Saturday, September 26, 2015

28 March 2015 - Connecticut 105, Texas 54

Why am I writing about this game?  Opportunity.  In March I taped some women's basketball games that I hoped to watch but never got around to seeing.  My wife asked me to clear up some space on the DVR so I told myself that this weekend I'd watch at least one of those games.

This was a Sweet Sixteen game in Albany, New York.  Texas was supposed to be this big tall team that would give Connecticut trouble; you can see from the score that it became a laugher.  Connecticut extended its lead throughout the game all the way to the end.

My thoughts.

* It really makes a team look good on offense when the defense can't get to the ball.  When most teams have the ball, one person holds the ball and the other players move like chess pieces to try to position themselves to be in the best position to take a pass or threaten to take a pass. 

Not UConn.  If you forced both teams to play in the same color, you'd never be able to tell which players were the defensive players whenever Connecticut had possession.  Connecticut's defense seems to be less like chess pieces and more like those little linemen in those "electronic football" games from the 1950s where the metal board jiggles the pieces around.  Basically, the Huskies defensive players are clearing space, foot by foot, for the offensive player to make the best shot, while at the same time trying to be ready to receive the pass just in case.

This is the opposite philosophy that a lot of teams have during their possessions.  The offensive players without the ball are more worried about catching the pass than overcoming the defense.  When they say that the Huskies are unselfish, they mean just that.  When a Connecticut player has the ball, the other offensive players are looking to help her score first and foremost.

* Part of that help comes from off-the-ball screens.  I don't think I've seen so many off-the-ball screens in my life.  "Unselfish play" is almost a platitude in women's basketball, but you'll really see those things that prove that Connecticut players care more about winning than individual glory.

* Watch the Huskies players move their feet when they play defense.  They are on the balls of their feet pretty much the entire game.  Watch the Longhorns. They are flat-footed a lot of the time.

* Kiah Stokes is out there getting blocks.  I don't recall how many them she had this game but it was a lot.  I'm starting to come around to the fact that steals and blocks are much more important than a lot of people realize because those stats can't be cheapened - the player has to actually do something by herself to get the block; for the most part no one else can give it to her.  Rebounds are a different story.  Breanna Stewart was all alone after a missed shot and the ball went off the backboard and right to her; David O'Brien exclaimed "Another rebound for Breanna Stewart!" as if she fought off three Texas post players to get it and it wasn't a sub-ordinary rebound that a semi-alert grade schooler would have caught.

* Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was also a senior for this game.  I don't know if she has the defensive lapses that people claim she has but I saw at least one occasion where I questioned if she was making good decisions on defense.  She hit a few threes.

* Breanna Stewart scored close to 30 points before Auriemma sat her down and the Huskies lead ballooned to ridiculous proportions.  Is she the real thing?  Oh yeah.  Tall, can play the perimeter, good shot blocker, ridiculously good shooter. 

* Moriah Jefferson was less impressive to me even though she put up good numbers.

* What put the game away was a 26-5 run just before the end of the first half that saw the Connecticut lead go from seven to twenty-eight.

I think what happens against UConn is not that teams stop trying as it is they really don't know what to do when they're down by 20 points.  And not "down by 20 points against UConn", I mean down by 20 points in any game.  The teams that make it to the NCAA tournament are used to winning and certainly don't fall into the kind of deep ditches that UConn loves to create.  The players have no emotional plan for that situation - indeed, they block it out of their minds completely because to think about losing doesn't betray "the mindset of a winner" or some bullship phrase. 

Everyone panics.  The coaches panic, the players panic, and Connecticut just pours it on.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The WNBA needs to work with Europe and not against it

The WNBA is setting up for two exciting conference finals.  If you like grit, the New York Liberty and the Indiana Fever, helmed respectively by one of the NBA's Bad Boys and a rookie coach, will be playing for WNBA title hopes in the Eastern Conference.  If you like flash, you have the Minnesota Lynx and Maya Moore and the Phoenix Mercury and Brittney Griner playing in the West.  Shots vs. Blocks!

