I was a bit NBA draft obsessed this past week so I watched less WNBA games…and I missed quite a week…
During the NBA draft was the triple overtime thriller between the Liberty and Fever. Overtime heroics from Tina Thompson who hit a game winning shot against the Silver Stars with a broken finger. The Sun and Shock split in their home-and-home series for first place. The Dream pushed a weary Sun team to overtime in search of their first win. And lest we forget, Candace Parker had those two dunks.
Toss in Pam McGee’s son getting drafted, and I think maybe you have a candidate for one of the most exciting WNBA weeks ever…? Not a bad follow up to last weekend which included outstanding performances by Deanna Nolan and Candice Wiggins last weekend.This was the kind of week of basketball I love to see as a fan: competitive, high quality basketball with a touch of drama.
I did get to see the back to back Shock and Sun games and that was some of the best WNBA basketball I’ve seen. Why? Although each game was pretty much one-sided, it featured some of the best team defense I’ve ever seen.
Defense is not the most exciting thing to watch, it might not even win championships, but since we so rarely see a team play a full game of intense defense I thought these games were worth a second look. And right now, I think the edge goes to the Shock in the Eastern Conference.
It’s sort of funny that I happened to catch a re-run of a certain cartoon that criticized the WNBA for being a slower version of basketball with minor talent...on a night on which such great basketball was played. Defensive basketball can sometimes come off as slow and boring, but it was hard not to appreciate the defensive intensity that the Sun and Shock displayed this week.
Game 1: Detroit at Connecticut
The X’s and O’s of Basketball covered the defensive schemes of the first game pretty well. Here’s a summary:
There wasn't one thing specifically, but I put together a few plays which showed what a good M2M defensive team looks like. They got their hands into the passing lanes to deflect and steal lazy passes, they had great help-side defense to stop penetration, and finally I liked the way they played tough against the Shock by bumping Katie Smith and making her work for her points.So I was interested to see two things in the second game: 1) whether the Sun could bring the intensity a second time and 2) what adjustments the Shock would make.
Game 2: Connecticut at Detroit
What was amazing about the second game is that the Sun actually managed to bring the same defensive intensity in the second game, especially the denial defense. Barbara Turner was practically flying into the passing lanes on some plays, putting on a ton of pressure when she wasn’t getting her hand on the ball. They made smart double teams by waiting until post players dribbled the ball to bring the second player. Their defensive pressure triggered a number of fast breaks.
The big difference in this game was that the Shock responded well to the defense. They made two huge runs -- a 17-2 run that began at the end of the first quarter and an 11-1 run in the third quarter – that the Sun never recovered from. That was only worsened by the fact that the Sun also shot themselves out of the game in the first half going 1 for 8 from the three point line.
So what did the Shock do differently?
The main thing was that they got into attack mode early and just never let up. That was made by possible by much improved ball movement, which kept Connecticut’s defense off balance.
The Shock’s intensity extended to the defensive end. Commentator Matt Sheppard described it best as a swarmihttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifng defense. Although Tom Thibault said the Sun dug themselves a hole offensively, he should have credited the Shock defense with digging that hole. Connecticut got to a point where they were taking the best shots available.
But what impressed me most was the way Detroit attacked Connecticut’s defense with outstanding ball movement. It was an excellent demonstration of how to beat a strong man to man defense.
First, rather than panicking when Connecticut brought pressure, they were extremely patient. Second, people did an excellent job of moving without the ball to get open so the ball could keep moving. When they got the ball into the post, Connecticut often had trouble stopping them.
But what enabled that was outstanding guard play by Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith.
They are an amazing backcourt combination who are able to distribute the ball well, find their own scoring opportunities, and manage the tempo. When Cheryl Ford, Alexis Hornbuckle, or Tasha Humphrey are playing well too, this team is nearly impossible to stop. So when they’re moving the ball around against a man to man defense, it’s difficult to defend because almost every player is a threat to score. As a testament to their offensive balance, five players scored in double figures against the Sun.
There was one play in particular at the end of the first half where Deanna Nolan was double teamed on at the top of the key, back dribbled out of the double team to get the defender off balance, and used a crossover to get by the defender to the basket. That’s something I rarely see at any level of basketball. And she did it so smoothly that it seemed unspectacular.
A team with two intelligent combo guards on the court, strong post play, and good defense is going to be difficult to beat. The Sun are good, but extremely dependent on Lindsay Whalen to win. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – Whalen is an amazing player capable of carrying a team. They win based on effort, great coaching and outstanding team basketball. But stopping the Sun is predicated primarily on keying in on Whalen and Detroit did that well.
Over the long haul, especially in the playoffs, it will just be much easier for Detroit to adjust to what teams throw at them because their team is so balanced on both sides of the floor. They’re extremely difficult to plan for and what I think they showed this week is that when they bring their maximum intensity to the game, there’s nothing an opponent can do to stop them.
I was a bit NBA draft obsessed this past week so I watched less WNBA games…and I missed quite a week…
The WNBA’s newest Expect Great ads have a much more positive tone than the original set, but still fall short of really grabbing me.
Whereas the first ads posed a challenge to doubters, the latest sort of embrace those that already believe in the league by trying to capture the players’ competitiveness. So while I appreciate the underlying message of the original ads, the new commercials
are much more aesthetically pleasing…and that counts for something if we have to sit through them 10+ times a game.
However, there’s still something missing – these ads fail to “draw me in” so to speak. They’re positive but not provocative; thoughtful but dispassionate. The tone is more pleasant, but still uninspiring. And anybody who’s seen Taurasi in interviews before knows she has more personality than that.
So then – as I’m prone to do – I asked myself a basic question in hopes of illuminating what these commercials lack: what makes a sports commercial memorable?
If there’s some winning formula for great commercials out there, can the WNBA use it to enhance their ads?
After some thought, I realized that every single one of my favorite commercials were great not because I remember the content, but how the content made me feel. I’m not sure where I’m going with these thoughts, but right now, I get nothing out of the Expect Great commercials as a consumer.
Back Down Consumerism Lane
The commercials that stand out in my mind are the ones that my friends and I would joke about or imitate on the court the next day. Somehow the content struck a chord with our own delusions of basketball grandeur, gave us something new to clown around about, or perfectly captured why we would spend three hours playing basketball in the rain or 98 degree weather (I did that one time much to my mother’s dismay. I nearly killed myself...for the love of the game).
