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Lin or Beverley: Who Should Start?

I want to piggy-back off of a post of Michael Pina’s from May, in which he evaluated Patrick Beverley’s contributions to the Rockets. In that post, Pina asked whether Beverley could realistically start over Lin. I want to re-visit this question in greater detail.

Last season, Lin started all of the Rockets’ 82 games and played 32 minutes per game to Beverley’s 17 minutes per game. In terms of overall efficiency, both players rated at around league average: each had a PER of almost exactly 15. Both player’s assist statistics and True Shooting percentages were also reasonably similar. Beverley, however, stood out in comparison to Lin in two fields in particular: three-point shooting and rebounding.

Beverley was clearly the superior three-point threat last season: he converted 38% of his three-point attempts last season while Lin converted only 34%. Beverley was also the more prolific three-point shooter: a full 50% of Beverley’s field goal attempts last season were three point shots, compared with just 30% for Lin. According to Synergy, the plurality (35%) of Beverley’s offensive possessions were spot-up opportunities, and 83% of these shots were three-pointers. He converted 42% of his spot-up threes, compared with just 35% for Lin.

Shot charts from NBA.com help highlight the differences in these two players’ shot distributions: Lin took a much larger share of his baskets at the rim, while Beverley largely lived behind the three-point arc (n.b.: the percentages in the charts represent the proportion of each player’s shots taken in each zone).

Lin Shot Distribution

Lin Shot Distribution

Beverley Shot Distribution

Beverley Shot Distribution

Besides being a much better three-point shooter than Lin, Beverley is also the superior rebounder. His 5.5 rebounds per 36 minutes dwarfed Lin’s 3.4 per 36. In particular, Beverley excelled on the offensive glass: his offensive rebounding rate ranked 3rd among all point guards last season and was ahead of that of Eric Bledsoe, an uber-athletic bench player who played a comparable amount of minutes.

As Rahat reminded us last week, Lin’s greatest asset on offense is his ability to score in the pick-and-roll and create his own offense. Surprisingly, Beverley was no slouch on these types of plays. According to Synergy, a larger proportion of Beverley’s offensive possessions came on isolation plays (18% vs. 13% for Lin), and he used these possessions more efficiently than Lin did (0.83 Points Per Possession (PPP) vs. 0.68 PPP for Lin). They performed identically in terms of scoring efficiency as the pick-and-roll (PNR) ball handler, although Lin devoted a larger proportion of his possessions to his bread and butter play. Beverley’s statistics are culled from a much smaller sample size, but he does have good speed and a nice in-between floater that presents a useful alternative to going directly at the basket, where his height and average hops limit his ability to finish at the rim.

Beverley is almost universally regarded as a better defender than Lin. Their defensive efficiency stats, per Synergy, however, are nearly identical for almost all types of defensive plays. Looking at overall team defensive performance helps differentiate the two players: the Rockets were 7 points per 100 possessions stingier on defense with Beverley on the court and actually 2 points per 100 possessions worse with Lin on the court.

So what is the upshot of all this analysis? Should Beverley get the start over Lin? I think he should. Beverley’s spot-up shooting makes him a better fit for a starting five that will already feature two usage-heavy players in Harden and Howard. His individual defense is also very valuable in a league in which point guard represents the deepest position talent-wise. The line-up data show that Beverley can be an effective complementary player when paired with the Rockets’ non-Lin starters. In the regular season, the Beverley-Harden-Delfino-Parsons-Asik unit put up a +24 points per 100 possessions margin. In the playoffs, with Lin largely sidelined, Beverley-Harden-Parsons-Asik and one of Garcia/Delfino soaked up the bulk of the Rockets’ minutes against Oklahoma City. These two line-ups posted net ratings of +17 points per 100 possessions and +5.5 points per 100 possessions in 78 and 26 minutes of total on-court time.

The fact remains that Jeremy Lin has a valuable skill set: he can create his own offense and score in the PNR, taking pressure off of James Harden. But with Dwight Howard in the mix, there may not be enough shots to go around for a starting line-up featuring Jeremy Lin. Instead, his production may be maximized by serving as a 6th man, initiating the offense when Harden goes to the bench. While there is scant line-up data to show how Lin fares when playing without Harden, it is not too far-fetched to imagine Lin becoming a very effective offense-first force off the bench. If the Rockets elect to primarily play Asik with the bench units, Houston may have a pair of line-ups (starting and bench) with a enviable mix of offensive and defensive talent. Lin has certainly done nothing to “lose” his starting position. As Manu Ginobli has shown, however, individual sacrifice in the form of a sixth-man role is sometimes necessary for the betterment of the team. Lin would do well to embrace such a role.


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