Much has been made of Becky Hammon’s decision to play for Russia in the upcoming Olympics, but her decision is more indicative of a larger trend in international sports than any sort of unpatriotic deed.
I don’t believe that Hammon is unpatriotic or wrong for her decision – she was not going to make the team and honestly, I don’t think she’s one of the top 12 players in the U.S. anyway. But if you do have a problem with the decision, the fault lies with the rules, not Hammon. Everyone – not just Hammon and not just Russia – is stretching our definition of "citizenship" in the name of national pride at the Olympics.
Hammon is not even the only U.S. citizen playing for Russia. In addition to Pittsburgh native J.R. Holden, who has been playing for Russia’s men’s team for years, Travis Hansen of Oren, Utah is also making a bid for the Russian team.
International rules allow only one naturalized citizen per team, and point guard J.R. Holden is widely presumed to be the man who will occupy that spot for Russia, having played for the team for several years at a crucial position and made the basket that won the 2007 European Championships. But Hansen said the Russians are trying to arrange for Holden to count as a regular Russian, rather than a naturalized citizen, potentially clearing the way for both of them to make the team - though even Hansen seems to regard that as a long shot.
Just yesterday it was announced that Los Angeles Clippers center Chris Kaman will be joining the German team. Sure Kaman’s great-grandparents were German (within the rules) but to my knowledge he grew up in Michigan.
At least Hammon, Holden, and Hansen all spend significant time in Russia playing professional basketball there – aside from his great-grandparents’ ancestry, Kaman has no tangible connection to Germany.
Although coaches have never needed to be citizens of the country they coach for, there’s a long record of coaches moving around to provide a country with a competitive edge. The coach for Holden and Hansen is David Blatt, a Farmington, Massachusetts native.
The Olympics have become a truly global event in which the teams themselves represent a shift in how we understand socio-political borders. So we can understand this in one of three ways: Blatt, Hammon, Hansen, Holden, Kaman (among others) are all a) traitors to the World War II Axis Powers, b) free agents for national teams that are using the ISOC’s loose citizenship rules for their own competitive advantage, or c) ambassadors that represent an extension of the Olympic spirit of peaceful international interactions.
Personally, I choose (b) and although I think these rules should be reexamined to clarify what really constitutes “citizenship”, it’s hardly an issue of morality or patriotism worth being offended about.
For love of country (About Kenyan-American sprinter Bernard Lagat who runs for the U.S.)
Much has been made of Becky Hammon’s decision to play for Russia in the upcoming Olympics, but her decision is more indicative of a larger trend in international sports than any sort of unpatriotic deed.
As most of you are probably aware, Force 10 Hoops – a group of four women – was responsible for purchasing the Seattle Storm from Supersonics owner Clay Bennett making the Storm the 7th independently owned team earlier this year.
So there is no better time to celebrate this milestone than Independence Day, which comes days after the Sonics move to Oklahoma City was made complete.
As unfortunate as the Sonics’ relocation is, it’s equally exciting that Force 10 Hoops – a group of 4 women – was able to buy the Storm to keep them in Seattle.
The group has received a couple of awards for their efforts –the GSBA Collaboration for Social Change Award and Chairperson Anne Levison received the QLaw Community Leadership award. As whole, the group brings a strong social justice orientation to the WNBA. They’ve also received kudos from bloggers and fans for making history and representing progress in a world still beset by deep-rooted sexism and homophobia.
However, amid all the excitement about this important milestone, journalist Jayda Evans made an important point near the end of an April 20th Seattle Times article that I think deserves another look on Independence Day:
While wanting to do a service to the community, none of the new owners believes they would be truly empowering women without their franchise being a success financially.Even before taking a position on such a statement, I think it begs a fundamental question: what is empowerment? And then an even bigger question that I think applies to women’s sports and larger political efforts: to what extent is equal opportunity valuable without equitable participation and sustainability?
I don’t ask these questions to minimize the significance of Force 10 Hoops’ accomplishments. On the contrary, I think now that they are officially the only basketball operation in Seattle, it’s worth revisiting the magnitude of this opportunity rather taking its significance at face value.
Before you dismiss these questions as overly abstract and unrelated to the WNBA’s primary endeavor of playing basketball, consider that the WNBA often makes claims of empowering girls and women: providing role models, opening doors that were previously closed to women, and perhaps even helping to shift our definitions of womanhood. It’s relevant primarily because the WNBA makes these claims.
I’m not claiming to have any answers regarding these questions and I understand the problems inherent in addressing the issues as a heterosexual male…and nevertheless I shall proceed because they are extremely pertinent to the WNBA.
Inspiration, opportunity, and access
First of all, an oft-repeated goal of the Storm and many other WNBA teams is to provide role models to demonstrate that indeed new opportunities are available for women. It was explicitly stated in the Storm’s description of the upcoming Women of Inspiration night:
"Part of the mission of the Storm is to provide young girls and boys role models they can look to for inspiration, to show them what is possible to achieve in life when you work hard and reach for your dreams. This night is an opportunity to shine the spotlight on women who have dedicated themselves to helping others and have done so much to give back to the community,'' Seattle Storm CEO Karen Bryant said.So the Force 10 Hoops ownership group is certainly a very tangible representation of the new opportunities that women have in the U.S. But opportunity and inspiration seem to be only part of that empowerment equation. At some point, there has to be some work done to lower the barriers to accessing those opportunities.
Allowing access includes diminishing discrimination of all types – gender, sexuality, race, class, ability – and giving people a fair shot to pursue the paths they are inspired to take. I would argue the WNBA does that as well, not only by providing role models to inspire, but more recently serving as a pipeline for women to gain access to positions at other levels of basketball. From the NY Times:
“Now you’re seeing the positive impact of Title IX on young women who went through high school, college, then went into the W.N.B.A.,” Beth Bass, the chief executive of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, said in a recent telephone interview. “Now they’re getting sprinkled into college ranks and bringing a whole new, fresh approach on how to coach the sport.”Although the coaching ranks in women’s basketball have been male dominated, the WNBA is preparing a new generation of visible women who provide a professional perspective of basketball in the U.S. that has not been readily available previously. That’s important because it provides the young women coming through the basketball ranks with direct interaction with role models who know what the experience is about.