So as I probed my memory I did a quick web search and came up with some of the absolutely most memorable commercials -- the ones that we would replay in our minds even after they were no longer on the air because they hit on something special. And of course the first thing that came to mind was not the commercials, but the punch lines:
And then I realized something else: they were all corporate product ads.
Sure, the NBA had all those “FAN-tastic” and “I love this game” ads, but not one of those stands out in my mind. It would seem that the best marketing for the NBA was showcasing their stars as a means to get me to buy someone else’s product. In thirty seconds you can’t convince me to watch the NBA, but you can convince me that somehow watching these players compete will feed my love of the game…and my thirst.
Should the WNBA’s branding involve endorsing someone else’s brand?
It’s pretty well documented that a major part of the NBA’s branding process was putting its players out there to endorse other products, most notably sneakers. I remember the disdain I felt for my parents when they wouldn’t buy me have a pair of L.A. Gear shoes that * gasp * Karl Malone endorsed… oh how foolish I was in my youth. But the other thing is that these major corporations will pour money into these ads, which is essential.
Those early sneaker ads were great. Nike has some of the most brilliant ads ever, hands down, in any industry (I have to give credit to Budweiser though – the Bud Bowl, the frogs, and Wazzup/"True" ads are undoubtedly classics). It seemed as though anything Michael Jordan was in was destined for greatness.
And Sprite’s Grant Hill ads were great too. I mean anytime we saw someone in high school miss a dunk or layup, we’d pull out the ol’ Grant Hill drinks sprite. Gatorade struck gold with “Like Mike” even as I try to play it off as too cheesy now.
Nike has had a few ads with WNBA athletes, but I’m not talking about clips of people working out or “little rascals” giving Lisa Leslie new plays on notebook paper (though those were funny). I’m talking about something that reminds me why I love basketball to begin with. The punchline I can use to clown my friends when they do something silly.
And the music was huge too.
I bet there's a good number of people about my age who are able to repeat that “Like Mike” song verbatim. Because hey, everyone on the court wanted to be like Mike.
The most memorable commercials use the music perfectly to evoke exactly the feeling they want me to feel. The Expect Great commercials make me feel like someone just broke up with me over the phone on a rainy day. This is basketball… not a Hugh Grant movie. Why not try leaving me with the impression the WNBA is going to evoke pleasant feelings?
Give me a hero to root for or a villain to root against…but don’t leave me indifferent. Candace Parker is the most marketable WNBA athlete around and she has a contract with Addidas…where are the Addidas ads? Don’t they still need to sell shoes?
It’s not a bad strategy the NBA employed: branding the league by promoting players who endorse the things we love. I know, all that consumerism feels yucky to me too… but the WNBA is trying to sell a product first and foremost.
Actually, the very first commercial that popped into my mind was only a vague memory, but it is by far the sports commercial that resonated with me most. I wish I could find a clip of it, but I can’t even remember the product. In fact, it didn’t even promote the NBA…it was just a great basketball commercial.
A kid was alone on a court imagining a scenario where he’s got the ball at the top of the key with a few seconds left and his team down by 1. He gives a running play by play as he makes a few moves, then says, “He shoots…” in anticipation of the game winning shot and misses. As the ball falls to the asphalt, he stands completely still deep in thought. Then his eyes light up and he looks up and yells, “He was fouled!” as he grabs the ball and heads to the free throw line for his imagined second chance (no word on whether the game went into overtime…my imagined games would if necessary).
Simple, yet beautiful.
The WNBA’s current ad campaign lacks the passion, imagination, and emotion – and even the childhood innocence -- that make sports absolutely great. I understand that the league is not at all in the same position as the NBA and thus their marketing strategy has to be different.
But instead of trying to spur a cognitive shift in expectations about women’s basketball, why not make me feel great about the prospect of watching women’s basketball? Why not find a way to remind us why we spend time watching (and blogging about) the sports we love in the first place?
Cheryl Ford said in an ESPN the Magazine video that the men’s game is about who can jump the highest. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to disagree with her.
I don’t necessarily believe that the WNBA is a more “pure” form of basketball (what does that mean anyway?), but as Ford alludes to, it does seem that there is more of an emphasis on the fundamentals of team basketball.
The fact is that the NBA is a league dominated by athleticism, length, and power. Basketball skill and basketball IQ come in 4th and 5th place respectively. So every June, NBA decision makers risk the future of their respective franchises to draft a player that measures out well. In doing so, they only perpetuate the problems with the game.
Take this statement from USA Today about Texas A&M freshman center Deandre Jordan, who is still pegged by some to be a lottery pick in this year’s draft:
DeAndre Jordan, 7-0, 255, Texas A&M: A freak athlete like Dwight Howard, but he is not as strong or skilled as Howard and relies almost exclusively on his athleticism on both ends of the floor. He also has a reputation for not being a hard worker and seemed to wear down as the season progresses. As a result, his stock has fallen significantly. Despite those concerns, he has the size, and his upside is enormous.
I know this is a bit of a strawman argument, but if that is really what the NBA is looking for then there is something wrong. The GMs who decide not to dismiss “those concerns” and pass on Jordan will do so in fear of missing the next dominant star.
The Upside of Pam McGee’s “Big Secret”
When University of Nevada sophomore center Javale McGee is selected somewhere in the first round of the NBA draft, it is guaranteed that he will make history the first time he steps on the court. As the son of Pam McGee, who played and coached in the WNBA, they will be the first mother-son WNBA/NBA combination. However, if he wants to make an impact in the NBA on his own merits, he’ll have to put in the work necessary to realize his potential. From the same USA Today article:
Grueling workouts with his agent, former NFL player Roosevelt Barnes, have helped, but many question McGee's conditioning and think he is still raw. However, his physical attributes and flashes of playmaking skills will likely be enough to get him drafted in the mid to late first round.
