For a statistical analyst, there’s nothing better than the end of the season. Finally, the numbers will stop fluctuating and be fixed for all eternity. This year, the fact that most of the playoffs were set entering the season’s final weekend created some oddities in terms of the final numbers. Most meaningful was Phoenix missing out on the best Offensive Rating in WNBA history while playing two games after clinching the top spot in the Western Conference. Still, the league finished with an average Offensive Rating of 100.4, cracking triple-digits for the first time in the most offensive (in a good way) season the league has ever seen.
Plenty of preformatted tables after the jump …
Team ORtg Team DRtg ------------------- ------------------- Phoenix 109.6 Indiana 95.0 Minnesota 102.3 Seattle 96.7 Atlanta 101.2 Los Angeles 97.1 San Antonio 101.1 Atlanta 98.2 Chicago 100.5 Washington 98.6 AVERAGE 100.4 New York 99.0 Sacramento 100.2 Connecticut 99.3 Detroit 99.8 Detroit 99.4 Indiana 99.5 AVERAGE 100.4 Seattle 99.4 Sacramento 102.7 Connecticut 99.3 San Antonio 103.1 Los Angeles 97.4 Chicago 105.1 New York 97.4 Minnesota 105.2 Washington 96.6 Phoenix 105.4
While the Mercury dipped a little bit in the final week, look at the enormous gap between Phoenix and the rest of the league on offense. How good was the Mercury offense? Take Phoenix away and league average drops all the way to 99.6 points per 100 possessions. The Mercury might get a run for its money from Minnesota next year. Even without star Seimone Augustus for most of the campaign, the Lynx still finished in second. Lower down the list, L.A. finally moved out of the cellar in Offensive Rating.
On defense, the Storm held on to second place, the best finish in franchise history. Previously, the team was third in both 2002 and 2004. Last year, the Storm was fourth in the league, though compared to league average the 2008 D was slightly more effective.
EXPECTED WINS STANDINGS
Team Exp. W Team Exp. W ------------------- ------------------- Phoenix 21.1 Indiana 20.5 Seattle 19.2 Atlanta 19.1 Los Angeles 18.2 Detroit 17.3 San Antonio 15.5 Connecticut 16.9 Sacramento 14.4 New York 16.2 Minnesota 13.8 Washington 15.8 Chicago 13.0
Not a lot of change in terms of point differential. Detroit and Los Angeles both managed to get positive in the season’s final week. Washington makes the playoffs despite finishing sixth in differential in the East, where Connecticut took this year’s hard-luck award. Chicago was in the playoff hunt until the season’s final weekend, but still ended up with the league’s worst point differential, while Minnesota was surpassed by Sacramento when the Monarchs won the otherwise-meaningless head-to-head finale.
Team Exp. W ------------------- Phoenix 83.4 Atlanta 81.7 Minnesota 77.9 Washington 77.6 AVERAGE 76.9 Connecticut 76.6 Sacramento 76.3 Detroit 76.2 Indiana 75.9 Chicago 75.0 Los Angeles 74.7 New York 74.5 San Antonio 74.4 Seattle 72.9
With the season coming to an end, we’ll take a look at a few more statistics than usual. Guess what? Phoenix was the league’s fastest-paced team. I know, I know. Will surprises never cease? Atlanta, for a second straight season, was a close No. 2. New coaches pushed the pace in Minnesota and Washington. Also repeating as the league’s slowest-paced team was your Seattle Storm. The series between the Storm and L.A. – which played more half-court basketball than last year with a big lineup – won’t feature a ton of up-and-down basketball.
Team Reb% Team Reb% ------------------- ------------------- Los Angeles .534 Phoenix .465 Sacramento .529 San Antonio .466 Detroit .525 New York .475 Washington .522 Chicago .481 Atlanta .519 Minnesota .492
A quicker glance at team rebound percentage, with the top and bottom five in the league. Predictably, the Sparks were the league’s best rebounding team, although there were four other teams within shouting distance. There’s a huge gap between Atlanta and the Storm, who finished sixth at .501 thanks to outrebounding the league’s two worst teams on the glass in the regular season’s final two games.
Player Tm Win% WARP ------------------------------------- Tamika Catchings IND .727 8.5 Nicky Anosike MIN .740 7.3 Diana Taurasi PHO .718 7.2 Becky Hammon SAS .674 6.9 Lauren Jackson SEA .732 6.7 Janel McCarville NYL .685 5.7 Cappie Pondexter PHO .613 5.4 Sancho Lyttle ATL .644 5.4 Nicole Powell SAC .606 5.0 Erika De Souza ATL .630 5.0 Lindsay Whalen CON .611 5.0 Candace Parker LAS .656 5.0 Sophia Young SAS .589 5.0
Congrats to Tamika Catchings, who used good health and strong play for the league’s second-best team to lead the league in WARP (no trophy is awarded for each season’s WARP leader, alas). Catchings previously led the league in 2002, 2005 and 2006, yet has no MVP awards to her credit. This should be Catchings’ best chance, given the Fever was atop the WNBA much of the season, but Katie Douglas has gotten most of the MVP attention and at best the two will split votes.
