2011 WNBA Sixth Woman Of The Year Award: The Top Six Candidates

If Atlanta Dream guard Armintie Price had come off of the bench for a few more games this season, I would argue that she would make the 2011 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year (SWoY) a lot more interesting.

Few players have done more to spark their team as a reserve than Price. She's her teams most efficient scorer (55.67% true shooting percentage) and gets to the line at one of the highest rates in the league, both of which are of great value for a team that has been outshot by opponents for most of the season despite making their run lately. And of course, she is invaluable defensively, which would arguably be the crux of the argument for her getting the award.

But the key requirement for the SWoY award is that a player must have played more games as a reserve than as a starter. With all the injuries the Dream have had this year, Price misses that standard by just a few games since moving into the starting lineup seemingly permanently at the same time Atlanta went on a streak of winning 8 of 10 games (which is no coincidence).

Yet unlike the MVP field which is somewhat wide open, even if Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings remains the front-runner for sentimental and statistical reasons, the SWoY field was relatively narrow to begin with and Price's absence just makes it narrower.

And, depending on what you value off the bench, the field might also render a familiar outcome.

What makes a Sixth Woman of the Year?

There are a few ways to look at the criteria for the SWoY award and all of them are represented pretty well in this year's field of candidates:

  • The best player off the bench: This would be simply the most productive player off the bench, determined by some standard.
  • The largest contribution to the team's overall production off the bench: As opposed to the previous standard, this would be the player that contributes the largest percentage of the team's overall production, which is sometimes different than being "the best".
  • Best at filling a specific role off the bench: On certain teams, a bench player might come off the bench to fill a specific role that is vital to the team (e.g. what Price offers in terms of energy and defense). That could be considered just as valuable as either of the above. I'd argue that the intangible of versatility - filling multiple roles off the bench or giving the coach lineup flexibility - also figures into this.
  • Most "valuable" player off the bench: This would be some combination of the above in terms of determining which player is least replaceable off the bench and contributes most to the success of her team.

I'm partial to the latter definition in general, but there are players out there who meet the other criteria quite convincingly. Price is a strong candidate on a few of those fronts, which is why she might be my choice had she come off the bench more often.

But that's a moot point.

After watching games and statistics since the last SWoY post drawing upon the same framework outlined earlier in the season, there are six players that stand out quite clearly above the others as the season nears its end.

The Top Six Candidates For Sixth Woman of the Year

Player Team Mins MEV% MVP PER Team Facs Contribution
1. DeWanna Bonner Phx 24.5 15.17 7.38 20.19 1.36 DReb%, defense, tov%
2. Essence Carson NYL 22.8 11.73% 6.64 18.74 0.96 Defense
3. Jessica Davenport Ind 21.2 13.41% 7.37 21.76 1.04 Best rebounding percentage on team
4. Kara Lawson Conn 25.5 13.59% 7.1 18.33 1.04 Most efficient scorer on team
5. Danielle Robinson S.A. 22.8 11.75% 6.16 14.82 0.62 Best ball handling efficiency, FT rate on team
6. Danielle Adams S.A. 21.1 7.8% 4.13 20.47 0.87 Rebounding, scoring

Statistics for the top six 2011 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year candidates. Click here for explanations.

Explanations:

6. Danielle Adams, F, San Antonio Silver Stars

It might be hard to know exactly what to do with Adams this year - for this award or rookie awards - given her injury. She was nothing short of outstanding in the first 15 games of her season prior to injury. Since returning from injury though, she's averaging less than half as many points (7.4) as she was in June (15.9) primarily because her field goal percentage (27.5%) is just over half of what it was in June (51.1%). Overall, her numbers have just progressively declined independent of injury.

This is not at all someone hitting a rookie wall; unfortunately, perhaps similar to the Tulsa Shock's Kayla Pedersen, this is more likely a rookie who has had little rest over the last year or so hitting physical barriers. Adams deserves consideration for post-season awards because few players in the league - bench, rookie, or otherwise - have been better than her this year. But to give her this award would essentially be rewarding her for half a season of production, which is just hard to do given the other candidates.

5. Danielle Robinson, G, San Antonio Silver Stars

The Silver Stars arguably have three candidates in Adams, Robinson, and veteran Jia Perkins, but with Adams' injury, Robinson stands out as their top reserve by a slim margin.

Statistically, she's a very efficient team's most efficient ball handler (3.58 PPR) as well as having the highest free throw rate (44.86% free throw rate) on a team that tends to get to the line less often that opponents. And that speaks to what might be the greatest asset she's brought to San Antonio as a rookie: blinding speed.

