FanPost

Which Point Guard Makes the Starting Lineup the Most Competative?

A while ago I did a post comparing what the stats say about the effect of both Mo Williams and Jamaal Tinsley on the same lineups. The result showed that, more often than not, Tinsley helped more lineups play more competitive ball than Mo Williams this season.

With Williams's looming return to the starting lineup - and given the continued struggles of that starting lineup - I wondered, statistically speaking, which of Williams, Tinsley, Watson, or Burks has helped the current starting lineup compete at the highest level.

So I found out. I looked at statistics (net per 100 possessions) for the lineups pairing each player with the combination of Randy Foye, Marvin Williams, Paul Millsap, and Al Jefferson and how each lineup has performed against competition this season.

The results are a little chaotic (not surprising for a team without a clear #1 option at the point), but do show some patterns. Remember that these are statistical differentials the lineups have posted against competition calculated per 100 possessions. A negative differential may represent the most competitive lineup (the best total rebounding statistic is -1 rebound per 100 possessions when Earl plays with the starters) and a positive differential does not necessarily reflect well (when Mo Williams plays with the starters the lineup shoots .048% better from the line than the opponent, but that mark is at least .05% lower than all the other lineups).

The Statistics

MP

FG

FGA

FG%

3P

3PA

3P%

Williams + Starters

188:41

-2.1

-2.2

-0.012

+0.0

-0.5

+0.009

Tinsley + Starters

453:48

-5.3

-4.0

-0.037

+1.3

+2.6

+0.014

Watson + Starters

46:30

+3.1

+1.0

+0.032

-3.1

-4.1

-0.076

Burks + Starters

30:44

+5.8

+6.9

+0.035

-0.7

+1.1

-0.042

eFG%

FT

FTA

FT%

PTS

ORB

ORB%

Williams + Starters

-0.011

-3.0

-4.9

+0.048

-7.2

-3.3

-6.0

Tinsley + Starters

+0.029

+1.2

-1.1

+0.101

-8.1

-5.2

-12.3

Watson + Starters

-0.076

+6.2

+4.1

+0.208

+9.3

0

-0.6

Burks + Starters

+0.029

-6.7

-13.3

+0.159

+4.3

-7.6

-12.3

DRB

DRB%

TRB

TRB%

AST

STL

BLK

Williams + Starters

-1.8

-6.0

-2.5

-5.2

+2.6

-1.7

-1.1

Tinsley + Starters

-7.0

-12.3

-6.2

-13.4

+1.3

+1.5

+1.1

Watson + Starters

-2.1

-0.6

-1.0

-2.6

+7.2

+6.2

+3.1

Burks + Starters

-3.2

-12.3

-7.0

-13.2

-4.3

+2.4

+6.6

TOV

PF

Williams + Starters

+0.3

+0.4

Tinsley + Starters

-0.7

+1.6

Watson + Starters

-4.1

-0.5

Burks + Starters

-7.3

+1.0

Analysis

Mo Williams

Not too impressive.

In fact, Mo didn't prod the starting lineup to the best differential in any category but defensive rebounding. The Mo Williams version of the starters doesn't have much of a hallmark or calling card, according to these numbers.

The strengths of running Mo as the starting point come primarily from the three point line and rebounding. The Mo lineup posted the second best differential in three pointers made (dead even with the competition) and in three point percentage, though the lineup did much better in these areas with Tinsley at point. For some reason, with Mo in the rebounding was consistently good (the second best differential in all categories but defensive rebounding, which was the best of the four lineups). The Jazz starters also posted their second best assist differential with Mo at the helm.

The downsides are more prominent. The Mo lineup posts the second worst shooting differential from the field and the worst effective field goal percentage. His time at point also resulted in the only negative differential in BOTH blocks and steals (-1.7 and -1.1 respectively). While the Mo lineup rebounds really well, it looks pretty bad defending before the shot. It is also consistently in the bottom two in differentials nearly everywhere, including points. (Scoring fewer points than the opponent is bad.) The capstone: the Mo lineup is the only one that turns the ball over more than the opponent.

Take Away: Based on the numbers, the only reason Mo should start is if the Jazz need rebounding and three point shooting so badly they are okay sacrificing everything else.

Jamaal Tinsley

My previous post showed quite positively on Jamaal. This one, not so much.

When Jamaal starts, the numbers show the Jazz are at their most competitive from three in every way: threes made, taken, and three point percentage. He also gets us a good number of attempts and makes from the line. That's the good.