But after the Finals...then what?  The WNBA loses its audience, which goes back to watching women's college basketball.  The logo lady puts down her basketball and takes a deep nap which lasts approximately seven or eight months.  There is no year-long news cycle in the league; the league has to recreate itself every April.

This has been a perplexing problem for the league.  Its players scatter to the corners of the earth, playing for the various pro teams with deep pockets.  (Ekaterinburg's pockets were so deep they paid Diana Taurasi NOT to play in WNBA this season, protecting their investment.)  With the NCAA dominating the women's basketball landscape, the W is reduce to a meek, "us too" in the off-season.

My opinion is that the answer to the problem of off-season interest is right in the league's face. Instead of trying to pretend that European women's basketball doesn't exist, they should embrace it.

There are lots of reasons that fans don't follow European women's basketball.  It requires its own learning curve.  A team from one of the power countries - Russia or Turkey - might have three or four names you recognize (all American) and ten names that you don't.  You need some knowledge of regulation, of promotion, of Euroleague, of Eurocup, and in some cases about who holds what passport.

To top that off, when the games are broadcast - usually on YouTube or some domestic league website - the picture is grainy and small.  You can't identify the players.  There are no announcers.  The games look like they're being broadcast in some high school gym.  (In some countries, the high school gym would be an upgrade.)

Statistics are hard to come by.  The reporting is in foreign languages.  The hurdles appear to be too great to jump.

But what the WNBA needs to learn is that the strength of the league is in its players.  Certainly, we want to know who they are and what they do.  More importantly, we want to watch them on the court playing basketball.  All of the human interest stories in the world won't help the league do that; you can only whet someone's whistle for so long before they want to eat.

The NBA's off-season is so short that they don't have this problem.  College basketball has the drama of recruiting and player evaluation to keep its fans interested.  The WNBA, however, needs to have something to draw attention to itself in the off-season that the NBA and NCAA women's basketball.

And they have it.  The players.  The players don't stop playing basketball in the off-season.  They keep playing it!  The season isn't over after the WNBA Finals!  A new one is starting!
So why doesn't the league show the players playing basketball?  There needs to be dedicated content at least involving the major countries :  Russia, Turkey, Spain, France, maybe Poland.  We need to know what the players are doing in each of those countries, and that involves video. 

How much would it cost to send an announcer to Russia to do an English-language broadcast of a Superleague game? (Available on WNBA Live Access!)  Or (almost) live action from the Liga Femenina, brought to you by LaChina Robinson?  I know she'd love to go to Spain!

Perhaps a "European Game of the Week" placed on the WNBA's website itself.  Want to see Diana Taurasi and Angel McCoughtry battle it out in December?  If not, maybe a WCBA game in China with Maya Moore's team making on Brittney Griner's?

For fifteen years, European women's basketball has benefited from the WNBA's free advertising.  The WNBA is the best women's league in the world and the European powers know that.  They watch our league with great interest, and they use the WNBA as their litmus test for a good player.  You might not like how Samantha Logic is playing, but her French Calais team know that she played in the WNBA, and that's good enough for them.

Now, we need to do to the Europeans what they do to us.  We can broadcast their games, look at their players more closely.  We are still the best league in the world.  Perhaps if we concentrate on a handful of countries, the five mentioned above, we can make ourselves a power.  Laurel Richie would get to ask, "You want us to add more Chinese games, WCBA?  Okay.  But what can you do for us in return?"

The WNBA is not dead when the last whistle sounds at the WNBA Finals. On the contrary, it exports itself to a waiting planet.  The problem is getting people to believe that - the fans, the players, and hopefully the league itself.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Random thoughts

Some random thoughts....

* Chicago had about as much chance as anyone to not just beat Indiana but to march to a WNBA Championship.  There isn't a dominating team this season; as a matter of fact, the last time the best team in the league was this "non-dominant" was that first 1997 season.

* Good lord, if your best scorer/MVP knocks down 40 and you can't win?  Pokey Chatman said near the beginning of the season that the team was better offensively without Fowles and worse defensively.  Selah.

* The Dream front office is looking pretty good in dealing away Erika de Souza.  I love Erika; she didn't help the Sky that much.

