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BYU Basketball should make TJ Haws their starting point guard

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When do the Cougars play their best ball? When TJ Haws has the ball in his hands.

NCAA Basketball: Weber State at Brigham Young Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The strength of the BYU Cougars basketball team lies in their frontline of Yoeli Childs and Eric Mika. This duo has played the most reliably and consistently. Going into ball games, head coach Dave Rose has to wonder what he is going to get from the streaky shotmaking of his guards and wings. He doesn’t have to worry about his bigs. They are going to dependably crash the boards, get to the line, and score for his team. It seems that the only thing slowing down the Y big men this season are referee whistles.

The physical gifts and basketball acumen of Yoeli and Mika are terrific and certainly a key part of to their individual success.

There is, however, another aspect to why they seem to be playing so well. The BYU bigs have a clear idea about their objectives on the court. There is a comfort in the movement and approach of any of the BYU big men. Kyle Davis, Braiden Shaw, Jamal Aytes, and Payton Dastrup enter ball games and look confident about what it is that they are expected to do within the system their coaches have put together.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Brigham Young Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

This kind of ease and understanding that is observed with the BYU bigs has not commonly been present on the guard line. For whatever reason, there seems to be a lack of assurance among the Cougar backcourt. Which is something I don’t think anyone would have predicted before the season began.

TJ Haws and Nick Emery have clearly stood out as guys that deserve time on the floor. They are the future. The defensive effort, effortless free throw shooting, ability to attack the rim and shoot from outside, thrown in their versatility and both of them are the clear options for 2 of the 3 guard spots. Beyond that, they are the top 2 players this season in plus-minus and minutes played.

BYU v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

All this leads to two key questions to consider before conference play begins. Who should be Haws and Emery’s running mate? What position should Haws and Emery be playing?

During this season including exhibition games, Dave Rose has tried out 169 different lineup configurations. I’ve tracked all of them. I’ve tracked how many minutes they have played together and what the lineup’s plus-minus was. I’ll make some observations and suggestions about how BYU may want to proceed using this data.

Before tackling who Emery and Haws should play with, let’s first take a look at how they have been used.

Nick Emery has played all but 50 seconds of this season as an off-the-ball guard. He’s played as a wing. That’s where Dave Rose used him primarily last season. That’s where he has almost exclusively played during this season. Emery is producing 16 points per game while averaging more assists and steals than last year. He is playing very well in this role and Dave Rose is going to stick with him here.

TJ Haws, however, has split his minutes between being a wing player and a point guard. Haws has played 327 minutes off-the-ball and 139 minutes as the point.

TJ Haws position Plus-Minus Minutes Played Plus-minus per minute played
Point 84 139 0.60
Off guard 98 327 0.30

When Haws has played at the point, BYU has been doubly effective on the scoreboard.

Now evaluate TJ Haws’ numbers at point guard against LJ Rose’s marks.

Player at point Plus-Minus Minutes Played Plus-minus per minute played
TJ Haws 84 139 0.60
LJ Rose 95 385 0.25

With TJ Haws at the point, BYU has been more than doubly effective on the scoreboard.

There are a few things to be considered when looking at these numbers.

First, as TJ Haws plays more minutes at the point, it is quite likely that his numbers in this category would decrease. Secondly, TJ Haws has been at the point against the opponents 2nd units while LJ Rose has been playing against starting lineups. Meaning that Rose, in theory, has had tougher matchups.

Even still, the contrast that the data is showing gives some evidence to the idea that BYU should try TJ Haws as their primary starting point guard with Rose spelling Haws.

Elijah Bryant was meant to factor into the point guard picture for BYU, but Bryant has been sidelined with a knee injury. Bryant did played 37 minutes this season at point guard with the team earning a +11 under his lead. The hobbled transfer from Elon averaged 0.30 in plus-minus per minute — just above LJ Rose’s rating.

It was only a limited amount of time to really know what the Cougars have in Elijah Bryant, but judging by the sample that we do have combined with the struggles of coming off injury, there isn’t anything — at least on spreadsheets — to suggest that he’d be an upgrade from LJ Rose or TJ Haws as the man to bring the ball up the floor.

The effect that Rose and Haws have on their teammates while playing the point is interesting to consider as well. Here is how they both perform when playing with Nick Emery and without Nick Emery.

Player at point Plus-minus Minutes played Plus-minus per minute played
TJ Haws with Nick Emery 62 126 0.49
TJ Haws without Nick Emery 22 13 1.69
LJ Rose with Nick Emery 104 309 0.34
LJ Rose without Nick Emery -9 76 -0.19

Advantage TJ.

Here’s a look at how the team plays under Rose or Haws’ guidance with Eric Mika on and off the floor.

Player at point Plus-minus Minutes played Plus-minus per minute played
TJ Haws with Eric Mika 43 75 0.57
TJ Haws without Eric Mika 41 64 0.64
LJ Rose with Eric Mika 108 267 0.40
LJ Rose without Eric Mika -13 118 -0.11

Again, advantage TJ Haws.

