Durability: WNBA Players and Career Games Started

I decided to take a look at the an often-overlooked statistic: "games started". Instead of looking at which players in WNBA history have started the most games, I decided to look at start percentage.

Were there players who have started every game they have played? To me, this was an interesting stat because the mythical lifespan of players moves from rookie working her way off the bench to starter to returning to the bench in old age. This magical graph of start percentage per season would look like a parabola, or a hill. I was more interested in players whose graph was a plateau - players who started at the top of the hill and stayed there.

Top Ten Career Start Percentages, WNBA History (Minimum 100 Games)

1. Sue Bird (2002- SEA) - 324 per 324 games (1.000)
2. Lauren Jackson (2001- SEA) - 308 per 308 games (1.000)
3. Diana Taurasi (2004- PHO) - 261 per 261 games (1.000)
4. Sophia Young (2006- SAS) - 200 per 200 games (1.000)
5. Cappie Pondexter (2006-09 PHO, 2010- NYL) - 197 per 197 games (1.000)
6. Cheryl Ford (2003-09 DET) - 196 per 196 games (1.000)
7. Vicky Bullett (1997-99 CHA, 2000-02 WAS) - 186 per 186 games (1.000)
8. Seimone Augustus (2006- MIN) - 164 per 164 games (1.000)
9. Cynthia Cooper (1997-2000, 2003 HOU) - 124 per 124 games (1.000)
10. Lindsey Whalen (2004-09 CON, 2010- MIN) - 263 per 264 games (0.996)

Whalen missed one game in her first season. She must be kicking herself.

But as you can see, the above list could be someone's short list for Hall of Fame candidates. Clearly, these are all great players. There are two teams - Seattle and Minnesota - that have two of the players on this list on their current roster.

Okay, there are some players who are just great. But let's go back to our example. What about the players in the middle of this list? What kind of players are there who have played 100 games and have a starting percentage of approximately 50 percent?

Middle of the Pack Career Start Percentages, WNBA History (Minimum 100 Games)

1. Tamera Young (2008-09 ATL, 2009- CHI) - 62 per 119 games (0.521)
2. Essence Carson (2008- NYL) - 69 per 134 games (.515)
3. DeMya Walker - (2000-02 POR, 2003-09 SAC, 2010-11 CON, 2011 WAS) - 154 per 302 games (.510)
4. Erin Phillips (2006, 2008-09 CON, 2011 IND) - 53 per 105 games (.505)
5. Brooke Wyckoff (2001-02 ORL, 2003, 2005 CON, 2006-09 CHI) - 121 per 242 games (.500)
6. Vanessa Nygaard (1999 CLE, 2000-01 POR, 2002 MIA, 2003 LAS) - 53 per 107 games (.495)
7. LaToya Thomas (2003 CLE, 2004-06 SAS, 2007-LAS, 2008 DET, 2008 MIN) - 74 per 150 games (.493)
8. Janell Burse (2001-03 MIN, 2004-07, 2009 SEA) - 114 per 233 games (.489)
9. Chantel Tremitiere (1997 SAC, 1998-99 UTA, 2000 IND) - 49 per 101 games (.485)
10. Mery Andrade - (2000-02 CLE, 2004 CHA) - 67 per 140 games (.485)

DeMya Walker will be with her fifth team this year, the New York Liberty. Young is best described as a "mixed/utility" player. Only three of these players are on a WNBA roster, although Erin Phillips was on a team that was a WNBA Finals contender last year.

So what about the players with 100 games that have the fewest number of starts?

Bottom Ten Career Start Percentages, WNBA History (Minimum 100 Games)

1. Laurie Koehn (2005-08 WAS) - 0 per 120 games (0.00)
2. Tricia Bader-Binford (1998-99 UTA, 1999-2002 CLE) - 0 per 100 games (0.00)
3. Nicky McCrimmon (2000-03 LAS) - 1 per 125 games (0.01)
4. Sandora Irvin (2005-06 PHO, 2007-08 SAS, 2010 CHI, 2011 ATL) - 2 per 111 games (0.02)
5. Jamie Carey (2005-08 CON) - 3 per 105 games (0.03)
6. Kisha Ford (1997-98 NYL, 1999 ORL, 2000-01 MIA) - 4 per 124 games (0.03)
7. K. B. Sharp (2003-04 NYL, 2006-07 IND, 2008-09 CHI) - 6 per 178 games (0.03)
8. Shay Murphy (2007-08 MIN, 2008 DET, 2008 WAS, 2009-10 IND, 2010-11 CHI) - 4 per 109 games (0.04)
9. Kelly Mazzante (2004-06 CHA, 2007-09 PHO, 2011 ATL) - 9 per 200 games (0.05)
10. Kristin Haynie (2005-07 SAC, 2008 ATL, 2009 DET, 2009 SAC) - 8 per 160 games (0.05)

Murphy is still with the Chicago Sky. The rest are pretty what you'd expect, even though Sandora Irvin and Kelly Mazzante both saw time on a roster last year. Haynie's start count might be smaller if she didn't spend a full season in Atlanta.

Nicky McCrimmon was on the first season of American Idol - I might be wrong about that, though.

Murphy should be known as "Ms. WNBA" - America's Guest. She's worn five uniforms with WNBA teams, and with three teams in the same year (2008).

Two factors I noticed: players either had blocks of time with one team (Koehn, McCrimmon, Carey) - this suggests that their coaches liked them as bench warmers as long as they could pay them rookie salaries, but no one wanted to pay them for realsies. Other players (Bader-Binford, Ford) had the advantage (?) of playing either in the expansion era or with awful teams that couldn't be choosy.

It just goes to show you that you can make WNBA history - whether you start every game, carry Gatorade and towels on the bench, or, well, just be somewhere in the middle.

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