Fowles Making Big Contribution to Team USA Off the Bench

. Tuesday, August 12, 2008
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It has to be hard for a bench player to get the media’s attention on the star-studded U.S. women’s basketball team, possibly the most talented U.S. team at the Olympics.

This is probably Lisa Leslie’s last Olympics. Diana Taurasi had a big game against the Czech Republic. And Tina Thompson flirted with a record number of points against China yesterday. Not to mention Candace Parker, whose instant superstar status inevitably attracts attention.

But who has been the biggest contributor for the team thus far in the preliminary rounds? Sylvia Fowles.

Using a strategy that the Arbitrarian blog used for the U.S. men’s team to assign credit for games to individual players, I tried to figure out who was the biggest contributor on the women’s side. The goal is to assign each person a percentage of the credit for every game. The methodology is explained both at his blog and at Hardwood Paroxysm. Here’s how the credit looks for the first two games:

USA vs. Czech Repub.

China vs. USA

As you can see, Fowles is the only player to be among the top players in both games. And she’s doing it primarily with her strength – she’s getting high percentage shots and a lot of offensive rebounds.

Good news for the Sky

Chicago Sky fans have to be encouraged not only by her play as she continues to recover from injury, but also by the positive comments from teammates regarding her willingness to learn and her growth as a player, even in this short period of time. A quote from Diana Taurasi from USA Basketball via the Women’s Hoops blog:

She’s incredible really. We can talk about her physical attributes, we can talk about how amazing foot work she has, but more than anything she is a great person and I think that’s what’s going to make her one of the best centers to play in the United States and in the world. She’s willing to learn; she’s willing to take criticism and apply it to her game and a lot people that are as good as her don’t want to hear it, she’s open ears which is going to make her unstoppable.
As the Sky try to make a playoff push in the final weeks of the season, the mentoring Fowles is getting from veteran players and coaches should be invaluable for her and her team. As I've described in the past, a lot will depend upon how the Sky use her. They were playing well before the Olympic break and a healthy Fowles coming off a strong Olympics performance will be valuable. I think she can be more productive offensively than the Sky make use of her.

What don’t the numbers capture?

However, there are a few things these numbers don’t capture, but really, the discrepancies may not matter much.

First, these numbers don’t take into account when Fowles is playing. What percentage of her minutes come when the game is already out of reach? Who is in the game when the lead is built?

Second, is the match up question – is Fowles getting big numbers against second string players?

Third, is that this method – like any other statistic – doesn’t take intangibles into account, and specifically that of point guards. Assists are counted a bit differently the NBA-based equation may not be fully accounting for the impact of a player like Sue Bird.

Nevertheless, this is a helpful tool for judging how productive each player is as well as how valuable each player is to the team. And even if you do not agree that Fowles deserves this much credit, it seems that you have to agree that she has a bright future ahead of her.

Transition Points:

These credit numbers are an interesting complement to plus/minus numbers. While plus/minus measures the positive or negative impact a player had on the score while on the court (not based on box score statistics), credit provides a snap shot of what the player contributed to the team's win/loss while on the court (based on box score statistics). It would be interesting to see how well using these two statistics together would approximate adjusted plus/minus.