Goran or Kyle? The numbers show the real difference is Lee over Martin


Goran or Kyle? The argument has dominated talks between Rockets fans of late. But the numbers show that the two are more or less the same. It's their backcourt mate that matters.

Goran Dragic or Kyle Lowry? Speed or power? Skill or strength?

It’s been an ongoing discussion between Rockets aficionados since Lowry left the lineup weeks ago due to a bacterial infection and opened the door for Dragic, who has thrived in Lowry’s absence and kept the ship well afloat during a tight, tense playoff race.

There are reasons to like both, and they are each very different in their ways. Dragic is sleek, quicker, the better shooter and boasts a playing style reminiscent of Steve Nash, his mentor for many years in Phoenix before he was traded to Houston last season. In the 14 games since he became starter, Dragic is averaging 18 points on 53.2% shooting, with 8.6 assists and 1.93 steals per game. Lowry is a bulldog of a point guard, a gritty defender and true leader who defines the intangibles of the position. While his shooting is spotty, he looks for others, fills up the stat sheet on both ends of the floor, and is a true game manager. Lowry was averaging 15.9 points, 7.2 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals this season before ending up on the injured list.

Ideally, Lowry is the present and Dragic is the future. However, in this current landscape, Dragic’s status this summer as an unrestricted free agent has brought forth a hot topic of who should be the Rockets’ point guard, as it seems the future may have arrived a lot sooner than many expected.

So, let’s take a look at how the Rockets’ fare with each in the lineup. The following stats are from basketballvalue.com and representative of games through April 2.

The starting lineup of Lowry-Kevin Martin-Chandler Parsons-Luis Scola-Samuel Dalembert produces an offensive rating of 101.16 and a defensive rating of 99.3. That group has played 441.90 minutes together (easily the most on the team) and has scored 874 points on 864 possessions (1.01 points per possession). It has surrendered 847 points on 853 possessions (0.98 ppp). They have an overall rating of 1.86, which is actually third-worst on the team in regard to lineups that have played together at least 40 minutes this season.

The lineup of Dragic-Courtney Lee-Parsons-Scola-Dalembert has played 135.62 minutes together. With Dragic in the starting lineup instead of Lowry (and Martin, too, as we’ll see later), the Rockets are more proficient offensively and defensively. Dragic’s lineup has an offensive rating of 113.15 and a defensive rating of 97.99. It has scored 284 points on 251 possessions (1.13 ppp), and surrendered 244 on 249 (0.98 ppp). More telling, it has an overall rating of 15.16, which ranks fourth on the team in regard to lineups that have played together at least 40 minutes this season.

Two things to take into consideration before we move along: Lowry’s lineup has played considerably heavier minutes. Also, his backcourt mate Martin is easily the poorer defender when compared to Lee, Dragic’s starting backcourt mate, and that cannot be understated. Lee is a terrific perimeter defender. Martin is not. More on this later.

And then there’s this interesting nugget: a lineup of Lowry-Lee-Parsons-Scola-Dalembert is more effective than either of the previous two lineups initially discussed. This lineup has played a mere 53.15 minutes together, but has produced an offensive rating of 111.88 and a defensive rating of 93.20. It has scored 113 points on 101 possessions (1.12 ppp), and allowed 96 on 103 (0.93 ppp). Its overall rating? 18.68, third on the team in regard to lineups that have played together at least 40 minutes this season.

So, essentially, if you give Lowry Dragic’s four other starting teammates, the lineup will be a bit less efficient offensively but certainly more so defensively. What we’ll find out is that it’s not a matter of Lowry or Dragic; it’s a matter of Lee over Martin as the backcourt teammate.

Another note … the top lineup in regard to overall rating has Dragic in it. A grouping of Dragic-Lee-Chase Budinger-Patrick Patterson-Dalembert has an overall rating of 29.48, though it has only played 45.4 minutes together. They have an offensive rating of 117.28 and a defensive rating of 87.80, having scored 95 points on 81 possessions (1.17 ppp) and surrendered 72 on 82 (0.88).

One final tidbit before we draw to a conclusion: The Rockets’ current starting lineup of Dragic-Lee-Parsons-Scola-Marcus Camby has an overall rating of -4.08. That’s horrendous. The lineup has played 81 minutes together, and has an offensive rating of 106.12 and a defensive rating of 110.20, having scored 156 points on 147 possessions (1.06 ppp) and allowed 162 on 147 (1.10). Obviously this is a lineup still trying to get adjusted with the addition of Camby, but it’s notable how far the defense has slipped once Camby was substituted in for Dalembert.

So, through all that mumbo jumbo, it comes down to this: It really makes little difference in the grand scheme of things whether it’s Dragic or Lowry as the starting point guard. The key is who’s the starting shooting guard, and it’s clear that Lee is the one constant in the top lineups.

Earlier this week, Rockets GM Daryl Morey said Lee, a restricted free agent, would certainly be back next year, yet implied that keeping Dragic was not a huge priority, almost sounding as if it’s out of his hands (in spite of what figures to be significant cap space) and that he’s OK with that, by the implications of his words. With the data these lineups present, it’s easy to see the method to that madness. The numbers support the reasoning that Lee is the more crucial free agent this summer.

Dragic or Lowry, you can’t go wrong either way.

Lee or Martin? No contest.