Robinson, similar perhaps to what Price brings to the Dream, has been a change of pace off the bench for the Silver Stars to match what fellow Big 12 rookie Adams brought as a scorer. Nobody is going to catch Robinson in the open floor and she has been surprisingly adept at using her speed with the ball in her hands in half court sets as well. For a team that tends to lose ground more than most when they get stagnant, Robinson has been a big help off the bench, in some ways that aren't well-measured statistically.

"Value added" is a metric that simply subtracts points from a player's MEV; it's the answer to the question, "How much is this player helping their team if they aren't scoring points?" It's certainly debatable how much that matters, but one thing to count on is that Robinson doesn't necessarily "disappear" (1.30 value added), if only because her quickness does make a difference defensively and makes her a pretty solid offensive rebounder for a point guard (3.8% offensive rebounding percentage).

The fact that she's moved up in the rotation is, in a sense, confirmation of how much she's brought to the team as a rookie.

4. Kara Lawson, G, Connecticut Sun

Lawson has the second largest percentage of valuable contributions (PVC) of any reserve in the league and that alone makes her a strong candidate for the SWOY award. Strengthening her argument is the fact that she is not only the most efficient scorer on her team (61.58% true shooting percentage) but also one of the most efficient guards in the league, which is particularly valuable for a team that has been less efficient at scoring than their opponents this season. She is also the most efficient ball handler on the Sun (2.69 pure point rating). All of that is not to mention whatever intangibles she brings the team as one of its elder stateswomen.

All of that adds up to the Sun being 15-8 with her coming off the bench as opposed to 4-4 with her as a starter. There are obviously two ways to read that, but in terms of SWOY voting, it makes her a solid candidate.

Lawson has a pretty strong claim for this award.

3. Jessica Davenport, C, Indiana Fever

Davenport's numbers have gone down as her minutes have decreased, but is still undeniably among the top candidates for this award by most any standard. The rebounding she offers the team (team-high 13.91% total rebounding percentage) is particularly valuable for a team that has found itself beaten by opponents on the offensive boards for the season.

But obviously John Hollinger's PER likes Davenport a lot and part of that is because PER favors players that create scoring opportunities. The limitations of PER have been detailed at length elsewhere (here, here, and here) and my personal basketball observations match the critiques - that it overrates per minute shot creation (it should also be noted that I don't believe there's any one magic cure-all metric, which is the reason for dabbling). The key, particularly in this discussion of SWOY, is that a player's contribution doesn't mean the same thing in all situations, although some numbers are generally more valuable than others (e.g. shooting efficiency vs. free throw rate).

Davenport, perhaps moreso than Adams, might be the case study with which to look at PER in the WNBA - PER rates Davenport (21.76) above teammate Katie Douglas (18.62), which I would think there is some room for debate on. A large part of that is that she has the highest usage rate on the Fever (24.95%) and scores efficiently for an interior player (56.31% true shooting percentage).

All of that said, Davenport does have a strong argument for this award and PER might best match the public perception of her contributions to the Fever off the bench that will get her votes.

2. Essence Carson, G, New York Liberty

Carson is an All-Star and for good reason this year, although she hasn't been the most consistent player game to game - as Queenie wrote yesterday, "she always seems to show up late, which is a good thing in close games."

But if you follow the Storm, you know how important her late appearances have been - Carson won the game in New York with outstanding defense on MVP candidate Sue Bird and nearly won the game in Seattle with a steal and missed layup, that was arguably a blown call by the ref.

For whatever other improvements she's made, Carson's biggest contribution to this team and their aggressive defensive style is that she's a lockdown defender. That, and her ability to create shots for herself on a team that can get stagnant, are difficult to quantify.

1. DeWanna Bonner, F, Phoenix Mercury

It's almost unfair to have a player like Bonner sitting on your bench. And in continuing to extend her range and improve her free throw percentage (91.1%, third in the league), she's only become more dangerous this year than in her two previous years.

But setting aside her individual improvement, what makes Bonner such a strong candidate for this award - and so dangerous off the bench - is her versatility. For a team that sometimes struggles on the boards, she's their best defensive rebounder (22.67%). For a team that has definitely struggled with turnovers at times - particularly after the All-Star break - she has the lowest turnover percentage of any player in the Mercury's rotation (7.44%) despite becoming a bit more perimeter-oriented this year. The intangible she brings though is that she can defend so many different players on the floor from point guards to the likes of Candace Parker.

The sum total of all of that gives coach Corey Gaines ample combinations to play with and makes a team whose system is predicated on keeping opponents off-balance one more dynamic weapon. Not that one stat is everything, but all of that explains why Bonner contributes a higher percentage of her team's production than any player in the league.

Related links:

Sixth Woman of the Year rankings as of 7/12/11

Sixth Woman of the Year rankings as of 6/21/11

Swish Appeal statistics glossary

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