* There are some loud Chicago fans that want to fire Pokey Chatman.  Good.  Atlanta will take her as a general manager any day of the week.

* Yes, New York has the best record in the league.  But even with Bill Laimbeer and all of his rings, it's one thing to be a good team and another to win a championship.  I just have an instinct that New York isn't going to win a championship and that they'll fall sometime this season.  This team needs one more year under its belt to really start cooking. I won't be surprised if they do win, though, there, I've covered all my bases.

* New York filled the (lower part of the) Garden when they lost Game 1; I expect the same for Game 3. 

* Meanwhile, Tulsa and Chicago's 3000+ reported attendances at home as they were rolled out of their respective series concern me.  Tulsa's is understandable - season ticket holders unable to bear saying goodbye (losing by 30 to Phoenix in Game 1 didn't help).
As for Chicago, a Monday night game is hard going.  I just hope the Sky can hang in there.

* No GM named yet in Atlanta.  I suspect that my beloved Dream will take its time in filling that position.  Maybe Chi-town will let Pokey go and she'll fall into our laps.  

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hang in there, Adam

I have NBA-TV. I'm sure the bean counters over at the NBA and WNBA would be surprised to know that the only reason I have NBA-TV is because they show WNBA games.  Period.

I have no interest in the Hardwood Classics.
No interest in the NBA.  (I'm not anti-NBA, I just can't afford to devote time to another sport outside the WNBA.)
"Shaqtin a Fool" goes unwatched.

If something happened where NBA-TV stopped carrying WNBA games, I'd call my local cable provider and tell them to drop the channel.

In short, I'm a pretty hardcore follower of the WNBA.  I watched every single Atlanta Dream game this year.  Many of them in person, and the ones I couldn't watch I watched either on SportSouth or WNBA Live Access, the WNBA's webcast.  And I'm not even the most hardcore WNBA fan out there. There are fans that watch games over multiple teams.  Richard Cohen/WNBAlien watched every single WNBA game in 2014 from his mountain redoubt somewhere in the United Kingdom.  I envied the man for having the time and resources to do it.

Now that you have that background, many WNBA fans were surprised by NBA commissioner Adam Silver's comments about the WNBA.  Oddly enough, not only did he decide to sound off just before the WNBA playoffs but brought up the fact that the WNBA is almost 20 years old.

"We thought we would have broken through by now", he said.
"We thought ratings and attendance would be higher,” he said.
"I think we might have been ahead of ourselves 20 years ago in terms of what we were doing," he said.
"Leading into the playoffs that begin tonight, there’s virtually no coverage," he said.

He sounded almost regretful.  My theory is that he wanted to hit even harder against the fact that local media in the many WNBA cities with few exceptions seems to have turned their back on the WNBA teams.  The gatekeepers - and they are gatekeepers; don't listen to that jazz about how they 'merely reflect public demand' - have kept the door shut on the WNBA for almost two decades, leaving the legion of fans like myself to do our best to promote the league in an intelligent way without the help of the jockocracy that runs most sports media.  Silver was there at the league's creation and I suspect he knew that if he swung harder at the local Joe Smiths and Bob Jones (always a Joe or a Bob) that write for the newspapers and run the morning sports radio programs, they would have struck back with how they 'merely reflect public demand'.

It's a story that he's heard before.
It's a story that we've heard before.

But no one every said that this WNBA thing would be easy. Oh, I'm sure a lot of people hoped it would be easy, back in 1997.  They hoped that women's basketball could finally step up to the rank of a major sport.  The crowds were big at first, due to the novelty. 

The lack of press coverage, however, starved the infant of oxygen. Despite that, the fact that the WNBA is as healthy as it is is a miracle in itself.  If the true story of the WNBA is ever written, it won't be like that written about the WPBL in Mad Seasons, a story where you can almost guess the end before the beginning.  The true story of the WNBA will be about how it survived even though many people strongly wished it would go away. that a legion of fans kept it alive, that there were forward thinking owners that devoted their time and money to the long run against the voices of naysayers.

