For much of the season, there has been a significant debate as to whether Dexter Strickland should begin to eat away at some of Larry Drew's minutes at PG. In essence, this debate has boiled down to the explosiveness of Strickland versus the better assist-to-turnover ratio of Drew. Of late, this debate has been somewhat muted, not because one player has clearly separated himself, but rather, it is because a new question has arisen: Should Larry Drew II and Dexter Strickland see more minutes together?
To start, let's first examine each players total performance over their first 5 ACC games:
[table id=19 /]
My first thought after seeing these numbers is that they are not half-bad and if UNC could get that type of production every game, then they would be in pretty good shape. This, of course, is a good example of how statistics, especially those derived from a small sample size (5 games), can be misleading, for as we all know, UNC has not gotten this type of production every night. In fact, in five games, each player has had two excellent games, and three games that were... well... not so much. Obviously, the topic of this team's (in)consistency is a horse that has been beaten to a bloody mess, and my reason for bringing it up is not to discuss the litany of reasons for this inconsistency that have been suggested (inexperience, lack of leadership, lack of talent, etc.), but cannot be changed. It is to look for something within the team that can be changed.
So instead of looking at each player's total numbers, let's look at how those numbers change for each player in the presence or absence of the other. The first comparison presented is that of Dexter Strickland with and without Larry Drew:
[table id=20 /]
And next, Larry Drew with and without Dexter Strickland:
[table id=21 /]
Again, it is a small sample size, but even with that qualifier, the numbers are very telling, and what they are saying is that UNC is much stronger when Drew and Strickland are playing together. Over the first five ACC games, both players are shooting better than 70% when they are in the game together, Drew has hit 4 of 6 from three (versus 2 of 8 when he is alone), and not surprisingly, their scoring rates jump significantly.
- Both players see significant drops in rebounding when they play together. I would imagine that this is partially the result of having two players on the floor shooting better than better than 70%.
- No surprise at all that Strickland's A/T improves when he is moved off of the ball, though it is still not very good
- Strickland's steal rate more than triples when he is playing with Drew. While the magnitude might be surprising, the trend is not. With Drew playing on the ball, Strickland is free to use his athleticism to shoot the passing lanes a grab soft and deflected passes.
The downside to all of this is that over the last 5 games, Strickland and Drew have been on the court at the same time for a grand total of 35 minutes. While the observed performance increase certainly bodes well for next year, when the addition of Kendall Marshall will provide UNC with two true PGs for Strickland to run with, and Bullock and Barnes will add to the number of slashing guards who can play opposite of Larry Drew II, 7 minutes a game is probably not going to cut it this season, so is there any reason to believe that it also bodes well for this season?
The Tar Heels started the season with one true point guard on the roster, and as such, Roy's early strategy to play either Drew or Strickland made sense. While some coaches may disagree, running your point guard into the ground by playing him 35 minutes a game in November is not generally going to pay-off over the course of the season. Roy needed to have someone who could give Drew a blow, and Strickland was the most qualified to do this. Furthermore, Roy needed to get Strickland as much experience at running the point as he could, to serve as insurance in the case that Drew went down with an injury.
All that being said, we are now approaching a point in the season where it is customary for starters to begin logging more minutes, and while the potential for injury (especially this season) is always going to be present, Strickland has already logged nearly as many minutes this year, as Drew did all of last year, so Roy can feel "confident" that he has a backup PG in case of an emergency. Does this mean we will see more of a Drew/Strickland backcourt? The numbers certainly seem to call for it, and Roy generally tends to tighten up his rotation as the season ages anyway, so it is possible that this is something that we will see more of in the games to come.