As San Antonio Silver Stars guard Becky Hammon said on the 2011 WNBA All-Star Game preview on NBA TV, not even players really get serious about winning this basketball spectacle until the last few minutes or so.
Of course, late-game competitiveness hasn’t always been a defining feature of WNBA All-Star games in the past. But with a reasonable representation of the WNBA’s best talent on one court, these kind of games are always better when they’re competitive enough down the stretch for fans to stay engaged.
So let’s just assume the best for today’s game at 3:30 pm EDT on ABC, that the game will actually be competitive enough that the outcome will remain in doubt until the final few minutes. Which team has the advantage?
One place to start is with the National Sports Rankings game simulator, which administrator Ed Bemiss has set up for the 2011 WNBA All-Star game.
Bemiss has a simulator that generates results with partial box scores (which you can play with by clicking here) but also has one that generates scores for 100 simulated games, which gives us a rough probability of who will win under somewhat ideal circumstances. The simulator only allows 10 player rosters so Bemiss has left out rookies Liz Cambage and Courtney Vandersloot from the Western and Eastern Conference, respectively (they are the lowest rated players statistically so that makes sense for a simulator).
Running the simulator a few times, the Western Conference wins somewhere between 55-65 games out of 100, by an average margin of victory of 1 to 4 points.
But obviously, that means there are quite a few instances in which the East wins (if you keep clicking, you might find the East wins 52-55 of 100 games).
So what advantages does each team have if we take a closer look at the rosters?
Eastern Conference advantages
There’s little doubt that the East has two of the best centers in the WNBA in Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles in addition to one of the best rebounders over the last three years (by percentage) in Crystal Langhorne.
In addition to an advantage on the boards, that gives the East a formidable defensive unit, which is only strengthened on the perimeter by Tamika Catchings who can defend multiple positions. Catchings along with Angel McCoughtry and Epiphanny Prince have the highest steal percentages in the game.
If the East was trying to win this game, slowing it down and making it a halfcourt game would make them very difficult team to beat.
But this is an All-Star game. There hasn’t been much time to practice halfcourt execution. And the chance of a down-tempo, grind it out game is minimal.
That’s why the West’s simulator advantage might be real.
Western Conference advantages
The most notable advantage the West has is that they have the best point guards in the WNBA in Sue Bird, Becky Hammon, and Lindsay Whalen. Believe it or not, Penny Taylor is arguably among the top five most efficient ball handlers in the league even though she doesn’t run point. Even people like Danielle Adams and Seimone Augustus who aren’t necessarily efficient ball handlers don’t turn the ball over often. So the West is a team built to withstand the type of pressure and figure on a half court defense.
On top of that, while the East’s Katie Douglas is the best three point shooter in the game, the West has the next five best three point shooters in Augustus, Bird, Hammon, Taylor, and Whalen.
And if it does get into an up and down game with a lot of shots, it’s not exactly as if Rebekkah Brunson and Liz Cambage can’t rebound – they can at least hold their own and get a few offensive boards even if the East has a large advantage in that department.
The West is arguably the deeper team and possibly the one better built to run efficiently, which probably makes them better suited for this type of setting.
But with all that said, here’s hoping for just a good game.