Sunday, June 29, 2014

WNBA 2014: Six Week Power Rankings


“Where have you gone, Rebekkah Brunson…
Your Lynx teammates are struggling today. Hey, hey, hey.
The Mercury and the ‘Lanta Dream
Have matched your superiority. Hee, hee, hee.”

My apologies (especially to Simon & Garfunkel), these lyrical convolutions (emphasis on the “co-“) overtake me on occasion. Catch me at the right time and I just might be singing “Pinball Wizard” to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Really!!

Out-dated musical mayhem aside, the Merc’ and Dream, both under the leadership of new coaches, are running side-by-side with the defending champions, a cut above the rest of the WNBA. The continuing loss of Super Soph Elena Della Donne has brought Chicago’s stratospheric early performance back to earth.

On the other end of the spectrum, the acquisition of double-double machine Tina Charles has yet to pay dividends for Bill Laimbeer’s New York Liberty. While the spirited play of TC’s replacement in CT, Kelsey Bone (another in an impressive crop of second-year players), has the Sun on an up-tick.

And Carol Ross’s Los Angeles Sparks have been downright schizophrenic.

Last Thursday (June 26), marked the end of the season’s sixth week – a mid-point of sorts in a three-month regular season. Let’s put an Abacus to the season to that point.

Power Rankings --The Measurement Instrument

Our team-ranking tool utilizes four elements. Two scales are based solely on team wins and losses; the others are measures of the efficiency of team performance in comparison with the competition. First, we’ll simply use win-loss record irrespective of conference.

The second criterion will be the difference between a team’s road wins and its home losses. Since this cute little metric is said to be a personal favorite of long-time NBA coach George Karl (now at ESPN), let’s call this the Karl Kount (KK).

Criterion No. 3, Conversion Quotient (CQ), involves the rate at which a team converts its possessions into a successful field goals or free throw attempts. Like the KK, the computation is simple subtraction—a team’s rate of offensive efficiency minus that of the opponent.

Lastly, please allow Abacus to introduce the “SPOR-t” score. SPOR-t stands for “Shooting Plus Offensive Rebounds minus turnovers.” Add a team’s FG percentage and its offensive rebounding percentage (o. boards divided by missed FG’s). Then subtract the percentage of a team’s possessions lost to turnovers. For example, a team shoots field goals at a .488 clip, its offensive rebounds account for .199 of its missed field goals, and .143 of its possessions result in a turnover. So its SPOR-t is (488+199-143) or 544. Once again, our measurement will be the difference between the SPOR-t scores of a team and its opposition.

We’ll rank the teams from 1 to 12 in all criteria and simply add up the rankings. Low score wins, naturally.

No. 1 Phoenix Mercury (6)
[6-week ESPN rating: 1
3-week Abacus rating: 2
2013 Abacus Rating: 4]

9-3, .750; 1st seed West / 1st overall
KK:  +3; (4 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 2 overall
CQ:  +59; (.530 - .471) / No. 1 overall
SPOR-t:  +61; (584-523) / No. 2 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Mercury are the league’s best shooting (.498) and most efficient (.530) squad, they rank third in the defensive equivalent of each of these categories.

No. 2 Minnesota Lynx (10)
[6-week ESPN rating: 2
3-week Abacus rating: 1
2013 Abacus Rating: 1]
11-4, .733; 2nd seed West / 2nd overall                                          
KK:  +5; (6 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 1 overall
CQ:  +38; (.511 - .473) / No. 2 overall
SPOR-t:  +29; (554-525) / No. 5 overall
Abacus Revelation: Despite a mediocre (4-4) showing during the second three-weeks, the Lynx still commit the fewest turnovers in the league and sit No. 2 in FG shooting.  Alas, last year’s top offensive rebounding team currently ranks ninth in both procuring and preventing them.

No. 2 Atlanta Dream (10)
[6-week ESPN rating: 3
3-week Abacus rating: 6
2013 Abacus Rating: 4]
10-4, .571; 1st seed East / 3rd overall
KK:  +2; (3 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 3 overall
CQ:  +36; (.493 - .457) / No. 3 overall
SPOR-t:  +96; (572-477) / No. 1 overall
Abacus Revelation: Though the Dream currently sit atop the circuit in defensive efficiency (opponents convert 45.7% of possessions), ‘twas not so after three weeks when a 48.9% rate placed them No. 10. The Atlanta defense throttled the other guys into a .413 FG% during that second three-weeks.

No. 4 Connecticut Sun (20.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 4
3-week Abacus rating: 12
2013 Abacus Rating: 12]
8-6, .571; 2nd seed East / 4th overall
KK:  -1; (1 Road Win – 2 Home Losses) / No. 7 overall (tied)
CQ:  0; (.482 - .482) / No. 5 overall
SPOR-t:  +32; (543-511) / No. 4 overall
Abacus Revelation: Despite being the league’s second-worst FG shooting team, the Sun do manage to take a second-best 22.3 free throws per game.

