficult to teach players. He has had at least 1 block in the 9 of the past 10 games, and his offensive rebounding rate of 7.5% is 2nd among all guards that play at least 15 minutes a game. Shot blocking and offensive rebounding are some of the the toughest skills to learn in basketball even if you possess the body and athleticism for them. You can teach a great shot blocker to discipline himself and limit his fouls, but you rarely can teach a poor shot blocker to block more shots. The same goes for offensive rebounding.

However, the full defensive value of Patrick Beverley does not show until you follow him through an entire defensive possession like the following.

Spurs run a high pick and roll with Tony Parker, and, due to Spurs’ initial hard push, James Harden and Patrick Beverley are matched up with each other’s man. This is a routine play that almost all the teams in the league run. Beverley's man is Stephen Jackson, and he maintains a proper distance. He keeps his eyes to the ball handler but body angle to his man.

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Parker uses the Duncan pick to get past James Harden, but Omer Asik is covering the back end. Parker wants to get to the hoop, and Asik wants to cut him off befor the restricted circle. Beverley moves into the paint for help defense, reacting to the thrust that Parker creates. He's not there to stop Parker necessarily, but to help on Duncan the roll man and pack the paint as an obstacle in the passing lane.

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While maintaining proper angle, Beverley swivels his head back to check on where Stephen Jackson is. He can take his eyes off the ball handler because his primary job is not cutting off Parker. He doesn't over-help; he already arrived at the area he wants to be and he's checking his defensive options.

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Omer Asik is doing a great job staying in front of Parker, but Beverley is doing his job as well showing aggressive help and remaining in Parker's field of vision. Notice that Beverley never left the athletic stance, he kept his knee bent, center of gravity low, and his head up, staying mobile and quick. Harden is left in the dust at this point. Tim Duncan, however, is following Parker down because he has an opportunity to take advantage of off of the Asik help.

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Once Tony Parker gets past Beverley’s level, he no longer can affect that play directly. Beverly starts to back out of the paint, moving toward Jackson while still keeping his eyes on the ball handler. Omer Asik does such a remarkable job keeping up with Tony Parker that he actually cuts off his lane to the rim. Tony Parker has 3 options now: Duncan, Jackson or Leonard. Beverley, however has positioned himself in such a way that he has great angles to affect 2 of the options and block a direct passing lane to the 3rd. Asik also erased a lot of creative passing lanes by simply being huge.

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With Beverley lurking in the weeds, Parker has to throw a high looping pass. Since Beverley is in athletic stance and the looping pass is slow, he’s very quick to get his body to the correct angle for closing out on Stephen Jackson. He tracks the ball as he moves toward Jackson in case he has a chance for a potential steal.

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Patrick Beverley basically arrives at the 3 point line in front of Stephen Jackson at the same time as the pass. He’s instantly in Stephen Jackson’s grill. This is an interesting picture because you can see who's relaxed on defense and who is not.

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He sticks to Captain Jack close and contests the hell out of this shot, forcing Stephen Jackson the air ball the attempt and a shot clock violation.

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Patrick Beverley was never stationary in that possession, rather constantly paying attention to both the ball and his man, assessing and maintaining his angles while being aggressive. When the ball swung over to his man, he closed out quickly, aggressively crowded the opponent and contested the shot better than anyone could hope. If you watch Beverley off the ball, he is constantly surveying the entire court and adjusting his position, all the while paying attention to the ball. It explains a lot of Beverley's activity on the court and why he improves the defense.

There is a down side to Beverley’s invasive style of defense, that is, he picks up a fair amount of fouls on the perimeter. When games are called closely, Beverley usually is able to restrain himself, but he’s not nearly as effective. Like all of our guards, Beverley also has a tendency to gamble for steals and cheat under screens, it is part of the reason why he has poor isolation numbers on mySynergySports (also small sample size as well). However, the playoffs tend to allow more physical play on both side of the ball, so his style of defense will be a major plus.

If you noticed that I have not talked about Patrick Beverley's offense, it is because there is not much to talk about. For a vaunted "Chicago guard" that once went toe to toe with Derrick Rose, Patrick Beverley has largely served as somewhat of a 3 point specialist in his NBA minutes so far. He is extremely selective with his shot location, really limiting himself to around the rim and right side of the 3 point arc. He is a slightly below average finisher in close range in the restricted area at only 58% despite his above average athleticism, but an above average 3 point shooter at 38%.

Patrick Beverley's shot distribution

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Patrick Beverley's shot performance

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Most of Beverley's assists are also to 3 point shooters. According to 82games.com, over 50% of Patrick Beverley's assists are to 3 point shots, and 35% are to close range shots and dunks. He tries pretty hard to make the most efficient plays. Beverley is not really a stand out playmaker, but he does something that our other guards struggle to do, which is managing to keep his turnovers low. His assist to turnover ratio hovers around 2.7 which is the best on the team, and he averages a very respectable 3 assists a game average coming off the bench.

The problem with Beverley's style as a game manager is that it is heavily subject to inconsistency of the 3 point shot. When the 3 points shots do not fall, a lot of Beverley's passes become wasted, and lead to long rebounds that leads to fast breaks for the other team, which is as good as a turnover. Since he doesn't look for his own shots as a penetrator, the offense becomes too heavily dependent on the perimeter and the shooting % of the team tends to drop.

Overall, for a 24 year old free agent rookie point guard from Russia signed in the middle of the season, Patrick Beverley has outperformed expectations by a mile, which fits the theme of this young Rockets team. While offensively, he has nominal impact, he is a disruptive force of hustle on the court defensively. He possesses good natural tools and the proper instincts to use them to his advantage on defense. Hustle is infectious; every steal, block and offensive rebound that leads to points not only gets the team going, but also the fans. The ability to consistently spark energy from the hustle is a rare talent in itself, and Patrick Beverley brings that edge to play every single game. Beverley has proven himself an NBA player, an impactful one at that, and I for one, am glad that the Beverley effect works for the Rockets.

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