2012 WNBA Free Agency: Quality Contributors Still Available Among Remaining Restricted Free Agents

The Washington Mystics made a significant free agent move in re-signing restricted free agent Crystal Langhorne (#1) last week, but that sets up a difficult decision about fellow restricted free agent Nicky Anosike. Photo via SBN Arizona.

The Washington Mystics' most significant move thus far this off-season was re-signing restricted free agent Crystal Langhorne, a two-time all-star and arguably the team's most valuable player over the past two years.

However, the signing also leaves the team with a bit of a predicament in terms of what to do with their other free agent: Nicky Anosike.

The Mystics now have five interior-oriented players signed (Langhorne, Kerri Gardin, Laura Harper, Ashley Robinson, and Michelle Snow) after the Langhorne signing, which definitely makes it seem unlikely that they would re-sign her to their 11-player roster as well.

And that's rather unfortunate in terms of their rebuilding process given that they just acquired Anosike from the Minnesota Lynx last off-season in exchange for their 2012 WNBA draft pick, which ended up being the third pick overall. Surely they won't let Anosike walk - thus essentially throwing away a lottery pick for nothing after missing the playoffs last season - but the question is how much value might Anosike have on the market? And what is the likelihood of her leaving as a RFA?

The Restrictiveness of Restricted Free Agency

Since a player's "current" team can match any contract offer for a restricted free agent, the reality is that restricted free agents have rarely been signed by another team since 2008 (the last time the WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement was updated). Only three of those might be what you'd call significant contributors to their teams (15+ minutes per game):

  • Le'coe Willingham (2008)
  • Roneeka Hodges (2009)

Yet while restricted free agency hasn't necessarily been where WNBA teams have found game-changers in the last four years, what happens far more often for significant restricted free agents is that they get traded (e.g. Candice Dupree, Lindsey Harding, Temeka Johnson, and Cappie Pondexter) and really do make an impact on their teams.

Anosike is a clear candidate to get moved in a trade to a potential suitor because of the Mystics' roster situation and the fact that it would be to the Mystics' benefit to work with her to find a sign and trade rather letting her walk for nothing. And that makes a look at Anosike's value particularly interesting.

The Statistics:

Click here to see descriptions of the statistics used below from the analysis of unrestricted free agents. PER and other advanced statistics can be found at Basketball-Reference.com. All players listed in order of their ValPct.

Elite

NAME TEAM G MPG ValPct RAPM WARP VCR Status?
Fowles, Sylvia Chi. 34 34.56 0.31 2.90 8.70 1.81
Parker, Candace L.A. 17 32.63 0.14 5.50 4.50 1.74

As with the elite unrestricted free agents, it would seem highly unlikely that either of these two players would be relocating as they are unquestionably foundational players to their franchises. Also of note: Fowles' VCR of 1.81 was a league-high last season. She can ball.

All-Star Caliber

NAME TEAM G MPG ValPct RAPM WARP VCR Status?
Langhorne, Crystal Was. 31 34.28 0.25 -0.70 3.50 1.59 Re-signed

As much as re-signing Langhorne immediately seemed like a good decision, Langhore's negative 4-year RAPM is interesting. The immediate reaction might be to assume that it's just the result of her steadily improving and the first two years of those four years "dragging down" her total. But given that her minutes on the court have increased, that's not necessarily the case and in fact she had the exact same RAPM for the 2011 season. What's really hurting Langhorne's numbers is the defensive end: her defensive RAPM of -0.9 last season was worse than her 4-year D-RAPM (-0.7).

Of course, that helps to make sense of their signings: like the acquisition of Anosike last season, the bigs they've signed are all more defensive than offensive players, with Robinson and Snow being the shot blockers that Langhorne typically hasn't been.

