Carlos Delfino vs Francisco Garcia – Which Wing Will Win?

Since making a roster-shaking trade just before the trade deadline, the Houston Rockets have had a number of new players to work into their rotation. Thomas Robinson may have headlined that trade with Sacramento, but another ex-King has had just as much of an impact of the team. Francisco Garcia has begun to see meaningful minutes for Houston, which could have major repercussions for another Rockets bench scorer, Carlos Delfino. Of these two men with similar skill sets, which, if either, is the long-term option for Houston?

When Daryl Morey signed Carlos Delfino to a two-year, $6 million contract this past summer, it was yet another of Morey’s prudent bench moves. With no money guaranteed on the second year, and a wealth of basketball experience in Delfino’s head, he was to be a low-risk, moderate reward player who could come off the bench for a thin wing position. In practice, he’s played the power forward more than anyone expected, and he’s seen a fair amount of trust and minutes from head coach Kevin McHale. But then on February 21st, a new weapon was added to McHale’s arsenal.

As one of Sacramento’s longest-tenured veterans, Garcia is the very mold of a coach’s favorite. He’s an accurate shooter, a decent defender, and a player who’s able to start or come off the bench. As a Rocket, he’s started three times so far as opposed to five starts for Delfino. With the season winding down, we can begin to look at the two players’ numbers and see who does more for the team. (All numbers consist only of play for the 2012-2013 Houston Rockets.)

While their minutes totals and minutes per game vary greatly, we can get perhaps a clearer idea of their production by looking at stats per 36 minutes, which tells us what their lines look like if they were both to play the same time per game. As both play in a scoring capacity, the number of most immediate concern is points. With Delfino scoring 15.1 per contest and Garcia scoring 14.1, Delfino would seem to have the advantage. Delfino also gets to the line twice as often, for 1.2 free throws per game as opposed to Garcia’s 0.6.

A look at how those points are scored tells a different story, however. Delfino makes only slightly more field goals per 36 minutes, 5.3 as opposed to 5. In that same span of time, however, Delfino is attempting 13.2 shot attempts, while Garcia shoots 11.2. On top of that, Garcia makes 3.5 of his 8.2 threes per 36 minutes while Delfino hits 3.3 of his 8.9 tries. This means that Garcia shoots 44.3% overall and 43.1% from three, while Delfino shoots 40.5% and 37.2% respectively. While Delfino may give you a point more, Garcia will get you there in fewer possessions.

To complete the picture, it’s necessary to examine their peripherals. Delfino, despite being an inch shorter, is actually a more active rebounder in Houston, pulling down 4.6 per 36 minutes as opposed to Garcia’s 2.4. Both have similar assist rates, with 2.8 for Carlos and 2.4 for Francisco. Turnovers are also close, with 1.6 vs 1.4 for Delfino and Garcia. Steals and blocks skew a bit in Garcia’s favor, with him tallying 2.1 steals and 1 block per 36 minutes while Delfino has 1.5 steals and a mere 0.2 blocks.

Of course, there are a few caveats for all of these numbers. Carlos Delfino has played meaningful portions of his minutes at the power forward position, which helps account for his increased rebounds and decreased steals. Francisco Garcia has also played far fewer minutes for Houston, meaning that his data still suffers from a little lack of sample size. Perhaps most importantly, Garcia has played fewer minutes per game for the most part, which has an effect on production. As minutes increase, efficiency per minute tends to drop, which may account for a degree of Garcia’s greater shooting ability thus far.

All that being said, this data bears out some hypotheses from the eye test, namely that Garcia is a more selective and more efficient shooter than Delfino. As a hired gun, Delfino is expected to hoist the three at every opportunity, but this sometimes results in ugly shooting nights in which he goes 2-7 or worse. Delfino also has a greater tendency to try to create, which can have mixed results. Delfino plays like he’s a larger part of the system, while Garcia is the very model of the veteran role player.

It would be easy to come to the conclusion that Garcia is the better fit in the Rockets’ roster, and it’s hard to argue that it’s not true. However, this ignores one of the most important factors involved: money. As noted, Delfino is on an extremely team-friendly contract. He’s making $3m in 2012-2013, and his $3m 2013-2014 salary isn’t guaranteed. Garcia has a team option next season, but the numbers are $6.1 and $6.4 for this year and next respectively. Given that neither player is guaranteed any money next season, this makes things more complicated.

Delfino may arguably be a worse player in a similar role, but Garcia’s contract is over twice as large. If the Rockets were exercise their options for either, Delfino’s much smaller hit is much friendlier. In addition, Delfino’s status as a non guaranteed contract is slightly more desirable than a team option. In practice, however, it’s highly likely that the Rockets waive the options for both players so as to have greater room for free agent. In that event, the Rockets could then choose to sign one or both players to another contract, though there are no guarantees that both sides would want that.

All things being equal, Garcia looks like the more prudent choice for a reliable veteran presence on the wing. However, with the realities of contracts in mind, Delfino’s production is close enough to Garcia’s that his much smaller contract is much more appealing. While McHale is unlikely to abandon a tried and true player in Delfino, don’t be surprised to see Garcia get increasing minutes this year. But don’t be shocked if Garcia’s last days in Rockets red are this year as well.

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