A.J. Price vs. Shelvin Mack: Battle of the Backup Point Guards

March 10, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat center Dexter Pittman (45) fouls Indiana Pacers guard A.J. Price (12) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Heat won 93-91 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

After months of anticipation, the Wizards signed A.J. Price, and the basketball world is abuzz with talk of the backup point guard controversy in Washington. With the help of MySynergy Sports, let's take a look at what Price and Shelvin Mack bring to the table.

Offense

Although Price’s three-point shooting has declined since his rookie season (and he was hardly a sharpshooter in the first place), he still appears to be a bigger perimeter threat than Shelvin Mack.

Their overall percentages are similar, but in specific situations, namely the pick-and-roll, there is a difference between the two point guards. Price scored more points per pick-and-roll possession and part of that was because of his three-point shooting. Price was much more comfortable in pulling up from three when the defense went under the screen. It’s not the type of thing that the Wizards should rely on, but it will at least keep defenses honest.

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On the other hand, Mack only shot one three pointer in a pick-and-roll possession during last season. When defenders took a shortcut underneath the screen, Mack had to step inside the line if he chose to shoot at all. It’s nice that Mack realized his limitations as a shooter, but the fact remains that his inability to stretch the floor makes things harder for his teammates. The video below shows how Mack has a chance to take a three, but steps in for the long two instead.

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Similarly, in spot-up situations, each player shot the same percentage from three, but Price was much more willing to pull the trigger from distance. That made him more productive than Mack on spot-up possessions. Mack spots up or steps inside the three point line far too much for my taste, and that limits his points per possession. As most basketball fans know, long twos are not part of the recipe for success.

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Although Mack may develop into a better and more confident shooter, the Wizards are built to win immediately and can’t afford to wait for him. The tradeoff here is that Mack is more likely to get to the rim, both in general and specifially in the pick-and-roll. Mack shot twice as many layups as Price during pick-and-roll possessions. Even when the defense pressures Price from behind, he is more likely to shoot the jumper. Mack, on the other hand, is more likely to drive no matter how much space the defense gives him. The video below shows an example of each player in action.

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Defense

On defense, the Wizards may be downgrading if Price wins the backup job. As the chart below shows, Mack allowed fewer points per possession than Price on isolation, pick-and-roll, and spot-up possessions.


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Price isn’t just marginally worse than Mack; he was pretty bad on isolation and spot-up possessions. In isolation, the difference between the two players is in the amount of turnovers that Mack was able to force. Each player allowed about 45 percent shooting and rarely fouled, but Mack was more of a pest. Opposing players turned the ball over on about 27 percent of isolation possessions against Mack, and the video below shows a few examples.

According to 82games.com, Mack held opposing point guards to a lower PER than Price, and the Wizards’ defense improved more with Mack than the Pacers’ defense did with Price. Defensive statistics have a lot of noise surrounding them, but when looking at all of the resources available, the signs point to Mack being a superior defender.

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Based on last season, it looks like the A.J. Price is a bigger threat than Shelvin Mack on offense, but he may give it back on the defensive end.

Who would you rather have as your backup point guard? Do you think Price's marginal improvement on offense will offset his limited defensive ability? Or do you support a Spurrier-esque dual-backup point guard system?

Leave a comment below and let us know! And remember, when you have two backup point guards, you actually have none.

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