There’s a case to be made that Patrick Beverley was put on this planet for the sole purpose of stopping Russell Westbrook. During his decade in the NBA, Pat Bev has been a persistent cloud over Westbrook’s peaks and valleys, adding turbulence to his flight paths and providing some rain during his low points.
After spending four years overseas, playing everywhere from the Ukraine, Greece and Russia, Beverley scrapped his way into the NBA in 2013 when he landed a gig with the Houston Rockets. Texas would be his home, but it would be in Oklahoma City and against Westbrook, where Beverley — the player and pest as we know him as today — was born.
Kevin McHale had already seen enough. His Rockets’ team was blown out by the Thunder in the first game of their playoff series and he wasn't going to wait any longer to make adjustments. In an attempt to better contain the Thunders’ stars, specifically their point guard, McHale surprisingly turned to his unheralded 24-year-old rookie to cause havoc.
In what would be his first professional start, Beverley stepped onto the court with a singular task: to get under Westbrook’s skin. And that is exactly what he would go on to do, perhaps even too literally.
Sam Anderson documented what would become an inflection point in both point guards’ careers, and also, the genesis of a near decade long feud in his excellent novel Boom Town.
Here is how Anderson detailed Westbrook and Beverley’s first encounter:
“From the opening tip, Westbrook seems determined not only to take advantage of Beverley but to embarrass him, to send him scampering back to whatever substandard, unobserved Euro-gym he managed to claw his way out of.
Instead, something amazing happened: Westbrook couldn't. Beverley turned out to be the rare player who was every bit as hungry and unreasonably aggressive as Westbrook himself. He looked completely unintimidated.”
The Thunder would end up squeaking out a win in the contest but Beverley noticeably rattled Westbrook’s game, pestering the All-Star by turning the matchup into a one-on-one war to the detriment of his team.
Beverley’s overzealousness reached its boiling point when he suddenly lunged at the ball as Westbrook dribbled toward the sideline for a timeout. It was in this moment where Westbrook would suffer a meniscus tear in his right knee, ending his season in the process and causing a ripple effect in what was expected to be an Oklahoma City dynasty.
That steal attempt would go on to lay the groundwork of Beverley’s reputation for the rest of his career to date. He was typecast as the irritant, a “dirty” player, one that opposing fanbases were trained to despise. But for fans of the teams he played for, these traits were beloved. Beverley became emblematic of the blue collar guy most could relate to, one not afraid to do the dirty work or stand up to the league’s biggest stars.
In many ways Beverley proved then and since to be the very antithesis of Westbrook.
Beverley was grounded, an undrafted prospect who had to scratch and claw his way into the league through sheer will. Westbrook, in contrast, was almost born to fly as a lottery pick from UCLA whose athleticism and dynamism dazzled scouting departments.
The pair have crossed paths multiple times since their first encounter, with each subsequent occasion adding a new chapter to their rivalry.
Their most recent encounter however, could have seismic off-the-court ramifications for the twilight of their respective careers, and is rooted almost entirely from what makes them different.
Although a recent report suggests there is still potential they could end up being teammates, the Lakers’ acquisition of Beverley likely spells the end of Westbrook’s playing days in Los Angeles and also puts his future in the league in a curious position.
Beyond the positional overlap, and the duo’s feuding past, Westbrook’s assumed departure also signals the team attempting to course-correct the attributes they want from their lead guard on both ends of the floor.
Unlike Westbrook, Beverley has long been a renowned defender at his position, specifically at the point of attack. This was an area of the floor where Westbrook’s effort level often waned, and frequently resulted in the opposition blowing past him to the rim and collapsing the team’s defense in the process.
Despite seeing some natural slippage that comes with age, Beverley still proved to be among the league’s best defenders at his position this past season and likely projects to be a major upgrade over Westbrook in this regard.
The starkness between both guards’ defensive aptitude is reflected in multiple catch-all impact metrics as well.
According to the B-Ball-Index’s D-LEBRON (evaluates a player’s contributions using the box score and advanced on/off calculations, i.e. Luck-Adjusted RAPM methodology) Beverley landed in the 80th percentile of the league, as well as finishing in the 94th percentile in terms of defensive box plus-minus. In comparison, Westbrook ranked in the 12th percentile in D-LEBRON, and 27th percentile in defensive box plus-minus respectfully.
Outside of highlighting the disparity on defense, Beverley will also likely be a cleaner fit around the Lakers’ stars on offense.
Beverley has long proven to do the exact “small” things off-the-ball that Westbrook notably struggled to do this previous season. The best examples being his willingness to move without the ball and him not only being unafraid to be a screen-setter, but how he actively seeks those opportunities out.
With the Timberwolves, Beverley ranked in the 84th percentile in terms of “screening talent” (captures how well players screen for each other, looking at contact on screens and value added for players utilizing screen) according to the B-BBall-Index database. Westbrook, who was notoriously reluctant to screen for LeBron James in particular, ranked in just the 11th percentile.
Perhaps the biggest contribution Beverley will provide the Lakers on offense will be his ability to space the floor, something Westbrook failed mightily in doing.
Despite seeing a slight decline from the perimeter last season (35%), Beverley has converted his 3-point attempts at 39% or better clip in his six of his seven seasons. And on his catch and shoot chances, likely the exact looks he will receive in Los Angeles, Beverley is a 40.1% shooter when tallying together his collective shots over the last three seasons.
Although counterintuitive, Westbrook and Beverley’s similarities may be as loud as their differences.
Both are fiercely competitive, aggressive and vocal players. These are attributes that have often led them to butt heads like rams when squaring off, but also, has made them polarizing figures of the sport as for every fan of each there’s likely two detractors.
The Lakers are ultimately hoping they get the best aspects Westbrook brought to the table with Beverley, as well as a player who can shore up the areas in which Russ fell way short.
Beverley and Westbrook have both come a long way from that first encounter in Oklahoma, but their story really hasn't changed that much. The former has maintained an attitude of the hungry rookie fighting for his spot, while the latter has upheld an image of a fiery All-Star proudly protective of his status as one of the game’s biggest names.
Only time will tell how many chapters are left in their storied rivalry, but for now, Beverley is not being asked to stop Westbrook — but instead — to fill his shoes. The Lakers need him to be Westbrook’s antithesis, but also, thrive in his stead.