Carlos Arroyo vs. Jameer Nelson: Settling the Debate (I Hope)

Since the Magic acquired him from Detroit in Febrary 2006, Carlos Arroyo has been a hot topic for debate among Magic fans. Some people think he should start for Orlando, while others think he should come off the bench, and others think he should be out of the NBA altogether. The conversation got so heated that the MagicMadness fansite recently (and temporarily) changed its name to ArroyoMadness as a joke, and topped it off with this nifty banner.

Fans are almost equally divided about Jameer Nelson, the incumbent starter. After an encouraging 2005/2006 campaign, Nelson struggled in 2006/2007: despite playing more minutes, his scoring, assists, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage all decreased. The make matters worse, his turnovers increased. Detractors say he'll never be more than a backup, while supporters say he was stifled in Brian Hill's offense and will flourish under Stan Van Gundy.

My mission today is to answer the question, "Who is the Magic's best point guard?" Carlos Arroyo and Jameer Nelson are the only two logical answers. And, after the jump, you'll see that one is better than the other. Click "Permalink" below to continue reading.

These data come from the Magic's preseason games leading up to the 2007/2008 NBA season. I adjusted the statistics to a per-40-minute basis to show how the two players might fare if they were given a good chunk of playing time. The numbers in parentheses represent the 2006/2007 regular-season statistics for those players, also adjusted per 40 minutes. A full explanation of why per-40 stats are more valuable than per-game stats is available at this handy reference page at Knickerblogger, under the heading "Player Stats," the subheading "50 words or less." It appears that high traffic has forced Knickerblogger to take that particular entry down. My apologies.

Carlos Arroyo Jameer Nelson
Carlos Arroyo mug shot Jameer Nelson mug shot
28 Age 25
6'2" Height 6'0"
202 lbs Weight 190 lbs
16.6 (16.9) Points Per 40 17.0 (17.2)
7.2 (6.2) Assists Per 40 8.6 (5.7)
2.8 (2.8) Turnovers Per 40 2.2 (3.2)
.509 (.425) FG% .444 (.430)
.286 (.275) 3FG% .200 (.335)
.824 (.795) FT% .900 (.828)
20.4 (22.3) Usage Rate1 Per 40 23.1 (22.2)
5.0 (3.4) Pure Point Rating2 8.8 (1.5)

Notes:

1: Usage rate (USG) accounts for how many of his team's possessions an individual player uses. Tracy McGrady lead the league in usage rate last year, taking up an astonishing 32.9 possessions per game for the Rockets. The formula for usage rate is ((FTM*0.44) + (AST*0.33) + FGA + TO)/MP.
2: Pure point rating (PPR) is an adjusted form of assist-to-turnover ratio that accounts for the fact that a turnover is more harmful to a team than an assist is helpful. Additionally, it rewards aggressive point guards who get into the lane. Steve Nash lead the league in pure point rating last year with 11.3. Jason Kidd and Chris Paul were the runners-up, finishing with PPRs of 9.5 and 9.3, respectively. The formula for pure point rating is (100*((AST*2/3)-TO))/MP.

This table shows that the two players are close statistically. Arroyo bests Nelson by a wide margin in field goal percentage, but Nelson has the edge in assists/40, turnovers/40, free throw percentage, and pure point ratio. The players are equally adequate in scoring and equally atrocious from three-point range.

However close the statistics are, Nelson should be the starter. He will dish more assists, commit fewer turnovers, and get into the lane more often than Arroyo, and he'll do it by using only 3 more possessions per game. And if he'd just stop shooting so many threes, the answer would be even more evident: Nelson shot 21-of-39 from two-point range in the preseason, or .538. If he curbs his enthusiasm for shooting the long ball and instead makes the extra pass, his field goal percentage and assists would increase. Finally, Nelson has the added intangible bonus of being a team leader, as he has hosted summer get-togethers for the team at his home in Pennsylvania each of the past two years.

That is not to say that Arroyo is a bad player. Actually, this information should be good news to his supporters and to Magic fans alike. Should Nelson go down with an injury or play poorly, Carlos would be a solid spot-starter, one capable of producing similar statistics. The Magic wouldn't miss any beats, so to speak, with Carlos running the show in Jameer's absence.

It's also worth noting that both players have improved under Stan Van Gundy. While they have not made great strides in terms of scoring, they both increased their assists without increasing their turnovers. This fact is particularly evident in Arroyo's reduced usage rate this preseason. He's putting up nearly identical numbers without wasting valuable possessions. If there was ever a question about how well the Magic's point guards would play in the "Run 'n' Gundy" system, it's been answered.

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