However, this is where the notion of empowerment sometimes becomes problematic – if more women are assuming these positions, but failing to create new opportunities for future generations (e.g. “financial success”, sustainability) then its hard to say anyone beyond the individual with the job is empowered. But even beyond that is the issue of advocacy, something the WNBA seems to constantly struggle with.
Advocacy, participation, and success
The WNBA is a business first and foremost, not a political advocacy group. I understand that. And with that comes certain decisions necessary to make sure you don’t alienate the fan base. But it’s difficult to “truly empower” people without being at least a little political…right?
If nothing else, even making conscious efforts to provide opportunities for women -- making sure to break down barriers of racism and sexuality in the process – is a political act in that it upsets the status quo. So it’s impossible to empower women and be apolitical.
But another issue that I find interesting in the WNBA is the position of advocacy. To what extent should the WNBA take steps to actively shift perceptions of women in society? What kind of statement does it make if they explicitly perpetuate status quo images of womanhood while claiming to empower women? Like when the league provides courses on makeup and fashion? Feministing summed it up perfectly:
So long as "womanhood" means adhering to traditional gender norms. When "womanhood" means being a kick-ass athlete, I guess it's not worth celebrating.Opportunity and access are most valuable to the extent that they add a broader set of perspectives to group of decision makers and avoid incidents like this. With that broader set of perspectives, you would hope that there would be more voices advocating against such blatantly problematic initiatives. And it’s not just advocating against bad initiatives -- in the case of the WNBA, it means advocating for the women who don’t fit the “ideal” image and taking steps to help them live without the burden of society’s double standards.
And for leaders in women’s sports, empowerment entails many other responsibilities including advocating for better coverage, diversity, and giving all women the tools to recognize and resist biased representations in the media. From the Women’s Sports Foundation, worth quoting at length:
“Creating and sustaining change must involve challenging media to not only increase the amount of coverage for women's sports, but to also extend the range of diversity to include coverage of racial and ethnic minorities, larger women, women with disabilities, and older women. We must support (financially and philosophically) those media who do not objectify women athletes or trivialize their athletic endeavors, but do provide positive role models and celebrate the accomplishments of women from various backgrounds. Finally, we must encourage young girls and women to become educated consumers who will have the power to resist biased media images and incite change at the local and national levels."To me these points have significant implications for empowerment while not being so political that they alienate the fan base. And this would seem to be a very minimum standard required to consider the WNBA empowering.
From opportunity to responsibility
So returning to the original comment about truly empowering women through financial success, I think to really understand empowerment we have to take it a few steps further. Financial success for the Storm – and the WNBA at large – is only one piece of the empowerment equation that includes challenging the media, shifting the “womanhood” is portrayed in the media, and helping recognize and resist bias in the media.
As I haven’t been in any WNBA boardrooms recently (or ever) I don’t know what if any of this is on their radar. And perhaps Force 10 Hoops is already in the process of addressing some of these things as well. But as a fan, I find it helpful to have a clear understanding of what exactly it means to empower women through sports so that I can appreciate the significance the little actions taken in the name of social justice.
Dawn Trudeau captured the spirit of empowerment with a statement back in March:
Each remembers growing up in the years before Title IX was passed in 1972. "In gym class in grade school, the girls were forced to sit on the sidelines and watch the boys play basketball," Trudeau says. "That is one of the reasons why I'm committed to creating opportunities for women and girls in sports."To me empowerment in 2008 comes down to a basic principle: equal access to inequitable participation is not social change. With that in mind, I look forward to what the Force 10 Hoops group does with this opportunity.
More Sports and Sexism
- This has to be a bad situation for the Oklahoma City fans. While I’m sure they are happy about the prospect of having a pro basketball franchise of their own, they can’t be happy with the circumstances under which they obtained it. I suppose it’s yet another reminder that this is a business…and Clay Bennett is a businessman, never described as a die-hard Sonics fan.
- Now I’m just tossing fuel on the Sonics fire. From an old article in The Stranger: “The campaign finance records I’ve reviewed show that Sonics/Storm co-owner Tom Ward has contributed $475,000 to Gary L. Bauer’s Americans United to Preserve Marriage.” Wow, learn something new every day…
- The most absurd thing to come out of this is that if Seattle does ever get a new NBA franchise (post-David Stern, I assume??), they will somehow “share” history with the OKC team. From TrueHoop: “Can you imagine being the people at Basketball-Reference.com trying to deal with that? I would hope that, for simplicity, that history would be attached to one club and not the other. Meanwhile, in 2019 when the TBDs win a title, will that be their first or second title in franchise history? And if the New Sonics win the following year, is their first title? Second? Or, after a couple of beers, and too much thinking about shared history, third?”
What is the actual value of web traffic to a professional sports league?
That’s what I was left wondering yesterday after I read the WNBA’s brief statement of growth that included an announcement of “record web traffic”:
In June, WNBA.com set an all-time record for monthly site visits with nearly 3 million, a 35 percent increase over June 2007. WNBA.com also experienced a single-day video record of nearly 95,000 streams on June 23, one day after Candace Parker became the second player in WNBA history to dunk in a regular season game.Does this mean anything to us other than reinforcing the positive tone of the press release?
To be fair, I don’t want to dismiss the rest of this press release -- increased television ratings, attendance, and web traffic is good for a league that is still trying to establish its fan base. If nothing else, it is better than the alternatives: decline or stagnation.
But I think the most important thing to know about web traffic is whether the league is able to turn those hits into paying customers. Consider this point from a web marketing blog:
Until you help your website close the sale, your site is just another in an endless supply of internet marketing websites and that’s exactly what your visitors are going to prove when they visit, read a little information and leave.The WNBA is a business and hits only matter to the extent that they enable a new method of selling the product to consumers.
Of course people went to WNBA.com to find out about Candace Parker because she’s created a national buzz. Even bloggers who publicly disdain the WNBA have probably visited the site just because there aren’t many sites that have comprehensive information about the league. But what I’m curious about is the quality of the web traffic – how it influences the bottom line – rather than just the quantity.
OK, I know I’m nitpicking a little here but as someone interested in the health of the WNBA and how the web can be used as a tool to build its paying fan base, I find this news interesting. And hey, they brought it up first…
The web has proven to be a potent tool for business when used properly so this news makes you wonder about how the WNBA is capitalizing on this web opportunity. But an essential part of effective web marketing is identifying a target demographic and for the WNBA, that might be easier said than done.
