Friday, September 25, 2009

Shannon Johnson and the Keltner List

With Shannon "Pee Wee" Johnson retiring, I'm going to look at my version of the "Keltner List" for women's basketball and see if Shannon Johnson is a real "Hall of Fame" player.

1. Was Shannon Johnson ever regarded as the best player in basketball? Did anybody, while she was active, ever suggest that she was the best player in basketball?

She was nominated as one of 30 players on the WNBA All-Decade Team, and was certainly one of the best players in basketball. Johnson wasn't the best player in the ABL - that would have been Yolanda Griffith. I don't think that anyone said that Johnson was the best player in basketball.

2. Was she the best player on her team?

The Los Angeles Times said that Shannon Johnson was the best player on those old Orlando Miracle teams. During her 1997 and 1998 seasons with the Columbus Quest, she was probably a top 10 player in the ABL in both of those years but wasn't the best player on either of those teams - Katie Smith and Valerie Still were on those teams, and they were better players.

In 1999 and 2002 she was probably the best player on the Miracle, but then Taj McWilliams was better in 2000 and 2001. In none of those four years were the Miracle above .500. The last time she was close to being the best player on her team was probably in 2006 with the Silver Stars.

3. Was she the best player in basketball at her position?

Dee Brown, the former coach for the Miracle, stated that Johnson was the best guard in women's basketball "pound per pound" - I don't think he was an unbiased observer, even as a coach. Shannon Johnson was probably the best point guard during her era.

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

She was on the Columbus Quest during those 1996-97 and 1997-98 championship teams, but those teams had Tonya Edwards and Katie Smith. The closest she got to a championship after that was 2003 with Connecticut and 2007 with Detroit.

Part of Johnson's problem was years spent with mediocre teams like the Orlando Miracle and the early San Antonio Silver Stars.

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

To me, "past your prime" means "playing basketball older than 33". Looking at her final two years - with Houston and with Seattle - she was good enough to start with Houston but Seattle had Sue Bird. I'm not that impressed with Johnson's later career.

6. Is she the very best female basketball player not in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame?

Well, she's not eligible for the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame yet, and won't be eligible to 2014. Furthermore, there are three players that could go in before Johnson - Natalie Williams, Crystal Robinson and Sheryl Swoopes - who are all better than Pee Wee. Furthermore, when Johnson becomes eligible so will Yolanda Griffith and Lisa Leslie.

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics and achievements in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame?

She didn't win any national college championships with South Carolina. She won one gold medal as an Olympian in 2004. A couple of ABL championships. Looking at the total picture, Johnson isn't as bedecked with glory as some of the other Hall of Famers. It's going to be a hard case.

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

In career stats for her WNBA career, she's 2nd all-time in assists (behind Penicheiro, even if you add Johnson's ABL numbers) and 7th all time in steals. (All stats as of 2008.) Unfortunately, she's 4th all time in turnovers (2nd all time among point guards) and 20th all time in personal fouls. There's nothing statistically that's absolutely overwhelming, although the point guard position suffers from a lack of flashy statistics - you could make the case that her total assists alone are a Hall of Fame standard.

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

I don't know the answer to this one. She is definitely well-liked, but she also bounced around a lot in the league.

10. Is she the best player at her position who is eligible for the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame that is not in?

Yes, if she were eligible today. However, give Sue Bird another season or so and the answer will be "no".

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

I don't think that Shannon Johnson was ever close to being voted in as an MVP (pilight would know the answer to this one.) In terms of PER - a rating by stats guru John Hollinger - Johnson didn't even have close to a true All-Star season. She never won any of the major ABL Awards, but was named three times to the All-WNBA Second Team.

However, she was a nominee for the WNBA All-Decade Team and was consider one of the top 30 players of the WNBA after its first ten years of existence.

12. How many All-Star games did she play in?

Johnson was a four-time All-Star with the WNBA, and was an All-Star in each of the ABL's complete seasons.

13. If this woman were the best player on her team, would it be likely that that team could win a WNBA championship?

She was a great player, but more in a consistency sense than an "impact season" sense. If the other players on the team aren't as good as Johnson or aren't having peak years, I don't really think so.

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

I don't think that's the case.

15. Did the player uphold high standards of sportsmanship and character while playing the game? Is this the kind of person you would wish to be a representative of the highest level of basketball?

As far as I can determine, she's an all around nice person. You wouldn't be ashamed of Shannon Johnson.


pilight said...

PeeWee Johnson finished in the top 10 in MVP voting twice. 7th in 1999 and 7th again in 2002.

She was not the best PG of her generation by any measure. That would be Dawn Staley, unless you consider Teresa Wetherspoon to be in the same generation. As for not in the WBHOF, note that T-Spoon isn't in (she's not eligible until next year), nor is Staley (who's eligible in 2011).

Also of note about her being the best player in Columbus, in the 1996-97 season one of her teammates (Nikki McCray) was MVP of the league and generally considered a superior player.

Oh, and Penny Taylor is so not a point guard.

pt said...

Corrected the part about Penny Taylor. Thanks!