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Patrick Beverley’s on-court play needs to rise to the level of his off-court impact

Patrick Beverley’s intangibles have been a welcomed addition to the Lakers, but his on-court struggles are becoming harder to overlook.

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Patrick Beverley’s first media availability after becoming a member of the Lakers was a masterclass on everything that makes him who he is as both a player and a person. Fresh off the practice court, Beverley confidently strode into the room and greeted the assembled media and Lakers staffers alike with boisterous hellos and how’s everyone doings. When his prompt when mostly unanswered — save for a few murmurs — he quickly became animated and re-engaged the group a second time, scolding them into a response. He then proceeded to look every media member in the eye and answer their questions directly, honestly, and with more than a hint of his trademarked confrontational style.

As much for his dogged defensive ability, good (but not great) 3-point shooting accuracy, and the positive net rating that comes from those skills, it was this sort of approach and general attitude that almost certainly inspired the Lakers to trade for Beverley in the first place. Last season’s group lacked spirit and, on too many nights, the type of competitive juice that comes from internal accountability. Beverley, as a staple of his essence, brings this to the table by the bushel-full. As he said in an off-season interview before he was even on the team, he’s the type of guy who will hold LeBron accountable and tell the King himself that he missed a rotation or that the team needed better effort from him. Beverley cited Rajon Rondo and his fearless leadership from a role player’s position as a model for what he could bring to these Lakers.

Through Wednesday’s game vs. the Pelicans, Beverley has certainly followed through on all of these intangibles. Watch him on the bench during live game action and you’ll probably see him talking with a teammate in a very animated fashion, likely explaining the nuance of something that just happened on the court. During timeouts or breaks in the action, you’ll similarly see him engaged with teammates or one of the coaches exchanging ideas. During a mic’d up segment vs. the Clippers, you saw plenty of this — from Beverley explaining to a group of guys how to slow down opponents in transition defense to him coaching up Matt Ryan to stay locked in on defense.

This sort of thing is, of course, wonderful. Every team could use a smart and engaged veteran like this; someone who is a resource to both experienced and young players through his ability to inform and motivate. But the Lakers did not trade for Beverley only for this sort of thing. No, the Lakers acquired him to play a key on-court role on a team they hoped could make a deep playoff run. And at 2-5, they’re not close to the team they aspire to be yet and that, too, has something to do with Beverley.

You see, Beverley has not played very well this season, particularly on offense. For the season Beverley is shooting 25.8% (8-of-31) overall and only 19% (4-of-21) on 3-pointers. More troublesome is that of those 21 3-pointers Beverley has taken this season, 18 have been classified as “open” or “wide open” per the NBA’s tracking data. He has hit four of them.

These shooting struggles haven’t just meant empty possessions on the exact shots the team is trying to create, but have led to situations where Beverley has passed up good looks in favor of attacking a short closeout to create off the dribble or passing to a less open teammate. These latter types of possessions only serve to further undermine the integrity of an offense that is already rated worst in the entire NBA.

Of course, Beverley isn’t the only player struggling — the Lakers aren’t boasting the league’s worst offensive rating solely because of him. But, one of Beverley’s biggest strengths in his past stops is that his on/off data always painted him as a positive contributor and a force towards winning. It’s early in the season and extracting too much from on/off and lineup data can be dangerous, but it’s telling that Beverley’s minus-6.1 net rating so far is the worst mark among Lakers players who have played more than 80 minutes and that the entirety of that negative net rating comes from the Lakers being 12.6 points per 100 possessions worse on offense when he’s been in the game vs. when he’s on the bench.

Now, I get it. The Lakers didn’t sign Beverley to be some sort of offensive guru and it’s disingenuous to frame his success or failures as a contributor through that lens. But, I’d argue that his defense has not been to the level hoped for to this point in the year either. Beverley, always a bit of a foul-prone player, leads the Lakers in fouls committed with 21 (next closest player is AD with 16), has not been as stout at the point of attack, and has not lived up to his “Mr. 94 feet” moniker as he’s mostly not been a high ball-pressure player beyond a handful of possessions each night.

Now, to be fair, Beverley has had more than a few excellent possessions as an individual defender through the team’s seven games. I thought he was fantastic in his minutes against Paul George, for example, and I thought he played (mostly) well vs. the Blazers and the Pelicans. But, overall, when diving deeper into some statistics, there are some early warning signs. Most notably, opponents are shooting 7.6% better on shots defended by Beverley than do normally, which ranks 188th out of the 212 players who have defended at least 50 field goal attempts this season. For context, Austin Reaves ranks 12th in this category (opponents shoot 8.7% worse than normal).

This stat (just like the on/off ones) could normalize over time (opponents shot 1.5% worse vs. Beverley last season), so I don’t want to put too much into the numbers this early in the season. But, the tape isn’t being as kind to Beverley either and, as a 34-year-old, 6’1 guard who relies on physicality and toughness, there’s going to be a decline in his overall ability at some point, and it’d be silly to totally ignore these numbers as just “noise” in a small sample size. I mean, in the Lakers game vs. the Nuggets I saw Jeff Green square up Beverley, jab fake him middle, and then go right by him baseline for a dunk before the help could even arrive. These are the types of plays that were rare just a couple of seasons ago in general, but even rarer vs. a player like Green who isn’t some small, water-bug type of driver.

Ultimately, Beverley does need more time to show what he’s truly capable of on both sides of the ball. With the Lakers winning back-to-back games, and with Ham turning to Beverley to help close out the Pelicans because of his defense, there is potential for him to help more on some nights than others. Plus, as I said earlier, maybe these early-season numbers are more aberration than new reality and in a month we’ll see an uptick in his shooting and more kind on/off numbers.

But, just as we should be careful not to extract too much from the early data, it’s also not too early to pay attention to it either. Because, ultimately, if Beverley isn’t going to make open shots, and if his defense isn’t at the level where he’s reliably getting stops consistently, and if his value is derived more from his intangibles off the court than his tangible play on it, there are larger conversations to be had about what the future holds for him. Whether that’s his place on the rotation or, more severely, (considering his salary) on the team at all.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Darius on Twitter at @forumbluegold.

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