This piece is the second in a series focused on players like Patrick Beverley and the draft. It’s about Beverley, but in that it’s also about how to game plan against the Houston Rockets.
In Part 1, we discussed Kamar Baldwin. He’s really good. In part 3, we’ll go in depth on this year’s candidates to be the next Patrick Beverley, as there are a lot of them. But in this piece, we’ll discuss Patrick Beverley himself, and what he means for the Houston Rockets.
Hint: He’s really important to their success.
Indeed, if you want to stop the Houston Rockets, it’s arguably going to be easier to do so by affecting their secondary and tertiary players than by affecting Harden himself. Which is different than saying one shouldn’t try to affect Harden.
1) Here’s a table of different ways a team could potentially try to affect the Houston Rockets and the Rockets record in games corresponding to those actions. It makes everything perhaps seem to simple. Boxscore results are correlated with one another, in sometimes complex ways. If one player shoots, another player does not. If one player gets an assist, another player gets a bucket, if Corey Brewer plays more he’s going to shoot more, if Nene Hilario plays more, he’s more likely to get an assist, etc . . . And all of that before we get to the part where the boxscore doesn’t track all the events that matter, or even close to them.
2) There’s also the problem of small sample sizes. Variance does occur. And it effects events that don’t happen a lot much more than those that do. Still, we know some kinds of plays aren’t likely to be good for Houston James Harden turnovers for instance. Even if he’s turned the ball over more than 8 times only on five occasions, that it affects the Rockets negatively is wholly believable. (They are 2-3 in such games.) That it’s only happened five times in over half a season shows its easier said than done.
3) Running Harden off the three-point line. Also, very good. The Rockets are only 6-5 in such games.
4) There are two surprising results regarding Harden. The first is that not shooting a lot of Free Throw attempts doesn’t seem to be correlated with losing games. But it’s also only on the surface. If you remove blowouts from the equation, games where he didn’t play more than 31 or 32 minutes, if that, the Rockets are only 4-4 in such games. Not fouling Harden is good. Not perhaps as effective this season as turning Harden over.
Though we shouldn’t forget past seasons as well. For instance, the Rockets were 9-14 in such games last year. Including the playoffs. And they were 16-20 the previous season.
5) The other surprising thing is that the Rockets tend to be worse when James Harden gets a shitload of assists. I think the reason doesn’t have much to do with James Harden. Rather, I think these losses were games either played without Patrick Beverley, or games in which the Rockets opponents were able to greatly limit Patrick Beverley’s effectiveness.
The Memphis Grizzlies are responsible for one of these losses and two Rockets losses on the season. In both, they were able to mitigate Patrick Beverley’s impact. Which shouldn’t surprise us when we see the slew of defensive guards they have available. Tony Allen, Mike Conley, Andrew Harrison among them.
6) Yes, Patrick Beverley. If there’s one thing Houston can do to nearly guarantee a win, it’s get Patrick Beverley on track. 13-0 when he has 5 or more assists. 17-2 when he posts a (somewhat arbitrarily picked out) 16% Assist Percentage. These gaudy win totals aren’t by accident. Limiting Houston’s secondary play-makers from making plays for others is perhaps the best way to make Houston a completely ordinary team.
You can see this also if you look at how good the Rockets are when Eric Gordon is creating plays. Whereas funneling shot attempts and often play-making responsibility to Sam Dekker and Ryan Anderson doesn’t tend to go as well for Houston.
7) It definitely seems like there’s a sweet-spot for the amount of attempts either player should be getting in a game. Though it must be stated both players can get hot from the field and absolutely bury a team. It’s always pick your poison.
8) Trevor Ariza has no such sweet-spot. He just fits. The Houston Rockets are pretty much good in regarding most any obvious split you could pull. (Besides makes or misses, which is of course somewhat due to variance.) Very much an underrated player.
9) Corey Brewer and Nene Hilario playing lots of minutes are not generally good events for the Houston Rockets. Nor does it seem, for some reason, Clint Capela shooting the ball a lot. I wonder if it affects defense somehow, as he’s a very high percentage player.
Obvious small sample size caveats apply. Though the fact that Montrezl Harrell shows the opposite effect leads me to believe there may be fire beneath this smoke.
10) However, let’s get back to Patrick Beverley. He’s really important for the Houston Rockets success. Any team wishing to stop Houston should perhaps begin a game plan by figuring out how to take Patrick Beverley out of his game on offense.
But just as interesting is the reason why it’s important. I believe a large portion is that he has skills that fit. Again, those are:
- Shooting off the catch.
- Shot selection/Decision-making.
- Ability to play average to plus defense.
- Defensive versatility. Either provided by, or afforded by.
- Ability to Pass for Size/Position/Role.
- Ability to Dribble with respect to offensive role.
There’s a lot of value, in terms of wins and losses, in players who can do these six things. Patrick Beverley is, against most teams, one of them. He’s really good and really important. And that goes as much for any player who can possibly replicate his abilities to a good degree.
11) The key to beating the Rockets is of course James Harden. Limiting Fouls and thus Free Throws (which some teams have been able to do in the playoffs), running him off the three point line. That kind of thing. But the key to beating the Rockets is not just James Harden. Limiting both Patrick Beverley and Eric Gordon in creating shots for other players seems to be a key, at least for teams to give themselves a chance. That of course means funneling shots to other dangerous players like Ryan Anderson or Sam Dekker. But NBA defense is all about making choices.