Top 15 WNBA Players Of All Time: The Hall Of Fame Probability Calculator List

As the face of U.S. women's basketball - and arguably women's sports - for so long, former Los Angeles Sparks star Lisa Leslie figures to be a lock for the WNBA's Top 15 Players list. But who else should be included? Photo by Craig Bennett/112575 Media.

The tough thing about reducing the entire history of a sports league to the 15 top players is that so many deserving people have to be left out.

And yet, it's those impossible debates comparing players across eras to determine which are among the best ever that add a little fun to being a sports fan.

It's the type of endless banter that kids have engaged in on playgrounds around collector cards while chomping on stale sticks of gum and adults have sat around barbershops - or fine institutions serving adult beverages - debating with almost random forms of evidence.

More often than not, it's as much about articulating and defending one's own tastes as it is about anyone being "right" - for those who don't mind putting forth an opinion at the risk of being confronted with a more persuasive counter-argument, the process can be more enjoyable than the outcome.

With the WNBA releasing its 30 nominees for its list of Top 15 WNBA players of all time, the process of figuring out how to cut that list in half between Thursday at Noon EST and midnight on July 14 is potentially more exciting than finding out who exactly those top 15 are at the 2011 WNBA All-Star Game in San Antonio.

So with the help of James Bowman's Hall of Fame probability calculator from last year - as well as a few other considerations - we take a stab at our first Top 15 list. Obviously, more than stats will determine who makes the final list. But as a starting point for discussion this is as good as any.

1. The "Perfect Ten"

We could certainly start with the WNBA's 2006 All-Decade Team. However, given that five years have passed - and by most accounts the game has grown considerably - we wanted to begin with a bit more updated list.

Last year, James came up with a list of ten players - all of whom on the list of 30 nominees - whose probability to make the Hall of Fame is 100% (click here to read more on how he came up with that list). So that definitely seems like a pretty good place to starting to figure out who's most worthy of that list of Top 15 players.

Those "perfect ten" players were as follows:

Tamika Catchings, F, Indiana Fever

Cynthia Cooper, G (1997-2000, 2003)

Yolanda Griffith, C (1999-2009)

Lauren Jackson, C, Seattle Storm

Lisa Leslie, C (1997-2006, 2008-2009)

Katie Smith, G, Seattle Storm

Sheryl Swoopes, G, Tulsa Shock

Diana Taurasi, G, Phoenix Mercury

Tina Thompson, F, Los Angeles Sparks

Natalie Williams, F (1999-2005)

However, although this list of players is a great women's basketball Hall of Fame list, it also includes statistics from the now-defunct American Basketball League (ABL); the WNBA's Top 15 list will only include WNBA accomplishments. So how does that affect this list?

2. Subtracting ABL stats

Subtracting ABL stats, Williams falls to 23% (which is still within Top 30 range), Smith falls to 64%, and Griffith remains firmly in the top 10. Meanwhile, with ABL stats falling away, New York Liberty guard Cappie Pondexter moves into the Top 10 with a 100%; in fact, even without a ring, Pondexter would remain at 99%.

So that gives us nine players with six spots left to fill.

3. Comparing the All-Decade List and HOF probability list

There are three remaining players at 90%+ probability:

  • Sue Bird, G, Seattle Storm (99%)
  • Becky Hammon, G, San Antonio Silver Stars (96%)
  • Chamique Holdsclaw, F, (1999-2007, 2009-2010) (92%)

Both Bird made the 2006 All-Decade list and Holdsclaw was honorable mention so they probably deserve two of the spots in the Top 15.

Hammon probably deserves an extra nod for the intangible: how many players can claim a bigger fan following than her? If "contributions to...the overall growth of women's basketball" is a criteria for this award, then Hammon almost has to be on this list as one of the game's most iconic figures in addition to everything she's accomplished on the court.

12 down, 3 to go.

3. The next tier and a couple of potential "snubs"

The following are the next five players in the HOF predictor before a significant dropoff:

Deanna Nolan, G, 2001-2009 88%
Janeth Arcain, 1997-2003, 2005 87%
Swin Cash, F, Seattle Storm 87%
Andrea Stinson, G 1997-2005 82%
Katie Smith, G, Seattle Storm 64%

 

For now, we'll set aside arguments about whether Arcain and Stinson should be among the Top 30 nominees - it works out pretty well for one Katie Smith, making a place for one of women's basketball's greatest players.

4. An early Top 15 list

So, if you accept James' HOF calculator as a valid means of selecting this Top 15 - and even that is probably worthy of debate - the following would be the WNBA's Top 15 Players of All Time (alphabetical order):

Sue Bird, G, Seattle Storm
Swin Cash, F, Seattle Storm
Tamika Catchings, F, Indiana Fever
Cynthia Cooper, G (1997-2000, 2003)
Yolanda Griffith, C (1999-2009)
Becky Hammon, G, San Antonio Silver Stars
Chamique Holdsclaw, F, (1999-2007, 2009-2010)
Lauren Jackson, C, Seattle Storm
Lisa Leslie, C (1997-2006, 2008-2009)
Deanna Nolan, G, (2001-2009)
Cappie Pondexter, G, New York Liberty
Katie Smith, G, Seattle Storm
Sheryl Swoopes, G, Tulsa Shock
Diana Taurasi, G, Phoenix Mercury
Tina Thompson, F, Los Angeles Sparks

5. Notable omissions

Just going off the 2006 All-Decade list, we'd come up with a few omissions

  • Ruthie Bolton
  • Ticha Penicheiro 
  • Dawn Staley
  • Teresa Weatherspoon

Penicheiro is widely considered as among the best point guards ever to play the game of basketball. Dawn Staley: baller. Bolton Weatherspoon was one of the league's original players and was the central figure of one of the league's most memorable moments. Bolton was among the most impressive scorers ever to play in the league.

What's noticeable about all of those players? Three are point guards whose leadership cannot be quantified.

Then we have a couple of younger players who obviously have bright futures, but didn't have enough games to qualify for the calculator:

  • Seimone Augustus, G, Minnesota Lynx
  • Candace Parker, F, Los Angeles Sparks

Comparing her to the list above, Augustus is among the best mid-range shooters in the league, but has only played two full seasons and never seen the playoffs.

Parker is clearly among the top 5 talents in the league right now - some would argue the best - and won a MVP, which in a league that's only been around for 15 years is significant.  We can be almost certain that she'll be a perennial MVP candidate. If one were to start a team tomorrow, a player as versatile as Candace Parker wouldn't be a terrible foundational piece. She's one of only two people to dunk.

But similar to Augustus, Parker only come close to playing a full season in her rookie year and has yet to make it to the WNBA Finals. As talented as she is - and as much as she has meant for the game in terms of mainstream attention - other players have accomplished more at this point.

All the calculator wants to know is that you have enough games to get in.

And so the debate remains unsettled.

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