However, the problem is that the way this whole draft process works, if he goes back to college and those "flashes of playmaking skills" fail to develop into the scouts’ exaggerated expectations of him, he’ll lose value:
"I think he could have been in the top-10 next year without question," Bilas said. "If the potential that we're talking about went unrealized for a year, then maybe not. But I think the world of Mark Fox and he's done a wonderful job of developing players. I think Mark is among the best coaches in the game. Another year under Mark would have done wonders for JaVale.
"He's still going to be a first-round pick, and it's really hard to criticize somebody for leaving early when they are a first-round pick. It would go against a culture for a kid like JaVale to go back to school, and it's asking a lot for an 18- or 19-year-old to go against the culture."
Is it this process that creates the image of the NBA game presented by Ford? I don’t think it’s fair to say that – to actually succeed in the NBA players have to develop skill. To become a winner takes a rare combination of skill, athleticism, and the right mentality. The problem is that GMs have gotten to a point where they are grasping at straws to find the “freak athlete” that can make a big splash…some day.
"Obviously this has become a draft of potential," Hall of Fame analyst Dick Vitale said. "Everything is based on potential, potential, potential. There's no question that potential is what will get you drafted. You're trying to think three, four years down the road when you draft a kid."
But this trend of taking players who are a) unproven, b) unskilled, or c) unmotivated certainly doesn’t help the NBA’s image. It’s what makes WNBA rookies like Candace Parker and Candice Wiggins so refreshing – they had every reason to come in as prima donas after their outstanding college careers, but both play as though they actually love to play the game of basketball. Go figure.
Of course, this is nothing new – if we can take off our hindsight glasses for a moment, it was perfectly reasonable for the Blazers to select Sam Bowie (7-foot center) over Michael Jordan (a 6’6” guard who wins championships) in 1984. In a game where the goal is 10 feet high, you need players who can get the ball there most easily and help prevent opponents from doing so.
And perhaps it is all the analysis, potential, and uncertainty that makes the NBA draft season the most wonderful time of the year.
- Profiles of Javale McGee: NBA.com and Draftexpress
- “Toronto newspapers reported there were other factors regarding his no-show, including a claim that Pam McGee would not allow her son to work out with teams picking lower than 12th in the draft...JaVale McGee said he had not heard that report, and the only reason he couldn't make the workout was, "I don't have a passport."
Full article >>>
- Returning to the issue of the use of web 2.0 tools in the WNBA, it would be great if there was as much information about the WNBA draft as there is about the NBA draft: countless mock drafts, YouTube clips of prospects, the ability to watch college games online, and even see workout footage with the teams. Get it done WNBA!
- An article about the draft posted at BleacherReport.com.
Got this from the Rebkell forum this morning...
LA Sparks "kidnap" journalist Mark Kriski for sexist comments
Lisa Leslie was on point!
It's definitely good that the Sparks held him accountable for his comments, which should never be tolerated from a news outlet...or anyone for that matter.
At the same time it's sad for three reasons:
1. The fact that he felt comfortable -- and justified -- saying that during a broadcast while sitting next to three women is a problem and I think Leslie addressed that.
2. But he clearly did not take this approach very seriously. I'm not convinced that was a sincere apology...and it would have been nice to apologize to his daughter, at the very least. With the spotlight on him, he seemed to try to turn it into some kind of exclusive interview opportunity where he was the celebrity journalist.
3. Like Don Imus, it seems that instead of taking responsibility for his comment, he dismissed it as trivial. I get the feeling that he went home more excited about his visit to Staples Center than remorseful about how offensive his comment was.
The naive idealist in me wishes we would get to a point where people no longer feel comfortable making such public comments about their daughters. Until then, I think it's important that people are willing to challenge such comments.
"Pure point guards? That's not the way the game is being played today," Riley said as he continued deliberations over the Heat's No. 2 selection. "You take a look at Steve Nash; his head's under the rim more than anybody in the league."Reading this quote from Miami Heat president Pat Riley forced me to return to the topic of point guards and what exactly makes one great.
I’m sorry -- I tried hard to stop myself, but I couldn’t resist.
For some reason I find it annoying when people throw around descriptions of point guards that are vague at best. My annoyance is only heightened during draft time when these labels are seemingly applied to players arbitrarily. So I appreciate Riley’s effort to dismiss the antiquated term altogether.
Plus, Riley should know a thing or two about point guards -- he’s coached Magic Johnson, Derek Harper, Gary Payton and Jason Williams (aka “White Chocolate”). But if successful NBA decision-makers like Riley are no longer finding “pure”, “true”, or “traditional” point guards, what exactly are they looking for?
"There aren't a lot of true point guards anymore," Nets president Rod Thorn said. "A lot of them score and do different things, plus you're always looking for more versatile people who can play more than one position."
Of course, the whole premise of the little point guard ranking exercise I went through last week was that “Sue Bird is the best pure point guard in the league, hands down.” Although I know what I meant by that -- I think -- I have to be held accountable for my own words. So I’m sorry for using such a vague and antiquated language.
But where does that leave us?
Does the pure point guard label still apply to the WNBA or do we need to find some new terminology?
Perhaps being more specific will help to clarify exactly what makes a point guard “effective”.
The other day I wrote a bit about combo guards in my description of Candice Wiggins (whose game I'm loving more each day). But I’ve thought for some time that it would be interesting to come up with some new language to describe point guards (clearly what I consider to be the game’s most important position).
So I started by watching the Minnesota Lynx – New York Liberty game last night because it featured four guards from my rankings as well as a fifth – Liindsey Harding.
Shifting from point guard to lead guard…
Some people – myself included – have taken to calling the point guard a “lead guard” as a way to describe their primary function on the court: bringing the ball up the court and initiating the offense. It might seem like a pointless semantic move, but I think it helps to broaden how we think about the position from the outset.
This lead guard only requires two things to get the ball up the court and handle defensive pressure: ball handling and decision making skills. Just enough to prevent turnovers before crossing mid-court and to get the team into the offense.
A shooting guard or small forward can get that done if they can beat their defender, so a lead guard is defined by what they do after they cross mid-court.
The Distributor: Noelle Quinn and Loree Moore
Noelle Quinn is probably the epitome of a distributor – nothing fancy, just getting the ball up the court and efficiently initiating the offense. Last year she was second only to Ticha Penicheiro in pure point rating and first in Hollinger’s assist ratio among point guards – meaning she was very likely to pass the ball when it was in her hands.
