It wasn’t the sexy, franchise-altering move fans were clamoring for, but the Minnesota Timberwolves improved significantly on the fringes by trading for Patrick Beverley. The veteran point guard is known for his tenacious defense, questionable antics, and non-stop motor. While Beverley has often been one of the most reviled players in the league, I expect him to quickly become a fan favorite.
From a roster-building standpoint, this move feels almost too good to be true. To bring in Beverley, the Timberwolves sent Juancho Hernangomez and Jarrett Culver to the Memphis Grizzlies. Culver and Hernangomez were two of Gersson Rosas’s first moves as President of Basketball Operations, so him willingly moving off of them is both surprising and incredibly encouraging.
We rarely see teams so quickly cut bait on a top-six pick, but it has never felt like Culver would fulfill his potential in Minnesota. Due to his fluctuating confidence, desire to play in the mid-range, and shooting regression, Culver’s future in Minnesota looked bleaker by the day. Additionally, Hernangomez’s impact continued to only make sense in theory but never in practice. By moving two negative contributors to the rotation for an impactful point guard and avoiding the media disaster of not picking up Culver’s contract and waiving Hernangomez before his 2022-23 year (final year of contract) became guaranteed, this trade was a massive win for the Timberwolves.
While this trade had a meaningful impact in many ways on paper, what we really care about is how it will look on the court. Beverley isn’t the same player he was a few years ago and has faced some injury issues recently, but I would be shocked if he isn’t a positive contributor on both ends of the floor.
The perception of Beverley’s defense has hit the heights of “best defensive guard in the league” and the lows of “he’s an overrated pest.” Regardless of your personal interpretation of Beverley’s defense, it is undeniable that his teams are better defensively when he is on the floor compared to when he is off. Per Cleaning the Glass, Beverley’s team has had a better defensive rating with him off the floor instead of on the floor only once in his nine-year career. Last season, the Clippers’ allowed 4.4 fewer points per possession when Beverley was on the floor than when he was off the floor. This on/off differential ranked in the 85th percentile, and Beverley has never ranked lower than the 66th percentile (besides that one season where he was a +2.0, 34th percentile). Beverley’s teams are better in nearly every defensive metric when he is on the floor than when he is off.
- Points allowed per 100 possessions on/off differential: -4.4 (85th percentile)
- Opponent’s eFG% on/off differential: -0.5% (64th percentile)
- Opponent’s turnover percentage on/off differential: +1.2% (81st percentile)
- Opponent’s offensive rebound percentage on/off differential: -1.0% (66th percentile)
One of the most significant issues the Timberwolves have had in recent seasons is their point-of-attack defense. Josh Okogie is a quality defender, but given his offensive limitations and how easy it is for teams to avoid defenders, it is difficult for him to consistently make a significant impact throughout a season. The Timberwolves have struggled in nearly every defensive area recently, but their poor point-of-attack defense is what kick starts the opponent’s offense. Whether it is laziness in isolation or dying on screens in the pick-and-roll, the Timberwolves’ guards constantly put the rest of the team in a losing position by allowing opponents to get to the lane at will.
Beverley will be an immediate improvement in this facet of the game. He has good awareness, footwork, and reactions, but most importantly, Beverley never stops working. He is an elite screen navigator, and on the rare occasions he does get bumped off by a screen, he works like hell to recover. Beverley’s exhausting work rate is a significant reason why his block percentage of 1.7 percent ranks in the 99th percentile of combo guards, and his steal percentage of 1.5 percent ranks in the 59th percentile. Beverley is a nuisance for opponents to deal with whether they are on or off-ball. Unfortunately, Beverley’s aggravating play style also leads to him having a foul percentage of 5.5 percent, which hilariously ranks in the 1st percentile, a sacrifice I’m more than happy to make.
It is impossible not to notice Beverley’s work rate when he plays, but it isn’t the sole reason for his defensive success. His plus-six-inch wingspan is a significant boon, but he also has impeccable technique, especially in the pick-and-roll.
Here, Enes Kanter does a good job of dislodging Beverley from Damian Lillard, but Beverley is never out of the play. Beverley avoids most of the screen’s contact and immediately recovers to Lillard to ensure that Ivica Zubac’s hard-hedge was not done in vain. By recovering that quickly, Beverley allows Zubac to promptly recover and forces Lillard to pass the ball. Many guards would consider their job done at this point, but Beverley continues to play ball denial defense. This commitment to defense puts him in a position to intercept the lazy pass.
