Rockets experiment with starting Beverley, bringing Lin off bench

Patrick Beverley starts over Jeremy Lin

Is Kevin McHale considering Patrick Beverley over Jeremy Lin as the starter?

We already knew the starting power forward spot was open to competition for the Rockets this October. As it turns out, the role of starting point guard could be as well.

In a move not announced until right before tip-off, Patrick Beverley joined today’s starting backcourt alongside James Harden and continued his strong month, notching 12 points (on 4-of-5 shooting, including 2-of-2 on threes), five rebounds and four assists in Houston’s 116-96 rout over the Pacers.

Most impressively, the Rockets outscored Indiana by 18 points in Beverley’s 26 minutes — the best plus/minus ratio of anyone on the Houston roster.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Lin also excelled in his new role as spark plug off the bench. In his 23 minutes, Lin relentlessly attacked the basket and created for both himself (14 points, 8-of-8 on free throws) and teammates such as Omri Casspi (17 points) and Donatas Motiejunas (16 points). Lin recorded a team-high five assists after repeatedly collapsing the Indiana defense with his drives.

So, what does this mean?

“We’re still trying to figure things out,” head coach Kevin McHale told the Houston Chronicle after the game in Manila, The Philippines, adding that Lin would start the next game on Sunday in Taiwan. “They both played very well. A lot of it is about trying to get as many people as possible playing well.”

It sounds as if the rotation could linger throughout the remaining six games of the preseason schedule. On paper, the idea of starting Beverley has its merits.

The case for Beverley

For starters, Beverley is playing phenomenally well. In the first two games, he’s averaging 12 points on a blistering 80% from the field and 100% from the line. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 4.5 to 1. And just ask Jrue Holiday about his defense.

But beyond the hot start in a tiny sample size, Beverley has a skillset that may fit well with the starters. Lin is the better creator of his own offense, but that might not be needed as often with Harden, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons all on the floor. Meanwhile, Beverley’s superior defense, rebounding and reduced turnovers could make him a better “fourth wheel” candidate.

Lin as super sub?

It’s not that Lin has played poorly, of course. He’s actually been excellent. Through two games, Lin is averaging 13 points on better than 50% shooting, along with 4.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds in just 21 minutes. In Saturday’s opener, his +16 was the team’s best plus-minus ratio.

Both Beverley and Lin should play similar minutes once the regular season opens, so it’s not necessarily an issue of deciding the better player or “demoting” Lin. Rather, it could come down to which fits better with each unit.

On that front, Lin’s performance in this trial run was eye opening. He had a freedom to attack that isn’t always there with the starters, and he took full advantage. As opposed to the preseason-opening loss to the Pelicans, when the Rockets routinely saw their leads evaporate when the bench came in, they actually outscored the Pacers by a combined 62-52 in the second and fourth quarters Thursday.

In short, Lin excelled in the “creator” role off the bench — a spot made famous in recent years by Manu Ginobili with the Spurs and Harden himself in Oklahoma City.

It’s too small of a sample to draw any definitive conclusions right now. And several analysts, including our own Carl Fudge, have previously discussed the possibility of Lin and Beverley swapping roles during the season. But for the first time, McHale and the Rockets seem imminently open to the idea.

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