Friday, September 12, 2008

The Rest of My MVP Ballot

With the regular season wrapping up this weekend, ballots for WNBA awards are due Monday. There's little time left for the media to determine its MVP picks, while this is your last weekend to vote online at has already thrown its considerable (but biased) weight behind Storm point guard Sue Bird. But what about the rest of my ballot, at least for online voting purposes?

We start as usual with a look at the numbers. Here's a look at the two stats I lend the most credence: Wins Above Replacement Player by my rating system and Net Plus-Minus rating, as tracked by Paul Swanson of the Lynx. I've included 12 players who feature prominently in the MVP discussion, ranking them in both categories.

Player              Tm   WARP  Rk  Net +/-  Rk
Seimone Augustus MIN 4.2 20 +18.4 2
Sue Bird SEA 4.1 21 +20.7 1
Becky Hammon SAS 6.7 6 + 3.4 49
Asjha Jones CON 5.4 14 +10.8 7
Lisa Leslie LAS 7.2 4 + 4.6 39
Janel McCarville NYL 5.9 8 + 8.9 15

Player Tm WARP Rk Net +/- Rk
Deanna Nolan DET 4.8 16 + 7.9 20
Candace Parker LAS 10.2 1 + 9.9 9
Diana Taurasi PHO 9.0 2 + 8.5 19
Tina Thompson HOU 2.1 40 - 4.1 88
Lindsay Whalen CON 7.3 3 + 2.4 55
Sophia Young SAS 6.9 5 +14.5 3
So, without further ado, my non-Bird picks:

4. Lindsay Whalen, Connecticut
When voting started, Whalen was at the top of my ballot on the strength of her excellent numbers and the Sun's play. However, I've since been persuaded to push her down the ballot because of her relatively poor net plus-minus. That's backed up by how well the Sun has played without Whalen when she's missed time with a sprained ankle over the last couple of weeks. She's an incredible player, but might not be indispensable to her team like, say, the Storm's point guard.

3. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix
One of the sports notions that irks me is this hard-and-fast "playoffs or bust" mentality when it comes to MVP. Is team success an important consideration in MVP voting? Absolutely. However, making the playoffs is an imperfect measure of a team's performance at best. In the Eastern Conference, the Mercury would still be alive for the playoffs. Additionally, Phoenix has a better point differential than the playoff-bound Monarchs. Taurasi's individual numbers are undeniable and she's been as good as anyone in the league in August in making a late postseason push. Still, the combination of numbers and team isn't quite MVP-worthy.

2. Candace Parker, Los Angeles
It's easy to make the argument for Parker to top this list. My numbers rate her as far and away the most valuable player in the league. The prospect of a rookie winning doesn't bother me at all. What does work against Parker is the fact that while her net plus-minus is great, it's not as otherworldy as her individual stats. The notable discrepancy is on defense. The WARP system rates Parker as one of the top five defenders in the league, but the Sparks defend better when she is on the bench. I think her gaudy steal and block numbers may slightly overstate Parker's defensive prowess at this point.

1. Sophia Young, San Antonio
There are plenty of voters who will likely pick Young's teammate Becky Hammon as their MVP, but the numbers strongly suggest that it is Young, not Hammon, who has been most valuable to the Silver Stars this season. Young's net plus-minus is third in the league, and when you consider the quality of her team (net plus-minus is designed so that each team averages exactly 0), she and Bird stand alone when it comes to bottom-line impact on their team's success and failure. Young's offensive game has blossomed, allowing her to run even with Hammon as San Antonio's leading scorer. The breadth of her game is what makes Young so valuable, however, as she rebounds, defends multiple positions and handles the ball with few turnovers.

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