Valuable Contributors

NAME TEAM G MPG ValPct RAPM WARP VCR Status?
Ajavon, Matee
Was. 34 31.31 0.16 2.40 0.80 1.03
Anosike, Nicky
Was. 34 27.16 0.16 -1.10 0.70 1.17
Carson, Essence N.Y. 32 22.64 0.13 2.10 2.90 1.19
Price, Armintie Atl. 34 23.43 0.13 1.60 1.70 1.11
Bales, Alison Atl. 34 20.20 0.11 3.20 1.70 1.06
Phillips, Erin Ind. 31 22.24 0.11 -0.20 2.10 1.04 Re-signed

  • Anosike: Anosike's 4-year RAPM is either proof that statistics do a poor job of measuring defense or that some of the risks she takes defensively in going for blocks or steals puts her teammates in vulnerable positions. Either way, a lot of what's pulling her RAPM - and likely her PER and WARP - down is her extremely low scoring efficiency for a post player in 2011 (a career-low 44.4% true shooting percentage). Part of that might be attributed to shot selection (e.g. taking more rushed or contested shots on a team that had some serious offensive struggles) but her field goal percentage by distance still suggests that her shooting patterns didn't change that much last season - she just wasn't making them.

    Despite her defensive prowess, her down year offensively makes her value unclear - a player's fit with a team is always important, but her value might vary more than average because a team that takes her would almost have to be set offensively to make it worth signing such an inefficient offensive player.
  • Matee Ajavon: Ajavon is often derided for her aggressive shooting tendencies, but to her credit she had the most efficient scoring efficiency of her career in 2011 (career-high 49.4% true shooting percentage) despite getting more than double the minutes she got in 2010. That alone is impressive, but so was her career-high assist rate. If Ajavon shows continued improvement - particularly playing with Monique Currie, who was out for the season due to injury last season - re-signing her would be well worth it. The other question the Mystics would have to ask themselves is without a draft pick, would they be able to find a better player via trade or free agency?
  • Essence Carson: Assuming that Fowles and Parker stay put, Carson is quite clearly the most valuable remaining free agent on the market, restricted or unrestricted. She was a clear candidate for Most Improved Player last season as well as the Sixth Woman of the Year award. Perhaps most importantly, her VCR suggests that she could continue improving and quite easily be expected to continue performing at the level she did in 2011 if she got more than the 22 minutes per game she got last year. And what made Carson so much better last season should be obvious: her offensive numbers improved dramatically across the board, as she became a more efficient scorer with an increased usage percentage which is no small accomplishment.
  • Alison Bales: Looking at the numbers alone, Bales is arguably the best post player available after the elites and a large reason for that is her defensive numbers. Her 4-year D-RAPM is 2.4, an impressive rating; having the top block percentage in the league and a top-10 defensive rebounding percentage in 2011 would further reinforce her defensive value on paper. What makes Bales so hard to judge defensively is that while she takes up space defensively - and can clearly block or alter shots - she's also not the fleetest of foot, which could lead to slower rotations. Again, Bales' defensive value to a team might be more dependent on who's around her than an objective assessment of her ability.

Rotation Players

NAME TEAM G MPG ValPct RAPM WARP VCR Status?
Mitchell, Leilani N.Y. 34 25.41 0.10 0.80 1.30 0.78 Re-signed
Young, Tamera Chi. 33 23.99 0.09 0.90 -1.60 0.77
Holt, Amber Tul. 26 25.60 0.07 1.90 -1.40 0.74
Wiggins, Candice Min. 34 17.12 0.06 2.10 1.40 0.68 Re-signed
Gardin, Kerri Was. 28 13.98 0.04 1.00 -0.80 0.69 Re-signed

  • Amber Holt: Holt is one of the more intriguing players on this list because although her numbers for the season weren't at all impressive, her numbers improved dramatically about a month and a half after Nolan Richardson resigned as coach of the Tulsa Shock last July. And it's little coincidence that her improvement coincided with two of the Shock's three wins late in the season. What was actually most impressive about her game was her passing ability from the wing, which is probably the most under-appreciated aspect of her skillset. Although she got her season-high 7 assists twice late in the season, she finished with a pure point rating of 1.10 - not bad for a wing at all. It would be perfectly reasonable to suggest that the chaos in Tulsa - constant roster turnover, changing lineups, coaching change - affected Holt's performance as much as anything else because it affected where she played on the court.
  • Tamera Young: Young is another player that could easily be in the conversation for being one of the league's top perimeter defenders on the second strongest defensive team in the Eastern Conference. However, while she's an improving offensive player, she's still not a terribly efficient scorer and if the Chicago Sky are to build around Sylvia Fowles it would make sense to have an additional 3-point shooter on the wing.

