2011 WNBA "All-Playoff" Team: Which Players Did The Most For Their Teams In The Post-Season?

While Atlanta Dream forward Angel McCoughtry got the spotlight for her scoring performances in the 2011 WNBA Finals, point guard Lindsey Harding was more quietly one of the main reasons they got there and was arguably the best distributor of the entire 2011 WNBA playoffs. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

As I was digging through some of our old college coverage in preparation for the upcoming NCAA season I wondered, Why not have a WNBA "All-Tournament team" for the playoffs?

The moment passed as the playoffs are sort of a weird beast given that people played anywhere between 2 and 8 games, but the thought was revived after a brief discussion in our Game Three game thread about who the 2011 WNBA Finals MVP should be: Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus or Atlanta Dream forward Angel McCoughtry?

And with so much attention paid to Augustus and McCoughtry during the finals, I came back to that passing "All-Tournament team" concept to look at who did more to get their team to the Finals using the same MVP framework I normally use that includes the player contribution metric that James Bowman described the other day.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Augustus was a candidate for WNBA playoff MVP heading into the Finals and she rose to the top by scoring 24.7 points per game on 58.7% shooting during the Finals to rise to the top of the list.

But McCoughtry's contribution to the Dream is a bit more complicated, pretty much for the reasons I described in comparing Augustus and McCoughtry's spectacular performances in Game Two of the WNBA Finals: McCoughtry scores a lot of points but does so by putting up a lot of shots at a low percentage. In contrast to Augustus' highly efficient scoring, McCoughtry scored 31 points per game on 43.3% shooting and was actually less efficient entering the Finals - she scored only 18.4 points per game on 41.33% shooting.

If you recall, one of the more impressive things about the Dream's playoff run up until the Finals was that they won more than half their games without McCoughtry having superstar-caliber games. Guard Izi Castro Marques stepped up with huge scoring performances in the Eastern Conference Finals and they used a well-rounded effort to advance past the Sun in the first round.

So not only was McCoughtry not a "one-woman team" during the 2011 regular season, but the pattern held in the post-season even more strongly - in fact, up until the WNBA Finals, McCoughtry wasn't even the team's MVP statistically. Lindsey Harding was; in fact, she was arguably the best point guard in the entire playoff field, averaging 6 assists and only 1.6 turnovers per game.

The 2011 WNBA "All-Playoff Team"

With Harding's outstanding point guard performance in mind, I set about making "All-Playoff" selections by function, not traditional "positions" - one point guard, two perimeter players, and two interior players - to more fairly represent how teams actually play basketball.

Player Team Games Played PVC MVP Usg% Pts/empty Net Plus/Minus PER*
Seimone Augustus Minnesota Lynx 8 23.97% 13.63 26.22% 3.10 -30.4 26.61
Tanisha Wright
Seattle Storm 3 25.10% 13.19 25.67% 2.90 + 40.5 26.13
Lindsey Harding Atlanta Dream 8 18.84% 9.91 19.15% 1.87 + 42.1 15.08
Sophia Young S.A. Silver Stars 3 27.67% 13.52 19.81% 3.68 + 6.7 24.34
Rebekkah Brunson Minnesota Lynx 8 17.28% 9.83 17.91% 2.26 -0.7 19.15
Honorable Mention
Katie Douglas Indiana Fever 6 22.95% 10.52 26.09% 2.30 -6.8 21.00
Angel McCoughtry Atlanta Dream 8 22.78% 11.98 35.64% 2.18 + 11.6 26.91
Sue Bird Seattle Storm 3 22.40% 11.77 18.28% 2.93 +18.0 19.54
DeWanna Bonner Phoenix Mercury 5 18.74% 8.13 19.75% 1.65 + 21.8 13.77
Candice Dupree Phoenix Mercury 5 21.76% 9.44 19.30% 2.95 - 6.3 17.93

2011 WNBA "All-Playoff" First & Second Teams. Click here for explanations of numbers (PER below, +/- in comments).

Clearly one could make an argument for McCoughtry being one of the top two perimeter performers in the playoffs based on her Finals performance alone. However, we might need to reconsider the notion that McCoughtry is solely responsible for carrying the team to the Finals and Harding is the primary reason and that's why she was on the second team here.