The bad is pretty much everything else. Jamaal is in the bottom two performing lineups in nearly every category - including worst differential of all in field goals made, field goal percentage, and points. Jamaal has held down the fort respectably, all things considered, but where once the numbers showed him as clearly superior to Mo overall in his effect on the Jazz, he now looks like the worst of all starting options given the current starting lineup.

Take Away: Based on the numbers, don't start Jamaal.

Earl Watson

(Small sample size alert!)

Ty recently tapped Earl as his starting point guard (to deafening dismay among the fan base). The numbers suggest Ty wasn't nearly as off base as many of us thought.

The limited minutes Earl has played with the starting lineup produced the most competitive differentials in the most categories of any lineup. With Earl running the ship, the Jazz have killed it in every way from the line and on the glass. The Earl starters have vastly outperformed any other lineup in terms of assists as well as steals. Most importantly of all, the Watson lineup has by far the best point differential (+9.3 per 100 possessions).

Starting Earl at the point has shown relatively few weaknesses, at least thus far. We don't take or make many threes, and we shoot a much worse percentage from three than our opponent. But otherwise, the starters have acquitted themselves quite well when playing with Earl.

Take Away: Based on the numbers, Earl is the safest starting candidate. He creates a lineup that produces good offensive and defensive differentials without many substantial disadvantages.

Alec Burks

(Even smaller sample size alert!)

Putting Burks as starting point guard would be a move much like Burks himself: brazen but maybe justifiably so.

There are plenty of reasons the numbers give not to consider it. The most surprising is the lineup has sucked from the line with Burks in, posting the lowest differential of any lineup in both taken and made free throws. (Burks is a stud getting to the line, so go figure.) Burks also seems to hurt the starters' rebounding, resulting in consistently low differentials in these areas. (He's a good rebounding guard as well, so double go figure.) The one vulnerability that really is no surprise is that when Alec Burks is in, this lineup doesn't generate many assists (the only negative differential in the category).

But, much like Burks as an individual player, there are some tantalizing things to offset the bad. The biggest is the starting lineup takes and makes a better differential of field goals with Burks in that with any other point guard - and they post the most competitive shooting percentage and effective shooting percentage while doing it. This leads to the second best point differential (+4.3 to Earl's +9.3). Burks also helps make the lineup stronger defensively, posting the best block differential and the second best steal differential (+2.4, second only to, once again, Earl's superior +6.2). Surprisingly, the Burks lineup compensates for the lack of assists by seriously cutting down the turnovers (-7.3 per 100 possessions).

Take Away: Based on the numbers, Burks isn't the best starting candidate - but he is the most intriguing. It's hard to see how, given extended minutes, the starters + Burks could struggle so severely at arguably his most obvious positional strengths: free throws and rebounding. Assuming the lineup improved in those areas with Burks in (and it would have to be substantial improvement) and the offensive efficiency remained high, the lineup would be uniquely potent offensively while being strong defensively as well (but not quite as strong as the Earl lineup). The only liability, and there is no reason to believe this would change any time soon, would be assists. But defensive soundness and offense potency just might make that sacrifice worthwhile.

Conclusions

These numbers are far from definitive, and by no means would I make a decision on who should start at the point based on them alone. But taking them into account with other factors (such as the eye test, individual player style and ability, assumed attitudes on the team, etc.), here is how I would approach the issue of who to start going forward, were I Ty.

First, it's clear that in prolonged minutes neither Mo nor Jamaal have gotten the starters to click as a unit. Thus it makes sense to try one of the remaining two options.

In that light, I like the recent shift to Earl. It may make little sense when considering him as an individual player, but the numbers suggest it just might improve play without coming at huge risk. That's a good move to make when you're in a playoff chase.

I also like the move because it will give everyone a larger body of work to judge Earl as a starter before Mo returns and takes his place. And Mo should take his place. For all the mediocrity the Mo starting lineup posted earlier this year, it was early. Jefferson and Millsap are both playing much better now than before Mo went out, as is the team overall now that chemistry has had time to develop.

Mo has proven himself a good enough player to see how he meshes with the starters now. We'll have seen both Jamaal and Earl in his position, and will have a much better ability to judge between them all, while giving Mo a fair shake with a team that isn't the in the explorative stage in the first quarter of a season.

If Mo fails to produce better results with the starters than he did early this year, then it will be time for one more switch. If Earl continues to show well, he should get another chance to close the season. But if his lineup's performance falls off prior to Mo's return, Burks has shown enough to get a shot. It might be risky, maybe even a touch desperate - but if all your veterans show mediocre results in prolonged minutes, the kid has shown enough in his rare opportunities with the starters to see if he can shoulder the load for real.

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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