She’s going to take what the defense gives her and get the team into the offense. This is what I think is normally meant by a “pass-first” point guard.
Loree Moore is similar, though I imagine most of us would agree she’s the better player. Moore can score, but on most possessions she’s just going to come down the court, take what she’s given, and recognize whatever opportunity presents itself. And she is very good at finding spots within the offense to score.
The presence of a player like Moore on the floor can have a calming effect on a team. But rarely does either player create an opportunity for herself or teammates. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing – it works for teams that have other creators on the roster who just need to find a way to get open. It might not work for a team has a lot of spot up shooters who need someone to draw the defense to get them open.
The Facilitator: Leilani Mitchell
As the label implies, the facilitator is able to balance taking what the defense gives her with creating opportunities for others by breaking down the defense with drives or changing pace and finding the open player. She’s able to get separation from herself and the defender and in doing so, keep the defense off-balance.
Mitchell is an interesting case – at her best she’s able to get by her defender and create opportunities for others when the defense comes over to help. But she clearly avoids contact most of the time and so she starts to shy away from driving. And she really struggles with bigger defenders (Wiggins just smothered her on a few occasions).
However, I think that as she gets experience, her ball handling skills and quickness will allow her to be an excellent facilitator. She has the right instincts and can really provide the offense a boost with her quickness when she gets in a groove.
I also think this is what people normally consider a “pure point guard” and Sue Bird would fit in this category. The fact that she’s a scoring threat helps her facilitate, but like Penicheiro who has been a notoriously poor shooter until this year, she has a knack for creating for others just by seeing the court and finding the angles to make things happen.
The Creator…for herself: Lindsey Harding
The creator has a scorers mentality and creates opportunities for the team by making herself a scoring threat. She might have all the skills of the other types, but is more apt to score than pass.
I think this characterizes Harding. I don’t think she’s limited to just being a scorer. But her strength as a player is her ball handling and nose for the basket – once she creates separation, she has the ability to score. The downside of this type of player is when they get reckless.
If the lead guard is constantly looking for her own points but shooting poorly and turning the ball over a lot in the process, it hurts the entire team because they can’t get into a rhythm.
I don’t think this type of player is inherently bad though. If the defense has to focus all of their energy on containing one player, they are bound to leave themselves vulnerable to someone else. A creator can work as long as she has the right players around her – good passers and some rebounders that can pick up the scraps occasionally.
Becky Hammon is definitely a creator in my opinion. She has the skills to set up others, but she’s a scorer first and foremost.
The Combo Guard: Candice Wiggins
I wrote about this previously, but to summarize: the combo guard is the combination of all these other pieces, able to balance scoring opportunities with facilitating opportunities. This player is as likely to score 30 as they are to get 10+ assists. Wiggins has all the tools to be that player.
This is a much more positive spin on the combo guard than is normally applied to NBA draft prospects though. But if you think about this way, every team should want this type of player. She’s a good teammate because her versatility makes it easier to find complementary players. This is what makes guards like Lindsay Whalen and Deanna Nolan so dangerous – it’s hard to defend someone when they can find a way to make you pay no matter what you do.
Stats don’t lie, but tell half truths
I tried to find a way to flesh this story out statistically but I really couldn’t find a way. It’s about a player’s mentality and how they choose to use their skills. So going back to the rankings, if the lead guard can bring the ball up the court and get the team into the offense, there are a variety of ways they can influence the game after that. It's not just about being the statistical best...
But without a doubt, in last night’s Lynx-Liberty matchup, Candice Wiggins’ ability to run the offense or play off the ball was a huge asset against the Liberty defense, not to mention her ability to defend.
- Lindsey Harding in the Downtown Journal: "Last year, I had to take a lot more shots and this year I can take what’s given to me. I can take the ones that are open, but my job is to set the tone offensively by getting the ball up and passing it, finding the open man and defensively, I have to pressure and try to slow the ball down."
- In trying to find the video of last night's ESPN feature of Candice Wiggins, I found this one of her from the Final Four, complete with analysis of how she lit up the tournament this year:
With all the buzz that Candace Parker’s Sunday night dunk generated, it’s even more interesting to consider it’s impact on the WNBA in the YouTube generation.
Within 24 hours of Candace Parker’s dunk on a Sunday night, over 50,000 people had seen it on YouTube…not including the videos posted on blogs, news sites, and of course WNBA.com.
Of course when an athlete as popular as Candace Parker dunks it should come as no surprise that she would generate a substantial amount of YouTube traffic or go “viral”.
However, this is also an excellent example of the vast marketing potential of the web – even for a professional sports league. The WNBA already made a nice move by making some games available online via webcast (though curiously, Parker’s game Sunday night was not available). But how can it expand its fan base with the web?
The key here is that it’s not just WNBA fans seeing these YouTube clips – it’s that entire 18-35 year old market that uses YouTube. That will include fans, haters, and the indifferent. People can access the clips through their computers or on cell phones. And most importantly, it can reach potential fans – fans who might not have a strong opinion about the league yet, but might want to watch if there’s a buzz about it.
Just to finish this train of thought -- once we start talking about YouTube and cell phones, we also have to talk about social networking sites (Facebook, My Space), blogs, and all the other exciting developments of “Web 2.0”. All these things allow people to exchange information, ideas, and images with numerous gadgets that fit in their pockets.
For a league that needs to attract fans, it would seem that there may still be untapped marketing potential in the web. With the recent success of Barack Obama’s "web driven" presidential campaign, you have to wonder what a growing league like the WNBA can learn from his model.
So I think the WNBA has to ask itself the following:
Can a professional sports league build its fan base by capitalizing on the spirit of the web? And how can it channel the energy that these “YouTube moments” generate into sustained interest in the league?
I don’t have any magic formula to make it work, but I think there’s a lot to be learned from existing web community building efforts. And since Obama is a WNBA fan afterall, why not start with his model?
Community building with the web is more than having a website…
Certainly having content (the game itself), an established web presence, and giving visitors something of value (webcasts, player blogs) are essential to building the online fan base as Obama did. But the real key to Obama’s campaign was interactivity – not just about getting people to donate money, but building productive relationships.