I always found Donna Orender’s comment about the decision to expand to Atlanta rather interesting:
“The WNBA will succeed because it’s reaching out to a different group of people who historically haven’t been served, or have been underserved, by the NBA.”But part of the challenge is that this group of people is extremely diverse, which means poses an additional challenge other sports don't face. Take another comment about the Dream's marketing process, as an example:
But the Dream is marketing toward a coalition of consumer groups, rich and poor, gay and straight, small business to big business, single to married, men and women.That’s not to mention college educated, middle class fathers and young black women. So how do you balance all of that and craft a marketing plan that capitalizes on all of this newfound web traffic? And is it sustainable?
Is this just part of a Candace Parker novelty effect?
As it turns out, nearly every televised sport in 2008 has experienced a boost in ratings. The reason, according to Media Life Magazine, was that every sport had a great storyline that got people writing. For the WNBA, it was Candace Parker.
The WNBA’s first two games on ESPN2 were up 44 percent over last year, coinciding with Candace Parker’s entry into the league. Parker became the first girl ever to win the McDonald’s All-American slam-dunk contest in high school and later led Tennessee to back-to-back national titles.
So the problem is that when the initial excitement over Parker wears off – or the Sparks fail to reach the championship series – all of this growth could return to normal numbers if the WNBA can’t find a way to keep them around. And with such a broad target demographic for the league, it is a challenge that will take a clever marketing strategy to figure out.
So just for the sake of clarity, I have three questions that might be helpful if we want to understand where the WNBA is headed:
1. Was there an increased rate of ticket sales among web visitors?
2. How many of those sellouts can be attributed to Parker alone? (The Parker effect can explain four consecutive sellouts in May)
3. What exactly were they expecting with a superstar rookie who could dunk entering the league in 2008?
In case you’re still interested in WNBA e-marketing, check out the Women’s Hoops blog post about it too.
At the beginning of the L.A. Sparks-New York Liberty broadcast yesterday a 9-year-old “Sparkscaster” claimed that the Sparks are “unbeatable”.
Before you laugh off his comment as ridiculous, let me confess that prior to the start of the 2008 it indeed seemed elementary to me that the Sparks would dominate the WNBA. Of course, I didn’t know much about the league, except that Lisa Leslie is good (in addition to Lauren Jackson and Diana Taurasi). In fact, it seemed unfair to put Candace Parker on the same team as Leslie.
But losing two straight home games to rather average teams is hardly the mark of an “unbeatable” team.
It would be easy to blame yesterday’s loss to New York on Lisa Leslie’s foul trouble. Or perhaps you agree with coach Michael Cooper’s comment from last Thursday about the Sparks’ point guard play.
"We've got to get us a point guard, somebody who can handle pressure and do all the things that we need her to do. We've just got to rebound from this."However, guest commentator Derek Fisher nailed what I see as a larger, more systemic problem for the Sparks to address: Parker and Leslie are an excellent foundation for a championship team, but it sometimes seems like the Sparks expect to win games by overwhelming their opponents with talent instead of playing good basketball.
Leslie’s foul trouble becomes a problem because she IS the Sparks’ defense – without her the lane is wide open. On offense, they are likely to go cold if Parker isn’t able to create something or Leslie is crowded by a zone.
I watched this game closely because I wanted to get another look at rookies Leilani Mitchell, Essence Carson, and Erlana Larkins. But what stood out to me was the disappointing play of the Sparks.
So in this post, I’ll take a look at the three potential problems identified above: the Sparks’ point guard play, their offense, and the defensive void created once Leslie fouled out…all with a side of statistics.
Point guards Brown and Johnson are not the problem
Let’s start with Cooper’s comment about his point guards. Granted, he was frustrated and was probably being characteristically hyperbolic, so this might be a straw man attack. But Kiesha Brown and Temeka Johnson are the easiest targets on a team that just seems to stagnate on offense occasionally. After all, a point guard is responsible for a team’s rhythm right?
So I updated my point guard rankings to see how they’re performing this season. Brown ranked as the 6th best point guard, right behind Sue Bird. The big difference between the two is plus/minus: Bird has a rating of 20.7 – best among starting point guards -- to Brown’s 2.5. Here’s the top 10:
1. Lindsay Whalen 132
2. Candice Wiggins 123
3. Deanna Nolan 112
4. Ivory Latta 106
5. Sue Bird 100
6. Kiesha Brown 93
7. Katie Smith 91*
8. Ticha Penicheiro 88
9. Shannon Johnson 80
10. Dominique Canty 73
10. Leilani Mitchell 73
*I replaced Alana Beard with Katie Smith in the latest rankings
The way I see it, the sizable gap between Brown and Bird represents the gap between just being a starter and being an all-star. Guards Katie Smith (who essentially splits point guard duties with Nolan) and Ticha Penicheiro (who is past her prime) fall just below her. Certainly they could upgrade at point guard…if they could get Bird, Latta, Nolan, Wiggins, Whalen, Penicheiro or Smith. Good luck with that.
The Sparks point guards are neither dynamic nor flashy, but they are solid -- when the team runs a coherent offense, the point guards are able to distribute the ball well. Their difficulty with the full court press is as much a result of the team lacking a coherent press break as it is the point guards' fault.
The one big knock on the LA Sparks guards could be that they’re not quick enough to get by their defenders and create scoring opportunities for teammates or guard speedsters like Leilani Mitchell. However, that should not be a problem given that they have two extremely talented big players.
In other words, I don’t see the Sparks’ problem as a matter of personnel as much as strategy.
The star-dependent offense gets stagnant
You have to give some credit to the Liberty’s defense for stopping the Sparks on offense. The Sparks looked completely baffled by the Liberty’s zone defense. Instead of forcing the zone to move and finding holes for cutters, the Sparks resorted to settling for jumpers. When Leslie was in, the Liberty just packed it in and forced the Sparks to look elsewhere for opportunities.
Instead of forcing the defense to respond to their stars, the Sparks were the ones constantly off balance, as DeLisha Milton-Jones said after the game. I think using Parker differently could solve that problem.