A take away from the previous pair of tables is that if Eric Mika or Nick Emery get in foul trouble and need to leave the floor, so should LJ Rose. The data here suggests that the team has a better opportunity to continue to play winning basketball if they are without Emery or Mika if Haws is running the point.

Lastly, here’s how LJ Rose does with TJ Haws on the floor vs. TJ Haws off the floor.

Player at point Plus-Minus Minutes Played Plus-minus per minute played
LJ Rose w/ TJ Haws 88 288 0.31
LJ Rose w/o TJ Haws 7 97 0.07

What this shows is that if LJ Rose is playing with 2 or less of the “Lone Peak Three” BYU fails to play winning basketball. That isn’t necessarily LJ Rose’s fault. Haws, Emery, and Mika are all very good basketball players. But, it is surprising that LJ Rose led lineups need all 3 members of the Lone Peak Three in order to put together winning minutes of basketball. Otherwise, a LJ Rose lineups absent of all 3 Lone Peak alumni are essentially just holding serve with their opponents.

The reason that BYU continues to play winning minutes when Haws takes the point and is absent of Eric Mika or Nick Emery is found in Haws’ hoops connection with Yoeli Childs. Fans have seen it on the floor with with several Yoeli dunks off nifty passes from TJ. With Haws at the 1 and Yoeli on the floor, the Cougars are averaging blistering 0.74 in plus-minus per minute. A full half a point better than LJ and Yoeli’s 0.23. When Mika goes out of the game, Haws unlocks Yoeli’s ability to influence the game in a way LJ Rose hasn’t figured out.

Player at point Plus-minus Minutes played Plus-minus per minute played
TJ Haws w/ Yoeli Childs 60 81 0.74
TJ Haws w/ Yoeli Childs w/o Eric Mika 18 45 0.40
LJ Rose w/ Yoeli Childs 65 220 0.30
LJ Rose w/ Yoeli Childs w/o Eric Mika 6 45 0.13
NCAA Basketball: Cal. State - Bakersfield at Brigham Young Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The working theory is that BYU will play more winning basketball with TJ Haws at point guard. However, one of the draw backs to this idea is that BYU doesn’t have a player that suitably fills in at the 3 position. There is some merit to this.

BYU currently has these players as options to play with a TJ Haws, Nick Emery at the 1 and 2 — Steven Beo, Colby Leifson, Davin Guinn, or Zach Frampton. Not exactly a murderer’s row of wings. (Is it possible to put a uniform on Lee Cummard who is working as a graduate assistant on BYU’s bench and sneak him into the game?) That group of 4 players represents 3 players that joined the team as a walk-on. Each player has their strengths and flaws.

NCAA Basketball: BYU vs Southern California Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Beo is considerably undersized to play the wing. However, he has shown his ability to bring defensive intensity and on the other end of the floor he makes good decisions with the basketball rarely turning the ball over and making good passes.

In a lot of ways, the recent success of Steven Beo is found his ability to be solid. He has taken his opportunities for minutes and hasn’t worried about making a splash. Instead, Beo has been levelheaded. He does what he is comfortable with. He doesn’t waste offensive possessions with a turnover or ill-advised shot and makes his matchup work hard on the other end of the floor. His recent performances have his numbers trending up.

Colby Leifson has better size than Beo. Leifson doesn’t appear to be a capable defender. The word is that Leifson is the best option offensively as he can get red hot from outside. With Mika, Emery, and Haws on the floor, one would expect Leifson to get really open looks. Despite this, Colby is 5-for-19 on the season from 3-point land.

Leifson has done the opposite of Beo with his minutes. Colby has tried to enter games and make a big impact. When the shots fell against Illinois, it was magic. In most every other game, it has been a couple of missed, rushed shots which in turn kill his confidence and Leifson passes on open, in rhythm looks. So, shooting when he should have passed, and passed when he should have shot. Plus, Leifson has been more turnover prone. Potential here, but lacks the savvy to capitalize on his opportunities.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois vs Brigham Young Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Davin Guinn had a couple of good games in the tournament in Las Vegas. Guinn is the best rebounder of the possible 3 guards. That is his greatest benefit. He is an energy guy. But to say he’s been bad offensively might be too generous. Of the 2,759 Division 1 basketball players with at least 50 used possession + assists, Davin Guinn is 2,671st with his 0.792 in points per possession — this puts him in the 3.2 percentile nationally. Only 87 other players in all of college basketball have been worse. In simplier terms, he isn’t effective offensively.

Guinn only has 2 assists this season — Braiden Shaw has that many in half the minutes as a big man. Davin is shooting a team low 28.9% from the field. That’s not a great combination. Between his inability to help his teammates score and his team low 28.9% shooting from the field, BYU is playing 4 on 5 offensively when Guinn is on the floor. His defense is solid, but the horror show offensively limits the personnel Guinn can be effective with. Hold onto that thought.

