The Houston Rockets have been rolling since the New Year by posting a 28-9 record. They’ve won five games in a row and are one of the NBA’s hottest teams, but the potential loss of point guard Patrick Beverley to a season-ending knee injury would be a harsh blow to their championship aspirations.
As Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports, Beverley sustained a torn meniscus that threatens to end his season. He’ll seek a second opinion on Monday, according to Comcast SportsNet’s Adam Wexler via Twitter:
There’s a chance that he’ll be able to return for the playoffs, but if that optimistic outlook doesn’t come to fruition, Jeremy Lin will be thrust into a much larger role.
Lin has thrived as Houston’s sixth man this year, posting career highs from the field (45.3 percent), three-point arc (34 percent) and free-throw line (80.9 percent). His efficiency has improved across the board in 2013-14, but can that continue with added pressure and responsibilities?
Lack of Insurance
The Rockets had plenty of injury insurance in the backcourt prior to February’s trade deadline. As they say, hindsight is 20/20, because keeping veteran point guard Aaron Brooks on board as the third-string floor general would really have helped Houston out of its current situation.
The 29-year-old struggled to carve a steady niche behind Beverley and Lin on the depth chart. He averaged just seven points and 1.9 assists in 43 games played for head coach Kevin McHale. Since getting dealt to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for 23-year-old forward Jordan Hamilton, however, his numbers have improved across the board with added opportunity.
The Oregon product is averaging 11.2 points, 4.9 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game since the trade—numbers that are highlighted by a 27-point, 17-assist, six-rebound performance on March 19 against the Detroit Pistons.
Brooks is no longer the promising youngster who averaged 19.6 points per game for the Rockets in 2009-10 while starting all 82 games, but he does have the ability to break out for a stellar outing from time to time.
His shooting spark and depth off the bench is sorely needed now that Beverley is expected to miss significant time. The decision to move Brooks at the deadline was an afterthought bench-player-for-bench-player swap, but I’d imagine general manager Daryl Morey would take a mulligan if given the opportunity.
The lack of point guards may force rookie Isaiah Canaan into action, and while he’s a viable prospect in the long-term, he’s simply not ready for that type of promotion—especially if it means logging postseason minutes.
The Murray State product is shooting 33.3 percent from the field (9-of-27) and 26.7 percent from downtown (4-of-15).
Coach McHale should certainly experiment by giving Canaan more minutes during the regular season to evaluate him, but it may be more fruitful to give James Harden the reins to the offense. His ability to attack the rim and get to the free-throw line is enough reason for him to have the ball in his hands more often than it already has been.
The downside to that strategy is Harden is a defensive sieve. He'll have trouble keeping up with quicker opposing point guards unless, but there are precious few options for McHale now that Beverley is hurt.
Beverley vs. Lin
On reputation alone, Beverley is considered to be a vastly superior defensive player when compared to J-Lin. And while Beverley’s performance on the eye test certainly trumps that of his teammate—due to lateral quickness, tenacity, etc.—the stats suggest there isn’t much dropoff between the two point guards on that end of the floor.
|Houston Rockets Point Guard Comparison|
Interestingly enough, Beverley’s offensive rating (team points scored per 100 possessions with him on the court) is far better than Lin’s. Of course, that stat should be taken with a grain of salt, because Beverley gets to spend the majority of his time beside the starters.
When digging a little deeper, however, Lin’s overall production has been better.
|Production Comparison: Beverley vs. Lin|
|Player||Own Production||Opponent Production||Net Production|
Unfortunately for Rockets fans, having both point guards healthy was what made Houston so talented. It could alternate two guys at one position (or play them simultaneously) and not lose anything in terms of the on-court product. Without Beverley, Lin will have to step up as the starter without a reliable backup.
Time to Repeat Linsanity?
The seldom-used Harvard product burst onto the NBA scene in February 2012 as a member of the New York Knicks. Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo system allowed Lin to not only thrive, but also create the craze of “Linsanity.”
He averaged 20.9 points, 8.4 assists, four rebounds and 2.1 steals per game during that month. He reached his zenith with a 38-point explosion against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers during a seven-game win streak he sparked without injured All-Star Carmelo Anthony.
Lin is certainly capable of playing big minutes and pouring in points, but Coach McHale doesn’t need the 25-year-old to dominate for his team to have continued success.
With James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard on the roster, Lin doesn’t have to step in and score 20 points per game to make up for Beverley’s absence. Instead, he’ll have to hold down the fort by orchestrating the offense, playing sound defense and not forcing wild shot attempts—thus maintaining his impressive efficiency.
That's no small feat, as Western Conference point guards include Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Mike Conley and Goran Dragic/Eric Bledsoe. Containing any of those guys is a task left only to elite perimeter defenders—and the Rockets just lost their best one.
The Rockets and Lin will face adversity in the coming weeks. The young point guard even alluded to the team's somber tone, per Wexler via Twitter:
Although the injury is a setback, Beverley’s absence doesn’t mean that Houston’s title hopes are shot dead.
As long as the other resident point guard continues to play efficient basketball, while other role players contribute in spurts, the Rockets will still be considered a dangerous team in a playoff setting.
Ultimately, this team will go as far as James Harden’s offense and Dwight Howard’s defense takes it. Is there added pressure on Lin to perform and cover weaknesses? Yes, but he's excelled in such situations before.