Parker is big enough to play in the post, but at this point she’s not strong enough to hold position in the post. She will be eventually. So it seems like the Sparks are constantly shifting her role in the offense to respond to the defense – she plays the post, the wing, and the “point forward”. But I think that’s too much.
Just because Parker can do everything doesn’t mean she should do everything, every single game. During this game she played the low post, ran the point, guarded McCarville as well as both Mitchell and Loree Moore. Why?
Actually, I think Parker is in a similar situation to the Seattle Supersonics’ forward and Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant. Durant will eventually be a small forward, but he wasn’t strong enough to play small forward consistently so the Sonics made a decision early on to play him at shooting guard.
"In my opinion, that's where he's best suited right now," said new Sonics coach P.J. Carlesimo, who Tuesday ran his first practice as an NBA head man since Golden State fired him in 1999. "Because of the way he shoots the ball, the way he handles the ball, and the fact that he is not as physical right now as he's going to be before he's done...I hate to quote PJ Carlesimo – I’m a Bay Area sports fan – but I think he got this one right. Parker and Durant are in different places because Parker’s college experience was longer and much more successful, but they need to do more as a team to put her in a position to succeed.
"He's like -- he's not like Magic Johnson at all -- but he's like Magic in that you can play him probably any of four positions, if not five. Playing the 2, he's not going to get beat up, box to box, the whole game."
Defense suffered without Leslie
Part of working together better as a team has to be working on the team defense. The Sparks were up 7 points when Leslie fouled out and ended up losing by 11. That’s an 18 point swing.
However, at the end of the game the problem was about strategy as much as personnel. They chose to press speedster rookie Leilani Mitchell and just got burned multiple times. Bruchu from the X’s and O’s of Basketball blog described this problem perfectly:
You cannot full-court press a team that has superior speed to you. It just won't work. You need players, specifically guards, that are at least as quick as your opponent. Take a look at these pictures, in both cases, Mitchell has already passed hip-to-hip and the defenders are in a trail position...Yet even before they put on the press, they were getting beat to the rim by the Liberty’s perimeter players, not to mention their complete inability to contain Shameka Christon, who had a career-high 28 points, including six threes. Ouch.
Since their help defense rotations are a bit slow, having Leslie in the middle as an intimidator at least forces the defense to think twice. Without Leslie, their defense seemed to just fall apart.
Strategy should fit personnel, not vice versa
The Sparks problem seems to boil down to the way they use their personnel rather than not having the right personnel.
Brown and Johnson are handling the point guard position well enough to win with two superstars. I return again to Bruchu for a summary of the Sparks’ problems:
I said earlier in the year, the problem with the Sparks is the lack of footspeed in the backcourt. Coach Cooper wants to push the ball, but they don't have the speedy guards to be able to play that way. Unless that changes, against quicker teams, they will instead need to rely more on a half-court game and use their superior size advantage in Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie.Some ideas…
The Sparks don’t have the quickest perimeter players, but they can distribute the ball well to their two stars, which seems appropriate. First, is it just me or do the Sparks spend a lot of time standing still on offense? Why not set screens for Parker or run a pick-and-roll with Leslie?
Watching the San Antonio Silver Stars repeatedly run the pick and roll with Becky Hammon and Ann Wauters makes me think that the Sparks could do something similar, although Parker is certainly not the shooter that Hammon is. The bottom line is that if you put a player like that in motion she’s almost impossible to guard – bigger players can’t keep up with her and smaller players won’t be able to defend her around the basket.
Second, if standing still is preferred to setting screens, why not run a high-low double post offense with Parker and Leslie? Or have Parker flash to the middle from the wing and force the defense to respond to both of them? If they immediately collapse on Parker, she can use her skills to find Leslie, if they choose to collapse on Leslie, they can deal with Parker in a one on one with someone at the free throw line. Pick your poison – heads you lose, tails Sparks win.
There’s a fine line between clever strategy and over-complicating the game for your team. Leslie and Parker are big and talented players and the Sparks have got to find a way to use that to their advantage.
- I watched this game primarily to get another look at rookie Essence Carson who got an honorable mention in WNBA.com’s rankings and ranked 11th in my rookie rankings. Unfortunately, Carson was ineffective in this game going 1-5 with four points…
- Rookie Leilani Mitchell, who ranked #16 in my rookie rankings, had a huge effect on this game down the stretch, using her speed to get the basket and put pressure on the Sparks’ defense. I guess it just shows how deep this rookie class is…
- I also find it interesting that the Sparks had the opportunity to draft the 5’5” Mitchell with the first pick of the second round this year but chose 5’2” Shannon Bobbitt instead. While Mitchell torched their full court press, Bobbitt was inactive for the game. Guess hindsight is 20/20…
- Dominique Canty’s numbers also fell drastically when I updated the point guard rankings. Every single one of her numbers were down since the first rankings I posted. For those that believe she is the problem with the Chicago Sky, she dropped from 4th to 10th, only slightly ahead of Mitchell (11th) and Johnson (12th). It will be interesting to continue to keep track of her progression as the sample size grows…and gets more accurate…
After writing yesterday’s post about how impressed I was with Detroit’s rookies I took a look at the WNBA’s most recent rookie rankings, released yesterday on WNBA.com.
It’s hard to dispute that Candace Parker and Candice Wiggins are the top two rookies, especially with Sylvia Fowles out right now. But after that, I think the picture is rather unclear because it is extremely difficult to evaluate players who are still developing.
So it makes me wonder, how do you evaluate the performance of a rookie?
Here’s what I find interesting: it is generally accepted that it’s hard to judge a rookie until a few years after she’s drafted and yet we still make snap judgments based on their current production.
Of course it would be great if we could find a formula that took first year stats and predicted future success…unfortunately, that takes more statistical knowledge than I currently possess. But I wonder if we can find a compromise.
It seems that people normally evaluate rookies on the basis of “fantasy statistics” – points, rebounds, and assists. Another way to assess rookies is to look at minutes per game as a means to determine whether a rookie is valuable enough to crack the rotation. However, cracking the rotation on the Shock is much different than doing so on the Dream.
So what I set out to do was to find a way to evaluate 1) a rookie’s ability to adjust to professional basketball and 2) indicators of their capacity to contribute to a WNBA team in the future.
My underlying assumption here: the most well-rounded rookies have the greatest potential because they will have a broader range of possibilities for development than a one-dimensional player.