Head Coach Chris Finch has been preaching that his defensive philosophy is that he wants the Timberwolves to defend immediately and that their defensive job isn’t done until they get the ball back. Finch couldn’t ask for a better soldier than Beverley to help implement this ideology and play style.
Again, Beverley shows his tenacity when defending the pick-and-roll. Robert Williams sets a solid screen to free Kemba Walker to attack the drop coverage. Many guards (especially in Minnesota) would either die on the screen or execute a soft switch. Knowing that Williams is a non-threat from outside, Beverley frantically recovers to smother Walker’s shot. As Walker attempts to reuse Williams as a screener, Beverley stays tight on Walker’s hip and slithers over the screen forcing Walker to give up the ball.
Another benefit of Beverley’s pick-and-roll defense is his awareness, communication, and willingness to take the more challenging assignment. Here, Luke Kennard gets switched onto LaMarcus Aldridge and immediately put back in another pick-and-roll. Kennard and Beverley communicate the switch, and Beverley sticks on Aldridge on the roll. Seeing Beverley’s back turned, Dejounte Murray immediately attacks, but Beverley’s awareness and quick hands allow him to rapidly spin and force the turnover.
Beverley’s elite screen navigation also emerges with his off-ball defense. Besides being a quality weak-side defender with rotations and jumping passing lanes, Beverley can chase knock-down shooters all over the court.
Here, Beverley initially avoids the screen, gives Doug McDermott no breathing space, and forces the pass. Beverley knows he isn’t done, though, a common theme with his defense. McDermott immediately initiates the handoff, a sequence that typically results in an open three for McDermott. However, Beverley never leaves McDermott’s hip. Beverley chases back over the screen and uses his wingspan to block the shot.
Beverley is one of the most obnoxious defenders in the league because he never stops working. He is always in the opponent’s face and doing everything he can to disrupt them. These antics will result in many fouls and shenanigans, but they will also result in a toughness and effort level that has long been absent on the Timberwolves. Beverley’s give-a-shit factor is through the roof, and when you play alongside a guy who plays with that much effort, it is tough to not at least try to match it.
Beverley isn’t known for his offensive prowess, but the last thing the Timberwolves need is another offensive dynamo. They have plenty of scorers and ball-handlers, but their defensive specialists have been substantial negatives on the offensive end in recent years. Even though Beverley isn’t known for his offense, he is a significant improvement in this realm because he doesn’t need the ball and is an excellent off-ball shooter.
Last season, Beverley had a usage rate of 15 percent (10th percentile) and scored 1.158 points per shot attempt (72nd percentile), per Cleaning the Glass. Low volume with high efficiency. Music to my ears. Additionally, Beverley’s eFG% of 56.1 ranked in the 77th percentile, 60 percent of his shots came from three (86th percentile), and he shot 41 percent from three (80th percentile). Beverley has grown into a reliable outside shooter on consistent volume.
Those numbers alone are enticing, but what is genuinely encouraging is the types of shots Beverley takes. According to NBA Stats, 51.4 percent of Beverley’s shots are catch-and-shoot threes, on which he shoots 41.4 percent. Additionally, 61.1 percent of Beverley’s shots are three-pointers in which he is considered “open” (defender is more than four feet away), and only 3.2 percent are three-pointers where he was tightly guarded. Not only is Beverley an accurate outside shooter but also a disciplined one. Beverley knows his role on offense and doesn’t need the ball to make a positive impact.
Last season, Beverley ranked in the 81st percentile in spot-up scoring and the 60th percentile in transition scoring, per NBA Stats. Picturing him spotting up in the corner (he ranked in the 91st percentile in corner three-point percentage, per Cleaning the Glass) while Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, and Karl-Anthony Towns run their three-man horns set is incredibly encouraging. Beverley will knock down his open threes and move the ball when he is guarded. He is a point guard in name alone, and his success is independent of having the ball. Beverley will be a positive offensive contributor in an off-ball role, whether he is knocking down open threes or collecting offensive rebounds (OREB% of 3.9% ranked in the 93rd percentile last season).
Waving the white flag on a top-six pick this early in his career is difficult to stomach, but the Timberwolves significantly improved their rotation by adding Beverley. His tenacious defense, combined with his excellent outside shooting, is a vast improvement to their backcourt. Beverley isn’t a long-term option, but his two-way versatility, toughness, and expiring $14 million contract will do nothing but help the Timberwolves improve.