    Of course, the Sky have already gone that direction in acquiring Swin Cash and Le'coe Willingham from the Seattle Storm, both of whom shot over 40% in 2010 despite shooting under 30% last season, which is still better than Young (14.3% on 1-for-7 3-point shooting). Either way, having already lost Catherine Kraayeveld (40.9%) and Erin Thorn (39.5%), 3-point shooting could be a priority for the Sky that leaves Young available, particularly with the opportunity to add a pretty solid wing player through the draft. Or they could rely on their other shooters and keep Young around as an athletic defensive presence on the wing. But Young is a player that can contribute to a team in need of defense and athleticism.

Role Players

NAME TEAM G MPG ValPct RAPM WARP VCR Status?
Swanier, Ketia Pho. 29 14.81 0.03 -2.60 -0.90 0.46
Houston, Charde Min. 27 7.79 0.02 -2.40 -0.40 0.54
Hornbuckle, Alexis Min. 29 7.16 0.01 2.10 -0.60 0.36 Traded to Phoenix


  • Alexis Hornbuckle: Hornbuckle's value is pretty clear and perhaps the Phoenix Mercury's decision to go after her is indicative of a greater emphasis on the defensive end of the floor - the entirety of her RAPM value is defense.
  • Charde Houston: Houston's value isn't entirely clear as she played so infrequently for the Minnesota Lynx last season that it's hard to say what she'd contribute to a new team. One could easily speculate that the Lynx might be inclined to keep her just because that unit developed such amazing chemistry last season. Then again, Minnesota still has that third pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft courtesy of the Mystics which could make Houston expendable.
  • Ketia Swanier: Swanier had a less than efficient year for the Mercury (-1.39 pure point rating) so it's likely that she still has more value to the Mercury than any other team right now - after trading Temeka Johnson for Andrea Riley, they're without an efficient distributor or proven starter at point guard. They could definitely pick one up in the draft with the sixth pick or one of the unrestricted free agents, but it's something they'll have to address.

Unquantified

(Players who saw limited or no action last season due to injury or other absence)

NAME TEAM G MPG ValPct RAPM WARP VCR Status?
Murphy, Shay Chi. 10 20.51 0.04 -1.10 1.10 1.25 Re-signed
Quigley, Allie Sea. 7 2.04 0.00 -0.40 0.10 1.04
Mims (Bass), Mistie
Chi.

N/A

#DIV/0!

N/A

2.00 n/a

N/A

Signed with Connecticut

Zolman (Crossley), Shanna
Tul. N/A #DIV/0!

N/A

-4.50 n/a

N/A

N/A

Ivanyi, Dalma
Atl.

N/A

#DIV/0!

N/A

N/A

n/a

N/A

N/A

Lawson-Wade, Edwige
S.A.

N/A

#DIV/0!

N/A

-5.10 n/a

N/A

N/A

  • Shanna Zolman: Zolman is a career 40.8% shooter that proved with the Shock in 2010 that she can handle the ball in stretches as a lead ball handler.
  • Edwige Lawson-Wade: There are going to be a few teams in the market for point guards this year, either as backups or starters and Lawson-Wade could be a potential solution. Although she didn't play last season, she had pure point ratings of 3.63 and 2.43 in 2009 and 2010, respectively, for the San Antonio Silver Stars. That makes her the most efficient distributor in free agency not named Ticha Penicheiro.
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