I chose five statistics that embodied things that I consider valuable for rookies to have. I’ll present those stats and then rank them similar to the way I did in my evaluation of point guards to identify which rookies are having the best seasons thus far.
The principles this is based upon are very much similar to what Bradford Doolittle has previously written about NBA rookies.
Does she have the ability to create her own offense?
One of the more underrated qualities of a young player is their ability to create offense for themselves, even if they are inefficient or have the tendency to turn the ball over a lot. Mistakes should be expected from rookies, but if they have the confidence, creativity and skill to create their own offense, they’ll have to chance to develop into something special.
I used usage rating as a measure of how involved a player is in their team's offense and their ability to create opportunities for themselves. Here are the results for qualified rookies:
Matee Ajavon 29.48
Amber Holt 29.22
Candice Wiggins 26.16
Candace Parker 24.63
Erlana Larkins 23.70
Tasha Humphrey 23.59
Charde Houston 22.41
Sylvia Fowles 21.16
Sandrine Gruda 21.02
Essence Carson 20.40
Erica White 19.93
Kerri Gardin 19.02
Crystal Kelly 18.18
Tamera Young 17.75
Jolene Anderson 17.65
Alexis Hornbuckle 17.37
Olayinka Sanni 17.34
Laura Harper 16.51
Nicky Anosike 16.49
Morenike Atunrase 16.35
Ketia Swanier 15.75
Leilani Mitchell 14.63
A'Quonesia Franklin 12.54
Crystal Langhorne 11.08
Kimberly Beck 8.70
I would have expected Parker and Wiggins to top this list, but apparently Ajavon and Holt are getting more opportunities than I assumed. I am not surprised that Hornbuckle is so low here because she spends a lot of time deferring to Detroit’s veterans.
Is she efficient with the ball offensively?
Usage and efficiency go hand in hand because as a player’s role increases, it is expected that efficiency will decrease. If a player’s efficiency can remain high even at high usage levels – especially as a rookie – that is the mark of a star.
I took this stat straight from the WNBA website and it is explained quite clearly there.
Candace Parker 27.6
Sylvia Fowles 27.1
Tasha Humphrey 23.6
Candice Wiggins 21.8
Nicky Anosike 21.5
Crystal Kelly 20.7
Crystal Langhorne 18.4
Charde Houston 17.6
Alexis Hornbuckle 17.3
Sandrine Gruda 16.6
Erlana Larkins 16.2
Amber Holt 15
Erica White 14.9
Tamera Young 14.2
Laura Harper 13
Kerri Gardin 12.4
Leilani Mitchell 12.1
Ketia Swanier 11.9
Matee Ajavon 11.1
Olayinka Sanni 11.1
Essence Carson 10.7
Kimberly Beck 10.6
Morenike Atunrase 9.1
A'Quonesia Franklin 8.6
Jolene Anderson 8.5
Is she versatile enough to earn playing time by contributing to the team in multiple ways?
If a player is one-dimensional and that dimension is a) not useful for the team or b) not effective on the pro level, they are definitely less likely to succeed (development notwithstanding). This doesn’t mean a versatile player should be the most dominant. It just seems reasonable that a player who can do multiple things on the floor is more likely to find a place for herself in the league long-term (this is something I'd be interested in proving statistically).
I’m using a stat called Versatility Index to measure versatility (the formula was posted previously on the Pleasant Dreams blog as well). Here are the versatility ratings for qualified rookies:
Candace Parker 8.62
Candice Wiggins 6.16
Tamera Young 4.65
Nicky Anosike 4.24
Alexis Hornbuckle 3.86
Sylvia Fowles 3.66
Amber Holt 3.45
Matee Ajavon 3.27
Leilani Mitchell 3.11
Essence Carson 2.75
Charde Houston 2.70
Jolene Anderson 2.57
Tasha Humphrey 2.51
Erica White 2.41
Sandrine Gruda 2.38
Kerri Gardin 2.08
Erlana Larkins 1.90
Laura Harper 1.81
Crystal Langhorne 1.76
Crystal Kelly 1.73
A'Quonesia Franklin 1.39
Morenike Atunrase 1.38
Ketia Swanier 1.16
Olayinka Sanni 1.02
Kimberly Beck 0.38
Nothing in particular stands as surprising here, except that I wonder how much Humphrey’s versatility rating would improve if three pointers and free throws were taken into account. She would still be hampered by her poor rebounding, but I’m sure it would give her a bit of a boost.
Can she come in and have a positive impact when called upon?
A rookie’s minutes certainly say a lot about their quality as a player, though it’s an imperfect measure. However, if a player has the court presence to come in the game and have a positive effect on the team as a rookie, that should say quite a bit about their ability to develop in the future.
So I’m using plus/minus statistics as an indicator of a player’s impact on the game. Here are the plus/minus rankings for qualified rookies:
Alexis Hornbuckle 16.4
Candice Wiggins 16.2
Tamera Young 16.2
Crystal Kelly 14.9
Candace Parker 7.2
Essence Carson 7.1
Erica White 3.5
Morenike Atunrase 3.2
Leilani Mitchell 2.9
Matee Ajavon 2.4
Kerri Gardin 1.3
Tasha Humphrey 0.7
Sandrine Gruda -1.3
Charde Houston -3.7
A'Quonesia Franklin -5.8
Jolene Anderson -6.4
Nicky Anosike -7.6
Amber Holt -8.3
Kimberly Beck -14 (edit: thanks Patrick)
Crystal Langhorne -14.1
Laura Harper -18.1
Olayinka Sanni -18.1
Sylvia Fowles --
Ketia Swanier --
Erlana Larkins --
(There were no numbers available for the players at the bottom.)
Crystal Kelly was the player that surprised me most here, as she is having a positive effect on the court in limited minutes thus far this season. While it’s hard to make comparisons across teams with plus/minus, we at least get a sense here of who’s contributing to their team positively.
What is her potential to “breakout” in the future?
Most of all we want to know how likely a player is to improve in the future. Kevin Broom of RealGm.com came up with a formula to identify “diamonds in the rough”. The goal of the formula is simple: identify players who played limited minutes but whose rate of production suggests they deserve more minutes.
