Thursday, July 9, 2009

Rookie Evaluation and Courtney Paris

Last year, I created something called the Senior Prospects Metric. The Metric was a stab-in-the-dark attempt to predict WNBA performance from one's senior college statistics and from other data. The SPM returned Courtney Paris as the big name in the draft, and I even advocated that she be drafted in the #1 spot by the Atlanta Dream.

However, Courtney is in trouble...again. In a recent news article by Jenni Carlson at The Oklahoman, Courtney made the following quote:

"I can’t honestly say I was familiar with a lot of the players and what they do,” she said. "In the summers, I was doing stuff, so it’s not like I paid attention as much to the WNBA.

"I’m learning more about the game I play every day.”

This has caused a lot of consternation on WNBA message boards, to say the least. However, Carlson also relates the following:

Paris is averaging only 8.1 minutes a game, the third-lowest average among rookies who were drafted in the first round.

Shavonte Zellous is averaging 25.2 minutes a game, most by any rookie. DeWanna Bonner (20.6), Renee Montgomery (17.9) and Angel McCoughtry (16.5) also average twice as much playing time as Paris.

Quentin McCall over at Rethinking Basketball wrote about the problem of evaluating rookie performance. I took away two pieces of information. First, there really isn't a satisfactory way to evaluate rookies, primarily because they never get enough minutes to play. Second - and more importantly in my opinion - you should evaluate rookies by what they do, not by what you think they might do.

There is a metric called the Diamond Rating. The Diamond Rating can be based on any metric you want - Wins Score, Adjusted Wins Score, PER, whatever. The idea is to look at what they've done, blow it up to starters minutes and compare that to average across the league.

So if you think about it, Shavonte Zellous comes up with an argument for winning Rookie of the Year. After all, the metric doesn't consider people who play more than 21 minutes a game - those players are considered to be starters, more or less. And since Zellous plays starter's minutes...well, how many rookies get to start in the WNBA? So there.

Of course, she's starting for one of the worst teams in the league.

Without pulling a bunch of numbers out of a spreadsheet, here's how Diamond Rating evaulates the first round draft picks of 2009 based on Diamond Rating, the Diamond Rating using Adjusted Wins Score:

Zellous (if her rating counted)

If I presented that as a list of "best to worst rookies", that list might not get a lot of argument in some quarters. I'm sure some people would move Coleman and Toliver up the list and Wisdom-Hylton and Hollingsworth down. What's surprising is that Paris ranks so low: 9th out of 13, when many expected her to place a lot higher (including me). What's even more surprising is that Shalee Lehning - a late second rounder - finishes ahead of Paris (!) and two places below Montgomery.

The question, then, is...what happened? Why wasn't Courtney's performance in college a good indicator of her WNBA performance?

The first is that statistics can't tell you everything, obviously. A rule in analysis is, "the more you condense a stat line down to a single number, the less accurate it is likely to be". If you look at Paris's rebounds and ignore everything else, you're likely to be led astray. And if your metric gives undue weight to one statistic, you'll still be led astray. Statistics should illuminate, but should be combined with observation.

One quote might give up some truth:

The Monarchs told Paris after they drafted her that they didn’t need her to be a star immediately, that she could learn their system and condition her body, that she could spend some time being a role player.

Even the Monarchs were worried about Courtney Paris's condition, enough to tell her that they were not satisfied where she was in conditioning when she was drafted. The big knock on Paris was that she was a heavy girl, and when she moved to the WNBA - when things went a lot faster - she'd be left in the dust. I felt that a lot of people were discounting her game in the same way that someone would look at Babe Ruth and say, "that fat tub of lard can probably barely get the bat around his waist".

Furthermore, the quote about not paying attention to the WNBA was also telling. Courtney was "doing stuff" and didn't pay attention "as much" to the WNBA. Courtney is essentially admitting that she should have been better prepared. I'm sure she could have recognized Lauren Jackson or Diana Taurasi, and I doubt those who imply that she was completely ignorant.

However, there are some things that you can either learn from observation or be told. For example, Lauren Jackson. When you're playing a low post offense, does Jackson guard you from the front (blocking your access to the ball with her height), from the side (sort of half-turned and arms out trying to intercept the ball) or from the back (ready to dig her elbows into you when you get the pass and take you off balance)? If you have to pivot to the basket against Jackson, which side should you turn? Right or left? Where is Jackson faster?

If you have to box out against Jackson, will Jackson lock your elbows like Plenette Pierson, and if so, how hard? What is Jackson's best finishing move to the basket? Does she like to bank the shot against the glass or hit a mini jumper? And how much does she know about your tendencies?

In short, if you don't know how good Jackson is either by observation or by being told, and you don't know what her tendencies are, your first WNBA game is a hard tutorial.

It looks like Courtney was neither physically prepared nor mentally prepared for the W. Remember her quote where she promised that she'd pay back her scholarship to the Sooners if Oklahoma didn't win it all in 2009? It conveys thoughtlessness, that one is only thinking at the surface level.

That might change as Courtney gets older...but what if it doesn't? People have long memories. People still wonder if Angel McCoughtry is a head case after her initial clashes with her Louisville coach. People still question Chamique Holdsclaw's commitment. The last reputation Courtney wants is "not prepared". (One step towards Courtney's preparation: giving vague answers and not doing any more articles, to avoid "foot in mouth" disease.)

Hey, every first round draft pick has their own story. Besides, give Courtney time. She's only played about 10 or so games. Her game is still better than the game of four of the first round draft picks. We really won't know Courtney until about two or three years pass. Hopefully, she'll still be in the league.

1 comment:

Pusser said...

I think her size will need to be addressed. Her sister did last year (dropping a lot of weight) and became an impact player herself for Oklahoma. Courtney did not, but because of sheer strength and height and a good touch under the bucket, was able to succeed. The WNBA, however, is full of that kind of talent, and they're fast and can jump---Courtney can do neither. She's hinted at not being that interested in playing ball---if it requires major conditioning, she might end up choosing a career apart from basketball.