WNBA all-star balloting is tough because we have not really seen enough of any player to make a decision about the best in the league.
So I have held off even thinking about it until I had more time to think about it, but with the deadline fast approaching, I feel obligated to make some sort of decisions about who to vote for and thought I would share.
However, as I was reading petrel’s analysis on the Pleasant Dreams Blog, I realized there is at least one glaring omission from the ballot: Sancho Lyttle. From what I’ve watched of the Dream, Lyttle definitely deserves all-star consideration. But then petrel made another good point for those of us who have refused to even look at the ballot to this point: there is only one write-in vote on the web ballot.
So before I unreflectively joined petrel’s Vote for Sancho movement, I had to wonder, who -- if anyone -- most deserves my one write-in vote?
This obviously complicates an already difficult decision.
Further complicating things this year is that the wisdom of crowds typically disappears during All-Star voting…and this season is particularly vulnerable to misguided fan “wisdom”. For example:
- Candace Parker will inevitably receive enough votes to skew the numbers, if not be named the starter (at guard??) in the West (similar to Penny Hardaway in the 1997-1998 season who fans voted as the starter despite playing only 19 games the entire 82 game season). Who knows if she would actually play…
- Seimone Augustus deserves votes as an honorary all-star, which will take votes away from others, but there will be a replacement there.
- Jia Perkins, Nicky Anosike, and Alana Beard will almost inevitably be overlooked in favor of bigger names
- Big name veterans like Lisa Leslie, Becky Hammon, Ticha Penicheiro, and to a lesser extent Deanna Nolan, Lindsay Whalen, and Chamique Holdsclaw are likely to grab votes simply because of name recognition.
During last summer’s Olympics, I tried to look at stats to figure out who would have been most deserving of an all-star selection. So let’s see how those work out this year for the real thing.
What I did
I did something similar to what I did last year with my mock all-star team: first I determined the top 20 players in each conference by looking at their EFF rating (from WNBA.com), Tendex (described at Dougstats.com), and MEV. Surprisingly, a pretty clear top tier of WNBA players emerges from looking at those three metrics.
Next, I compared each of those players based on a Four Factors analysis, in addition to using defensive plus/minus and SPI versatility score.
All those stats are described here:
From there, I picked the best players by position in each conference, with a few of my own subjective interpretations.
Since I had statistics in front of me, I went ahead and selected starters and reserves. However, while I feel rather comfortable with my starters (except for who I would start in the East at guard), I feel much less comfortable with my reserves and really just need more time to watch games before I make a final decision. So consider the reserves tentative.
What my ballot looks like: Yes, vote Sancho Lyttle!
As it turns out, petrel and I have almost identical all-star starters – the only difference being that I would definitely have Fowles as my starting center over Erika Desouza. Defensively, I would argue that Fowles is the better player thus far this season and though not often taken into account in matters of all-star popularity contests, it tips the scales for me.
But the most important similarity between petrel and I is that by almost any metric you look at, Lyttle is one of the most productive players in the league this season and it is therefore a must that she be written in as an all-star starter.
If you do nothing else in your life this week, go to WNBA.com and vote for Lyttle. This is a serious matter that cannot go ignored.
But in case you don’t believe petrel and I, here’s some statistical evidence to back my claim:
First of all, Lyttle is among the best rebounders among the Eastern Conference’s top players with a rebound rate – the percentage of available rebounds she gets – of 10.32%, which is just behind teammate Erika Desouza’s 11.80%. Her defensive plus/minus is also solid at +4.9. But what is most striking is Lyttle’s versatility as a forward.
Not only is she shooting the ball better than any interior player other than Desouza, but she is also among the more versatile players in the East, contributing a little bit of everything for the Dream offensively and defensively. As a starter (4 games) her numbers have been up significantly in every category, so it is reasonable to suggest that she is worthy of an all-star starting spot.
Write her in!
Aside from Lyttle here are three other interesting battles for starting spots:
East center: Erika Desouza vs.Sylvia Fowles vs. Janel McCarville
If you follow the logic that Lyttle is one of the top power forwards in the East right now since being named the starter for Atlanta, it logically follows that Desouza is a center...which really complicates the choice for center.
