• Print

Point Counterpoint

Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley battle for playing time while forming mutual respect

HOUSTON - Despite the accusations levied against him in a certain viral video, Jeremy Lin really hasn’t changed at all. He’s still the same unfailingly polite, conscientious, workaholic pro basketball player he’s always been.

Ditto for Patrick Beverley. He remains as fun loving and congenial off the court as ever while displaying an insatiable hunger on it to play every second as if it truly might be his last.

Both are fiercely competitive 25-year-olds possessing every reason to believe that their best basketball still lies before them. Each spent his summer tirelessly working to the point of exhaustion on a near daily basis, earning plaudits and praise for the individual improvements shown during the Rockets’ first week of training camp. Both, of course, play the point guard position.

And it is that last point which presents Houston’s coaching staff with one of those quintessential ‘good problems’ to contemplate and suss out as they go about the seasonal process of lineup experimentation. Each player brings something different to the table – Lin is more playmaking ball-hawk while Beverley’s in-your-face defense and offensive rebounding are downright elite – and both enjoyed stretches of sustained success during their initial campaigns with the Rockets last year.

Typically when the subject of NBA competition is broached, one’s first thought fixates on each club’s struggle to best the squad on the opposite end of the floor. But oftentimes the internal competition that takes place away from the bright lights can be just as fascinating, especially when the parties involved have organically formed their own mutual admiration society. Make no mistake: Lin and Beverley know precious playing time minutes are potentially on the line every time they take the floor. As a result, their battles in practice are fierce with no quarter given and not even so much as an inch conceded. But through it all a profound, reciprocal respect exists as well. Each has developed a deep appreciation for the other’s on-court talents and, what’s more, for the winning characteristics each man exudes away from it as well.

“Me and J-Lin are really good friends,” says Beverley. “We joke around in the locker room all the time. When I first got here I tried to pick his brain as much as possible. But when we’re on the court, we battle. We both know the competition is there. That’s good for him and it’s definitely good for me.

“We both know that the better we go at each other in practice, the better we’ll be in the game. We go at it every day, we compete every day. It’s nothing personal of course; it’s the game of basketball. The better I play, the better he plays. And the better he plays, the better I play. At the end of the day, we’re on the same team, and if we can be one of the toughest backcourts in the NBA that’d be great.”

That each player places team success above all else obviously goes a long way in preemptively easing any potential friction that might develop should a season-long tug-of-war for playing time ensue. Then there also exists this possible twist: Lin and Beverley may well simultaneously share the floor in certain situations and against certain matchups. Much electronic ink has understandably been spilled speculating about Houston’s ability to throw out a supersized lineup featuring Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, but a situational small-ball lineup that includes a Beverley-Lin backcourt paired with Harden, Parsons and Howard up front could be in the offing at some point as well.

The Rockets of recent vintage have never been afraid to play two point guards together and they trotted out a similar lineup against Oklahoma City in Game 2 of their first round playoff series; an experiment that produced positive results before it was derailed by the injury Lin sustained toward the end of the second quarter. And while the three-man pairing of Harden, Lin and Beverley didn’t set the world on fire last year during the regular season, the sample size was so small – they played just 38 minutes together while Lin and Beverley shared the floor for just 92 minutes last season according to NBA.com – that it’s difficult to draw anything resembling firm conclusions about how they might perform as a unit in the future. For what it’s worth, both Beverley and Lin wholeheartedly believe it can work.

“I feel like we can play together,” Lin says. “I don’t think it always has to be one or the other. I think our games complement each other really well in terms of our styles.

“He can shoot the ball. He plays great defense with the way he hounds the ball. I can slide off to the two-spot – we’re interchangeable. I think playing two guards who can attack and play-make in a certain system – play fast, play unselfish – I think that’s really important and that is what we did when we started going small at the end of last year.”

Adds Beverley: “J-Lin is a phenomenal playmaker. He can pass the ball with either hand, left or right. Me, I’m more of a quick, defensive spot-up shooter. It works. It definitely works. We played together in Game 2 of the playoffs. We changed the game and the series there. Me and J-Lin together, we’re good. I think you’re going to see a lot more of that in this upcoming season.”

Not surprisingly, Houston Head Coach Kevin McHale hasn't ruled anything out at this early juncture.

“A lot of it’s going to depend on lineups, matchups, and stuff like that,” he says. “We’re going to try a lot of different things. Our lineups are not set in stone by any stretch of the imagination. There’s still guys fighting for starting spots, there’s still guys fighting for playing time and being in the rotation – there’s all kinds of stuff going on.

“They both make each other better and they’re both competing very hard against each other knowing that they’re both going to fight for time out there. I really like what I see from both guys. I think Jeremy had a really good summer, Pat had a very good summer, they’re both in great shape, they’re both out here focused and playing well so I think it’s good to have a guy pushing you.

“The competition just makes you better.”

Lin and Beverley would be the first to agree. That axiom rings as true now as it ever has. The proof is right there on the Rockets’ practice floor: chests heaving, bodies drenched in sweat, all in an effort to maximize the potential of the individual and, most importantly, of the team.

In other words: Nothing’s changed, bro.