Noam Cohen of the New York Times wrote in a June 8 article titled, The Wiki-Way to the Nomination:
…Mr. Obama’s notion of persistent improvement, both of himself and of his country, reflects something newer — the collaborative, decentralized principles behind Net projects like Wikipedia and the “free and open-source software” movement. The qualities he cited to Time to describe his campaign — “openness and transparency and participation” — were ones he said “merged perfectly” with the Internet. And they may well be the qualities that make him the first real “wiki-candidate.”
“On the McCain and Clinton Web sites, there is a transactional screen,” Mr. Benkler said. “It is just about the money. Donate, then we can build the relationship. In Obama’s it’s inverted: build the relationship and then donate.”
It reflects the utopian, community-building vision central to the Internet. So obviously, it seems absurd to imagine a sports league with total openness, transparency, and participation – imagine the casual fan having input on decisions like trades, who should start at point guard, or draft decisions? There may be wisdom in crowds, but at some point it could create as many problems as it solves, just as it has in politics.
But then again, would anybody have believed a year ago that a presidential campaign based upon principles of web interactivity (not to mention “progress” and “hope”) would be successful? I know I didn’t think so.
Although Obama’s campaign is perhaps the most recent example of the potential of the web for organizing people, it isn’t really unprecedented – in traditional politics, there was the use of YouTube for this year’s debates, Howard Dean in 2004, and I believe Diane Feinstein was among the first to use a website to raise money in the mid 90's. In grassroots organizing, the most prominent example is the WTO protests, but more recently, the Save Our Sonics/Storm project in the NBA is a smaller scale example (though probably unsuccessful).
Web based fan building
Perhaps the WNBA may be on the way there. The WNBA's webcasts at least represent an understanding of the vast broadcast potential of the web. One report projects the web to replace television – cable and broadcast -- as the second biggest medium for advertising in the next 5 years.
IDC concludes that “what will help drive this trend is that consumers are stating to realize that, as opposed to TV, Internet video lets them watch what they want, when they want, and increasingly, where they want.” That means increased revenues for those who can take advantage. And already the big networks are lining up to take advantage of this trend. But is there more? How can the WNBA build the relationships that will get people to come out to games in the way Obama got people to come out to vote?
Other more obscure sports, including MMA, are using the web to drum up interest. But after 12 years of existence, it’s safe to say the WNBA is beyond that point.
The Atlanta Dream drummed up support for their expansion team and coveted season ticket sales with grassroots organizing techniques, though they are going through the expected expansion team growing pains right now (read: losing a lot).
So if we scaled these principles up to the league level and return to the potential of YouTube in particular, an additional benefit to the WNBA could be learning more about their demographics. It could be an opportunity to provide people with the type of targeted WNBA content that might persuade them to take in a live game, buy merchandise, or gain exposure to the game by watching a webcast.
That approach would make events like Parker’s dunk (and I suspect Sylvia Fowles’ dunks as well whenever they come) a goldmine of opportunity to identify new fans. And it wouldn’t take much except a conscious effort to make the content available and reap the benefits for themselves.
OK, a quick timeout -- even as I write this, I cringe as I recognize that a corporate takeover of content seems anti-thetical to the decentralized principles of the web. And mining YouTube clips for potential fans seems like yet another example of “Big Brother” that the world does not need. But as Cohen describes near the end of the New York Times article, even Obama’s seemingly "grassroots" organization was actually quite “top-down”.
“The Obama campaign is still very much a top-bottom operation,” Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, of the influential DailyKos Web site, wrote in an e-mail message. “They’ve made it very easy for people to hop on the bandwagon, but those in the back of that wagon still get no say in where the campaign is going.” So the key here is not to hand over control of the WNBA to the fans. But why not make it even easier for people to at least access the content, watch more than highlight reels and feel as though they have some sort of relationship with the WNBA? That doesn’t necessarily mean taking over a team.
Let the images that speak loudest “go viral”
The idea of images and short clips defining a sport is not at all new. Think about images of Bill Buckner missing a routine grounder in Game 6 of the World Series, Michael Jordan scoring over (ahem, fouling) Bryon Russell to win the NBA championship, and Al Michaels screaming “Do you believe in miracles?...YES!” Those are some of the most enduring images of our time. The web just allows those images to get to more people much faster.
On a night without games (like last night) why not make footage from a recent game available – like ESPN does “instant classics”? Maybe let the “crowds” vote up a game to replay, e.g. Deanna Nolan’s 44 point game or games featuring major stars. Let people design and submit ideas for new television commercials… or better yet, bypass television ads (save that money) and make some straight to YouTube ads that are targeted to specific demographics.
Better yet, put more recent player footage on the web for people to use for mixes, sending to friends, or using on blogs. And if they really want to be popular... slap a Facebook group link on WNBA.com like the Atlanta Dream have done on their blog.
The league is already doing some of this...and some of the more established bloggers certainly play a role in building the league's fan base. But even in trying to find materials for blog posts, it seems that there is more that could be done. It was very difficult to find recent footage of Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen, both of whom are star players. In contrast, I can find footage of 19-year old NBA draft prospects that play in second division basketball leagues in Spain.
And yes, I recognize that a big issue with all of this is copyright restrictions, which is a legal issue that extends beyond the WNBA or sports in general. But if CNN can agree to make footage of the presidential debates available via YouTube and if ABC is going to make prime-time shows like “Lost”, “Desperate Housewives”, and “Ugly Betty” available via the web, why can’t the WNBA make more game footage available? And more interactive? What am I missing?
Candace Parker is going to be a great player. So if people really believe that she can save the league, then why not find ways to help people build the relationships with the league with the images that make them go “wow”?
"Media Coverage and the Alternatives: Paper, Pods, Streams, and Blogs": http://www.womensbasketballonli
Candice Wiggins is already one of the best “combo guards” in the league.
And that’s not a bad thing.
After 12 games off the bench this season and putting up some amazing rookie stats, it’s hard not to get excited about Wiggins’ star potential. She’s exciting to watch because she plays with so much passion that you can almost feel how much she loves the game.
However, at the beginning of the WNBA season there were some doubts as to whether Candice Wiggins could play point guard. She was labeled a “versatile” guard who could play the point, but it was assumed that she was clearly better on the wing.
