On Sunday, the Buckeyes narrowly defeated Illinois in a game that ended much closer than it should have been due to some clutch 3-pointers by the Illini when the game seemed out of reach. It was a big win that propelled the Buckeyes to 2-0 in conference play as they head to Northwestern (13-2) on Wednesday night. The Illinois game also featured a very interesting point guard substitution pattern by Thad that I think exemplified the yin and yang of Lyle and Harris.
In the first half, Lyle started the game with 2 quick turnovers and followed it up with 2 turnovers in the first 1:40. He was subsequently benched for A.J. Harris. Interestingly enough, Lyle never got back in for the rest of the half. Harris brought a lot of defensive intensity and on-ball pressure that made it hard for Illinois to get into their offense and he managed the offense efficiently. Not to mention he grabbed a career high 5 rebounds in just 18 minutes. Not bad for a 5’9 point guard.
What followed in the 2nd half was, if anything, even more interesting. Lyle started the half and confidently attacked on offense, scoring twice including an and-one opportunity (he missed the FT). Lyle continued to be effective on offense throughout the 2nd half to the tune of 14 points and 5 assists. Despite Harris’s fine first half performance, he spent the entire 2nd half watching Lyle run the point.
We might see a day when both guards play at the same time, but until then we can expect the same kind of give-and-take we saw during the Illinois game. When Lyle is playing well on offense, we’re much more efficient and when Lyle’s defense slacks and becomes a liability, Harris is there to pick up the intensity on that end.
Which is more valuable to the team?
But if we could only choose one, which is better to have out on the court: Harris’s defense or Lyle’s offense?
The case for Lyle is much easier to make. His size and vision make him an extremely effective passer on offense which we badly need considering it is our weak point by a wide margin. Looking at their offensive value adds, Lyle is not actually far and away better, but the difference in value between Lyle and Harris is obvious elsewhere. Lyle assists on 34.2% of our field goals while Harris assists on 22.9% (1st and 2nd on the team, respectively). Lyle also owns the shooting efficiency stats with a better true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage. The advanced offensive stats (offensive win shares and offensive box plus/minus) also favor Lyle. He’s also more careful with the ball as his turnover percentage is lower.
But what about on defense where Lyle struggles and Harris is constantly smothering his man? Surprisingly, all the stats slightly favor Lyle on that end as well. However, there may be some noise in those numbers. Lyle spends more time with the starters and better players that make up for his defensive mistakes. You also have to remember that Harris struggled on defense very early in the year about as much as Lyle as they both adjusted to the speed of the college game.
Despite what the stats say, Harris’s on-ball pressure seems to annoy the other team’s guards enough to slow down the opposing offense. That in itself might be the biggest value Harris brings to defense as we’re much better as a team when we slow down the pace instead of rushing shots and giving up points in transition.
What does it all mean?
Ultimately, we’re better if Lyle is focused on defense and creating plays on offense, but the best version of this team needs both players at peak efficiency on both ends. They’ve shown a lot of maturity to accept their roles, but they’ll have to show a lot more improvement on their weaknesses for this team to make a significant run in the tournament.
Lyle needs work keeping focus when his man doesn’t have the ball and needs to get lower in his defensive stance so that he’s more prepared to move laterally. On the other side, Harris does well to keep the offense running by moving the ball, but until he learns to get all the way to the hoop and find ways to finish he’ll always be a minus on offense.
As freshman, they’ve already show dramatic improvement over the course of the season. If they can both makes leaps to improve on the ends of the court they have difficulty, it would make a huge difference for this team.
The Buckeyes are now 10-5 and have put themselves in a fairly good position to make the tournament. The complementary players at the point guard position will hopefully give them enough firepower to get there.