Genetics are an enigma to most people, traits you would expect your offspring to inherit don’t always come to realisation. Children will show an aptitude for things you’ve never even contemplated, whilst struggling with what comes easy for you. Individuality is crazy like that, an intermingled web of natural talent and social constructs all wrapped into one.
Being tall doesn’t necessarily correlate to a person’s vertical, the same way as being fast isn’t a surefire sign that someone has handles. Skills are subjective, each person possesses a unique genetic make-up, defining their physical limitations from birth.
So what does that mean for the average kid trying to find his way into high-level basketball? Patrick Beverley and Marcus Smart are currently lighting the way in this regard. Both Beverley and Smart are athletically limited in NBA terms, boasting modest verticals and slightly above average lateral quickness. Defense is where Smart and Beverley make their presence felt, the hustle plays, diving on the floor, contesting the passing lanes with ferocious regularity.
In a recent interview, Patrick Beverley elaborated on his defensive intensity and what it can mean for the younger fans who don’t boast the transcendent athleticism the league is predicated on.
“I just try to show different ways,” “You have players in this league that can score. That’s good, that’s fair. What else can you do to impact the game of winning?”Patrick Beverley – SI.Com
Here Beverley is pointing out that an offensive repertoire is only one aspect of the game. He continues to elaborate;
“Every kid is not going to be 7 feet, every kid is not going to be Steph Curry, Greek Freak, or James Harden, or Russell Westbrook,” Beverley said. “The average kid looks like me, my height, my size. How else can you impact winning?”Patrick Beverley – SI.Com
Beverley has a point here. In a league dominated by transcendent genetics, the “average” kid needs to understand what they can do to have a chance when coming through the system. That chance has to be earned on defense, just like Beverley and Smart have done, both earning their spots in an NBA rotation through sheer determination and grit.
A coach’s mantra that originated fills gyms worldwide is “offense wins games, defense wins championships”. For guys like Smart and Beverley this rings true, granted, Smart’s offensive skills have taken a considerable leap this season. But Smart’s offensive leap would never have come to fruition had he not earned playing time off the back of his stifling defense and a fierce will to win.
It’s no surprise then, that both Smart and Beverley currently find themselves as integral pieces on contenders. When the playoff’s come around and every stop counts, coaches tend to call on their best defenders to play extended minuted. You can’t lose if the opposing team can’t score, it’s pretty simple logic, yet much harder to implement. That is where guys like Smart and Beverley thrive, it’s why their coaches see them as invaluable pieces in the championship puzzle.
There are other players who are seeing minutes on the floor due to this mindset too.
As you glance around the league, you will find several younger players earning minutes due to their defense. Romeo Langford and Semi Ojeleye of the Boston Celtics and Kris Dunn of the Chicago Bulls are all great examples of this mindset paying dividends. Granted, Langford came into the league as a projected slasher, Semi as a prototypical 3-and-D wing and Kris Dunn had lightning-quick changes of speed. However, the same thing rings true, their minutes on the floor were earned due to their defensive efforts and versatility, whatever came after was simply a bi-product of seeing the floor.
As the league continues to evolve and favor the offensive player, the continued rise of defensive-minded guards will become exceedingly necessary for teams with contention aspirations. Smart and Beverley are continuing to build on what Gary Payton, Walt Frazer, John Stockton and more recently Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul built – a genuine place for the more “average” player to make an impact on winning.