On Sunday, the Atlanta Dream will take on the Connecticut Sun in Uncasville. Obviously, I'm very interested in that game - it starts the final major road push for the Dream and Connecticut will want revenge against Atlanta for beating them in Philips Arena on Friday night. However, I'm more interested in another game - the Los Angeles Sparks come to Tulsa on Sunday night at 7 pm.
That game will not be televised, and more's the pity. It's the second game of a back-to-back for the Sparks, but Tulsa is 1-22 going in. The Shock have lost seventeen straight games, and one more loss will give the Shock the record for the most consecutive losses by any team in WNBA history.
There doesn't seem to be much chatter about this dubious milestone. The Atlanta Dream started the 2008 season 0-17, but no one expected the Dream to be very good in their first season. (Of course, no one expected them to be so bad, either.) My impression was that there was a sort of odd fascination with the streak in 2008, which was broken with back-to-back wins, first against Chicago at Philips Arena and then a road win against Minnesota at the Target Center. After that, they just became another bad team, and the next year the Dream got Sancho Lyttle, Angel Montgomery and Chamique Holdsclaw. The 2008 season was consigned to the past in the middle of 2009.
Even if Tulsa loses again to make it eighteen straight, the Dream will still hold the record for worst start to a WNBA season. But how bad are the Tulsa Shock? Are they really worse than the 2008 Atlanta Dream? I'd like to think that the 2008 Dream hold a special place in WNBA history - even a dubious one - and I'd had to see that spot usurped by the Shock, even if some of the players on the Shock (Jen Lacy, Ivory Latta, Betty Lennox) were mainstays on that former 2008 Atlanta team.
I therefore decided to answer the question: 2008 Dream vs. 2011 Shock? Which is worse?
Part One: The streak itself
I compared the two 17-game losing streaks with each other. The average margin of loss for Atlanta during this horrible run was 12.8 points. However, the margin of loss for the Shock was 16.3. The standard deviation of points for the Dream was 7.57 and for the Shock the standard deviation was 10.47.
This meant that there is a bigger "spread" of points around the Shock losses than there is about the Dream losses. The Shock has had three losses of 30 points or more during the streak, the worst a 102-63 drubbing at the hands of the Phoenix Mercury. The Dream, however, only had one 30+ point loss, a 100-67 opening day loss on the road at Connecticut, and during the streak the next-worst margin of loss would be 21 points.
What about coaching? Marynell Meadors was the WNBA Coach of the Year in 2009, based on the turnaround from the previous year. There were only three games where the Dream finished within six points of its opponent, and most fans agree that there wasn't much for Meadors to work with in the roster.
The loss streak didn't cost Nolan Richardson his job - he left the Shock after a 1-10 start and a 7-38 lifetime WNBA coaching record. But he didn't have much to work with, either. Many of the former Detroit Shock players refused to come to Tulsa for one reason or another, and it was clear that Richardson was no evaluator of WNBA talent. Richardson was much like the Bourbon kings of France, about which was said that they never forgot anything but never learned anything, either, and Richardson seemed to be stuck in his glory days of the 1980s.
Richardson, however is responsible for only four of those losses; the other 13 belong to Teresa Edwards. Edwards's numbers are actually worse than Richardson's - if you take the five games away that Richardson coached the Shock have lost by a margin of 16.8 points.
My conclusion: the 17-game loss streak by the Shock is worse than that of the one by the Dream.
Part two: The place of each team among the all time (low-finishing) greats
Here is my list of the ten worst WNBA teams in history, as ranked by standard deviation of wins:
|2||2004||San Antonio Silver Stars||-2.177|
|9||2005||San Antonio Silver Stars||-1.715|
If you don't count Saturday's games, the Shock would have a standard deviation of wins of -2.691, which would make them the worst WNBA team of all time. Note that last year's Shock was the fifth worst team of all time. The Shock are not only threatening to set a record for futility in 2011, but might be the worst WNBA team over a two-year span.
Fewest wins over a two-year span
|4||San Antonio Silver Stars||16||2004-05|
Note that those first three teams played schedules less than 34 games long. From 2010-11 the Tulsa Shock have had seven wins (so far). Tulsa would have to go 8-3 over its next eleven games just to avoid tying those awful 20th-century Utah and Washington teams. I don't see that happening.
My conclusion: this part of the historical record supports that hypothesis that the 2011 Shock are worse than the 2008 Dream.
Part three: mano y mano
Using the simulation method I've used before, I decided to simulate 25 games between the 2008 Atlanta Dream and the 2011 Tulsa Shock to see how many times each team would win on a neutral court. Once again, the idea is simple. Both teams have the same number of possessions, and each possession only ends in one of four outcomes - zero, one, two or three points scored.
Out of the 25 games simulated, the 2008 Dream won 13 of those games - the 2011 Tulsa Shock won 12. Both teams are pretty bad, but Atlanta was less bad. The biggest Atlanta win was a 102-53 whalloping of the Shock. The biggest Shock win was an 80-62 win over the Dream.
I can't imagine the 2008 Dream beating anyone by 49 points. That's how bad the 2011 Tulsa Shock is.
So I concede. Game, set, and match. The 2011 Tulsa Shock look like the worst WNBA team of all time. As for those 2008 Atlanta Dream fans out there...sorry, but you're only second best. The Shock has beaten you again. They are indeed the worst of the worst.