Unless you count the de facto “DeWanna Bonner must win the award anytime she isn’t a full time starter” clause, that is.
After a three year run of Sixth Woman dominance (it’s difficult to argue that anyone was snubbed in the three years she won the award), Connecticut Sun guard Renee Montgomery won the award last season in familiar fashion in the world of basketball awards: she had among the highest scoring averages of any reserve in the league on a team that won its conference.
However in a year in which Bonner is starting (for now?) and Montgomery will miss significant time due to injury (WNBA voters tend not to give awards to players who missed significant time, which is fair in 34-game season), there is a chance the award will go to someone who isn’t quite a dynamic scorer.
The framework: What makes a strong SWoY candidate?
In essence, I see Sixth Woman of the Year (SWOY) as the MVP off the bench – it should be the player with the greatest contribution to their team’s success off the bench, rather than the “best” or the “best player on the best team”, who comes off the bench in more games than they start.
The main difference between SWOY and MVP is the matter of complementary: how well does that bench player complement the starting unit or the rest of the roster? Is putting them in the game somehow a “game-changer”?
You can click here and here for more description of the statistics for this award, which are laid out in the table below. But suffice it to say that it wasn’t indisputable that Montgomery was the Sixth Woman of the Sun based on that framework.
The statistics: 10 players to watch in 2013
(Ordered by PVC, selected by MVP)
New York Liberty
12.3% turnover rate (second best on team), 21.52% dreb% (team-high)
San Antonio Silver Stars
44.4% 3pt%, top oreb% among SASS players with 13+ mpg
22.10% assist ratio (team-high)
San Antonio Silver Stars
Team-high 45.5% 3p%, team-high 28.92% usage rate
9.69% oreb% (team-high), 63.18% TS% (team-high)
5.3% turnover ratio (second best on team), 21.45% assist ratio (2.72 pure point rating), 65.98% TS%
16.77% treb% (second on team)
66.66% free throw rate (team-high)
12.6% oreb% (team-high in rotation), 84.17% TS% (team-high)
3.61% turnover ratio (rotation-low)
Sixth Woman of the Year statistics for Top 10 candidates as of 6/10/13.
- Adams or Johnson as Sixth Woman of the Silver Stars: Johnson actually plays the most minutes of anyone on this list, which could end up giving her an edge by the end of the season in terms of being able to put up strong averages. And her versatility on the wing – which she is still learning how to master – makes her a major asset off the bench of a team playing without its two stars this season.
But, as I argued last season, Adams might actually be the Sixth Woman of the Stars and the primary reason is that she’s truly a game-changer. Her ability to provide rebounding and second chance points on the interior and while shooting 45.5% from the 3-point line can cause matchup problems for defenses while opening up driving lanes for Silver Stars guards. With her unique versatility and ability to put up points, Adams might be considered the front-runner for the award. What might hold her back: conditioning and minutes. And another interesting tidbit: Adams didn’t have an assist this season entering last night’s game.
- Alex Montgomery is off to a great start for the Liberty: Montgomery is a player who will definitely be in contention for the Most Improved Player award this year and, barring earning a spot in the starting lineup as the Liberty try to figure out how to respond to the loss of Essence Carson for the season, she will be a top candidate for the SWoY. Though Montgomery is not an efficient scorer, that’s not what the Liberty need – the fact that she’s rebounding so well for a marginal rebounding team is significant
- We still haven’t seen the best of Amber Harris: Harris is definitely a strong candidate for the MIP award, stepping up her game in a number of ways. But here’s a fun fact for Harris: through four games, the 6-foot-5 post has yet to get an offensive rebound. If she were to begin hitting the offensive glass more – or really, at all – there’s a good chance she’d climb this list rather quickly. And with the athleticism she has shown in other aspects of her game, there’s no reason not to expect that she should rebound better.
- MIP candidates in the mix for SWoY: The fact that Kayla Pedersen and Tamera Young – in addition to Alex Montgomery – are on this list at all is a testament to their respective cases for the MIP award. Young wasn’t on that previous list I posted because her minutes figured to decrease (and it’s hard to make a case to be most improved if your minutes go down), but she is currently shooting a career-high from the field (47.2%) in addition to hitting the boards hard.
Pedersen might not be spectacular, but she’s looking a lot more like the player she was drafted to become: a smart defender and passer who can play without the ball and complement scorers around her. She too is currently shooting a career-high 50% from the field. Yet she might also fall off this list once the Shock have Liz Cambage and Tiffany Jackson-Jones healthy, which would leave less minutes available in the frontcourt.
- Efficient players at low usage rates: Aneika Henry, Ebony Hoffman, and Michelle Snow are all players that have been extremely efficient scorers this season, but part of the explanation is a rather low usage rate (8.62%, 11.40%, and 16.41%, respectively). At the same time, their other contributions – passing for Hoffman, rebounding for Henry and Snow – make them valuable contributors on teams that have other players capable of scoring.
- Tiffany Hayes’ ability to get to the free throw line makes her valuable: Hayes might not end up on the top of anyone’s list by the end of the year, but her ability to get to the free throw line at such a high rate means she can be expected to get easy points off the bench for her team. For a Dream squad that thrives on pushing the tempo and getting out in transition, a player like Hayes can be extremely valuable.
Although the award has not necessarily been predictable, it’s also one of the easier awards to narrow down: most rotations are becoming pretty clear and even putting together this list of 10 players was difficult. What’s interesting about this list of players though – and I suppose others not listed – is that a number of them do have things they could easily improve upon (e.g. Harris’ rebounding, Adams’ passing, etc.).
In short, even with the caveat that it’s still very early in the season, it would be mildly surprising if the top candidate at the end of the season is someone outside of this group of 10.