No. 5 Tulsa Shock (25)
[6-week ESPN rating: 7
3-week Abacus rating: 12
2013 Abacus Rating: 9]
6-7, .462; 4th seed West / 6th overall (tied)
KK:  +1; (2 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 4 overall (tied)
CQ:  -10; (.512 - .522) / No. 8 overall
SPOR-t:  +22; (602-580) / No. 6 overall
Abacus Revelation: After a discouraging 0-5 start to the season, the Shock have ranked No. 2 in Offensive Rebounding Percentage, taking care of the ball and Conversion Percentage. Defensive woes persist, including being dead last in Opponent per-game Free Throw attempts (23.5).

No. 6 Indiana Fever (25.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 5
3-week Abacus rating: 7
2013 Abacus Rating: 7]
6-7, .462; 4th seed East / 6th overall (tied)
KK:  0; (3 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 6 overall
CQ:  -7; (.476 - .483) / No. 6 overall
SPOR-t:  -15; (497-512) / No. 7 overall
Abacus Revelation: The pesky Fever create a turnover on slightly better than one in five of their opponents’ possessions, best in the league. While their 25.1 free-throw attempts per game tops the circuit, they surrender 23.4, second-worst.

No. 7 Los Angeles Sparks (27)
[6-week ESPN rating: 11
3-week Abacus rating: 5
2013 Abacus Rating: 2]
5-8, .385; 5th seed West / 10th overall
KK:  -2; (2 Road Wins – 4 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
CQ:  +14; (.486 - .472) / No. 4 overall
SPOR-t:  +45; (552-507) / No. 3 overall
Abacus Revelation: Opponents take over twice as many and make nearly two-and-a-half times as many three pointers as LA. The Sparks are second-worst in per-game FT attempts and only eight-best at taking care of the ball. Still, they are the third-best FG shooting (.453) team in the league.

No. 8 San Antonio Stars (34.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 6
3-week Abacus rating: 8
2013 Abacus Rating: 11]
7-8, .467; 3rd seed West / 5th overall
KK:  -1; (4 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 7 overall (tied)
CQ:  -30; (.465 - .495) / No. 11 overall
SPOR-t:  -62; (487-549) / No. 11 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Stars rank dead last in Opponent FG%, and only 10th with their own shooting. Yet they win the turnover battle, maximize the three-point line and stay above water at the free throw line.

No. 9 Washington Mystics (36.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 9
3-week Abacus rating: 4
2013 Abacus rating: 6]
2013 Abacus Rating:6-9, .400; 5th seed East / 9th overall
KK:  -2; (3 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
CQ:  -20; (.449 - .469) / No. 9 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  -25; (487-512) / No. 8 overall
Abacus Revelation: Though the least efficient offensive team (.447 conversion rate) in the circuit, the Mystics rank first in Opponent FG% (.409) and second in Opponent conversion rate (.469).

No. 10 Chicago Sky (37)
[6-week ESPN rating: 8
3-week Abacus rating: 3
2013 Abacus Rating: 3]
6-8, .429; 4th seed East / 8th overall
KK:  -4; (1 Road Win – 5 Home Losses) / No. 12 overall
CQ:  -9; (.486 - .495) / No. 7 overall
SPOR-t:  -40; (525-565) / No. 10 overall
Abacus Revelation: During a 5-1 start, Sky opponents shot .390 and converted 44.8% of possessions; during the next eight (1-7), the “bad guys” shot .465 and converted at a .529 rate. Oddly, the Sky forced turnovers at a higher rate when they were getting clobbered.

No. 11 Seattle Storm (39.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 10
3-week Abacus rating: 10
2013 Abacus Rating: 8]
6-10, .375; 6th seed West / 11th overall
KK:  +1; (3 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall (tied)
CQ:  -39; (.451 - .490) / No. 12 overall
SPOR-t:  -107; (437-544) / No. 12 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Storm work hard to limit opponent free throw attempts (best in the league) and three-point attempts (among the top four). They rebound poorly (last in Offensive Rebounding Percentage) and take care of the ball just as well (second-to-last in Turnover Percentage – nearly 19%).

No. 12 New York Liberty (40.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 12
3-week Abacus rating: 10
2013 Abacus Rating: 9]
4-10, .286; 6th seed East / 12th overall
KK:  -2; (1 Road Win – 3 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
CQ:  -20; (.451 - .471) / No. 9 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  -33; (461-494) / No. 9 overall
Abacus Revelation: Bill Laimbeer’s combative 2013 Liberty placed third in opponent FG percentage and opponent Offensive Rebounding percentage. This year’s group is first and second, respectively.

“Point” the Way

The WNBA is unusually rich in play-making guards these days. The Dream have added rookie Shoni Schimmel and Euro-vet Celine Dumerc. A re-juvenated Skylar Diggins has hooked up with Odyssey Sims (like Schimmel, a rook with a very special skill set) on a Tulsa roster that also includes steady soph Angel Goodrich – not to mention scoring machine Riquna Williams. Another rookie, Kayla McBride, is a beneficiary in San Antonio of All-Star (Danielle Robinson) and Olympic (Becky Hammon) grooming.

Old hands like Whalen, Taurasi and Bird keep conjuring up their hardwood wizardry.

And don’t bet against retiring Lin Dunn’s championship caliber Zellous-January combo.

Last season’s plague of debilitating injuries prompted numerous three-guard units…the practice continues.