I used WinScore as the proxy for “production” because it measures a player’s overall contributions to their team’s wins. So what this diamond rating formula is essentially telling us is the player’s potential to contribute to team wins in the future.
Eventually I’d like to take a deeper look at how effective this system has been in the WNBA historically, but for now I’ll assume that its effectiveness. It’s a simple rating – the higher the score, the more likely a player is to improve with more minutes in the future:
Sylvia Fowles 15.59
Crystal Langhorne 13.41
Crystal Kelly 12.15
Candace Parker 11.29
Nicky Anosike 10.12
Tasha Humphrey 9.56
Alexis Hornbuckle 7.17
Kimberly Beck 5.37
Sandrine Gruda 4.66
Ketia Swanier 4.50
Charde Houston 4.23
Candice Wiggins 3.91
Leilani Mitchell 3.01
Kerri Gardin 2.37
Laura Harper 2.17
Erica White 2.05
Erlana Larkins 1.87
Tamera Young 1.78
Morenike Atunrase 0.71
Olayinka Sanni -0.54
Essence Carson -0.64
Jolene Anderson -0.93
A'Quonesia Franklin -2.69
Matee Ajavon -7.21
Amber Holt -15.42
So the best way to read this is that the players to watch are the ones who have a high diamond rating but have not yet gotten consistent minutes. Those would be Crystal Langhorne, Crystal Kelly, and Tasha Humphrey. There is a drop off between Humphrey and Hornbuckle and again between Hornbuckle and Beck, so it would be interesting to know if there is a particular threshold for significance for this rating.
If I understand the math correctly, a negative number for this formula should mean that either a player is already over performing in the minutes they get or performing below league average.
As I said previously, there should be no doubt about the top two or three rookies this year, depending on how Sylvia Fowles recovers from injury. Really, no matter what numbers you plug in for rookies, Parker and Wiggins will end up on top. Here is the top ten
Candace Parker 90
Candice Wiggins 85
Alexis Hornbuckle 75
(Sylvia Fowles 67)
Tasha Humphrey 67
Tamera Young 66
Crystal Kelly 64
Charde Houston 61
Matee Ajavon 61
Nicky Anosike 59
Sandrine Gruda 58
Crystal Kelly is the biggest surprise on this list. She hasn’t really gotten much national attention, but she is in the top five among rookies in efficiency rating and net plus/minus. Since she’s been so productive in limited minutes that it seems like she has the potential to develop into an even more productive player in the future. Of course that will depend on coaching, how she’s used and where she fits in Sacramento’s rotation. But for a third round pick, she could definitely be considered the biggest value pick of the draft.
It's important to keep in mind that I'm not claiming that these are the players having the most productive rookie years. Instead I was looking for which players are having the most promising rookie years with regard to future success. As the season goes on and more stats become available, I'm sure things will change.
In the meantime, I'll have a few new players to keep an eye out for because I have definitely not observed all those players closely.
While Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles, and Candice Wiggins grabbed the headlines for the 2008 WNBA rookie class, three rookies in Detroit are making quite an impression.
What strikes me most about the Shock’s trio of rookies -- Alexis Hornbuckle, Tasha Humphrey, and Olayinka Sanni – is that they all play the type of tough, gritty basketball that defines Detroit’s team. And each of them earns playing time by just doing some of the little things that a team needs to win.
I have watched them four times in the last week – the home-and-home series against Connecticut, a Saturday loss to Chicago, last night’s win at home – and I was impressed, despite inconsistent play from the team.
Right now, Hornbuckle and Humphrey got an honorable mention in the latest WNBA rookie rankings, while Minnesota has two players in the top five (Wiggins and Nicky Anosike). But using overused NBA draft lingo, they have plenty of “upside” because they are all fundamentally sound players in addition to being physical.
No disrespect to Minnesota or New York, but the bottom line is this: in three years, Detroit’s rookie trio could be regarded as the best group of young players in the league.
Adding depth to a veteran team
It would seem difficult for a trio of rookies to crack the rotation on one of the most successful frachises in the WNBA, especially coming off consecutive appearances in the WNBA finals.
The roster was already loaded with talent with 2007 all-stars Deanna Nolan and Cheryl Ford, Olympian Katie Smith, and Sixth Woman of the Year Plenette Pierson. Former All-Rookie selection Kara Braxton figured to make an important contribution as well with Katie Feenstra lost to Atlanta.
Nevertheless, Detroit’s rookies have stepped up this year to make a huge contribution and add valuable depth to the league’s best team when they needed it in the face of injuries or foul trouble. Here are some of my observations.
Alexis Hornbuckle: Future Defensive Player of the Year
Key Stats: Leads league in steals (2.9), 6th in the league in plus/minus (+16.4), and 5th among rookies and 7th among all WNBA guards in rebounding (4.5).
The first time I noticed Alexis Hornbuckle was when she pulled down 15 rebounds against the Phoenix Mercury on June 14th. That is likely to stand as a career high for some time – she definitely put people on notice that day.
In a league in which scoring is generally overrated, Hornbuckle does everything else on the court extremely well. The steals and rebounds probably get the most attention, but she also plays outstanding on ball defense and it’s huge for Detroit when their outstanding starting backcourt is resting.
I wouldn’t make her a lead guard for a team just yet, but she has the tools and presence to become an outstanding playmaker. She doesn’t yet control the tempo or change speeds as well as a guard like Deanna Nolan. But when she has the ball in her hands, she usually makes the right decision – picking her spots to score and distributing the ball to her talented teammates. She’s also a solid three point shooter, currently shooting 39% from long range meaning she can spread the defense well.
It’s hard to find something she needs to improve on – other than gaining experience – but I think she’ll become a dominant player if she continues to work on her post game. She posted up Ivory Latta (5 inches shorter) a few times last night and I think this could become a key element of her offensive repertoire. She has such a strong build and if she could learn a few decisive post moves, she would be able to simply overpower many guards in the league.
Her plus/minus ranking (a stat described well at the Pleasant Dreams blog) is a reflection of her defensive impact and very mature play on offense. When you look at the whole package she brings to the team, Hornbuckle could be the best all-around player in the league in a few years…if not for Candace Parker of course.
Tasha Humphrey: Power and Versatility
Key Stats: Leads league in free throw percentage (100%), Ranks #2 in the league in 3 point percentage (46.2%), 13th in field goal percentage (48.6%).
