Point guard comparison: Arizona's Lyons vs ASU's Carson
Arizona’s rivalry with ASU goes without saying.
But as the Wildcats travel to Tempe to take on the Sun Devils on Saturday, there is a sub-rivalry brewing.
In early December, ASU’s Jahii Carson caused a firestorm of sorts on Twitter when he declared himself the best point guard in the Pac-12.
Arizona’s Mark Lyons, not to mention UCLA’s Larry Drew, might have something to say about that.
Both Lyons and Carson were recently named Bob Cousy award finalists, an award annually given to the nation’s best collegiate point guard.
Daily Wildcat beat reporters Zack Rosenblatt and Kyle Johnson took a look at Carson and Lyons performances this season. Here’s what they came up with:
Carson the early-season MVP for surprise ASU team
Carson’s aforementioned tweet specifically said: “I Dnt think there is a PG in the PAC better then me . Just me . I think I’ve played the best so far and it’s my first year playin . Salute”.
Looking past the poor grammar, Carson might not be as far off as the many Arizona fans who responded to the tweet thought.
Sure, he’s just a freshman. But boy, is Carson talented.
When talking about Lyons, the attention is almost immediately directed at his clutch play at the end of games, and rightfully so. If not for his late-game heroics, coupled with some Sabatino Chen-hating referees, the Wildcats would probably be closer to 12-4 than 15-1.
But Carson is clutch in his own right. Most recently, he has impressed late in Pac-12 games.
Against Oregon on Sunday, Carson brought the Sun Devils to within one point with 39 seconds left. After four Ducks free throws, Carson nailed an off-balance 3-pointer with seven seconds left to bring ASU back within one point. The Sun Devils wound up losing, but not for lack of effort from their freshman point guard.
His most clutch performance probably came against Utah on Jan. 2, when he hit both the game-tying 3-pointer in regulation and the game-winning layup in overtime.
As for his value to the Sun Devils, let’s put it this way — Carson missed the 2011-12 season after being ruled ineligible and ASU finished 10-21.
With Carson in tow this year, the Sun Devils won their 10th game before conference play even began.
Carson might turn the ball over a bit too much (3.5 per game), but he also scores a team-best 17.1 points per game along with 5.2 assists per game. He’s had 10 games of 17 points or more.
Also, Carson has had more turnovers than assists in a game on three occasions, compared to seven for Lyons.
Count UA head coach Sean Miller among those impressed.
“He makes everybody better,” Miller said of Carson in the weekly Pac-12 coaches conference call. “An electric player. A fun guy to watch. He gets the ball out in transition. He gets his teammates easy shots, and then you look at how easy it is for him to get to the foul line and score.”
The Real Definition of Clutch
Through the first 16 games of Mark Lyons’ Arizona career, it’s been made pretty clear that the fifth-year senior is not a pure point guard. He still has a shoot-first mentality and a tendency to be sloppy with the ball. What he is, though, is an elite scorer and a leader with ice in his veins, and that’s exactly what this talented Wildcats team needs.
When he transferred to Tucson, Lyons wanted the opportunity to play at the point guard position and try to raise his draft stock.
While he has the excuse of still adjusting to a new position on a new team in a new system, he hasn’t been impressive in the role.
Lyons is ninth in the Pac-12 with 3.3 assists per game, and to make the average even worse, he turns it over 2.8 times per game.
This isn’t a debate over who’s the next John Stockton or Chris Paul, though, because the pure point guard torch is held confidently by UCLA’s Larry Drew II. This is about the best player in the point guard position, a title that goes to Lyons.
The Xavier transfer leads Arizona with 14.6 points per game and is shooting a tidy 42.9 from the floor. His three-point percentage of 34.1 percent isn’t amazing, but that again falls under his adjusting to playing a new position.
Lyons has been Arizona’s top scorer in more than half the games this season, but he’s also been something even more important — clutch.
Clutch isn’t an all-encompassing word; there are two distinct forms. One is being clutch by default, like Carson. He is the team’s best scorer and has to take the final shots. Arizona, on the other hand, has plenty of capable scorers, a main reason why it has been able to mount so many comebacks.
Lyons doesn’t need to jack up shots and hope they go in. He instead picks his spots, and when the game is truly on the line, he comes through.
The strength of Arizona is its balance and depth, a great luxury for a team to have. This type of makeup has a weakness, though, and it’s with late game scoring. Who’s going to make the final shot?
Against Florida, Lyons took big man Patric Young off the dribble and beat him and the Gators with a layup. Against San Diego State, Lyons forced Skylar Spencer to commit a late-game foul, sending the Wildcats to the line down a point with 13 seconds left on the clock. Lyons calmly hit both.
He also hit the game-tying free throws against Colorado. Against Utah, Lyons put Arizona up three with two late free throws that forced the Utes to take a desperation three-pointer, which they missed.
Clutch is a word people love to throw out there, but Lyons has earned it. He isn’t a perfect point guard, but he’s the main reason Arizona is the seventh-ranked team in the nation. If being the top scorer and alpha dog on the best team in the Pac-12 doesn’t give you the point guard crown, I don’t know what does.