"I've played the point all through college,” Wiggins said during the pre-season. “I love to bring up the ball and alleviate pressure from my teammates. I know my true position is the '2', but I can also play the '1'."
Since the season started, she’s demonstrated the ability to move fluidly between off guard and point guard and she has arguably earned herself a starting position on the Lynx.
This past weekend, Wiggins proved that she is definitely a “combo guard” in its most positive sense – possessing the ability to influence the game off the bench by scoring, defending and creating opportunities for her teammates. Although the outstanding play of veterans Deanna Nolan and Shannon Johnson grabbed the headlines in back to back losses against the Shock and Comets, Wiggins more than held her own.
Not only has she responded to doubts about her ability to play the point, but she is also the perfect example of how valuable a talented combo guard can be to a team.
The shift from the "traditional" point guard
A few years back there was a story about the WNBA’s transition from traditional point guards to point guards who could score, led by Diana Taurasi.
The WNBA's transition away from the traditional point guard has been equally simple, and, in more ways than Taurasi, 2004 has been a tipping point… The WNBA's point guards, led by Taurasi, are becoming bigger and more physical all the time. And the ability to score makes the league's modern point guards much more dangerous on offense - even as passers, suggests [Sue] Bird.
Wiggins seems to be a continuation of this trend – she’s definitely not a traditional point guard -- although she doesn’t have quite the size of Taurasi. Whereas this trend seems to be popular in the WNBA, it has become taboo in the NBA.
In the NBA, “combo guard” has the stigma of being a “tweener” – a player who is too short to play shooting guard but not quite possessing the ball skills to be a point guard. Part of that is because we continue to hang onto antiquated notions of what it means to be a “point guard”:
Our perspective on what makes a point guard great is seriously warped, and I blame it all on the false heralding of the assist as a game-changer and of purity as the singular path to point guard greatness. Because we believe assists to be of utmost import, and because pure point guards are more valued than scorers, we consider PGs who get lots of assists to be pure and thus, the best. They supposedly raise the game of their teammates. They make everything offense easier. They lead, muzzled or not, because they pass. It's malarkey (and I offer Jason Kidd as proof).
Could the same thing be happening in the WNBA? I think so…and I think it is the primary reason people have doubts about Wiggins.
Combo guards can balance scoring and distributing
Last week I looked at the league’s starting point guards and focused on the exact opposite critique: that people often assume a point must be able to score in order to be effective. And David Berri over at Wages of Wins would seem to have a similar take in his comparison of Lindsay Whalen and Becky Hammon: like the NBA the WNBA overrates scoring.
…Hammon - relative to Whalen - is the much better scorer. This is true from the line and the field. But when we look at the Net Possession factors - rebounds, steals, and turnovers - Whalen has an immense edge. Whalen is better on the boards, gets more steals, and is far less likely to commit a turnover. As Win Score indicates (and this is the same story told with Wins Produced), Whalen’s advantage with respect to Net Possessions completely erases Hammon’s edge as a scorer.
So which is it? Are we overestimating scoring or assists?
For point guards, I think the answer is that it actually requires balance.
What a great “combo guard” can bring to a team is the ability to balance scoring and setting up teammates. In fact, if you watch the Lynx closely, Wiggins actually sets up her teammates by making hershttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifelf such a scoring threat. The way she attacks the basket puts pressure on the defense to focus on her, which in turn opens up opportunities for others. And similar to Whalen (or Deanna Nolan) she does it in more ways than one.
Wiggins can rebound, knows how to blow by defenders, can find open teammates on the move, and wreak havoc on defense (though Shannon Johnson had a great game, at one point during the second half Wiggins actually forced Johnson to dribble out the entire shot clock by pressuring her at half court ). She influences the game by keeping the defense on its heels every moment she’s in the game.
Sure she has a low assist ratio relative to the field of starting point guards, but that’s because she’s doing so much scoring. What’s more important is that she’s also not wasting possessions for her team with all the scoring she does and that’s pretty amazing for a rookie guard. However, she occasionally has lapses where she gets too focused on scoring.
The downside –and perhaps the reason why some people may still doubt her ability to play the point – is that she often seems out of control. You know how coaches advise players to “be quick, but not in a hurry”? Wiggins often looks like she’s in a hurry.
She has a quick release on her shot, but sometimes it seems like she’s just flinging the ball at the basket, especially when she doesn’t get her feet set. Once she really gets into the flow of the game, she can also make ill-advised drives into bigger players, double clutching on shots and failing to score. But when you consider that the Lynx seem to just come alive when she’ on the court, all of those flaws can be dismissed as rookie mistakes.
It might be tempting to look at their recent losing streak and say Wiggins is not effective at point guard, but I think that’s hardly the problem. The thing to remember about Candice Wiggins is that the energy and heart she brings to the floor every game results in a huge net positive effect for her team.
Get her off the bench!!
I absolutely think that as a combo guard, Wiggins has the ability to start for the Lynx. Of course there might be all kinds of behind the scenes reasons she doesn’t start – adjusting to the WNBA, learning the plays, how she’s performed in practiced, etc, etc. But just based on her court performance, when she’s on the floor, good things happen.
In the game against the Comets on Saturday, the most effective lineup saw for the Lynx was:
Wiggins, Seimone Augustus, Noelle Quinn, Kristen Rasmussen, and Nicole Ohlde.
What was great about that lineup is that they were able to run and capitalize on Wiggins speed, but also use Wiggins as a scorer with Quinn distributing to Augustus and Wiggins.
As a combo guard, Wiggins was able to switch between scorer and distributor depending on the situation. For a brief time, Houston was off balance and a large part of that was on the strength of Wiggins’ play.
Nicky Anosike was also great when she was in because she can run the floor and rebound (she ran into some early foul trouble). But this type of lineup worked well for the Lynx because it allowed them to run. And with other quality guards in Lindsey Harding and Anna DeForge, the Lynx could run all game.
So if the Lynx started with this lineup…
Wiggins, Augustus, Quinn, Anosike, and Ohlde
…they would have a combination of their best scorers and best passers on the court with their best rebounders. That’s exactly the type of lineup needed for a running game: someone to rebound, someone to get the outlet pass, and the rest streaking down to floor looking for early offense. The Lynx just don’t seem to be structured as a team that can bang, so the might as well play to their strengths.