Even in a deep 2008 draft, Humphrey was a steal at the end of first round for Detroit.
I remember 11 or 12 years ago when the WNBA was first starting out, one of my friends’ biggest complaint was the lack of drop steps and power moves in the low post. I probably need to contact him with some footage of Tasha Humphrey. When she gets the ball in the low post, she’s looking to score and she’s not afraid to knock over a defender in the process.
Add to that the ability to shoot the ball from anywhere on the court efficiently and you have the makings of one of the most versatile offensive players in the league.
Like Hornbuckle, I first noticed Humphrey in her 28 point, 8 rebound, 4-5 3FG performance against the Mercury. And a WNBA.com article nicely characterizes what Humphrey brings to the Shock:
Yet what surprised Laimbeer most about her play in Phoenix was how assertive she was. Shooting 10-for-15 on the road is not how a rookie shows deference to veterans. Even without the ball, Humphrey remained involved in the play. “I think her court presence was outstanding in the last game and even the game before that (in L.A.), I thought she felt comfortable on the floor in the game, and it showed,” he said.It’s clear that she can score inside and outside, which will make her a very dangerous player in the future – especially if she’s paired with Hornbuckle who could develop an equally versatile game. She already adds a nice dimension to the Shock with her ability to shoot the ball.
I’m a little surprised she doesn’t rebound a little better, although she plays pretty good position defense. You figure that with her size and strength she would dominate the boards. My assumption was that her numbers were low because she got only inconsistent minutes at the beginning of the season.
As it turns out, she’s only averaged about 3.5 rebounds since that outstanding game against the Mercury...and even that number wouldn’t put her in the top 5 on her own team. Part of the problem is a matter of experience – she probably needs to work on footwork and positioning rather than just trying to overpower opponents. And that’s exactly why Detroit is such a great team for her: I’d be shocked if Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn didn’t make her into a better rebounder.
Olayinka Sanni: Hardworking post player
I actually didn’t notice Sanni at all until the Chicago Sky game in which the starters didn’t play their best game, but she’s impressive if for no other reason because she brings energy down low.
As though the Shock need another post player to score in the paint.
Sanni’s numbers aren’t nearly as gaudy as Hornbuckle or Humphrey, but she’s been effective over the last two games. She fights for rebounds down low, has shown the ability to score in the paint, and plays solid position defense.
But what I like most about Sanni is that she is a fundamentally sound player. She has good footwork, she just needs to learn to finish more effectively. Although I don’t know much about her or how quickly she picks up new skills, when a player has a strong base of fundamentals, it’s easier to develop and improve
Her game is limited to the low post now, but I think there are a number of great post players – not to mention coaches – to model her game after.
Why I think they could be the best trio…
What I find intriguing about this trio in comparison to the trios in Minnesota or New York is that Hornbuckle can do almost everything on both ends of the floor, Humphrey could be one of the most well-rounded offensive players in the league, and Sanni’s energy and fundamentals almost ensure that she’ll improve. They might not be flashy, but they can be extremely efficient and valuable players. Given how strong Detroit’s coaching staff is, it’s hard to imagine these players not improving drastically over the next few seasons.
Climbing the Wall
My best memories of basketball growing up don't come from winning (high school) championships, winning individual awards, or even playing in gyms with D1 athletes, but the classic outdoor battles with friends.
Playing one on one for two hours with a friend after school in the rain. Challenging a friend to one on one in dim light at midnight. Playing outside in 98 degree weather The sweet sound of the ball falling through chain nets. And of course trash talk, most of which should not be repeated here...which is what makes it so great.
So how cool is it that the WNBA will be playing an outdoor game this summer?
Anyway, I know this is not really news to most, but I just got an email about it, so here are some of those vitals:
Score tickets today!
Contact Megan Myers at 212.631.8811 firstname.lastname@example.org
FREE Fan Festival 5:00-7:30pm
Bring your friends and family and enjoy:
• New York Knicks player/alumni appearances
• New York Liberty alumni appearances
• Basketball Clinics and Autograph Sessions
• Interactive Games, Music, Prizes and More!
For more information about the 2008 “Outdoor Classic”, please head here: http://www.wnba.com/liberty/news/outdoor_classic_2008.html
So what's so great about outdoor basketball and specifically "streetball"? So glad you asked...
I know this won't quite be an outdoor game like those played on the streets around New York City...but the best way to understand the significance of outdoor basketball is to understand streetball. And to fully understand streetball is to understand what hip hop culture is all about. In fact, the two are almost inseparable.
Both have their roots in NYC -- Rucker Park in Manhattan considered the heart of streetball and the South Bronx being the heart of hip hop. The both represent the rhythm of the street and an outlet for the frustrations that come with the lifestyle. At their best, both put a heavy emphasis on creative self-expression (including the trash talk), spontaneity, and graceful bravado. The swagger, the tattoos, the mean mug -- those have to be understood in the context of fighting for the opportunity to prove yourself and build street-cred, judged by a jury of your peers.
Some will argue streetball is a corruption of Naismith's game -- after all, does anybody really remember who wins And 1 Mixtape games or Harlem Globetrotters games? And really, do you care?
But let's be real: it's street ballers that showed the world how exciting the dunk could be and created that Allen Iverson persona -- palming crossover and all -- that gets the crowd going, love him or resent him. It brought a natural energy and flair to the professional game that wasn't quite there before. It's what made the game "FAN-tastic".
So it's great to see the WNBA bringing the outdoor game and pro game together in a way that's different than taking one piece of it as the NBA does with its annual dunk contest.
Some will undoubtedly question whether women's basketball can capture the energy normally associated with these outdoor games. Of course, I wouldn't expect to see chain nets or refs implementing the "no blood, no foul" standard...but it should still add a boost of energy to the game.
- A cool video with Liberty players discussing their experiences with outdoor basketball.
- Carol Blazejowski had some comments about the Liberty Outdoor Classic earlier in thttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifhe season.
- Dave Chappelle had one of the funniest parodies of And 1 Mixtape basketball. Thought I would share.
Pamela McGee has been in the headlines again as the Washington Wizards selected her son JaVale with the 18th pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday.
I was one of those rabid NBA junkies who watched the entire draft on Thursday night, which means I missed an outstanding Liberty-Fever game on ESPN 2. Nevertheless, watching the draft and digging up information about prospects got me interested in Pamela McGee.
