As part of today’s All-Star festivities in San Antonio, the Top 15 Players of All Time will be unveiled during a halftime ceremony. Just in time, I’ve updated my data to be able to do my own version strictly by the numbers – in this case, by the sames Wins Above Replacement Player statistic (WARP) I use to look at the league on a weekly basis. Naturally, the Top 15 is about more than just statistics – which is why these rankings don’t quite correspond to my own ballot – but they do provide an interesting perspective on the process.
Going strictly by career WARP, your Top 15 would be:
Player WARP ------------------------- Tamika Catchings 90.0 Lauren Jackson 87.4 Lisa Leslie 85.7 Sheryl Swoopes 72.5 Yolanda Griffith 65.6 Tina Thompson 59.8 Becky Hammon 57.3 Diana Taurasi 57.2 Katie Smith 50.6 Sue Bird 50.3 Katie Douglas 49.7 Penny Taylor 48.0 Taj McWilliams 46.3 Chamique Holdsclaw 41.3 Cynthia Cooper 41.1
You’re right to be suspicious of any list that has the great Cynthia Cooper barely sneaking in. Total value doesn’t completely measure the greatness we’re hoping to reward here, as using career WARP favors longevity over peaking in a way that helps produce championships. So I added three other factors: WARP/season (not including 2011, which is part of the career totals), WARP in three best seasons and best three consecutive seasons of WARP. To weight these factors equally, I divided the latter two by three and career WARP by 10 (a typical career length) to produce the following list:
Player WARP ------------------------- Tamika Catchings 42.4 Lauren Jackson 38.9 Sheryl Swoopes 34.8 Cynthia Cooper 33.9 Lisa Leslie 33.6 Yolanda Griffith 32.6 Diana Taurasi 32.1 Becky Hammon 24.9 Katie Smith 24.5 Sue Bird 24.0 Tina Thompson 23.8 Penny Taylor 22.2 Katie Douglas 21.9 Lindsay Whalen 20.8 Taj McWilliams 20.5
While I find the order within the list to be preferable, the names themselves don’t actually change very much. The only difference is Lindsay Whalen sneaking in ahead of Chamique Holdsclaw. Don’t count on seeing Whalen on the actual list, though – she wasn’t one of the 30 nominees. If we discount here, Cappie Pondexter moves into the last spot.
I had hoped this would help some of the veteran players like Teresa Weatherspoon, but ultimately T-Spoon did not have a long enough productive career. After five solid seasons, she was below replacement level her last three years in the WNBA, dragging down her average WARP per year.
Three Storm players get the nod by either method. As members of the All-Decade Team who have continued to add value since then, Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson and Katie Smith should have been on your ballot no matter what criteria you used.
The two most underrated players in the WNBA historically have been Katie Douglas and Penny Taylor. Both are enjoying career seasons, so in time they may come to earn the respect their statistics already indicate they deserve.
Be sure to watch the All-Star Game starting at 12:30 p.m. Pacific on ABC to see the real Top 15 Players.