NBA Position Battles: Who Should Start at Point Guard for the Sacramento Kings?

It initially seemed obvious that Darren Collison would be the starting point guard over Ty Lawson for the Sacramento Kings this season. Now, we're not so sure.

The point guard situation for the Sacramento Kings didn't look like it would really be a very debate-worthy topic coming into this season.

Darren Collison was fresh off two straight years of being a solid contributor as a member of the Kings, while the newly-signed Ty Lawson was smack-dab in the midst of a career downturn. Lawson had what was easily the worst campaign of his career in 2015-16, splitting time between the Houston Rockets (who waived him near the end of the season) and the Indiana Pacers (who saw no reason to re-sign him after 20 combined regular season and playoff games).

With Rajon Rondo now out of town, it seemed fairly obvious that Collison would be first in line to have a crack at replacing him as the team's starting point guard (Lawson was, after all, a cheap one-year signing very late in the offseason). That eventuality was delayed by Collison's eight-game suspension to start the season because of a domestic violence charge, but Lawson never exactly ran away with the job in his absence and is no saint himself with multiple DUI arrests on his record, just in case the Kings were picking their starting point guard based on character.

But Collison hasn't been much better than Lawson at basketball since his return. Here are their overall numbers this season:

Collison 24 29.0 11.7 43.7% 37.1% 82.9% 1.9 4.4 1.0 0.0 1.8
Lawson 32 25.3 8.1 41.4% 30.6% 77.3% 2.8 4.3 1.3 0.1 1.7

They're both putting up fairly similar stat lines, although Collison has been slightly more efficient, posting a 54.1% true shooting percentage (weighted twos, threes, and free throws), as compared to Lawson's 50.4%.

From an advanced stat standpoint, the two are nearly indistinguishable.

Category Darren Collison Ty Lawson
nERD -0.9 -1.4
Offensive rating 108 104
Defensive rating 113 110
Player efficiency rating 13.9 13.1
Win shares 1.1 1.0
Win shares per 48 minutes .074 .062
Box plus/minus -2.6 -1.4
Value over replacement player -0.1 0.1

Collison again gets the edge pretty much across the board -- but not by much. If you look at our proprietary metric, nERD -- a player ranking that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season, based on his efficiency, and gives an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would win with the player in question as one of its starters -- we're only talking about a half-a-win difference between the two.

So, why are we even having this discussion over which of these two players should start if both of them have been pretty much the same player statistically?

Because Lawson is trending up, while Collison is spiralling unmistakably down. Since December 14th, there is much more space between their stat lines.

Collison 8 25.5 7.0 30.4% 20.0% 84.6% 1.6 4.6 0.3 0.0 1.1
Lawson 8 25.9 11.8 49.3% 33.3% 76.9% 2.5 3.6 1.4 0.0 1.6

Over that eight-game span, Lawson's true shooting percentage has been a much-improved 58.4%, while Collison's has plummeted all the way down to a putrid 37.5%.

Also over that period, the Kings have had a net rating (points scored minus points allowed per 100 possessions) of 1.6 while Lawson has been on the floor, as opposed to a -18.7 when he's been on the bench. With Collison, in the meantime, the Kings have had a net rating of -23.8 with Collison on the floor, as opposed to a 10.1 while he's sitting on the pine.

On/Off SplitsOff RtgDef RtgNet RtgeFG%
Darren Collison on99.5123.3-23.847.2%
Darren Collison off109.
Ty Lawson on105.1103.51.651.9%
Ty Lawson off102.9121.6-18.749.3%

That whopping 33.9 on/off efficiency differential for Collison (seriously, that's massive) is by far the biggest and worst on the team.

It didn't seem like it would be a question at the beginning of the year, but now one has to wonder if the Kings should be starting Ty Lawson instead of Darren Collison. Kings head coach Dave Joerger is clearly flirting with the possibility, as he went with Lawson over Collison at the start of the second half of Wednesday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Not to mention, Lawson has played 243 fourth-quarter minutes over the team's last eight games (more than DeMarcus Cousins, for comparison's sake), as compared to Collison's 131.

The Sacramento Kings are currently the 8-seed in the Western Conference (believe it or not), but our algorithms only give them a 24.3% chance of holding onto that playoff spot. If they want to get back into the postseason for the first time in over a decade, decisions like this one regarding the starting point guard position become very important.

Ty Lawson may not have managed to revitalize his career during stops in Houston or Indiana last season, but if Sacramento is suddenly getting the Denver Nuggets version of him (the one that averaged 15.2 points and 9.6 assists per game just two seasons ago, his last in Denver), it could be just what they needed to end their postseason drought.