Patrick Beverley missed the first 10 games of this season, during which time the Houston Rockets went 5-5. In the 13 games since Beverley returned from his knee injury, the Rockets have lost twice.
Beverley reclaimed his place in the starting lineup, moving Eric Gordon to the bench, where the Rockets’ $53 million offseason acquisition has been devastating. Just as importantly to the Rockets’ winning ways, Beverley has become the best version of himself: a relentless, chaotic force working to give the Rockets an edge by any means necessary. For this Rockets team, that means rebounding, passing, defense and letting his teammates score.
A favorite broadcast cliché is to say Beverley helps the team in ways that don’t appear in the box score. While that’s party true — he’s scoring less than at any point since his rookie year, and not exactly breaking records in other areas — the box score in 2016 is a lot bigger than in year’s past. Going beyond the most rudimentary of stats actually brings out the beauty in Bev’s game. The eye test only confirms it: he is an elite role player.
At the most basic level, the Rockets play better when Beverley is on the court. No one, not even James Harden, has a higher net rating on the Rockets or better on/off splits. When the Wolverine is playing, the Rockets outscore opponents by 15.6 points per game, the 10th-best mark in the NBA, per stats.nba.com. Second on the Rockets in net rating is Corey Brewer, at 8.8 points per 100 possessions, and Harden is third.
The Rockets are also average when Beverley sits. The team is outscored by 1.2 points per 100 possessions when Harden sits, the worst mark on the team. But Beverley is right behind him; the Rockets outscore teams by 1.1 points per game, the second-worst mark of anyone on the team.
Tl;dr: when Patrick Beverley has played this year, the Rockets have been unbeatable. When he’s sat, they’ve been mediocre.
Those stats admittedly have a lot of noise. First of all, Beverley has only played 13 games, so any statistical analysis of his play is a victim of small sample size theater. Even more so, he starts and finishes games and halves with James Harden, and he benefits from team stats for exactly that reason. It’s the same reason it’s hard to evaluate last year: when everyone was so bad at defense, picking through the numbers to find the gems was nearly impossible. This year, the Rockets are 17-7 and everyone looks good. But not everyone is doing this against Russell Westbrook.
But on an individual level, Beverley still shines brighter than ever before. The 28-year-old has remained an elite rebounder. Among all players 6-foot-4 and shorter, he’s fourth in rebound rate behind Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo. He’s second in offensive rebound rate behind Westbrook. Stretch the parameters to players 6-foot-7 or shorter, Beverley is still in the top 10.
Anyone’s who’s watched the Rockets this year knows that many of these boards are not cheap ones. A full quarter of his rebounds are contested, normally by much bigger players.
While rebounding has always been a huge bonus to Bev’s game, the reason the Rockets paid him a four-year, $23 million contract is his hounding defense. He regressed last year — I think even Bev would admit that it was his worst season since coming to Houston — but his lockdown D has returned.
Among players who have more than nine shots attempted against them per game, Beverley is third in the NBA, behind Al-Farouq Aminu (great defender) and James Johnson (?) in holding opponents to lower shooting percentages than their average. Opponents shoot more than 7 percent worse when Beverley’s defending them than their average. By comparison, Anthony Davis forces a -4% differential and Rudy Gobert has a -5% differential. Beverley’s man shoots worse than 20 percent from deep when Beverley is contesting.
In every facet of the game that matters for Pat — scoring really doesn’t, now that he’s sharing the court with guys like Gordon and Ryan Anderson instead of Ty Lawson and Terrence Jones — he’s playing the best ball of his career. He’s stealing more passes, blocking more shots, rebounding better and passing better. He’s even leading the team in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Beverley is scoring less than he ever has, and not by a particular small margin. His career-low in points per 36 minutes before this season was 11.5, his rookie year. This year, he’s averaging 9.5 points per 36 minutes. That’s a pretty paltry number.
But the Rockets offense still purrs when he’s on the court, even without Harden. Per Zach Lowe, the bench offense co-led by Bev and Gordon scores just one point per 100 possessions less than when Harden plays, and they’re 10 points better defensively. Anyone watching the games knows that a lot of that defensive discrepancy has to do with replacing Ryan Anderson with Sam Dekker.
The fact that the Rockets haven’t experienced a steep drop-off in scoring without the Beard, despite Beverley scoring at career-low rate, proves more than anything else that Beverley is doing exactly what the Rockets need him to do. He’s moving the ball (4.5 assists per game) and knocking down his shots, shooting 40 percent from deep.
About two years ago, the narrative around Draymond Green wasn’t that he was one of the best players in the NBA — that ramped up after the Warriors won the championship and the Dubs lavished the NBA’s premier nut-kicker with a deal north of $80 million — it was about how great he was becoming despite not scoring or putting up numbers.
Green started shooting more, scoring more and throwing up triple-doubles, so the role player talk morphed into star talk. Beverley is not at that level, and considering he’s already 28 (Green is 26), he’s not following the Draymond Green Blueprint toward stardom.
But the parallels between the two are everywhere. First of all, he plays his best against the best opponents: he forced Westbrook into a bad shooting game Friday night, and was a +21 in the Rockets’ four-point win over the Warriors.
He’s also come close to putting up a triple-double this year, with 10 points, 12 assists and 7 rebounds against the Lakers. Against the Thunder, Bev had 3 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and no turnovers. Tell me that doesn’t read like a 2014-2015 Draymond Green stat line. Side-by-side, their numbers don’t even look drastically different.
The most obvious similarity is their attitude. They are each widely recognized by their teammates as the heart and soul of their teams, arguably their most important player outside of their respective MVPs. Beverley is small, not as obnoxious, and playing on a worse team than Cock Knocker, but don’t be surprised if his national profile doesn’t start to rise.
The Rockets have Beverley under contract for $6 million this year, $5.5 million next year and $5 million in 2018-2019. The Rockets paid him like a below-average starting point guard last offseason after injuries took him out of their deepest playoff run since the Olajuwon years.
Now, he’s become one of the most important players on the team with the fourth-best record in the NBA. He’s not a star, he won’t be an All-Star, but he’s one of the NBA’s best role players. The Rockets are lucky to have him.