This is not a slight to Anna DeForge or Lindsey Harding who are also talented players, but the Lynx have been getting off to such slow starts that it seems best to get Wiggins on the court, establish an uptempo game, and then keep the guards rotating in to just wear the other team down. There’s no better way to utilize a deep, fast lineup.
If the combo guard fits, play her…
The critique that Candice Wiggins can’t start because her ball-handling and passing skills aren’t yet refined is misguided. She has great instincts and is one of the most efficient guards in the league right now. She just doesn’t get the job done the “traditional” way.
Ultimately, what this issue of the combo guard comes down to is that a combo guard is only as good as the team around her. She can make players better, but she also has to be in a system that fully utilizes all of her abilities. Anne Donovan summed up the point nicely:
"There's no doubt that it's changed, times have changed," she says. "Really, it's a matter of style. You talk about a point guard scoring 20 points per game, obviously Carrie Graf's liking that. In Connecticut, it didn't work for Shannon Johnson to take that many shots, but it's sure working in San Antonio. It's a match of coach's style and player's style."
But when you have a talent like Candice Wiggins, you find a way to make it work.
Burden of playing catchup sinks Lynx
After a fast WNBA start, Wiggins seeing a few losses
June 14th, 2008: Minnesota at New York http://gamenotesofdoom.blogspot.com/2008/06/june-14th-2008-minnesota-at-new-york.html
Ballad for the Combo Guard
The Best Player in the Game
The Evolution of the WNBA Point Guard
An exciting day on Sunday in the WNBA: the Liberty destroyed whatever defense the Mercury attempted to play and Candace Parker dunked.
(Here's another clip of the dunk and coach Michael Cooper comparing Parker's dunk to Jordan...we need to put a moratorium on NBA comparisons for Candace Parker)
I find the excitement over the dunk interesting because just the other day a friend told me about a conversation she had with a guy who thought the WNBA wasn't worth watching (he likes men's college basketball)...and he brought up an interesting question about people's excitement over dunking...
She asked why he didn't like it and he responded it was because he liked the dunks. She says that dunks are not a fundamental part of basketball. To which he responds, "Why are people so excited when they do dunk then?"
For people who claim that the WNBA is a "purer" game of basketball because it lacks dunking, it probably is somewhat contradictory to get excited about the prospect of more dunking.
However, the way I see it is that I love basketball and these are some of the best female athletes on the planet. And it's not dunking in the NBA that bothers me...it's players that can do nothing but dunk that bother me (I won't bother to list many a whole lot, but go YouTube "Gerald Green").
Yes, Parker dunked; but I actually don't find a fast break dunk that exciting -- NBA or WNBA. Nevertheless, I have to recognize it as a significant feat for women's basketball (that should be duplicated sometime this year by Sylvia Fowles and become a much more regular occurrence).
But hopefully it never gets to the point where it overshadows that Parker is also one of the most complete players in the game...as a rookie. The dunk makes her that much more marketable as a basketball player, but not really any better. Despite six turnovers in a seemingly rough game, Parker found other ways to contribute: 1 dunk, 10 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 blocks.
If that's an off night, she's got a bright career ahead of her.
Last week I wrote a post about Phoenix's zone defense and said I would come back to it after watching them again...
I watched them again yesterday against the Liberty.
Franchise records were broken (the Liberty scored 100+ points for the first time ever and grabbed the most boards ever), 6 players scored in double figures, and bench players approached career highs.
And Rover, 1-2-2 zone, 1-3-1 zone, or man, Phoenix's defense was just completely ineffective.
The problem with their defense has a lot more to do with effort than X's and O's.
Just to put things in perspective, Phoenix was not a great defensive team last year either. It would appear as though the difference is that they're hardly even trying this year...
It shows up in the stats in points differential...
Last year: +3.6
this year: -3.19
...as well as opponents field goal %, rebounds, and assist differential.
But forget stats...there were just players open everywhere. The Liberty are the third best 3 point shooting team in the league and made them pay.
So there's not really any further analysis to be done -- if they want to make the playoffs, they're going to have to try playing at least as much defense as last year's team.
Phoenix @ Liberty (recap from Game Notes of Doooooooom)
Candace Parker Dunks… Is That a Good Thing?
So after ranking all the starting point guards, I was left with a few questions:
1) Is Ivory Latta really a better point guard than Becky Hammon?
2) Should Domique Canty really be considered an elite point guard?
3) Is Ticha Penicheiro really nothing more than an average point guard at this point in her career?
4) Shouldn’t Candice Wiggins be starting at point guard for the Lynx?
5) Is Candace Parker the next Magic Johnson, as some claim?
And hopefully answering them will help add some meaning to these numbers...
By the way, he’s how the final rankings came out:
Lindsay Whalen 115
Deanna Nolan 107
Candice Wiggins 104
Dominique Canty 95
Diana Taurasi 91
Sue Bird 88
Candace Parker 87
Ivory Latta 87
Alana Beard 85
Ticha Penicheiro 80
Kiesha Brown 76
Shannon Johnson 67
Noelle Quinn 67
Nikki Blue 66
Leilani Mitchell 65
Loree Moore 63
Becky Hammon 51
Kelly Miller 51
Temeka Johnson 42
Helen Darling 37
Tully Bevilaqua 33
Deanna Nolan is Amazing…
So for the last few days, I’ve watched the games with these rankings in mind. I made a point to watch Deanna Nolan who I honestly had not paid much attention to before. Watching her will her team to victory against the Lynx on Friday could go down as one of the greatest regular season performances in WNBA history.
Nolan is not flashy on the court, which is why she might not get the attention of the casual fan (I had never heard of her before I started watching this season). But like Whalen she’s able to do whatever her team asks of her – rebound, play defense, run the offense, or score. And when the team needed big shots at the end of the game to win, she provided that too.
She’s confident, aggressive, and one of the smoother athletes in the WNBA. She seems to get almost anywhere she wants on the floor.
In the rankings I did, the main things that separated her from Lindsay Whalen are possession efficiency – points per zero point possession, Win Score, and Hollinger’s assist ratio. It’s difficult to be more efficient on the court than Whalen has been this season.
