Who were the biggest snubs from the 2012 All-WNBA teams?

Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Prior to Game Two of the WNBA Finals, the WNBA announced its 2012 All-WNBA teams. Naturally, the announcement of teams like this causes us to reflect on the season, wonder who the best players were, and then wonder, "Who was robbed snubbed?" The following is a look at a few potential snubs and the players whose slots they could possibly take.
For more on the 2012 WNBA Awards, check out our storystream on the sidebar to the right of this page.

All-WNBA selections, perhaps even moreso than MVP selections that are inextricably linked to the narrative arc of a player's and/or team's season, are a good example of that. There are clearly more than 10 players - or 2-4 at each position - in any given season who are worthy of recognition for their accomplishments over the course of a season.

The specific question we're answering in making All-WNBA selections should be clear: Who were the best WNBA players at each position in 2012?

What statistics can offer is some additional evidence to help us understand what separates one player from another in the very difficult process of sorting them into First-Team, Second-Team, and somewhere outside what we're designating as the top 10. And when the 2012 All-WNBA teams were announced, the first thing that jumped out at me was the ways in which the statistics were somewhat at odds with the voters this season.

For an example of what I mean by that, the table below simply lists the top players in the WNBA organized by the following:

Since a couple of the top statistical players missed games due to injury - which might have influenced the voting - I accommodated for that by listing the top 11 players by each metric. The highlighted players in the four columns on the right are players who were omitted from the All-WNBA Teams (with the exception of plus/minus in which I only highlighted those that appeared in the top 10 for another statistic.

2012 All-WNBA teams

PER

WARP

Plus/minus

MEV

Tina Charles

Fowles, Sylvia

Catchings, Tamika

Moore, Maya

Fowles, Sylvia

Candace Parker

Catchings, Tamika

Moore, Maya

Prince, Epiphanny

Parker, Candace

Tamika Catchings

McCoughtry, Angel

Parker, Candace

Ogwumike, Nneka

Catchings, Tamika

Cappie Pondexter

Parker, Candace

Lawson, Kara

Bird, Sue

McCoughtry, Angel

Maya Moore

Moore, Maya

Fowles, Syliva

McWilliams-Franklin, Taj

Young, Sophia

Seimone Augustus

Prince, Epiphanny

Charles, Tina

Hightower, Allison

Charles, Tina

Sylvia Fowles

Young, Sophia

Prince, Epiphanny

Lawson, Kara

Moore, Maya

Kristi Toliver

Ogwumike, Nneka

McCoughtry, Angel

Young, Sophia

Ogwumike, Nneka

Lindsay Whalen

Charles, Tina

Young, Sophia

Phillips, Erin

Prince, Epiphanny

Sophia Young

Adams, Danielle

Ogwumike, Nneka

Langhorne, Crystal

Lawson, Kara

Brunson, Rebekkah

Douglas, Katie

McCoughtry, Angel

Toliver, Kristi

What probably stands out is that a few of the top players statistically ended up going unrecognized for either the All-WNBA First- or Second-Team and some of the players who were actually selected to the team are nowhere to be found statistically. And while each of these metrics has their own biases - each weights different things as significant - the fact that there's some pretty strong agreement across the numbers is quite interesting.

Who were the potential snubs?

  • Angel McCoughtry, F, Atlanta Dream: pilight has commented on this site that this is not only the first time the WNBA scoring champ has been left off the All-WNBA Team, but also the first time that the scoring champ hasn't made the All-WNBA First-Team. In fact, you could actually take that a step further: for whatever it's worth, it's the first time that three of the top four scorers were left off the All-WNBA Teams. Usually, finishing among the top four in the league in scoring will earn a player All-WNBA recognition, especially a player who was on a playoff team (there were a few times when only two of the top four scorers made it). Some people - self-included - might argue that scoring average isn't a sound way to evaluate a player's value anyway, but nonetheless the point is that McCoughtry missing the 2012 All-WNBA Team stands out as a historical anomaly.