Fowles leads the league in rebounding and field goal percentage at the moment in addition to having an Eastern conference high 13.26 rebounding rate. Fowles is also the best defensive center in the East with a defensive plus/minus rating of +10.6, better than McCarville (+6.4) and well ahead of Desouza (-2.2).
However, arguments could be made for Desouza and McCarville. Their strength is that they are both much more versatile players than Fowles. Both have the ability to shoot from beyond the paint, while McCarville’s passing ability certainly makes her a huge asset for any team. For whatever it’s worth, Desouza has a better Tendex and MEV rating than McCarville or Fowles.
All three of them struggle mightily with turnovers, being the most turnover prone players of the 41 top players I looked at by a considerable margin.
Ultimately, I have to go with Fowles because having a strong defensive center who can rebound and score inside is a valuable commodity. I like McCarville a lot, but Fowles seems to be doing the things you like to see from a center. Desouza has put together a strong season, but I’ll have to pay closer attention to her defense before making a decision this year.
West guard: Sue Bird vs. Becky Hammon
Becky Hammon is putting up great numbers so far this season, but Sue Bird is clearly among the best – if not the best – point guards in the game. Really, the choice between these two is a matter of taste – they both have a huge influence on their team’s success. Bird is undoubtedly the better facilitator, Hammon is by far the better scorer, and they both do a little of both. Right now, Hammon has the better Tendex and MEV ratings.
I am going to go with Bird here simply because I like the way she plays, but there is certainly a strong argument in favor of Hammon here. If there is one tipping point, it might be defense – Bird has a defensive plus/minus of 12.1 to Hammon’s 4.1. It’s really early to rely entirely on that number, but it’s the one thing I can point to right now that clearly lifts Bird above Hammon.
East guard: Alana Beard vs. Lindsay Whalen vs. Katie Douglas
If you go strictly by the big productivity metrics, Alana Beard is clearly one of the top two guards in the East along with Jia Perkins. However, I find it odd that when you break her game down into her contribution to the Four Factors, the argument starts to weaken and make room for both Whalen and Douglass.
The big glaring statistical weakness for Beard is defensive plus/minus – she ranks last in the East with a rating of -17.5. This comes as a surprise to me because I generally consider her a rather talented defender. However, she does not exactly separate herself in any particular statistical category either – Douglas is a slightly better shooter this season, Whalen is probably a slightly better all-around player (passing ability and rebounding separating the two), and Beard turns the ball over at a higher rate than any of the top guards in the East (13.3% of the time, currently averaging more turnovers than assists).
While petrel argues that, “You'd just have to be a blind home rooter not to pick Alana Beard of the Mystics for an All-Star start”, I’m not sure it’s that clear cut.
Even the argument that she is carrying the Mystics doesn’t give her a clear advantage over Whalen, who has carried the Sun to an identical record 4-3 record as the Mystics. Douglas could easily get the nod with it being so close given that she is a key part of the East’s best team.
For this one, I argue that any one of these three is worthy of an all-star starting spot. However, I’m going with Beard because she is one of the best on-ball defenders in the game as far as I’m concerned, regardless of what her statistics say.
If the Mystics fall apart this season, then I’ll stand corrected.
Petrel articulated the reasons for the rest of my starters pretty well already in his all-star post. I would just add that Pondexter, like Perkins, also ranked very well in my point guard rankings (even though they are not point guards, which is especially impressive), which is just one more reason that she should absolutely be all-star starters.
So here are my 2009 all-star starters:
G: Sue Bird
G: Diana Taurasi
F: Cappie Pondexter
F: Lauren Jackson
G: Jia Perkins
G: Alana Beard
F: Tamika Catchings
F: Sancho Lyttle
C: Sylvia Fowles
What about the reserves?
Having spent the time crunching numbers I also have some initial thoughts about reserves, although I will come back to this around the time when coaches actually announce them.
