Thursday, January 06, 2005

Duhon v. Frankie

Sure, I'm biased. I'm an Illinois alum (where Bulls PG Frank Williams led the Fighting Illini to the Elite Eight in 2001).  I'm also a classic Duke-hater (where his teammate Chris Duhon led the Dukies to a national championship).

But every time I see Chris Duhon out to start a game I wonder if the team would be better served getting little-used Frank Williams out on the court. After all, coach Skiles talks all the time about having too many rookies on the court, and Frank, unlike Duhon, has 2 years of NBA experience under his belt. Through observation, I can at least say that Williams can do everything Duhon can, while providing more defense and scoring.

Luckily a time has come in the season where the two can be compared (semi)objectively. Due to Duhon's inexplicable heavy minutes this season, he is close to surpassing the total minutes Williams played last season for the New York Knicks. Using John Hollinger's Pro Basketball Forecast for Williams' 03-04 season, and Knickerblogger's fantastic new stat page (2nd plug this week!) to get Duhon's stats, here is the advanced head-to-head comparison:

Williams (24)                      
03-04 NYY 714 12.3 3.0 6.8   2.5 0.96 29.30 15.20 20.90 4.20 10.66
Duhon (22)                        
04-05 CHI 677 6.5 3.4 8.0   6.3 0.71 40.00 14.10 14.50 4.90 6.88

(on the left are the traditional stats normalized to 40 minutes. On the right are the Hollinger stats, and go to Knickerblogger for those definitions if you're not familiar already)

The stats reflect the story, but give much more merit to Duhon's vaunted 'floor leader' ability than I had anticipated. His Pure Point Rating (PPR) is much higher, and it is further reflected in his superior Assist and Turnover ratios (remember, for TO, less is more). Williams counters that with a far better Usage Rate and point production, and its probably his ability in scoring and creating that give him the higher PER. (greater defensive skills on Williams' side could also help his cause, but I could not isolate those numbers)

I was pleasantly surprised by his inflated point-guard stats, but Duhon's PER is nothing short of abysmal. Looking at last year's PER cellar-dwellers, Duhon's 6.88 puts him among the ranks of Ira Newble (6.75) and Sean Rooks (6.81) in the bottom 5 of the entire league. Not just starters. The. entire. league.

Not to get into the argument of why Duhon OR Williams should be getting much burn over Ben Gordon, of course. I'll assume Skiles will stick to his guns and keep Gordon's minutes capped while his body adjusts to the NBA life.

And maybe this is unnecessary. Perhaps there is little sense in tweaking the starting lineup at a time of relative success. But I still can't help but still think that Williams would only bring more to the lineup than Duhon can, and Williams can run the offense effectively enough to the point where Bulls fans won't be missing Duhon's clanks off the front of the rim. While the Bulls' change in fortune did technically correlate with Duhon's arrival in the starting lineup, correlation doesn't mean causation. If an improvement can be made Skiles should go for it.

But then again, I'm biased.