So, with the impending (we all hope) return of the Heels' starting PG Ty Lawson, many of us are left to wonder: what wonderful offensive progress will said return bring? To dig deeper and answer (or attempt to answer) this question, I compared the tempo-free performance of Carolina's ACC games with and without Lawson. For statistical equivalence I left the Duke game off, since the other 12 games are against opponents that can be considered roughly equal. In addition, UNC has played a couple of teams both with and without Lawson (Clemson and NC State), helping to balance out the statistics.
There are 5 measurements that differ between the Lawson-led Heels and the Quentin Thomas-led Heels, and they fall into 3 categories:
1) Have Nothing to do with who is playing point guard (or if they do I have no idea how):
Defensive Efficiency has gotten much better for the Heels. Not too much stock can be placed in this stat since the teams UNC has faced aren't normalized in any way. Also, it doesn't make much sense other than the fact that the lineup has gotten taller. I don't think anyone would try to tell you that Thomas is a better defender than Lawson, even considering his 3 or 4 extra inches. I'd like to think that the team has collectively picked up its defense since Lawson's offensive impact is missing.
2) Have Something to do with who is playing point guard:
Effective FG% and Free Throw Rate have both seen marked jumps in the time since Lawson left the lineup. This isn't due to either Lawson or Thomas but the fact that the offense now runs more through Tyler Hansbrough, who makes a higher percentage of shots and gets to the free throw line more than pretty much anyone, period.
3) Have Everything to do with who is playing point guard:
These are the important things; the team's change over the past weeks in Turnover Rate, Pace, and Offensive Efficiency are all due to Ty Lawson's bum ankle. Without Lawson in the lineup a less effective ballhandler is always toting the rock (be it Thomas for Lawson or Ginyard for Thomas). Also, there are far fewer possessions that the Raycom cameraman misses by zooming in on someone popping their jersey or pounding their chest, which means we've been playing slower. Also, since the Heels aren't getting those easy layups in transition their overall Offensive Efficiency is down.
So, to overstate the obvious, the Heels miss Ty Lawson, and should benefit from an added 6 to 8 non-empty possessions per game upon his return. Let's just hope they don't forget to feed the machine down low.
All of the specific stats can be found here. (Don't you just love Google Docs?)