Wiggins also played well in that game, but I’ll come back to that…anyway, on to those questions…
Is Ivory Latta really a better point guard than Becky Hammon?
No, not yet at least…and neither are 8 of the other players ranked ahead of her.
Becky Hammon is a tough competitor, an outstanding scorer, and clearly a team leader.
The problem is that Hammon has been terribly inefficient this year. And those other players ahead of her are not very productive, but are extremely efficient as role player point guards.
The reason Hammon is ranked so low here is because she’s started off this season looking more like a volume shooter than point guard. (By the way, the numbers I used to calculate these rankings also did not take into account outstanding performances against the Dream and Sparks last week. If she keeps playing like that, she’ll fly up these rankings).
But that’s not to take away anything from Latta – she’s having a great year statistically and had put up statistics very similar to Hammon’s…before they faced each other on Wednesday. Check out their stat lines:
Hammon: 14.3 ppg, 4.6 ast/g, 3.5 to/g, 2.4 rpg, 33.6 FG%, 28.9 3pt%, 33.5 mpg
Latta: 10.5 ppg, 4.2 ast/g, 2.0 to/g, 1.6 rpg, 32.5 FG%, 27.8 3pt%, 29.6 mpg
Hammon was shooting more, as poorly, and turning the ball over more. It’s perfectly reasonable to say that with more minutes and experience, Latta could duplicate these numbers.
And if you were starting an expansion team that really has no immediate playoff aspirations, it seems reasonable to take a relatively young point guard like Latta over Hammon if given the choice. Given her improvement this year, there’s no reason to believe that Latta couldn’t be as good as Hammon in the next 10 years.
The one glaring difference is that Latta doesn’t yet have the scoring instincts that Hammon has. However, Latta does have good defensive instincts from what I’ve seen and should end up being a better defender…and that will show up in her plus/minus numbers.
But for those of you that watched Atlanta play San Antonio this past Wednesday, there’s no way on earth you could say Latta looked better than Hammon.
Part of that was a porous Dream defense. But more importantly Hammon and the San Antonio coaching staff figured out how to exploit that defense (the pick and roll) and Hammon just picked them apart. Hammon clearly has good court vision and point guard instincts. She just makes some risky plays occasionally that are magnified in these efficiency stats.
(By the way, I was surprised to see that that Hammon, Helen Darling, Vickie Johnson and Ann Wauters ALL have negative plus/minus scores. It’s weird given that they play significant roles on the team.)
I thought Teresa Edwards made an interesting comment about Hammon during the Dream game after the play-by-play guy mentioned that she was the second leading vote getter in last year’s all-star game:
You know I don’t know how to vote those but we have a lot of quality players in the league. Becky probably had a great season – I’m not saying she didn’t – but there’s a lot of star quality players that come out and play this game. And a lot of those star players will not be on our Olympic team.
Interesting comment…and I’ll try not to read into it too much. But the statistics seem to back that up.
And for whatever it’s worth, I think the uproar over her playing for Russia is overblown. As Auburn University coach Nell Fortner said, she didn’t make a choice between the U.S. and Russia because she just wasn’t going to make the U.S. team. And really, I think there are plenty of quality players in the WNBA that are more worthy of an Olympic bid.
Should Domique Canty really be considered an elite point guard?
Canty’s numbers are better than what I had imagined based on watching Sky games this season. However, I couldn’t find a set of point guard statistics that dropped her out of the top five overall on this list. She’s shooting worse than Bird thus far, but even if you stack the deck against her with shooting statistics, she ranks very well relative to the field of point guards. She’s doing surprisingly well at managing possessions overall and that’s what counts for a point guard.
But every time I’ve watched her I’ve thought, “All she’s doing is looking for her own shot.” I’ve watched her fail to get the ball to wide open teammates on multiple occasions…but that’s just not something we can capture with statistics.
Is Ticha Penicheiro really nothing more than an average point guard at this point in her career?
I won’t answer that question directly – it seems blasphemous.
But her whole game has turned upside down this season.
She’s on pace for career highs in field goal percentage and points…but her numbers are down in every other category.
She still has all the instincts that make her amazing – she’s crafty with the ball and has amazing court vision. She does an amazing job of finding open scorers by drawing the defense out of position.
The Monarchs lost Yolanda Griffith in the off-season. Although Griffith is on the downside of her career, her loss is clearly hurting the team overall and maybe Penicheiro’s numbers as well.
Shouldn’t Candice Wiggins be starting at point guard for the Lynx?
Statistically, I’d say yes -- Wiggins is just outplaying Quinn – Quinn is just more of a distributor. Lindsay Harding’s return could also have some influence on whether Wiggins starts.
In her last two games against Detroit and Houston, Wiggins has shown the ability to carry a team and put pressure on the opposing defense. But in the end, it was the experience of veterans Deanna Nolan and Shannon Johnson that took center stage.
Wiggins comes in the game and gives her team a huge boost of energy on both ends of the floor. She's made some huge defensive plays at the ends of close games. Whereas at the beginning of the season it looked like she might not be able to contain the energy, she channeled it well against the Shock.
Similar to Whalen and Nolan, Wiggins is not just scoring or making the right passes. She’s everywhere – getting loose balls, rebounds, and steals – while keeping her turnover percentage relatively low. The one thing that separates her from Nolan and Whalen is her assist ratio, which is well below that of the average starting point guard. With experience that could change and if it does, she could emerge as the best point guard in the game.
As she improves, people would start talking her up as rookie of the year…if not for that other rookie phenom in L.A…
Is Candace Parker the next Magic Johnson, as some claim?
I think this little exercise shows that Parker does have the skills that make this a valid point. She’s already shown that she can distribute the ball and she’s an efficient scorer. She uses her possessions very well.
However, rather than playing the point, I think she’ll have an amazing career as a point forward – someone who can initiate the offense from the 3 or 4 spot. The big difference between Parker and Magic is that Parker has a bigger height advantage in the WNBA than Magic did in the NBA. It seems wrong not to capitalize on that.
I think playing her off the ball and forcing teams to adjust to the mismatch on the wing is the best position for her.
The team would seem to be better served by pairing her with a slashing point guard who can defend. She’s a scorer who can distribute the ball, not a distributor who can score. I think there’s a difference.