Some people have credited Pamela with providing JaVale a strong basketball IQ despite being raw and a little too light to bang with NBA big men. However, as a mama’s boy, there have also been questions as to whether Pamela has taken up too much space in the headlines…and perhaps JaVale’s life.
There were some rumors during the draft process that she was too involved in JaVale’s workout process, to the point of canceling workouts with teams that held anything below the 12th pick (which ended up being false). Others have suggested that teaching him perimeter skills have hindered her son’s development, as he lacks adequate post skills to play in the NBA.
However, it’s interesting to juxtapose these observations with past reports about McGee’s capacity as a mother. Longtime WNBA fans may remember Pamela’s custody battle over her daughter, Imani, in 1998, which was the first such custody battle for a WNBA mother. At that time, Pamela was accused of being incapable of balancing the demands of being a professional athlete with the demands of being a good parent.
What I found interesting about this story is that it appears to illustrate the double standards that working mothers face as they attempt to balance career demands with demands to raise their children.
McGee the single working mother
I stumbled across a story about the custody battle as I was trying to see if Pamela had any response about where JaVale was drafted or his fit with the Wizards. I hadn’t heard of McGee’s custody battle prior to that point, so for others who are unaware, here is a synopsis:
Pamela McGee, who plays for the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks, lost custody of her 4-year-old daughter while the court investigated whether McGee's work prevented her from being a good mother. In his motion for temporary sole custody, McGee's ex-husband, the Rev. Kevin E. Stafford, asserted that a career and motherhood are mutually exclusive. McGee's "level of achievement," he argued, impaired her ability to parent their child. McGee was on the road four weeks a year. And the father said it took away too much from the daughter. But the court did not investigate whether the father's travel schedule, which took him on the road seven to eight weeks a year, made him an unfit father.However, it was the ex-husband’s lawyer who made the most controversial argument in the case.
"The whole problem is right now, it's her career," said Peter Lucido, an attorney for Ms. McGee's ex-husband, the Rev. Kevin E. Stafford of Mount Clemens. "There are a lot of sacrifices you need to make to be a good basketball player. You need to make a lot of sacrifices to be a good parent as well."
Not only is this an odd assertion because Pamela was only traveling four weeks a year (according to reports I read), it is representative of the double standard that professional mothers face. But as WNBA spokesman Alice McGillion points out, it would seem relatively easy to plan joint custody around the WNBA schedule.
"If you were to just take a step back and compare this situation to a middle manager for accounting firm that travels, it's vastly different," she said.Obviously, we cannot judge whether McGee is fit as a mother from a few newspaper articles – that’s unfair to McGee and her ex-husband. But the most disturbing element of this case is the implication that a working mother cannot satisfactorily care for her children, which has much larger implications.
For WNBA players, "the schedule is known before you travel. It's three months."
"We live in a culture where we want mothers to do everything, and whenever something goes wrong, it's the mother's fault," Mary Becker, who teaches family and domestic violence law at DePaul University in Chicago, told the New York Times. This perception is reinforced daily by everything from the people around us to the news.McGee the proud overbearing mother
Fast forward almost ten years, and we hear a different story about McGee as a mother as she prepares Javale, who was 10-years-old at the time of the custody battle, to enter the NBA draft.
Pamela wrote a rather exaggerated scouting report about JaVale on MyNBADraft.net that compared him to Tyson Chandler, Michael Jordan, and Dirk Nowitzki, which is clearly absurd…or the Wizards grabbed the steal of the century.
JaVale McGee is probably the most physically gifted player the Wolf Pack program has ever had (with Edgar Jones being the only ex-Nevada player who could also stake claim to that title). But you wonder if the expectations being placed upon McGee by his mother are too high. (link) A fellow blogger made another interesting comment:
“This is a woman who knows the workings of professional basketball -- so why is she doing this? It's not like some NBA General Manager is going to read her over-the-top -- and by the way off the mark -- sales job let alone be convinced by it. She's coming off like a Little League monster parent who is completely embarrassing herself and possibly turning off NBA front office people who may not want to draft her son because that might mean having to get involved with her.” But if you think about it, hyperbole is just part of the draft process. Hyperbole suckered GMs into drafting Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown, and Andrea Bargnani first overall in the NBA draft. Harold “Baby Jordan” Miner was supposed to be the second coming of Michael Jordan. Nicholoz Tskitishvilli and/or Darko Millicic among others were supposed to be the next Nowitzki. And there’s no shortage of marginal players being compared to perennial all-stars every single year – and I’ll look forward to seeing how well DJ Augustin compares to Steve Nash.
So while I would strongly disagree with Pamela’s assertion, it’s not that much different than countless other scouting reports that float around the web at this time of year. And yet, I think there might be a reasonable explanation for why she posted such an exaggerated scouting report: she’s a proud mother, not an NBA scout. It’s probably the reason that employers don’t ask for recommendations from our mothers when us average folk apply for jobs – they’re biased.
It would seem as though we would rather find fault in Pamela McGee as a mother -- by comparing her to the already stigmatized “overbearing soccer mom” -- than look to other possible alternatives. It seems inconsistent that one woman could go from being an unfit mother to becoming an overbearing mother, natural development notwithstanding.
An unfortunate double standard…
It's a double bind for moms because fathers seem to carry much less responsibility for the problems their sons may have, but in the political and popular culture of today, they are considered absolutely essential to raising good sons. (link)During this whole ordeal, we’ve heard considerably less about JaVale’s father and his capacity as a father. We have no reason to assume that he’s a bad father, it’s just curious that his competency never came into question.
I’m hardly claiming that there are people out there who are somehow conspiring against Pamela McGee – in fact, ESPN published an article about the mother-son combo about a month ago. Nor is this fully representative of the challenges that the average working mother faces -- it's a completely abnormal case...which makes the situation even more bizarre. It shouldn't even be an issue.
However, I find it difficult to ignore the double standard inherent in the fact that Pamela McGee has received so much blame and negative attention while doing her best to balance her career with her parenting responsibilities.
“When they know I pursued my dreams, it sets a standard for them - that they can do whatever they want to do. One of the main reasons I play is because I know the WNBA is historic. This is history.”Transition Points: