The WNBA has announced that Atlanta Dream center Erika de Souza and Seattle Storm forward Tina Thompson have been added to the 2013 WNBA All-Star game as injury replacements.
De Souza’s selection as the replacement for injured Chicago Sky star Elena Delle Donne makes a lot of sense: many Swish Appeal readers felt she was the biggest snub in the Eastern Conference, I made the statistical case for her over Washington Mystics post Crystal Langhorne prior to the announcement of reserves, and even resident D.C. fan Albert Lee was against the inclusion of Langhorne on the team.
Tina Thompson’s addition to the game as the replacement for injured Phoenix Mercury rookie Brittney Griner is justifiable, though debatable: she gives the Seattle Storm an All-Star representative, she has played remarkably well as a 38-year-old who has participated in every WNBA season, and the All-Star game will serve as a great platform to honor her before she retires at the end of this season. Of course, the obvious critique of the selection is that All-Star selections aren’t career achievement awards and anyone who pays attention to Major League Baseball can probably attest to the problems that arise when trying to make sure that every team is represented.
Yet as you can guess my question is whether there were better candidates left at home and since we haven’t even mentioned Thompson to this point you can probably guess that others deserve to be in the conversation. So let’s start with the numbers first, comparing the numbers of the lowest rated players selected to some of those not selected.
Top-rated remaining candidates for the 2013 WNBA All-Star game
Erika de Souza
Top MEV ratings through 7/24/13. Italics indicate players selected as All-Stars.
So, these numbers require some explanation and really one player’s rating pretty much sums things up.
Why is Zellous rated so low?
Every quantitative measure comes with bias and MEV has a significant one: it holds missed shots (including free throws) against a player. In statistical terms, that means that high usage players with a low scoring efficiency who aren’t efficient in other ways get judged pretty harshly. In plainer terms, pure scorers – players whose primary contribution is scoring – aren’t going to be rated highly unless they are absolutely dominant to offset the missed shots (e.g. Angel McCoughtry). In plain terms, shoot a lot and MEV won’t like you much.
I use MEV because I happen to agree with that bias: consistently successful WNBA teams tend to be the ones that have less of those high usage/low efficiency players. Other metrics weigh things differently: PER, for example, does the exact opposite and rewards players volume shooters under the rationale that creating shots is a valuable skill unto itself. To each their own and if you’re interested in that discussion, the discussion about Carmelo Anthony’s value in the NBA is a pretty good overview of the ends and outs.
From there, it’s easier to explain Zellous’ rating: she’s an above average usage player (24.05%) with a moderate efficiency (51.85% true shooting percentage) with a low assist ratio for a guard (6.63%) who doesn’t have elite numbers otherwise. The players rated above her are lower usage players (especially Larkins with her 12.84% usage rate) who are very good at something else (Vandersloot’s efficiency as a distributor; Hayes’ free throw rate, passing and rebounding as a guard; Larkins’ defensive rebounding).
Really the numbers reflect a problem with using single number metrics in basketball at all: if you’re putting together a WNBA team, you probably want to know specific contributions a player would make; if you’re putting together an All-Star team, you might be more inclined to weigh offensive responsibility or players who “stand out” higher than efficiency. Numbers can be used as evidence to support claims but probably shouldn’t be used deterministically and I certainly wouldn’t use them in that way here.
For reasons mentioned previously, Zellous’ selection really isn’t as controversial as these numbers make it seem: she’s had to do more for her team than any of the guards rated higher than her in the above table and Kara Lawson has been injured for nearly half her team’s season (albeit arguably one of the best point guards in the league nonetheless). Yet the gaps between the league’s elite and some of the other top candidates is worthy of attention when looking at these All-Star selections.
Were there really any Eastern Conference snubs?
The one major snub in the Eastern Conference was de Souza, who is elite at what she does – rebound and take up space in the paint – and probably should’ve been selected over Langhorne. Otherwise, it’s difficult to argue with the selections.
Should Monique Currie have made it over Zellous? She certainly does more for her team overall, but she also has had healthy teammates around her to make her job easier – Zellous hasn’t. Without using the idiotic “I KNOW WHAT MY EYES TELL ME!” argument, Zellous is her team’s leading scorer and, looking at the rest of the roster, it’s really hard to imagine them being even as good as they are without her contributions. Currie is her team’s third option (by the numbers).
What about the Western Conference selections?
Thompson not nostalgic about final season During Thompson’s last regular season visit to Connecticut, she said she was not nostalgic about 2013 being her final go-round.
On the other side of things, I do think there are a number of players who could have made the case for inclusion.
Obviously, Harding is rated the highest on the above list but I’ve gone over that before: unfortunately for her, she’s the fourth point guard in the Western Conference this season and that makes it hard to make the case for an All-Star bid even as good as she has been (NBA fans might recall that Stephen Curry was left off the Western Conference All-Star team for similar reasons and I think he established his value after the snub).
Yet the selections of Brunson and Thompson could easily be contested. Bonner and Dupree both had a case for inclusion as more efficient scorers than either Brunson and Thompson. And the consistently underrated Camille Little currently leads the Storm in scoring (albeit by only one tenth of a point) as one of the most efficient forwards in the league (61.24% true shooting percentage) and her versatility has been invaluable to the team’s ability to continue fighting without the presence of stars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson this season.
With Brunson, I think the argument is pretty clear, as stated the other day: she’s among the league’s elite rebounders and a major reason why the Minnesota Lynx have remained among the league’s elite this season. But, without dismissing the reasons Thompson was selected, it’s fair to say that a few other players probably deserved strong consideration as Griner’s replacement. Little has a strong case, whether on the merit of her contributions on the court or as a Seattle representative, and either Bonner or Dupree have a case even with the Mercury’s inconsistency this season.
Nevertheless, the All-Star game isn’t really about statistical value – it’s a celebration of the league and it’s stars. And Thompson’s inclusion in the game will almost certainly be cherished by fans who want to take one more moment to applaud her accomplishments before she moves on to other pursuits in life.
For more on the tomorrow’s All-Star game, check out our 2013 WNBA All-Star section.
Poll Do you agree with the selection of Tina Thompson to the 2013 WNBA All-Star game?
- Hard to say
- I don’t really care – it’s an All-Star game
45 votes | Results