Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cynthia Cooper and the "Keltner List"



So what have I been doing since the European leagues went on vacation and since there's no news in the WNBA? I've been working on two projects:

a) create an expanded biofile based on the great biofile created by RebKell poster pilight
b) use this file in conjunction with a statistical analysis of WNBA players.

Of course, this requires a lot of cutting and pasting from the basketball-reference.com website. Unfortunately, the info there isn't entirely accurate. They are very quick to correct things and are very nice and answer immediately, but it is the holiday season, so they won't get back till January. So I'll have to be patient.

I began working on the 1997 and 1998 seasons and began calcuating John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating (PER) for each of the players. I wasn't following women's basketball (or basketball at all, for that matter) in 1997 or 1998, but looking at the PERs for 1997 and 1998, one player lept out.

Cynthia Cooper. Her PERs are not only much better than her contemporaries, but I believe that for 1997 and 1998, she was the only WNBA player with a PER above 30 in both years. To have a PER above 30 for a season should make you a "Runaway MVP Candidate" according to Hollinger's PER scale, and Cynthia Cooper won the WNBA MVP in 1997 and 1998.

Unfortunately, with the short seasons and lack of established statistical benchmarks for greatness ("should it be 5,000 points in a career? more? less?") it's hard to know - statistically anyway - how great Cynthia Cooper really was.

However, the great sabrmetrician Bill James created something called "The Keltner List" which is a bit more subjective. It asks generalized questions about a player and aids in the thought process for forming a case for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Since there is no WNBA Hall of Fame - yet - we can begin to argue the case for Cooper with some changes.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

So we change this. "Was Cynthia Cooper ever regarded as the best player in the WNBA?"

The ESPYs thought so. I consider the ESPYs just one step above a joke, but when they started voting for the honor - in 1998 - Cooper won it three years straight. No greater a source than Dean Oliver - the king of basketball statistical analysis - concluded that Cooper was the best ballplayer in the United States. Clay Kallam had her as the second best player of all-time, meaning she was certainly highly regarded. (However, he had Sheryl Swoopes as #1.)

There are a lot of articles that have Cynthia Cooper as the "Best Player in the WNBA". The argument could certainly be made that the best was Coop.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Okay, was she the best player on her team? It's sort of an unfair question since her team had Tina Thompson and Sheryl Swoopes on it.

Let's look at the totals of Wins Shares from 1997-2000 for all three players: I don't count 2003.

Cynthia Cooper: 34.9
Sheryl Swoopes: 25.6
Tina Thompson: 20.0

I'll make the argument that Cooper was the best of the Comets from 1997-2000.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position??

I don't know if Cooper was a #1 guard or a #2 guard, and I have yet to sort out who played #1 and #2 in history. However, Cooper was the best in Wins Score and PER, but if you're looking for assists per game and steals per game, you could argue that Teresa Weatherspoon or Michelle Timms had more guard "skills".

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Four championships, all in the years she played full time. I'll venture a "yes".

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

Cooper was 37 years old in her final season, and briefly played at age 40. If she played that well in 1997 at the age of 34, I'd be frightened to death of her at age 27 or 28.

6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

No Hall of Fame...yet...in women's pro basketball.

8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

Due to the fact that she missed several years due to the non-existence of the league, we need to look at the percentage records.

She's 26th all time in field goal percentage with 45.85 percent shooting.
She's 22nd all time in 3-point percentage with 37.70 percent shooting.
She's 1st all time in minutes per game with 35.19. And only three players (Katie Smith, Jennifer Azzi, and Tina Thompson) have 34 min per game.
She's 2nd all time in points per game with 20.98. (Seimone Augustus is first, with 21.25, but that mark might not stand after a few more years for Seimone.)

I've seen enough. I'd say she's a Hall-of-Fame player based on points alone.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

PER, Wins Score, and the like capture offensive stats very well. Not so well defensive stats. You could make the argument that Cooper wasn't a good defender. According to Clay Kallam, she played at least decent defense. Defense defense + Hall of Fame offense probably equals Hall of Fame.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

So who is in the WNBA Hall of Fame again?

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
How many All-Star-type seasons did he have?


She won two straight MVPs in 1997 and 1998. Since I don't have a list of MVP votes in front of me, I don't know if she was in contention in 1999 or 2000. The two MVPs alone would merit Hall of Fame consideration.

12. How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?

Cooper was All-WNBA First Team every year she played except for her brief stint in 2003. She was on the actual WNBA All-Star teams in 1999 and 2000, and the first WNBA All-Star Game was held in 1999. It's easy to imagine her being on several All-Star teams if her basketball career started in 1997 instead of being over half-over.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

Oh hell yes.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Cynthia Cooper didn't change basketball in any significant way.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Well, it's Major League Baseball that has written guidelines. On the court, she never displayed poor sportsmanship, and other players weren't jealous of her accomplishments, the way they'd be with a player they actively disliked. According to Wikipedia:

In January 2008 the NCAA penalized Prairie View for NCAA rules violations committed by Cooper, reducing the number of scholarships for the team. The school was placed on four years' probation for "major violations" in 2005-06 that ranged from Cooper-Dyke giving players small amounts of cash to various forms of unauthorized practices. Cooper also gave players free tickets to Comets game, which is another NCAA infraction.

I don't know if this really counts or not.

(* * *)

In short, Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, in my opinion, would easily be placed in the WNBA Hall of Fame if it existed. I only wish there was some institution that would honor her....

...oh! There is one! Whew, I was starting to get worried there! (/wink)

1 comment:

pilight said...

Coop was 3rd in MVP voting in 1999 and 5th in 2000.

Coop is among the players being inducted to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame next summer. Read more about it here:

http://www.wbhof.com/

It's definitely worth visiting whenever you visit Knoxville.


Coop played the two during her Comet career. Perrot was the point the first two seasons, then Henning in 1999, then Arcain in 2000.