NBA Position Battles: Who Should the Indiana Pacers Start at Shooting Guard?

The starting shooting guard position has been a revolving door for the Pacers this season. Who deserves the position going forward?

Monta Ellis is the third-highest paid player on the Indiana Pacers, but he has only started 23 of the 44 games he's played so far this year (after a period of starting every single game he played between November 2007 and November 2016).

During an eight-game absence due to a groin injury in December, Ellis was replaced by Glenn Robinson III as the Pacers' starting shooting guard. Robinson kept the position for about another month after Ellis returned, but he was replaced on January 23rd by C.J. Miles, who has started the Pacers' last nine games.

The Pacers are 7-2 since the change (and had won seven in a row before losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers last night), so there's a decent enough chance that Miles sticks in the position.

Let's see if the numbers say he's Indiana's best option at shooting guard going forward, or if Ellis or Robinson should get another crack at it.

First of all, here are the per-36-minute numbers for all three guards:

Player PTS/36 FG% 3P% FT% REB/36 AST/36 STL/36 BLK/36 TOV/36
Monta Ellis 10.3 41.6% 28.8% 79.8% 3.8 4.2 1.3 0.5 2.5
C.J. Miles 16.7 43.1% 41.2% 86.0% 4.7 1.0 1.0 0.7 0.8
Glenn Robinson III 10.1 45.5% 37.8% 70.7% 6.0 1.2 0.9 0.5 1.0

The box score numbers among the three are fairly even, with each providing something a little different to the Pacers. Ellis gets plenty of assists and steals, Miles scores the most with the strongest true shooting percentage (combined field goal, three-point, and free throw rates) at 58.2%, and Robinson is the best rebounder. We'll call this section a draw.

If we look at the advanced numbers, however, one player begins to emerge from the pack:

Category Monta Ellis C.J. Miles Glenn Robinson III
nERD -4.1 0.9 -1.5
Offensive rating 94 113 108
Defensive rating 109 109 110
Player efficiency rating 8.7 13.7 10.3
Win shares 0.4 2.3 1.6
Win shares per 48 minutes .018 .108 .072
Box plus/minus -3.0 -0.7 -1.8
Value over replacement player -0.3 0.3 0.1

Miles leads all three players in every single one of the above categories.

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 efficiency -- it's not even particularly close.

Miles is the only player who contributes a nERD on the positive side of the ledger, with his 0.9 ranking him fifth on the Pacers and 99th in the NBA. By comparison, Ellis ranks dead last on the Pacers and 447th out of 460 players in the league with his -4.1 rating, while Robinson is 13th of 15 on his team and 363rd overall with his -1.5 clip.

Keep in mind, nERD is meant to be an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would be with the player in question as one of its starters. In other words, Miles is the only player of the three who is contributing wins to his team while the other two are taking them away, so to speak.

Next, let's consider how the Pacers have fared when each of these guards has been on the floor with the Pacers' four entrenched starters at the other positions in Jeff Teague, Paul George, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner

5-Man LineupMINOff RtgDef RtgNet RtgAST/TO RatioREB%eFG%
Teague, Ellis, George, Young, Turner359101.4106.2-4.91.3745.1%53.0%
Teague, Miles, George, Young, Turner193112.9102.310.61.9648.9%55.4%
Teague, Robinson, George, Young, Turner367110.3101.58.91.9048.5%55.7%

We have fairly large sample sizes of each of these combinations, as they represent the team's three most used lineups on the season. The Robinson iteration has gotten 19 starts, in which the Pacers have gone 10-9 (.526 win-loss percentage), the Ellis version has gone 9-7 (.562) in 16 starts, and the Miles version is now 5-3 (.625) in eight games.

Apart from having the edge in win-loss percentage, the Miles version is also superior to the other combinations in terms of offensive rating, net rating, assist-to-turnover ratio, and rebound percentage, while being competitive in defensive rating and effective field goal percentage. In other words, the data suggests that the Pacers play their best combination of offense and defense when Miles is on the floor over Ellis or Robinson.

When you look at the data, it's hard to see why the decision to put Miles in the starting shooting guard spot wouldn't stick. If the 29-23 Pacers want to hang around in sixth in the Eastern Conference or potentially climb even higher up the standings, their recent starting lineup change should help them do just that.