LeBron James will face his former team for the second time this season on Wednesday, when the Miami Heat travel to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers.
There’s a little less at stake this time than there was during LeBron’s Christmas Day return to Miami, with the Heat dealing with injury issues (Dwyane Wade is out of this one, and will miss the All-Star game) and the Cavaliers in the midst of a stretch where they’ve won 13 of their last 14 games.
But there is a little bit of controversy surrounding this one — courtesy of a remark made by Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, which LeBron responded to, which caused Whiteside to react.
It all started with an innocent comment he made on Tuesday about playing against LeBron James. The Heat defeated James and the Cavaliers on Christmas Day, but Whiteside had a limited role in the upset. The 7-foot center hadn’t yet morphed into the rim-protecting, backboard-cleaning monster he was in January. So, now that Whiteside is playing a more advanced role, and he’s the focal point of the Heat’s defense, it was only natural for reporters to ask Whiteside about going against LeBron. Whiteside called LeBron a “good player” before noting that it wasn’t his assignment to guard the four-time MVP.
“I’ll just meet him at the rim,” Whiteside concluded.
Fairly innocuous, but nothing gets past James.
LEBRON: I’m happy for the kid more than anything … even though he just thinks I’m a good player, I’m happy for him.”
Now, understand, LeBron was joking. He smiled afterwards. But he knew exactly what he was doing by pointing out a perceived slight. After the interview he walked past me and said, “You’re tweeting that out right now, right?”
LeBron knew the remark would get back to Whiteside; that was precisely the point. But he couldn’t have predicted it would have such a strong effect — one that saw Whiteside go into Russell Westbrook mode during his most recent interview on the subject, repeating “I don’t got nothing to say” five different times before walking away from reporters.
It’s much ado about nothing, and likely won’t carry over to the game itself. But it is nice to see LeBron using this particular skill set to target opponents instead of one of his teammates.
What will Rockets do with the uniquely styled and determined Patrick Beverley?
Two years earlier, he turned in a paper written by someone else, ending his time at Arkansas. From there, he played in Ukraine’s second division and then spent a season as a little-used reserve with Olympiakos in Greece.
“I almost wanted to give up, but – I actually did,” Beverley said. “I wanted to focus on my career overseas.”
Beverley hasn’t shown a moment of relenting since.
He returned to Europe and improved. The Rockets gave him a chance, and not only did he become a starter, he has developed into the NBA’s most tenacious point guard.
Soon, Houston must decide how much it values Beverley, who will become a restricted free agent this summer.
Beverley became infamous when he crashed into Russell Westbrook’s knees while going for a steal just before a timeout in the 2013 playoffs, but that wasn’t a cheap attempt to injure a star. As we’ve learned in the years since, that’s just how Beverley plays.
Yet, Beverley has become more than just a sideshow pest.
He’s a main-attraction pest.
As NBA point guards are more impactful than ever – an extremely talented crop playing when rules and style emphasize their position – Beverley serves as a defensive foil. He guards his man tightly, stomping all over the line of what grates opponents and what makes him effective.
His impact in Houston is undeniable. The Rockets ranked 19th in points allowed per possession when Beverley made his NBA debut in January 2013. The rest of that season, they ranked 14th. Last year, they moved up to 12th. This season, they rank seventh.
Beverley’s biggest contribution to Houston, though, is his low salary. Because they locked up their starting point guard on a minimum contract, the Rockets have freed money to splurge on other parts of the roster.
Only the Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson, a rookie drafted in the second round, makes less among starting point guards than Beverley’s $915,243:
The Rockets good fortune on that front – created because they wisely signed Beverley to a three-year contract before he proved himself in the NBA – is running out, though.
Beverley is in the final season of his deal. How much would Houston, which holds his Bird Rights, pay to keep him?
Assessing Beverley’s value is difficult, because he’s unlike any other point guard in the league. Among starters, he ranks:
21st in points per game at 10.8:
28th in assists per game at 3.3:
27th in usage percentage at 16.7:
26th in minutes of possession per game at 4.1:
23rd in touches per game at 64.6:
The only other players consistently in his range are either rookies (Elfrid Payton), new starters (D.J. Augustin) or both (Marcus Smart, Dante Exum and Clarkson).
But as limited a role as Beverley plays, he deserves credit for not overextending himself. A 3-and-D point guard, he takes 59 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and makes 39 percent of those. Beverley, who met his goal of making the All-Defensive second team last season, is also a standout defender at a position where there are few. Chris Paul, Mike Conley and Rajon Rondo are the only other active point guards who’ve made an All-Defensive team. Paul and Rondo are past their defensive primes, though John Wall is emerging as another strong contender for the honor.
Of course, part of the reason Beverley doesn’t handle the ball as often is because he shares a backcourt with James Harden, one of the NBA’s preeminent shooting guards. However, that’s not entirely coincidental. No matter where Beverley ended up, his team would have seen his limitations and sought to pair him with a high-volume off guard.
Does Houston like this arrangement, keeping the ball in Harden’s hands so often?
“We ask him to do a lot – probably too much,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I wish we had more guys that could make more plays to help alleviate some pressure from him.”
The Rockets already let Chandler Parsons walk to preserve flexibility, and they’ll face a similar conundrum with Beverley.
For now, Beverley will maintain his large defensive and small offensive roles as Houston strives to advance deep in the playoffs. And his actions will show he’s definitely not the word he used to describe himself five years ago:
Soon enough, though, the Rockets must decide whether they’re content with him.
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