First Team

Seimone Augustus, Wing, Minnesota Lynx (MVP)

Obviously Augustus' scoring is what contributed most to her being the top player in the playoffs, but the passing efficiency that was noteworthy in her first WNBA Finals performance is what really stands out about her playoff performance overall.

Augustus didn't necessarily produce a ton of assists during the playoffs - her assist ratio of 15.83% was nothing spectacular. But her turnover ratio of 6.86% was outstanding considering how often she had the ball in her hands. Her pure point rating of 2.65 was the highest of any Lynx player, including Lindsay Whalen (whose 0.00 pure point rating was surprisingly low).

Nobody would depend on Augustus to be their primary distributor - she's a scorer and a 60.10% true shooting percentage while using up a more than a quarter of Lynx possessions while on the floor makes her a highly efficient scorer at that. But when teams are sending double teams and collapsing on your top scorer, it at least helps for her to be able to pass out of it without turning the ball over.

Tanisha Wright, Guard, Seattle Storm

This one might seem odd considering the Storm lost a heartbreaker in the first round, but Wright's 2011 playoff performance was still outstanding for similar reasons to Augustus - Wright had a true shooting percentage of 71.28% while using up about a quarter of the Storm's possessions in her 28 minutes a game to lead the Storm with 18.7 points per game. That's in addition to her standard role on the defensive end.

She wasn't nearly as efficient distributing the ball in the Storm's abbreviated postseason (pure point rating of -5.14), but had the top PER before Augustus and McCoughtry exploded in the WNBA Finals. Feel free to call me a Storm homer, but that's not a bad performance overall even if it was only three games.

Lindsey Harding, Point Guard, Atlanta Dream

So why is Harding so high on this list when she contributed the second least on this list to their overall statistical production and didn't do a whole lot of scoring? It's not her plus/minus, stellar as it is - I wouldn't put much stock in plus/minus over eight games when everyone else played so few.

And no, I'm not just putting her here because I thought she'd be a key player for the Dream entering the playoffs either.

Harding's ball handling efficiency that steadily increased throughout the regular season continued its ascent during the playoffs, culminating with a 6.3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio in the Finals that was further punctuated by a pure point rating of 10.78 in the Dream's final game. Over the course of the playoffs, Harding had a pure point rating of 6.07, highest among any starting point guard. 

That efficiency as a distributor, her ability to get to the free throw line often, and a solid steal percentage, all helped her offset poor shooting to actually lead the Dream with 19.24% of their production prior to McCoughtry taking the reigns in the Finals. But most importantly, her poise and ability to get the team in their offense almost indisputably carried the team during their first half successes in the WNBA Finals, even if she wasn't scoring efficiently. The plus/minus certainly reflects some of that - in addition to her defense - but a lot of what she gave the Dream were things you can't quantify, which justified their excitement in trading for her (if there was ever any doubt about that).

Sophia Young, Forward, San Antonio Silver Stars

The simplistic reasoning for Sophia Young being on this list might go something like the following: one team beat the Lynx in the playoffs and Young scored 23 points on 7-for-11 shooting along with 13 trips to the free throw line to help the Silver Stars do so. 

But going beyond one game (to three games), Young contributed more to her team than any player in the playoffs and led her team in shooting efficiency with a true shooting percentage of 65.92%. Although the Dream are getting a lot of credit for challenging the Lynx in the Finals, the Silver Stars might've given them he biggest challenge throughout the season and Young's quickness inside and out was no small part of that.

Rebekkah Brunson, Forward, Minnesota Lynx

By now, you should be able to guess what makes Brunson so valuable to the Lynx: she led all rotation players in playoff rebounding percentage (20.34%) and dominated the defensive boards as well (27.03%). Against the Dream's aggressive defense, Brunson was critical offensively as well hitting a few mid-range jumpers when needed. But no question it was Brunson's dominant rebounding that made her so valuable to the Lynx in the playoffs.

Second Team

Angel McCoughtry, Wing, Atlanta Dream

So now we come to McCoughtry.

I confess that no matter what format you use that you could easily put McCoughtry over Wright on this list (so maybe I am just a Storm homer). The argument for McCoughtry as MVP is probably clear - she scored more points per game than anyone in the playoffs (23.1) over more games than most played and in being nearly unguardable for many stretches of time put pressure on opposing defenses that really help a Dream team that relies on threes less than anyone. And ultimately, she finished with the highest PER in the playoffs.

