Can the Houston Rockets Win the NBA Finals Without Patrick Beverley?
Maybe Sunday night’s declaration from general manager Daryl Morey that the Houston Rockets think they will be able to win the title, with or without Patrick Beverley, was an honest assessment of just how good he think his Rockets are. Or maybe it was a leader's attempt to rile up his players with a confidence-boosting, hyperbolic statement.
Either way, that hypothetical now becomes the Rockets’ reality with the news Monday afternoon that starting point guard, Patrick Beverley will miss the remainder of the 2014-2015 season after opting for surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist.
The real question is just how much of an impact will Beverley's decision to opt for surgery have on Morey’s proclamation.
There is no denying the positive aspects Beverley brings to the court.
The eye test shows a glimpse of a player with defensive tenacity, and the numbers seem to back that up. Beverley is one of the best isolation defenders in the NBA, allowing opponents to shoot just 26.8 percent in isolation situations, but that number alone surely does not tell the whole story. Beverley is the 24th ranked point guard in the NBA in terms of Defensive Real Plus Minus -0.25. (Teammate Pablo Prigioni is at -0.60.)
As much as the NBA community would like to believe that Beverley’s intensity on defense is an integral part of the Rockets' success, his Real Plus Minus of -1.09 insinuates that they actually perform better as a team when he is not on the floor.
There are definitely things about Beverley’s game that are unquantifiable by numbers. His energy defensively acts as an inspiration to teammates and an intimidating factor for opponents. Offensively, his responsibilities as a secondary ball-handler next to James Harden in the starting lineup will sorely be missed, as well as his spot-up shooting from thee-point range. Beverley Shoots 38 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, making him the fourth best at such shot attempts on the Rockets' roster.
For a team that makes the most threes in the league (11.5 per game) and is on pace to shatter the all-time mark for makes in a season (10.87 per game) set by the 2012-2013 Knicks, Beverley’s effectiveness from three may directly impact the Rockets more than his defensive prowess.
The Backup Plans
Luckily for the Rockets, “The Man Behind the Curtain,” Daryl Morey, implemented a backup plan just in case of such an emergency. The aforementioned Prigioni is the perfect stop-gap type of role player that brings a veteran know-how to shore up the Rockets' second unit defensively, but Prigioni’s game does not conform to the analytical tenets of three point shooting. Prigioni shoots just 20 percent on spot-up threes this season, and the Rockets are 7.2 points worse per 100 possessions when he is on the floor.
Beverley’s replacement in the starting lineup will be Jason Terry, who is nowhere near the defender that Beverley is but who does add some different aspects to the Rockets’ offense with the ability to create his own shot off the dribble.
The Rockets are 9-0 with Terry in the starting lineup (compared to 34-21 with Beverley leading the helm). In fact, in terms of nERD, our metric that indicates how many wins a player adds to a team as a starter over 82 games, Terry (0.7) is slightly more valuable than Beverley (0.3) this year. Prigioni, though, would cost the Rockets a win over the course of a season, as his nERD is -1.3.
Time will only tell whether or not letting Canaan go will ultimately hurt the Rockets now and going forward, especially considering the fact that Beverley is an impending free agent for 2015 and will look to get paid on his unique skill-set after an unorthodox route to the NBA.
As for this year, though, the numbers tell us that the Rockets can certainly operate as well without Patrick Beverley running the point as they did with him. With a nERD of 0.3, he is barely above replacement level in terms of efficiency, and Terry has actually been more efficient as a player overall.
They might not miss Beverley too much, but that does not mean they are a lock for a deep playoff push. Our algorithms give them just a 2.8 percent chance to win the NBA Finals, the 11th-best odds in the league. They appear able to overcome Beverley’s absence but not perhaps the rest of the West.