As the WNBA season winds down, thoughts naturally start turning to the awards, specifically who will be the league’s MVP. Everyone seems to use their own criteria. Some limit choice only to players from teams who make the playoffs. I don’t think value necessary equals playoff berth, so while it does factor into my thinking, it’s not a knee-jerk eliminator. This year, especially, some have said that they won’t consider rookies, but I think that’s just silly. Value isn’t measured by length of service in the league, but of the quality of the service over one season.
One objective measure I like to use as a base is a player’s efficiency ratings, both average and per 40-minutes: a broad stats category that helps to sort out obvious value. I don’t rely on it too much, though, as some positions, specifically point guard, can get short shrift if their attempted assists don’t become actual assists because of the scoring failings of their teammates. Also, there is and intangible factor that must be considered. Some players have an importance to their team beyond stats. Their personality, their presence, their attitude…whatever…does something extra to elevate her teammates.
I do impose a minimum level of participation of playing in at least half the scheduled games (this allows for injury time), and for playing at least 20-minutes per game (if you play less than half the available time, then your value is dubious).
My first step in MVP selection is choosing the MVP of each team. After all, if you aren’t the most valuable player on your team, then what are you doing on the league ballot? So…here we go:
Atlanta Dream – Given the sort of season the Dream have had, it’s really difficult to choose one player that stands out as being truly valuable. Though she has some consistency problems, and can make some iffy decisions about when and where to shot, I’ll have to give the nod to Betty Lennox.
Chicago Sky – If she had played more, the likeliest candidate would have been Sylvia Fowles, but the fact is that she simply hasn’t participated enough to have factored in much for the season. Night in and night out, the go-to player, and the player who gives all the other players is without a doubt, Candice Dupree.
Connecticut Sun – This is one of those picks that’s just so obvious that little analysis needs to be done: Lindsay Whalen.
Detroit Shock - The Shock is filled with a curious cast of players. Deanna Nolan has such an incredible “wow” factor. Thing is, she disappears for extended periods during a game. Cheryl Ford got injured. Pleanette Pierson brings a lot of emotion that can propel the team, but sometimes it’s the wrong sort of emotion. Though her numbers aren’t fantastic, I’m giving the nod to Katie Smith, for she brings the calm leadership that helps this team win games…sometimes in spite of itself.
Houston Comets – Another obvious choice: Tina Thompson.
Indiana Fever – Most years this would be easy as it would go to Tamika Catchings. Thing is, for most of the season she has been having to bow to last season’s injury and just hasn’t been able to contribute as much as she needs to. The player that has kept them in, both in terms of production and the intangibles, has been Katie Douglas.
Los Angeles Sparks – There are two players on this team that have been doing amazing work. Candace Parker, though a rookie, has been putting up some amazing numbers across the board…and dunked twice (so far). On the other hand, Lisa Leslie’s numbers aren’t exactly chopped liver, and her mentoring and presence on the court have been helping Parker get those number. But I’m still going to give the nod to Candace Parker, because not only are her numbers better, she’s playing more minutes, and all five positions.
Minnesota Lynx – This team has two rookies that certainly aren’t playing like rookies. Candice Wiggins and Nicki Anosike need to be seriously considered in any valuable player talk. Unfortunately for them, Seimone Agustus just happens to be on their team, is slightly more effective, and for now is unquestionably the team leader.
New York Liberty – It’s amazing was a difference a change of team can make. Since arriving in New York, Janel McCarville has become the player people thought she could be. This is most definitely her team.
Phoenix Mercury – Another no-brainer: Diana Taurasi. It’s just a pity that the Aussies punked out on her this season, else she might be looking at a second title.
Sacramento Monarchs – This one is a tough call. Sacramento is very much a platoon team that relies on its depth more than its stars. Rebekkah Brunson has been putting up some solid stats, but the surprising performance this season of Ticha Penicheiro when combined with that intangible leadership quality makes choosing one over the other difficult. This time I’m going for the objective, and I’ll say Rebekkah Brunson.
San Antonio Silver Stars – A lot of people think that Becky Hammon is a shoe-in for this, but honestly, this really hasn’t quite been her year. Ann Wauters has been having a great year, but hands down, the most valuable player for the Stars this season has been Sophia Young.
Seattle Storm – Lauren Jackson missing so many games due to national team duties and injury changes the standard equation. Fortunately, for the purposes of this blog, Sue Bird modified her game and has shown everyone what a truly great player she is.
Washington Mystics – Although Alana Beard has had a solid year, it has been a bit disappointing. The fact of the matter is that Taj McWilliams-Franklin was more valuable to the team…though the trade to Detroit does give one pause.
So, we have our list. In an effort to save some time, we might as well pare the list down to the players who actually brought the right stuff to their play this season. From this list, let’s take a look at their relative rankings in efficiency:
1. Candice Parker; 2. Diana Taurasi; 3. Lindsay Whalen; 4. Sophia Young; 5. Candice Dupree; 6. Seimone Agustus; 7. Taj McWilliams-Franklin; 8. Janel McCarville; 9. Tina Thompson; 10. Sue Bird; 11. Rebekkah Brunson 12. Betty Lennox; 13. Katie Smith; 14. Katie Douglas
And efficiency per 40-minutes:
1. Candice Parker; 2. Diana Taurasi; 3. Lindsay Whalen; 4. Janel McCarville; 5. Sophia Young; 6. Candice Dupree; 7. Rebekkah Brunson; 8. Taj McWilliams-Franklin; 9. Seimone Agustus; 10. Betty Lennox; 11. Tina Thompson; 12. Sue Bird; 13. Katie Smith; 14. Katie Douglas
Now we assign 14 for each 1st place, down to 1 for 14th, and add the two values to get a top 5: Candice Parker (28); Diana Taurasi (26); Lindsay Whalen (24); Sophia Young (21); Candice Dupree (19).
Now this is where some arbitrariness comes in as we consider the intangibles and situational things. I’m going to drop Sophia Young and Candice Dupree. While they are excellent players, they just aren’t yet at the highest level. In their place I will add Lisa Leslie, who could just as easily be on this list instead of Candice Parker, and Sue Bird who, with last year’s MVP missing, has shown how important she truly is.
Now we are down to five: Sue Bird, Lisa Leslie, Candice Parker, Diana Taurasi, and Lindsay Whalen. Whoa. This is tough. I honestly wouldn’t want to tell any of these five that they AREN’T the most valuable player in the league. Good arguments can be made for all of them. Still…Whalen has been sitting a lot, Taurasi is on a team that has been a victim of circumstance, Bird only became obviously great with Jackson gone, and Lisa Leslie has generously sacrificed some of her game so that a rookie could get every advantage. I think that plan has worked.
Based on stats, what she does for her team, and for the league as a whole, I’m going to make my MVP choice as being the league’s first rookie MVP: Candice Parker. (Needless to say, she also wins Rookie of the Year.)