Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Worst WNBA Teams of All Time: #10 Through #6

Earlier, I hinted that the use of standard deviation - a statistical concept - might help determine which teams historically have been the worst WNBA teams of all time.

Every year, there is a different sort of "scatter" among wins and losses in the WNBA. In one year, you can have extremes like 1998, in another year you have a lot of teams that have .500 records, like 2004. Every year in the league is different, but there is something called "standard deviation" - the idea that a certain percentage of teams will be within a certain range of a .500 record. (Since the number of games has differed from year to year in the W, we'll be looking at the standard deviation of winning percentage.)

About 67 percent of teams are within one standard deviation of the mean winning percentage. About 95 percent of teams are within two standard deviations. It's very rare to find a team in any year that's more than two standard deviations away from the mean of winning percentages. Undoubtedly, winning percentage is not distributed binomially, but the concept gives us a running start.

Ten Worst Teams in WNBA History

10. 1998 Washington Mystics: -1.682. This team finished with the worst winning percentage of any team in WNBA history - .100, a 3-27 record. The reason that they're not the first team on the list is because the "scatter" of teams was great in 1998 - two other teams, Sacramento and Washington, went 8-22. The average margin of victory was an amazing -15.4 points. They were at the bottom of the league in two of the four keys to victory: field goal percentage (.395), turnovers (625, 98 more than the 9th place team), and shot .645 from the free throw line.

At the time, it was the worst performance by an expansion team in the brief two years of WNBA history. It was a horribly young team, about 25 years old on average. At least the fans supported the "Mistakes" at the gate. They got Chamique Holdsclaw the following year as their number one draft pick, so the argument could be that they did a tank job. But if you look at their Pythagorean Percentage, this team actually overperformed.

9. 2000 Seattle Storm: -1.695. Another expansion team, this one finishing at 6-26 in its first year, at the bottom of the league. Like the 1998 Mystics, it too lost games by an average of about 10 points. Only the Miami Sol (another expansion team) shot worse from the field and the Storm were at the bottom of the league in offensive rebounding.

Coach Lin Dunn had to acquire and release players frequently in an attempt to keep the team in games. At least, the fans supported the "Drizzle" and at least they knew their audience. The WNBA was one of the first teams every to hold a "Gay Pride" night. The next year, they'd get Lauren Jackson as the first pick in the WNBA Draft and the team would never win less than 10 games again. Coach Dunn is still coaching (with the Fever) and the Storm clouds eventually cleared with a WNBA championship.

8. 2005 San Antonio Silver Stars: -1.715. Unlike the first two teams, the Silver Stars didn't have the excuse of expansion to explain their 7-27 finish. Nor did they lose games by more than 10 points.

It was Dan Hughes's first year as the San Antonio head coach. Hughes had been hired because the 2004 Silver Stars, believe it or not, were even worse. This was a good while before the Silver Stars had Becky Hammon, and they were not media darlings in any way. Hughes's job was to convince his players that the bad old days were over and things would be different. That was, until he could get rid of them - the top five scorers on the team in 2005 wouldn't be on it in 2007. Now, it looks like the Silver Stars are everyone's favorite team - but it wasn't always like that.

7. 2003 Phoenix Mercury: -1.867. Ever since 2000, the Mercury were on a downward slide, going from winning 20 games to a record of 8-26. A good 21 players saw time on a Mercury roster that year, including Plenette Pierson and Iziane Castro Marques.

It was the first year for head coach John Shumate, who implemented a new defensive scheme. The Mercury would lose eight games by five points or less, giving fans heartache pains and possibly serving as one of the reasons Shumate would flee to the NBA the following season. The only attraction was that Lisa Harrison was the sexiest babe in basketball. (Playboy wanted her to pose nude for them in 2001, but she turned them down.) In 2004, the Mercury would get a #1 draft pick, who would be Diana Taurasi, and four years later, they'd be WNBA champions without any help from Hugh Hefner.

6. 2005 Charlotte Sting: -1.886. 2005 was a banner year for the WNBA, with two worst teams of all time.

It would also be a heartbreaking year in another sense, as coach/GM Trudy Lacey dealt away Dawn Staley in the middle of the year. Lacey didn't last long, as she was kicked upstairs after a 3-21 start and Muggsy Bogues, an ex-NBA player with no coaching experience (he was working in real estate) was asked to turn the team around.

Management bet that the opening of a new arena, the Charlotte Bobcats Arena, would help turn things around. They selected Janel McCarville with the first pick in the 2005 WNBA Draft, but that Janel McCarville wasn't the Janel McCarville of the 2008 Liberty - she started only 3 games and shot a horrible 34 percent from the field in her rookie year and was best known for adding personal fouls rather than points.

In 2006, the Sting got their new arena, and finished 11-23. The next year, owner Robert Johnson did not wish to keep the club running, and with no purchasers, the Sting faded out of existence.

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