There is an old saying:  "Power yields nothing without a struggle.  It never has, and it never will."  Adam Silver might have forgotten that. He is the owner and operator of a billion dollar industry; he's a man used to getting his way.  And still, so many fans are surprised and shocked that on some matters, not even he can get his way when it comes to the WNBA.

That's okay, Adam.  Hang in there with us.  We'll hang in there with you.  Why do fans follow losing teams for decades?  Because the victory will taste so much sweeter when they win it all, it will be more succulent, more effervescent than the dollar-store wine guzzled by the frontrunner fans of the world, a vintage well worth the wait.  Maybe we never win at all, but at least if we go down - we go down on our own terms, and not someone else's.  We WNBA fans know that the fight is worth it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

2015 Atlanta Dream overseas : an update

Here's what I've been able to find out about Atlanta Dream players playing overseas in 2015-16.

Matee Ajavon: Energa Torun, Poland
Carla Cortijo:  unknown
Cierra Burdick:  unknown
Sydney Carter:  unknown
Damiris Dantas:  unknown
Reshanda Gray:  Techmania Bettipaglia, Italy
Tiffany Hayes: Yakin Dogu University, Turkey
Aneika Henry:  Mersin, Turkey
Roneeka Hodges:  unknown
Sancho Lyttle:  rumored destination is UMMC (Ekaterinburg), Russia
Ariel Massengale:  unknown
Angel McCoughtry:  unknown
DeLisha Milton-Jones:  unknown
Shoni Schimmel:  expected to play overseas after spending last off-season stateside

Top Ten College Seniors Using Morris Points

Now that we're looking at the upcoming college season, in light of the last post it might be interesting to look at the college juniors that ranked the highest in Morris Points. 

We will only be looking at players from the power conferences...and Connecticut, which is a power conference team in a non-power conference.  If we were to expand this list to all players, Ruvanna Campbell at Illinois-Chicago would be the leader with +44.46.

1.  Breanna Stewart, F, 6-4, Connecticut:  + 43.35
2.  Brittney Martin, G, 6-0, Oklahoma State: + 38.67
3.  Lia Galdiera, G, 5-11, Washington State:  + 38.07 (will forego senior year to play in Europe)
4.  Ruth Hamblin, C, 6-6, Oregon State:  + 35.01
5.  Jillian Alleyne, F, 6-3, Oregon:  +32.57
6.  Moriah Jefferson, G, 5-7, Connecticut:  +29.32
7.  Niya Johnson, G, 5-8, Baylor:  +25.56
8.  Jamee Swan, F, 6-2, Colorado:  +21.63
9.  Talia Walton, F, 6-2, Washington:  +21.25
10.  Adut Bulgak, C, 6-4, Florida State: +21.23

Thursday, September 17, 2015

2015 WNBA Players Evaluated Using the Morris Points System

There's an article at that had me thinking.  It was written about a year ago and it was called "The Hidden Value of the NBA Steal."  The point the writer makes is that if you want the best indicator of value a player has to a game, it's to look at how many steals he has.

Through his math, he concluded that with all other box score stats being equal

* an extra rebound is worth 1.7 points
* an extra assist is worth 2.2 points
* (one less) turnover is worth 5.4 points
* an extra block is worth 6.1 points
* a extra steal is worth 9.1 points.

For example, if a player averages 16 points and two steals per game, this player has the same impact - all else being equal - as a player that averages 25 points per game but just one steal.  If the first player and the second player are both missing from their teams, we expect the two teams to decline similarly.

The writer has no explanation for why an extra steal is worth 9.1 extra points.  You can come up with all kinds of theories.  Maybe a player who has more steals plays a lot better defense.  Maybe they're just smarter.  Maybe it's because that unlike rebounds, a certain number of which will go to a player because they happened to be in the right place in the right time, players have to make steals happen.  Steals can't be "replaced".

So even though the results of this NBA study might not be transferable to the WNBA, I figured what the hell.  Let's create an "average" WNBA player who has

8 points
3 rebounds
2 assists
1 turnovers
0 blocks
1 steal

This player will earn zero points in the system.  This is the per/game amount scored by the average WNBA player, aggregated over all games.