In the West, the obvious (to me) are Becky Hammon and Temeka Johnson, both of whom are playing extremely well this season and could make a case as starters if all-world UCONN duo Bird and Taurasi weren’t already occupying those spots.
At Western center, there could be an interesting debate between Ruth Riley and Demya Walker. While Walker is probably the better defensive center based upon defensive plus/minus, Riley has a significantly better Tendex and MEV as well as a higher true shooting percentage and rebounding rate. In fact, right now, Riley has the third highest rebounding percentage in the conference behind Sophia Young and Lauren Jackson.
At forward, things get a little tougher and another person who didn’t make the ballot should be considered strongly by coaches. As mentioned above, Sophia Young is leading the West in rebounding percentage which I think gets her the nod there, despite a rather poor shooting year. Nicole Powell is having a solid season and could make a case for a spot as well, being one of the more versatile players in the conference.
But the surprise pick at reserve forward might be Charde Houston who is quietly one of the most versatile players in the league this season. She is not doing any one thing particularly well relative to the rest of the conference, but she’s doing a little bit of everything, which will likely be part of the Lynx’s success in Seimone Augustus’ absence. The question is whether she can keep that up.
The big snub right now then might be Candice Wiggins, who just won Player of the Week, but has struggled up until that point this season. Her numbers, aside from points per game, are actually very similar to Tanisha Wright for the season. However, by the time the coaches choose reserves, Wiggins could certainly move ahead of Houston, Powell, and Young as one would assume that she will have to take a larger role on the team with Augustus out.
G Becky Hammon
C Demya Walker
F Nicole Powell
F Sophia Young
G Temeka Johnson
F Charde Houston
On the Eastern side, I find the reserve battles to be much less clear.
If you did not pick Fowles as your starting center, then you almost have to agree that she is deserving of a reserve spot. If Fowles is the starter, then I really think it’s a toss up between McCarville and Desouza, following the logic presented earlier. I’m going with Desouza as the reserve right now because she has been a much stronger interior player to this point in the season.
Per the discussion above, Douglas and Whalen get spots as two of the top players in the East who are not starters.
Shameka Christon is one of the top scorers game in the league right now, including shooting 48.8% from the three point line on 43 attempts and having the lowest turnover percentage of anyone among the top 21 players in the East.
The last two spots are going to be rather difficult.
Crystal Langhorne is right behind Sylvia Fowles as one of the top rebounders in the East.
Lindsey Harding is having a great season and would be a lock for the all-star game if she were shooting better.
Asjha Jones is not playing particularly well, but has been solid.
Taj McWilliams-Franklin is rebounding well, but having a rather down scoring year and a high turnover percentage.
Ultimately, I would go with Candice Dupree, who I like…and has been an effective weapon for the Sky. A potential surprise might be Crystal Langhorne, who is a strong offensive rebounder, has the second best rebounding rate in the East, and has vastly improved her scoring ability. However, she has not started a game this season...so I'm going with Jones...
C: Erika Desouza
G: Lindsay Whalen
G: Katie Douglas
F: Shameka Christon
F: Asjha Jones
F: Candice Dupree
These reserve selections will of course change as we get to see them play more games…so please consider those tentative…
Lyttle Thriving In Starting Role For Dream (for an emotional reason to join the Write in Sancho Movement)
Rookies DeWanna Bonner and Marissa Coleman were in the top 20 in their respective conferences but neither could really make a serious case for an all-star spot. Angel McCoughtry is the only other player anywhere close to consideration. That does foreshadow my upcoming rookie rankings well with Bonner and McCoughtry the clear frontrunners. Bonner is on my radar and as we see more of her, I might actually slide her onto the Western squad over Sophia Young.
In case you are interested, Phoenix and Indiana had the most players in the top 20 in their respective conferences with five each. But really, that’s because I was feeling generous, and added Tammy Sutton-Brown who was #21 in the east.
Statistically, it would be really difficult to argue that Lisa Leslie should be an all-star in her final season…even if some serious injuries occurred. I’m sure she’ll be playing regardless as part of a WNBA send-off, but it’s unfortunate that someone who is outplaying her this season will lose out on an all-star nod.