Here’s what we know about Zach Frampton. He’s familiar with his Lone Peak team mates. He is inserted into games at times to help get stops defensively. He hasn’t played enough minutes or had the opportunity to really display his strengths and weaknesses.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Brigham Young Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Now balance those previous 4 paragraphs against playing LJ Rose at the point and TJ Haws at the wing.

LJ Rose certainly has more experience as a college basketball player than any of those 4 potential 3 guards. LJ Rose has a greater basketball pedigree. It is clear that LJ Rose has an understanding of his limitations and benefits. LJ also has a calming veteran influence on the young and talented members of the Cougar basketball team.

Every intangible part of basketball screams to go with LJ Rose. When those intuitive elements of the game are considered, it is really easy to see why Dave Rose has decided to go primarily with LJ at the point with TJ working off-the-ball.

Even still, it is worth checking to see if those intangibles are resulting in production. Here are the numbers of how TJ Haws and Nick Emery have done with each of the options at the 3.

Backcourt lineup Plus/Minus Minutes Played Plus/Minus per minute
TJ Haws at point, Nick Emery at 2
w/ Davin Guinn 30 57 0.53
w/ Colby Leifson 32 18 1.78
w/ Steven Beo 6 46 0.13
w/ Zach Frampton -5 4 -1.25
LJ Rose at point, Nick Emery at 2
w/ TJ Haws 96 226 0.42
w/ Davin Guinn -6 33 -0.18
w/ Colby Leifson 2 11 0.18
w/ Steven Beo -3 13 -0.23
w/ Zach Frampton 2 2 1
w/ Elijah Bryant 8 20 0.4

Remember how I asked you to hold onto the thought about Davin Guinn’s offensive ineptitude limiting which players he can be effective with? Take a look! BYU is +30 with a Haws, Emery, Guinn backcourt and they are a -6 with a Rose, Emery, Guinn backcourt. Guinn and LJ Rose can’t play together because it murders BYU offensively. Guinn’s struggles offensively coupled with LJ Rose’s shooting woes leave the Cougars in a scenario where they are 3 on 5 offensively. A simple lane clogging zone with attention given to Emery should be enough to really stifle a lineup with both Guinn and Rose.

Combining the numbers of Guinn, Leifson, Beo, and Frampton when they are on the floor with Haws and Emery reveals an interesting discovery. The result is a +63 rating after 125 minutes played which averages out to +0.50 per minute. That’s a higher average output than the LJ Rose, Nick Emery, TJ Haws guard line.

So, the data indicates that Dave Rose should throw the intangibles out the window.

To review, in terms of lineup plus-minus, Nick Emery plays better with TJ Haws at point guard. So do Eric Mika and Yoeli Childs. Also the case for Davin Guinn, Steven Beo, and Colby Leifson. I believe there is enough here to say that it would be worth it to Dave Rose and his staff to make the change to TJ Haws as the primary point guard.

With TJ Haws at point, Nick Emery, Yoeli Childs, and Eric Mika on the floor, BYU has only had a bad stretch of basketball once. It was against Utah State with Davin Guinn as the 5th player on the floor. The Cougars went -4 during that 6 minute stretch. Overall, the lineup of Guinn with those four players is -1. On every other occassion that group of 4 have played winning basketball. Most explosively with Colby Leifson. Most reliably with Steven Beo.

NCAA Basketball: BYU vs USC Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Knowing these data points, this would be my experiment for the rotation if I was Dave Rose.

I would try to run with TJ Haws, Nick Emery, Colby Leifson, Yoeli Childs, and Eric Mika. This is the jackpot option. Throw out Leifson and if the gamble pays off, it is a big reward. (This is precisely the gamble Rose made late in the game and trailing against Illinois. It was what brought them back close enough to have a last second heave to try to steal a victory.) If Leifson is turning the ball over, passing out of good looks, missing his shot, then I would try Steven Beo with one condition.

The undersized Beo works with this group, so long as he has the rim protection of both Yoeli and Eric behind him. If either or both Mika or Childs are off the floor, Beo’s lack of size begins to be problematic of this lineup — the team is -6 in this scenario.

If Leifson isn’t working out and Beo can’t have both Mika and Childs on the floor. Then, it is Davin Guinn time. Davin Guinn in combination with Haws and Emery, but without one or both of Mika and Childs on the frontline is +31. The success here is probably a spacing issue. Guinn is more likely to play closer to the hoop, but with Eric and Yoeli, the area becomes too clogged.

As conference play begins, it is clear that BYU is not a finished product. However, there are glimpses from non-conference play that may help the Cougars be able to shake up the status quo of the West Coast Conference by maximizing the strengths of the team. The first place to start is to play TJ Haws as the featured point guard — the position where he helps the team the most.