That aside - and I know putting that aside is difficult - there's still the matter of why McCoughtry entered the Finals as only the fourth biggest contributor on her team behind (in order) Harding, Armintie Price, and Sancho Lyttle. The reason, as alluded to above, is that she led the Dream in missed shots (44) and attempted shots (75) through the Eastern Conference Finals and MEV - what PVC is based on here - has a negative weight attached to missed shots. And unlike Harding (who had 40 missed shots), McCoughtry didn't have much other than scoring to make up for it statistically.

There is definitely room for argument on this statistical point though - entering the Finals, McCoughtry also had the fifth highest PER in the league (22.58), which unlike MEV rewards the act of creating shots even at the expense missed shots. McCoughtry's PER was still behind Augustus (25.28) and Wright (26.16) in the same time period, but also first on her team instead of fourth and of course her team advanced while Wright's didn't.

I like MEV because it puts a premium on scoring efficiency; PER favors shot creation and one on one shot creation is particularly valuable in the WNBA, just as a matter of observation. My choice preference for MEV is definitely an example of the subjectivity inherent the use of statistics - I fully understand the validity and value of PER. And ultimately, that probably makes the difference in how you evaluate a high usage player like McCoughtry.

Katie Douglas, Guard, Indiana Fever

Douglas was fourth in playoff scoring and with teammate Tamika Catchings having an off game against the New York Liberty in the first round and getting injured in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Douglas was the Fever's statistical MVP.

Stats aside, what was notable about Douglas is that she took on quite a bit of responsibility for the team, defensively and offensively. Perhaps most important, she took on a lot of ball handling responsibility for the team when Erin Phillips struggled against pressure. That's not uncommon, but against teams like the Dream and Liberty it was huge for a team that struggled with turnovers at times during their playoff run.

Sue Bird, Point Guard, Seattle Storm

Sue Bird continued her role as scorer in the playoffs, though she posted a pure point rating 3.31 due to a low turnover ratio of 4.07%. While Wright was the team's most efficient scorer, Bird was a solid 60.13%.

Although this wasn't Bird's best season as a distributor, she only reinforced her greatness in being more of a scorer and rising to the level of a MVP candidate. There's a lot more to be said about why the Storm lost - and where that team is going - but Bird's legacy is rock solid.

There still aren't a lot of point guards you'd want leading your team into the playoffs and that's saying a lot considering the regular season that Lindsay Whalen had.

Candice Dupree, Forward, Phoenix Mercury

Yep, dropping 29 and 7 on the Storm has a lot to do with why Dupree is on this list. It's still not clear exactly what happened to them against the Storm, but the Mercury decided to play defense and - if I suspend my personal bitterness - won what was arguably the most exciting game of the 2011 playoffs on a Dupree game-winner.

But what makes Dupree among the league's best players is the efficiency with which she makes those shots - she led the Mercury with a 62.58% true shooting percentage.

DeWanna Bonner, Forward, Phoenix Mercury

There's not much more to say about Bonner beyond what's already been noted about why she deserved the 2011 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year award, maybe aside from the fact that she was simply outstanding as a starter in the playoffs.

In addition to what she brings defensively, she averaged nearly a double-double in the playoffs with 12.6 points and 9.4 rebounds, leading the team with a 22.37% defensive rebounding percentage. Bonner is yet another example of a player who defines the difference between MEV and PER - PER had her rated in the bottom 16 players of the league in the playoffs, MEV had her rated as among the best interior players. To keep it simple, she shot 34.8% from the field in the playoffs, but did so at a below average usage rate (19.75%) meaning that she didn't miss a lot of shots. But with Bonner it's the "everything else" she does to add value to her team beyond points that makes her so valuable, possibly even more valuable than Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi in the playoffs.

*Update at 2 pm PST on 10/10/11: Playoff PER numbers have been added although I didn't have these when I originally wrote it so they don't figure into my analysis above. Feel free to add your thoughts about how those numbers change (or don't change) your perspective. For more on PER, the Wikipedia entry is a pretty good primer (particularly the "Reference Guide" section).

Related Links:

Swish Appeal statistics glossary

2011 WNBA Regular Season PER

Nets Are Scorching on PER

Malcolm Gladwell on PER

Diminishing Returns for Scoring - Usage vs. Efficiency

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