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The Curious Case of Pat Beverley

Pat Beverley has received some well-deserved acclaim lately. Simmons and Lowe were bantering about a nickname for him, spitting out ideas like “The Pitbull” or “The Rotweiler.” In a little over half a season, Beverley has demonstrated a remarkable ability to be a complete pest and irritate the hell out of the opposing point guard. As many have pointed out, he’s brought a much-needed tough/nasty/chesty edge that the Rockets would otherwise lack.

Nevertheless, for all the praises that have been sung about him, no, defensive, measurement, seems to indicate that he’s performing a whole lot better than his peer guards. That seems strange, considering that he certainly passes the eye test better than his peer guards. Or more peculiar, he has a noticeably good defensive game but the box score of the opposing point guard actually looks decent when all is said and done. I think there are two main explanations, in no particular order.

  1. Defensive statistics are poor and don’t adequately capture defensive performance;
  2. Pat Beverley’s defense is aggressive and easily noticed, but not necessarily more effective

I personally believe in both of these explanations. All my number torturing has certainly convinced me that defense, particularly individual defense, is a pain in the ass to measure accurately. And there are way too many examples of players who pass both statistical and eye tests on defensive who would certainly not be described as pitbulls or rotweilers. Shane Battier, Danny Green, and Ricky Rubio come to mind. In short, one does not have to bust someone’s kneecap to play good defense (sorry OKC fans, had to say it).

[Quick side note, even if Pat Beverley isn’t actually the second coming defensively, I love the shit out of him and am very happy with the intangibles that he does contribute.]

But just leaving it at those two explanations isn’t very fun. I’m going to propose the theory that, from a whistle to whistle perspective, Beverley actually is very good defensively, but he comes with unseen side effects that actually detract from his effectiveness. I’ll now discuss some of those side effects.

First, he fouls a lot. Beverley currently averages 3.5 fouls per 36 minutes. That’s 6th among guards who have played over 30 games and average at least 22 minutes per game. It’s third for starting guards, and second for starting point guards, behind only Mario Chalmers. Those fouls matter. It helps the opponent get to the line and point guards tend to be better free throw shooters. This might explain why we see Beverley playing good defense but the stats don’t quite add up, because the opposing team is still scoring while Beverley isn’t even playing defense. And while playing good defense and fouling might be somewhat inevitable, Chris Paul’s 2.5 fouls per 36 minutes and Andre Iguodala’s 1.9 say that it can definitely be done.

Second is that Beverley’s offense is limited. In that same group of 90  players, he is 78th in FGs attempted per 36 and 73rd in FG%. His offensive responsibilities are to pass the ball over half court and wait in the corner in case a kick out three comes his way. He’s not running around screens, isn’t involved in the pick and roll, and only penetrates a few times per game if a play breaks down or it’s late in the shot clock. So while he might be a complete pest when he’s defending you, he’s fairly enjoyable to defend. Opposing PGs aren’t chasing him around the court or being run into picks. They just have to stand kind of close to him and leave the majority of defensive responsibilities to everyone else.

I mention this because unlike guarding other PGs, guarding Beverley gives opponents a chance to rest on defense, which means they can better exert themselves on offense. When the sides switch, Beverley’s energetic defense is actually met by more energetic offense, thus negating some of Beverley’s effectiveness. Think about someone like Steph Curry, a notoriously horrendous defender. Golden State has to hide him on defense because he’s so bad, but not against someone like Beverley. Curry can just stay put, not worry much about his defensive assignment (something he loves doing anyways), and conserve his energy for offense.

Not fouling will just come with time and maturity. Beverley will learn that he doesn’t have to go for the knees just to play good defense. But I wonder if the Rockets can at least involve him in the offense more, just to make the opposing point guard expend some energy on defense. Beverley’s shooting 36% on 3s, which isn’t great but is OK enough that he can’t just be completely abandoned if he’s open. It might be worth it to run him through some slip screens to make his man slam into Dwight Howard a few times. Provided Beverley can stay in the game, those plays might pay dividends late in games when Beverley’s man is more winded.

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About the author: Richard Li is an independent researcher and consultant. He likes numbers and pictures.

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