An NBA defense’s primary objective is to protect the rim at all costs. A free drive to the hoop will make any head coach call a timeout so fast you’d have thought his chair was on fire. Being that the tallest players reside in the paint, next to the rim, it’s only right that as the last line of defense they’re the most important.
Long-limbed centers who can time their jump and know where they’re supposed to be at all times are able to alter layups and deter should-be-easy two pointers. Offenses try luring those big men as far away from the hoop as possible. And on and on they go.
But for some reason, as the defensive center’s value increased, the defensive point guard’s value plummeted. Why would anyone care if the first line of defense could bottle his man up as long as a seven-foot behemoth was waiting for him at the next level?
While I agree that centers have the most defensive influence (related: I also think ice cream is delicious and placing my head in a boiling oven isn’t a smart move), the idea that “any point guard will do” doesn’t make sense, regardless of who’s behind him.
Basketball is a game dictated by tempo; if a point guard is tenacious and quick enough to stay with his man from baseline to baseline, he can force an offense to increase its pace. As a result, they will have difficulty getting into their set, stagnating flow and destroying their timing.
With only 24 seconds to make something happening, this is more important than it sounds. As a team rushes through their play, the odds of someone making a mistake increases exponentially. There’s a chance they turn it over or force a bad shot, all thanks to the point guard’s individual harassment.
This is why Patrick Beverley is such an integral part of Houston’s starting lineup. Having him come off the bench as an energetic lunatic isn’t wrong, but having him active at the opening tip matches him up with the opposing team’s top point guard for more minutes. Nothing against Jeremy Lin, who receives undo criticism for his defensive ability, but Beverley is more effective than all but two or three point guards in the entire league when it comes to making his man’s life miserable.
On Wednesday night, Beverley only played 10 minutes before hurting his ribs and not returning (he’s OK). Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions were thrilled when they heard the news. Let’s look at one play from early in that contest.
It’s a high pick-and-roll, with Bobcats forward Josh McRoberts coming up to pick Beverley and allow Walker some space to operate on the right side of the floor. With Howard behind him (again, big guys are super important too!) Beverley doesn’t have to stress about Walker getting all the way to the rim, so he fights over the pick.
Walker gets to the elbow before deciding to pull up for a jumper. Beverley has no influence on this decision—that’d be Howard—but I highlighted this play for how quickly he recovers and what he does in the next picture.
(Chandler Parsons is defending Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the strong side corner, so he won’t help even though his man’s shot chart looks like it’s been splattered with blood. The only reason Walker isn’t going to the basket is Howard.)
Look at that contest! Very few players are able to fight through a screen, read their man’s intention, then react before it’s too late. Beverley doesn’t block the shot and Walker misses the jumper, but neither is the point. Even when he doesn’t get there in time, Beverley’s hustle makes shooters worry that the next time he will. It’s subtle influence, but he’s affecting split second decisions in their head.
This video clip below against Sessions shows how fantastic (or irritating, depending on who’s judging) Beverley can be, taking the other team out of what it wants to do by making the ball-handler feel like he’s being chased by a radioactive bee.
Beverley suffocates Sessions 40 feet from the basket, making him turn his back to the play. That’s real impact! Sessions can’t call out a set or read how the floor is moving. He finally says “screw it” and rushes towards the hoop for a wild prayer that slams off the backboard.
This picture above was taken a couple possessions before Sessions opted to go rogue on his coach’s plan. Once again, Beverley is bodying him up early in the possession, forcing his back to the rest of the court. A few seconds later Sessions was forced to pick up his dribble and use a time-out. Few point guards are able to dictate entire possessions with their defense, but those who do should never be taken for granted. Houston’s lucky they have one in their starting lineup.