For every rebound past 3 rebounds, we'll give the player 1.7 points
For every assist past 2 assists, we'll give the player 2.2 points


and so on.

So a player that had the same statline as above but one extra rebound would score a +1.7.  A player who had one extra rebound and one extra assists would score a +4.1. (1.7 + 2.2.)  If the player has the same stateline as above but one few rebound, she would score a -1.7.

Let's call these points Morris Points after the author of the article above, Benjamin Morris.  So under this system, who are the highest ranking players per game and the lowest ranking?

(See table at bottom of post for results.)

The next question becomes, "Do the numbers pass the smell test? IF I were to present the first five or first ten players on this list as the WNBA's best players in 2015, would you believe it?"

It seems believable.

* It gives Candace Parker the highest rating at +44.22.  Note that this is a "per game" rating, so it doesn't imply that Parker is the MVP, merely that the Sparks are hurt more missing Parker than Chicago is hurt missing Delle Donne.  The second half of the season certainly proved that.

* At #2 is Delle Donne with +35.24.  Delle Donne is the MVP.

* We see some familiar names - Griner, Moore, CAtchings, McCoughtry - that we think of when we think of the best players.

* It has Sancho Lyttle ranked as #5 on a per-game basis, which explains the tailspin the Dream went in when she was off the roster.

* It puts Skylar Diggins at #10, which explains how much Tulsa was hurt by not having her.

* It puts Kiah Stokes at #21, and Jewell Loyd at #72.  The Morris Points system values Ramu Tokashiki over Jewell Loyd.  It gives both Tokashiki and Loyd negative value.  Loyd's turnovers and lack of steals really hurt her.

Does this "prove" anything?  I don't know. But it is good to talk about during the off-season.