Granted, Indiana struggled when Douglas was absent late in the season, but remember that the same thing happened when Catchings was out and then at less than full strength early in a forgettable 2008 season. Both players play a key role in the Fever’s offense, but Catchings is much more key to the league’s best defense. That’s no knock on Douglas, a fine defender in her own right, but Catchings is as good a defender as has ever played in the WNBA, and her versatility has long made her a WARP favorite.
Becky Hammon edged past the sidelined Lauren Jackson to finish fourth in the league and post the best WARP of her career, narrowly surpassing last season. Hammon averaged 5.0 assists per game, which is pretty good for a score-first point guard.
Besides Douglas, the non-leader in the MVP discussion is Cappie Pondexter. On offense, Pondexter rates as well as anyone – she’s third in the league, behind Diana Taurasi and Hammon, in Offensive Rating – but she shows as a non-factor at the defensive end. As a result, it’s hard for her to compare to the value of two-way players like Catchings or even Taurasi.
I expanded the list past 10 players to show all five who more or less tied for ninth in the league with precisely five more wins than a replacement-level player. It’s an eclectic group which includes several players who moved up late in the year. Nicole Powell wrapped up her best season as a pro by scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds Sunday against Minnesota. Candace Parker obviously was not as effective after returning from giving birth as she was in her MVP campaign, but she was still awfully good on a per-minute basis. Her value is held back largely by the time she missed.
Player Tm Win% WARP ------------------------------------- Angel McCoughtry ATL .679 4.9 DeWanna Bonner PHO .617 3.7 Courtney Paris SAC .600 2.0 Shavonte Zellous DET .496 1.7 Kristi Toliver CHI .561 1.4 Megan Frazee SAS .516 0.8
In the end, statistically, it wasn’t close. DeWanna Bonner had a very good rookie season, but Angel McCoughtry was one of the league’s best players on a per-minute basis, averaging 23.7 points (third in the league) and 4.4 steals (first). I’m OK with splitting the awards and giving Bonner Sixth Woman since most of McCoughtry’s best games came as a starter. Elsewhere, we see some players who rated very well on a per-minute basis but struggled to get playing time. The shortcomings of Courtney Paris and Kristi Toliver are obvious, but their strengths valuable enough that they will demand more action next season.
Player Tm PER ------------------------------ Lauren Jackson SEA 26.3 Diana Taurasi PHO 25.1 Nicky Anosike MIN 24.0 Becky Hammon SAS 23.7 Lisa Leslie LAS 23.4 Tamika Catchings IND 23.1 Angel McCoughtry ATL 22.8 Kara Braxton DET 22.8 Rebekkah Brunson SAC 22.3 Janel McCarville NYL 22.2
To give a complementary view, here’s how John Hollinger’s PER had the league’s top players. Naturally, the big difference is that PER is an efficiency rating rather than a value one and does not consider playing time. That aside, PER still has Lisa Leslie much higher than she scored in the per-minute incarnation of WARP, player win percentage – where she scored 10th, essentially tied with teammate Parker.
Player Tm TS% ------------------------------ Sylvia Fowles CHI .626 Diana Taurasi PHO .620 Crystal Langhorne WAS .606 Kristi Toliver CHI .606 Nicole Ohlde PHO .597
The most efficient scorer in the league was Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles, who shot a league-best 59.9 percent from the field and improved from the free throw line. Surprisingly, there are few perimeter shooting specialists on this list, with Toliver (who attempted nearly two-thirds of her shots behind the line and made them at a 44.4 percent clip) the only representative. The most impressive name on this list is Taurasi, because she had far and away the highest usage rate of any of these players. Speaking of which …
Player Tm Ps% ------------------------------ Becky Hammon SAS .276 Charde Houston MIN .270 Lisa Leslie LAS .266 Katie Douglas IND .264 Angel McCoughtry ATL .264
Because of the diversity of the Phoenix offense, neither Taurasi (.254) nor Pondexter (.260) used possessions quite at a league-leading rate. Both still got up plenty of shots in the fast-paced Mercury system. Hammon was called upon to shoulder a heavy load in the San Antonio offense; including assists would only increase her lead over everyone else. The surprising name here is Charde Houston, who was the go-to scorer for Minnesota after Augustus went down and was awfully efficient in that role – but came up with few assists.
Player Tm Reb% ------------------------------ Kara Braxton DET .194 Courtney Paris SAC .189 Erika de Souza ATL .186 Rebekkah Brunson SAC .178 Candace Parker LAS .177
Kara Braxton played very well this season, ranking amongst the PER leaders, but her minutes remained limited. For Erika de Souza, this was a first chance to start regularly in the WNBA (she would have had that opportunity last season were it not for injuries), and she demonstrated that her effective play in limited bursts was no fluke. Parker was not as effective as a scorer this season, but one of the other areas she helped make up for it was by doing more on the glass than she did as a rookie.
TO RATE LEADERS
Player Tm TO% ------------------------------ Amber Holt CON .087 Sidney Spencer NYL .089 DeWanna Bonner PHO .090 Kelly Mazzante PHO .091 Lauren Jackson SEA .092
Mostly, a chance to appreciate LJ. Usually, the leaders in turnover rate are spot-up shooters like Sidney Spencer and Kelly Mazzante. Bonner did an excellent job of taking care of the basketball during her rookie season, but none of these players had nearly as important a role in their offense as Jackson. No wonder the Storm’s turnover rate has spiked since Jackson has been sidelined.