Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Back-up Quarterbacks

The argument for the bench players.

Henry Sims versus Julian Vaughn

Copyright AP 2010
Is Henry Sims even the backup quarterback anymore? Yes, Vaughn is averaging more minutes right now, but Henry played more versus Appalachian State, Utah State, Missouri, and NC State. That's four of the last six games, excepting only Temple and Asheville.

Vaughn does do several things better than Henry. He obviously has a better low post game from a footwork and moves standpoint.

He's a superior rebounder right now, which actually shocked me a bit. I'd definitely say he's a better offensive rebounder (even after accounting for all those he gets off his own misses), and defensively, he's held his own as well, upping his game recently.

I think most people would be surprised to know that he also doesn't turn over the ball as much as Henry does on a percentage basis. Neither one is exactly Roy Hibbert there -- they are both a liability. But Julian has been less of one.

Still, Henry's been just as effective offensively. Mostly because he's a superior passer and a better shooter. Julian is shorter and isn't a great jumper, so he gets blocked/misses a lot of close in shots. Henry doesn't have as much a problem with those.

Perhaps the biggest advantage for Henry over Julian offensively has nothing to with Henry or Julian's efficiency, but rather the focus. For some reason, when Julian is on the floor, the ball is fed to him (26% poss, 22% shooting). In fact, when Julian is on the floor, he's the #1 option.

Julian's a good player. But he's often the worst offensive option on the floor. That's not a knock; it's speaking to the abilities of our perimeter players. He shouldn't be using more possessions than everyone else.

Henry, in contrast, isn't taking up possessions nearly as much (16% poss, 14% shooting). Which doesn't make him a better offensively player -- he's likely worse -- but it might makes the team better on offense when he's on the floor, depending on who is out there with him. In fact, one could argue Julian is better suited to play with the bench players as there's a greater need for an offensive player.

Defensively, Julian blocks significantly more shots, but it's my impression that he's not as much of a presence down low. No one publishes stats on altered shots (or really could), but subjectively, our interior defense seems to look worse with him on the floor.

As evidence of this, I give you the lineup work Brian did here.

There have been a ton of lineups, which means small samples abound, but here's some comparable lineups and their D efficiencies:
Lineup                      w Vaughn   w Sims
CW - AF - JC - HT              94         91
CW - AF - JC - JB             111         87
CW - AF - JC - NL              89         75 

Those are the six lineup with 28 defensive possessions played or more. The next highest lineup was only on the floor for 18 possessions, and that seems a little too low to mean anything.

Vaughn comes out as a superior defender in the net points calculation, which isn't surprising. He blocks more shots and that calculation takes overall team D during the player's time on the floor and allocates based on statistics like those.

However, when looking at comparable lineups (above), the lineups with Sims are significantly better. Sometimes, this can be due to easier competition, but Sims' time on the floor has often been in tougher games (NC State, Mizzou, Utah State), really only missing on Temple and ODU (who are stronger defensively). In other words, it doesn't seem all that likely that the differences are competition-driven instead of actually being better defense.

If I had to pick, I'd take Sims defensively.

Overall, I'd really consider swapping Vaughn and Sims in general. I think there's value in giving more time to Vaughn with the backups - Lubick, Starks, etc. -- who are not offensive creators. Vaughn simply fits with them better with his superior low post moves. Most likely, III is going to continue to do what he's been doing -- playing match-ups -- with Sims' minutes moving steadily upward.

Vee Sanford v. the State

This argument has gotten a bit rehashed across the board, so I'll bring up a point not many people talk about: Vee Sanford has the second highest assist rate (18%) on the team and the lowest turnover rate (10%).

The latter especially has been a troublesome point, what with both our starting point guard and our starting two guard losing the ball in over 20% of possessions used. In Wright's case, his obscenely high assist rate somewhat mitigates that (though detractors of Kemba Walker should see his ratio).

But this is a team that limits itself with its turnovers, and playing a sure-handed Vee Sanford a bit more over Markel Starks (19%) or even Jason Clark (24%) would mitigate that a bit.

Nate Lubick v. Hollis Thompson

What Nate has going for him is that he's a "real" PF. What Hollis has going for him right now is, well, that production thing. I mean, he's better. So it's a case of going "big" versus the more talented player.

Hollis is a better shooter, a more productive rebounder (no, really), commits less turnovers, and is a better creator overall. Nate might be be a better passer, and he dunks a lot.

So you'd have to make the argument on defense. Individually, Hollis is a better defensive rebounder, gets almost as many blocks and generates more steals. His defensive net points are lower.

However, like with Sims, Lubick's comparable lineups have fared better on defense When paired with Sims, the lineup's been much better than Hollis' similar lineup (Lubick, Sims and the Trinity  is our best defensive lineup of any use to date). When the Trinity's paired with Vaughn and Lubick, the lineup's been negligibly better than when paired with Hollis.  [editor's note: can we leave the awkward nicknames on the other side of the tracks?]

Still, Hollis' advantage on offense seems to outweigh the possible defensive benefits unless there's a big, burly PF on the other side. He's actually been a very good offensive player this year, adding a dribble drive to a game that was pretty much all jump shot last year. And he's taken to rebounding like Brandon Bowman, not DaJuan Summers. That's a good thing.

If anything, Hollis' minutes have surprised me on the low end. He's a had a bad game here or there, but he's almost as explosive offensively as the big three are at this point. I'm not sure I'd cut into the minutes of a player who can score like that and is doing work on the blocks.

(One interesting note: both lineups with Sims-Lubick-Thompson as the frontline have been very good at defense in very limited time. It makes sense. Size matters.)

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