Houston is 36-16 when Patrick Beverley starts, but they will miss him for at least two weeks (and likely for the duration of the regular season) with a torn meniscus. His replacement is one Jeremy Lin.
You remember him, right?
Even if Beverley doesn’t have the best offensive and defensive numbers, it doesn’t seem likely that Lin has the skill set to adequately replace what Beverley does for this team.
“Obviously we’re going to miss Pat’s defensive intensity and passion and the energy he brings every single possession,” Parsons told SheridanHoops.
Beverley’s 107 defensive rating, the points he allows per 100 possessions, isn’t that great but that’s because he’s shielding Harden, a notoriously poor defender, out on the perimeter. Against Brooklyn on Tuesday, Nets perimeter players Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston combined for 61 points on 25-for-47 shooting in a Rockets loss. Houston lost its first game without Beverley to the Clippers while allowing 116 points in the process.
“I don’t think we really brought it on the defensive end,” Lin said. “I don’t think we were aggressive or physical.”
Beverley’s hard-charging defensive style has rankled some opponents, but his energy, effort and intensity works in not only frustrating top perimeter players but also in funneling the action inside, where Howard looms large.
“He fights you on every single possession, so he does a great job,” says Rockets head coach Kevin McHale. “Patrick’s just a tremendous defender. Very gritty, tough kid, gets after you, gets up into you. That’s just his calling card, so not having him hurts us.”
This article will spare you the narrative and the history surrounding Lin, one of the great basketball phenomena of the last half decade and still a strong arena drawing card, and focus on what he can provide the team until Beverley returns.
The Rockets are 18-9 when Lin starts and 25-11 when he comes off the bench, but he won’t have Beverley to help him out defensively. Lin’s plus-minus is a 5.3 when he comes off the bench, according to Basketball Reference, but is only a plus-3.5 when he starts. Beverley is a plus-8.4 as a starter, the role he’s had in 52 of his 53 games this season.
A lot of Lin’s effort on defense stems from how his shot is falling, which is sometimes as hot and cold as a faulty faucet. That would explain why Houston is only outscoring opponents by one point per 100 possessions. Lin shot 6-for-14 from the field on Tuesday, but was a minus-14 for the game because the team just couldn’t defend well enough without Beverley and fellow starters Howard and Terrence Jones.
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While Lin’s PER and advanced shooting numbers are better than Beverley’s, Lin takes 1.6 more shots per 36 minutes and does so in a relatively disruptive way. That could explain why Houston outscores its opponents by eight points per 100 possessions’s to Lin’s nearly neutral plus-one.
Nets head coach Jason Kidd said that the Rockets mainly take, and strive on, three shots: post-ups, layups and threes. And it’s mainly the job of the Houston offense to get one of those three shots, and that’s how ancillary offensive players like Beverley and Lin are supposed to function.
A lot of Lin’s drives to the rim on Tuesday ended in mid-range shots or contested runners, which doesn’t really jibe with the team’s offensive mentality. McHale elaborated on what Lin has to do in Beverley’s absence.
“We’ve seen him all last year, he’s just gotta go play basketball,” McHale said. “He’s gotta move the ball, he’s gotta get pace in our game, he’s gotta move himself, he’s gotta cut, he’s gotta do all these things like all our perimeter guys. Just being an attack guy, taking care of the ball. Yeah, he’ll have a few turnovers, but take care of the ball as best as you can and you gotta attack.”
Rockets reserve Francisco Garcia said that Lin is aggressive offensively and Beverley is aggressive defensively. “So they both bring different parts of the game,” Garcia said. “We played a lot of parts of the season with Jeremy as our point guard, so we’re kind of used to it.”
Parsons said he believes in Lin and values the experience he brings as the former starter at point guard. “He’s been in this situation before. He’s been a starting point guard in this league. He can score, pass and defend,” Parsons said.
But despite all the nice things being said about Lin, Houston performs at its best with Beverley in the lineup. According to lineup data from NBA.com, the six most productive 3-man units Houston has put on the floor for at least 20 games this season includes Beverley, compared to just one for Lin.
Lin called Beverley an unbelievable defensive player and said the perimeter defensive unit has a lot of work to do with Beverley out. “We gotta play more one-on-one defense” in Beverley’s absence, Garcia said. “We know Pat won’t be here for another two weeks or so. He brings a lot of toughness defensively and offensively he can hit open shots and can get to the basket.”
McHale would love for Houston to get Beverley back for the last game or two in the regular season, because playoff positioning will be very important for the Rockets. Houston currently sits in fourth place in the West, with a potential playoff matchup with Portland if the postseason began today. Things would be a lot easier for Houston if Beverley was in the lineup to defend Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews or Nicolas Batum. Rising to as high as third or dropping to as low as sixth could bring series against the Clippers or the Warriors, with Chris Paul, Steph Curry or Klay Thompson to potentially contend with.
So what was Parsons’ suggestion on how to defend in Beverley’s absence?
“You don’t change much, you just try to emulate what he does and then continue to do what he does and matchups might be a little different while he’s out,” Parsons said “We have to understand we can score the ball so we have to put all our focus and energy at the defensive end.”
Strong perimeter defense is going to be vital no matter what in the first round of the playoffs, but the Houston Rockets having Jeremy Lin in there defending the elite guards in the West just isn’t going to cut it.
Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for SheridanHoops who loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You should follow him on Twitter.