Right now, you’re witnessing the evolution of the point guard position. The league has gotten ridiculously deep at the 1, with a boatload of would-be point guards shifting to the bench roles (usually as combo guards in roles similar to Jamal Crawford’s).
Right now, point guards are shooting more than ever, scoring more than ever, and dominating more than ever. Of the league’s top 50 scorers, 14 of them are point guards. And that doesn’t even include combo guards like Brandon Knight, Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe and Monta Ellis.
The league has become so big, and so athletic, that back-to-the-basket scorers who make a living on getting deep position and dropping five-foot baby hooks are almost completely extinct, and those who have the potential to do so have become hybrid-perimeter players who can work the high post (think LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol).
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were a whopping 21 point guards who average six or more assists per game. Look at everyone’s starting point guards in the Western Conference playoff race aside from the Houston Rockets: Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Mike Conley Jr., Jose Ellis (no, that wasn’t a typo; Ellis and Jose Calderon share the point guard duties in Dallas), and Goran Dragic; Talk about talent.
Even at the bottom of the Western Conference there are guys like Isaiah Thomas (20.5 points and 6.3 assists per game) and Ty Lawson (18.2 points and 9 assists per game) keeping their respective teams in games on a nightly basis.
The point I’m trying to make here, which should be pretty obvious by now, is that the league is loaded with talent at the 1 (which is how it should be by the way; There are considerably more people in the world that are between 6’ and 6’3” than there are between 6’7” and 7’2”, so the worldwide pool of potential 1s should be largest of any position).
The Rockets take a different approach to their point guard position than most teams, though. James Harden is a top-five offensive player in this league, leading all guards in points per game (24.6 ppg), which gives Houston the luxury of not needing a top-tier ball handler next to him (if I was still writing at Yahoo, I would have gotten blasted for taking a stab at Jeremy Lin with that last sentence, but I know our fan-base here at Hoopshabit is more level headed).
So, as Daryl Morey builds his masterpiece, who does he decide is his next point guard? Yes, he gave Jeremy Lin $25 million before the team landed Harden (the move that changed Morey’s career and changed him from a “Well, Let’s See How it Goes This Year and We’ll Reassess in the Offseason” kind of GM to a modern-day, mathematical genius), but after last season, it was clear Lin wasn’t up to par with his competition. So, instead of tweaking with his core to score a point guard on the market, he found a tough Chicago kid who was playing out in the blistering cold of St. Petersburg, Russia, and brought him to Houston.
That kid is Patrick Beverley, also known as The Pest of the West (I’m trying to get that nickname on his Basketball Reference page but I have no idea how to pull the strings).
I can’t imagine Morey actually assumed that Beverley would be starting, playing 32 minutes a game, and helping lead the Rockets to the fourth seed in the West this year, but that’s exactly what happened. In the preseason, coach Kevin McHale swapped Lin and Beverley in and out of the starting spot, but by the time Houston broke camp, Beverley was McHale’s starter.
When you listen to McHale talk basketball, it’s clear he has an old-school mentality (imagine the exact opposite of Nick Young); It’s no wonder he loves Beverley’s game. If you haven’t seen The Pest in person, or haven’t caught one of his better games, let me sum him up for you: He’s a below-average ball handler and passer (competent, but nowhere near as skilled as most PGs), whose offensive game consists of catch-and-shoot 3-point shots or runners in the lane, using a running hook when he’s attacking at an angle. Offensively, he’s below average, but he makes up for that in defense and intangibles. His on-ball pressure is relentless, pestering point guards all the way out to half court at times. He hustles around every high screen, and has fantastic rebounding instincts on both ends. He has an electric passion for the game, and he never backs down to anyone (not even Chris Bosh and the Birdman, Chris Andersen, as we saw on Sunday with his second-quarter-ending dunk).
The guy is about as old school as it gets, and you can tell McHale loves him the way Tom Thibodeau loves Kirk Hinrich (or a fat kid loves cake; same thing, same kind of love). When the Western Conference playoffs roll around in a month, you can guarantee the elite point guard who draws Houston in the first round (probably Lillard) will be rolling his eyes, lamenting the fact that he might need to match up with The Pest for seven games.
And that’s the beauty of Beverley’s game. He frustrates opposing stars, gets underneath their skin, and bites at their veins. You can tell Beverley was raised playing on outdoor courts by his overly competitive nature, which drives him to do whatever is neccessary to win a basketball game. Although he gained some notoriety for injuring Westbrook in the first round of last year’s playoffs, Beverley is not a dirty player; he just always has his foot on the pedal … and sometimes that leads to him head-butting someone’s knee or landing under a descending shooter.
When an opposing player shoots the ball well after the whistle is blown, Beverley is the one to leap up and smack it away, disallowing the other team to see the ball go through the net (KG style). When an opposing coach is calling for a timeout, Beverley charges the opposing point guard, hoping to smack the ball away before the timeout is granted. When the ball is on the floor, Beverley is lunging at it, no matter how unlikely it is that he’ll gain possession. When rebound floats towards an open area, he springs into action and rises, meeting the ball at the top of his jump. He’s a lightning rod, a madman, and most of all, an annoyance.
Beverley has also had a fantastic effect on his backcourt mate’s style. Harden’s biggest problem offensively is his motor. Some games he lays low for entire quarters, choosing to feed the post or just hang out a few feet behind the 3-point line instead of looking to attack. However, with Beverley, Harden is forced to speed his game up and get into the action. The kind of energy that Beverley brings to a game is infectious, so when you saw Harden absolutely losing his mind at half court against the Indiana Pacers a week and a half ago, you realize that he’s drawing off what Beverley does.
Beverley is an anomaly in this league. Yes, we have guys like Reggie Evans and Ronny Turiaf who lack skill but get minutes by pounding the boards, and we’ve seen guys like the old Junkyard Dog (Jerome Williams … yeah, with the high socks), but Beverley is on a different level. He’s the starting point guard on a contending team in a conference where every other playoff squad has an All-Star caliber point guard. At the deepest position in the league, he’s found success bringing his wacky, electric, street-ball mentality to a Rockets’ team that so desperately needed a spark plug.
So, if you’re talking to someone, and they bring up Beverley, remember to spread the nickname: The Pest of the West.
(By the way, if you consider yourself a Rockets fan, and you aren’t borderline inspired by the way Beverley plays the game, maybe you should pick another team.)