    Yet explaining what voters might have been thinking doesn't take all that much effort, regardless of whether you agree: being suspended from one's team probably doesn't strike everyone as the action of an All-WNBA player, statistics aside.
  • Epiphanny Prince, G, Chicago Sky: But what about Prince? Although she was fourth in scoring, she was more efficient than McCoughtry due to shooting over 40% from the 3-point line. And stats aside, she was involved in some of the most spectacular individual performances of the season, quite literally winning games for the Sky single-handedly at times. But the argument against her doesn't take too much effort to construct either: missing 8 games due to injury and being on a team that missed the playoffs likely worked against her. There's no question that she was one of the best guards in the league and her plus/minus backs up the fact that her team was much better when she was on the floor.
  • Kara Lawson, G, Connecticut Sun: Lawson had an outstanding season and as Pelton once described might have been the MVP of the Sun. Whereas the preceding two players might have been snubs with justification, it's not quite as clear why Lawson wasn't selected - the best explanation is probably that she got overlooked as someone who was playing with MVP Tina Charles and Sixth Woman of the Year Renee Montgomery, who shared point guard duties with her. Yet that's an entirely arbitrary way to select the league's top players: if voters didn't go for Lawson and McCoughtry (who is in the gray area of being listed as a guard/forward), Lawson almost has to be considered among the next best guards in the league by any standard.
  • Nneka Ogwumike, F, Los Angeles Sparks: Without digging too deeply into the numbers and just looking at the list above, there's a perfectly logical argument for why the 2012 Rookie of the Year didn't make the All-WNBA Team despite an impressive season: by almost all of the above standards, she's not one of the top four forwards. Since there is a positional requirement for All-WNBA teams, her omission could simply be described as a numbers game (the same would go for Danielle Adams or Rebekkah Brunson, based on the numbers above) as well as some debate as to where she even ranked on her own team. But there is an argument for her inclusion: only two forwards on this list were top three in plus/minus, which means her team was better when she was on the floor and on a rather poor defensive team the fact that she was a plus defender as a rookie is even more impressive.
  • Maya Moore, F, Minnesota Lynx: Obviously Moore made the Second Team so it's hard to say she's a snub, but should she have been a First-Team selection? That's not entirely clear based on the numbers above, but when you compare her plus/minus rating to the other forwards on the list she seems worthy of a top two selection. But good luck easily delineating between Moore, Tamika Catchings, and Candace Parker (who is listed as a forward but essentially started at center for the Sparks) - if anything, that trio alone makes the argument for relaxing the positional requirements for the All-WNBA teams.
  • Lindsay Whalen, F, Minnesota Lynx: As with Moore, she's not really a snub, but the issue is whether she should have been on the First Team. The statistics obviously don't even suggest that Whalen should be on the Second Team - one thing that should stand out to you is that none of these metrics look favorably upon players whose primary role is as a distributor. Still, Jayda Evans wrote earlier this year that the WNBA is a point guard's league and even if you don't agree with that a milder principle is difficult to deny: as both Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird and assistant coach Jenny Boucek both suggested in 2010 when Sue Bird was selected to the second team, point guards are invaluable to basketball teams and go a bit undervalued in these award selection processes because what they bring to the floor isn't easily quantifiable. Ultimately, there's little denying that the best point guards possess a skill set distinct from other guards and that should be evaluated on its own merit - if we're going to have votes by position, it's worth having acknowledging the unique contributions that point guards bring to the floor. And if you think a spot should be saved to acknowledge the best point guards of this season on the All-WNBA Teams - which voters could do at their discretion - my selections would be Whalen and Bird as the top two.

Which selections might we challenge?

Obviously, if there are snubs, that means that they should have replaced someone else on the list. Clearly, that doesn't mean that the players who made the team are bad players - the ten players selected are all talented, but the question is whether they had stronger arguments for spots than some of those left off.

  • Cappie Pondexter, G, New York Liberty: Nobody is going to question Pondexter's talent. Surely the argument for her being added to the All-WNBA first team was that she carried the Liberty for most of this season. To put that in perspective, she was about as responsible for the Liberty's success statistically as Catchings was for the Fever's success (24.6%). Nevertheless, it's also hard to ignore that the statistics suggest that a few other guards had better seasons, especially if you account for the unique contributions of point guards. What undoubtedly hurt Pondexter this year compared to her peers at the guard position was efficiency - she was a volume shooter who only shot 43.5% from the field, which isn't terrible but isn't outstanding either. And as for making the playoffs, they got plenty of help from the Chicago Sky.
  • Seimone Augustus, G, Minnesota Lynx: Augustus is a tough one - it's not clear to me that Augustus' 2012 statistics do her talent full justice. And I think the decision on her depends on what type of question you believe the All-WNBA team is supposed to answer. If you believe voters are supposed to answer, "Which two guards would you pick if you were starting a team today?" it's really difficult to pass on Augustus - the combination of her scoring efficiency and defensive ability just make it hard to ignore her. But if the question is, "Which two guards do you believe had the best seasons?" that complicates things a bit - as talented as Augustus is, her teammates are so talented even at her position that she simply doesn't have to do as much and that's what most of the numbers above reflect. In addition, Augustus doesn't have the gaudy numbers that some of the other guards above have making it easy to argue statistically that other guards had better seasons or more compelling individual narratives. So, where does that leave us? It really depends on how you define an All-WNBA player.
  • Kristi Toliver, G, Los Angeles Sparks: Toliver's selection pretty much comes down to how her season compared to Lawson. We've had that discussion a few times on this site, but suffice it to say that the statistics would seem to favor Lawson.

Who would have made your All-WNBA ballot? What do you think of the actual selections? Do you think positional requirements should be relaxed or eliminated?

Vote in the poll below and leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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