LAS Candace Parker 44.22
CHI Elena Delle Donne 35.24
PHO Brittney Griner 26.33
MIN Maya Moore 25.86
ATL Sancho Lyttle 23.41
IND Tamika Catchings 21.45
ATL Angel McCoughtry 19.54
PHO DeWanna Bonner 19.05
MIN Sylvia Fowles 18.26
TUL Skylar Diggins 17.50
NYL Epiphanny Prince 16.86
WAS Emma Meesseman 14.05
CON Alex Bentley 13.92
TUL Riquna Williams 13.76
LAS Nneka Ogwumike 13.60
NYL Tina Charles 13.16
CHI Courtney Vandersloot 12.77
WAS LaToya Sanders 12.03
LAS Jantel Lavender 11.00
MIN Rebekkah Brunson 10.86
NYL Kiah Stokes 9.79
SAS Jia Perkins 9.61
TUL Courtney Paris 9.22
PHO Candice Dupree 8.95
CHI Cappie Pondexter 7.04
CON Kelsey Bone 6.58
TUL Karima Christmas 6.33
CHI Jessica Breland 6.08
SAS Sophia Young 5.93
IND Shenise Johnson 4.88
ATL Tiffany Hayes 4.39
TUL Plenette Pierson 4.21
TUL Odyssey Sims 4.11
TOT Erika de Souza 3.70
MIN Seimone Augustus 3.48
SAS Jayne Appel 3.24
CON Jasmine Thomas 3.19
WAS Stefanie Dolson 3.15
SEA Crystal Langhorne 2.99
SAS Kayla McBride 2.94
LAS Alana Beard 2.47
CON Alyssa Thomas 2.32
IND Marissa Coleman 1.76
WAS Kara Lawson 1.39
NYL Rebecca Allen 1.10
SEA Sue Bird 0.38
CON Camille Little -0.10
IND Shavonte Zellous -0.22
PHO Monique Currie -0.77
LAS Kristi Toliver -1.24
LAS Erin Phillips -1.31
IND Erlana Larkins -1.57
ATL Cierra Burdick -1.65
ATL Matee Ajavon -1.73
WAS Tierra Ruffin-Pratt -1.78
MIN Anna Cruz -1.85
PHO Mistie Bass -2.16
WAS Ivory Latta -2.24
SEA Abby Bishop -2.48
NYL Brittany Boyd -2.49
PHO Leilani Mitchell -2.54
SEA Ramu Tokashiki -2.75
TOT Damiris Dantas -2.97
MIN Lindsay Whalen -3.11
NYL Sugar Rodgers -3.61
IND Briann January -3.63
SAS Danielle Robinson -3.87
SEA Alysha Clark -3.93
CHI Clarissa Dos Santos -4.28
TOT Kalana Greene -4.30
CHI Allie Quigley -4.37
SEA Jewell Loyd -4.55
ATL Carla Cortijo -4.75
WAS Natasha Cloud -4.87
NYL Carolyn Swords -5.16
MIN Asjha Jones -5.36
WAS Tayler Hill -5.40
CON Shekinna Stricklen -5.55
SAS Alex Montgomery -5.58
NYL Tanisha Wright -5.66
IND Natalie Achonwa -5.76
LAS Ana Dabovic -5.80
LAS Marianna Tolo -5.82
LAS Temeka Johnson -6.08
PHO Cayla Francis -6.09
TOT Renee Montgomery -6.23
CON Elizabeth Williams -6.23
SEA Jenna O'Hea -6.34
CHI Tamera Young -6.49
CON Kayla Pedersen -6.62
IND Lynetta Kizer -6.83
SAS Sydney Colson -6.99
CON Chelsea Gray -7.02
TUL Vicki Baugh -7.38
PHO Noelle Quinn -7.42
SEA Markeisha Gatling -7.43
ATL Shoni Schimmel -7.51
ATL Aneika Henry -7.58
WAS Kia Vaughn -7.59
SAS Danielle Adams -7.66
TOT Jennifer Lacy -7.69
MIN Devereaux Peters -8.03
IND Layshia Clarendon -8.12
TUL Tiffany Jackson -8.53
NYL Essence Carson -8.62
SAS Dearica Hamby -8.92
TUL Brianna Kiesel -9.19
SEA Angel Goodrich -9.38
SAS Kayla Alexander -9.40
IND Natasha Howard -10.06
PHO Alex Harden -10.58
TUL Amanda Zahui B. -10.68
CHI Betnijah Laney -10.69
TUL Jordan Hooper -10.71
CHI Cheyenne Parker -10.85
ATL Roneeka Hodges -11.00
WAS Bria Hartley -11.28
SAS Valeriane Ayayi -11.67
IND Maggie Lucas -11.68
CON Kelly Faris -11.76
WAS Armintie Herrington -12.37
LAS Jennifer Hamson -12.37
NYL Swin Cash -12.46
PHO Tess Madgen -12.48
LAS Crystal Bradford -12.52
TOT Reshanda Gray -12.67
SEA Quanitra Hollingsworth -12.82
TUL Theresa Plaisance -12.89
CHI Jamierra Faulkner -12.90
LAS Farhiya Abdi -13.12
WAS Kayla Thornton -13.35
MIN Tricia Liston -13.45
IND Jeanette Pohlen -13.48
TOT Erica Wheeler -13.86
CON Nikki Greene -14.15
SEA Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis -14.25
NYL Candice Wiggins -14.58
ATL DeLisha Milton-Jones -14.68
ATL Sydney Carter -14.69
CHI Sasha Goodlett -14.88
TOT Samantha Logic -15.23
PHO Marta Xargay -15.38
ATL Nadia Colhado -15.48
NYL Avery Warley -15.97
IND Briana Gilbreath-Butler -16.13
LAS Andrea Hoover -16.17
PHO Shameka Christon -16.21
CHI Victoria Macaulay -16.48
MIN Jennifer O'Neill -16.62
WAS Ally Malott -16.89
MIN Monica Wright -17.01
CHI Jacki Gemelos -17.06
LAS Jasmine Lister -17.70
PHO Tiffany Bias -18.44
LAS Courtney Clements -19.50
MIN Shae Kelley -19.70
TOT Brittany Hrynko -21.37
CON Inga Orekhova -22.13
LAS Michelle Snow -23.40