2012 WNBA Rookie Watch: Sorting Out The Early Performances Of The Top Rookies

Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike didn't get quite the mainstream media hype as some other college stars in recent years, but she is off to a great start in the WNBA. Photo by Marilyn Indahl-US PRESSWIRE.

Tracking the development of rookies is probably one of my favorite things to do because I find the transition from college to the pros - and particularly what skills and statistics transfer well - fascinating.

But the 2012 rookie class presents an interesting challenge in trying to assess their progress: after the top three players, every other player had a glaring flaw that makes it hard to really determine a clear hierarchy. So for now, I'll just lay out a few statistical observations and things to watch as the season progresses.

Rookie Ranking Framework

The logic for using the stats in the table below for rookies has already been described here, but a quick rundown of how to read them.

  • Minutes & Valuable Contributions Ratio VCR: With the exception of rookies who are elite talents or step into situations where they fill a glaring need, most WNBA rookies get inconsistent if not limited minutes in their rookie seasons. As such, their production might not match their talent over the course of a 34-game season (either inflating it by getting a lot of minutes on a bad team or minimizing it by getting limited minutes on a good team). In statistical language, VCR measures the percentage of a player's contribution to their relative to the minutes they received (for reference, league average is usually in the 0.75-0.85 range). In World of Warcraft language, it's effective damage per second (or minute). In plain language, VCR is just a measure of whether a player is making the most of their minutes.
  • Points per empty possession: This is one of the classic good things divided by bad things metric that is a pretty good proxy for scorer decision-making. It's useful for rookies for a similar reason that VCR is - it measures whether a player's contributions to scoring possessions outweighs the possessions they cost the team. It's most useful for point guards, but any player with a ratio of 2 or more is doing pretty well when they get the ball.
  • Two-point percentage: Put simply, players with low 2-point field goal percentages tend not to be very productive in the league, if they last at all. That is especially true of volume scoring guards, which is relevant to this season.
  • Value added: This is the same weighted metric underlying VCR absent points, meaning it's answering the question: What does this player contribute to their team when they're not scoring points? A negative value added rating therefore means a player is not adding much beyond scoring.
  • Marginal Victories Produced (MVP): This measures "value" in terms of how much credit an individual player deserves for a team's wins. How much does a player contribute to a team's success? The formula is the player's production divided by both a team's and opponents' overall production. So the performance of a player who contributes to a team that consistently outperforms their opponents will be considered more valuable than a player on a losing team.

So the following is just the top 15 rookies ordered by their MVP rating.

Name Team Position MPG VCR Pts/Empty 2p% Value Added MVP
Nneka Ogwumike L.A. Sparks F 26.44 1.83 3.49 59.52 3.24 11.01
Glory Johnson Tulsa Shock F 25.60 1.27 2.01 47.5 1.02 7.62
Samantha Prahalis Phoenix Mercury PG 30.78 1.00 1.03 46.8 0.24 6.61
Shenise Johnson San Antonio Silver Stars G-F 19.88 1.03 1.61 37.5 2.31 5.47
Riquna Williams Tulsa Shock G 18.56 1.41 1.46 29.5 -1.37 5.12
Aneika Henry *
Atlanta Dream F 19.70 0.92 2.05 54.76 2.07 4.7
Avery Warley *
Phoenix Mercury F 15.22 1.31 1.60 47.61 4.23 4.05
Devereaux Peters Minnesota Lynx F 11.64 1.05 2.50 61.11 0.87 3.89
Shekinna Stricklen Seattle Storm G-F 19.6 0.85 1.42 42.1 -1.47 3.45
Tiffany Hayes Atlanta Dream G 16.20 0.59 1.39 25 -0.95 2.46
Sasha Goodlett Indiana Fever C 9.67 1.14 1.99 38.88 1.46 2.25
Sonja Petrovic *
Chicago Sky F 13.80 0.57 1.41 70 -1.09 2.2
Natalie Novosel Washington Mystics G 8.80 0.83 2.94 66.66 -0.28 1.23
Lynetta Kizer Tulsa Shock (released) C 9.43 0.85 1.47 20 0.04 1.20
Ziomara Morrison *
San Antonio Silver Stars C 4.88 0.95 2.74 25 -0.03 1.18

Rookie statistics for the 2012 rookie class as of 6/17/12.
* = Player not selected in 2012 WNBA Draft.

Observations

  • Nneka Ogwumike is good at basketball. MVP discussion good. And at this point, her numbers suggest that we don't even know how good she'll become just yet. It's probably best to just sit back and enjoy what's unfolding in L.A.
  • Glory Johnson is second on this particular list because she's an efficient scorer who doesn't need a whole lot of shots to score and has an outstanding free throw rate of 86.88%, which means she has done an outstanding job of using her athleticism around the basket to earn herself trips to the line. She hasn't been quite as strong on the offensive boards as her college numbers might have suggested, but she has already proven that she can contribute at the WNBA level.
  • Samantha Prahalis has a pretty good argument for leap frogging Johnson for the #2 spot because of some statistics not listed above: her efficiency as a distributor. Prahalis leads the league in assists per game (5.9) right now, which is impressive on its own for a rookie. She also has a 30% assist ratio, which bodes well for future success and a pure point rating of 2.28, which isn't as good as Danielle Robinson this year (3.73) or at this point last season but really separates her from the rest of the pack in this year's class.
  • Shenise Johnson's numbers both reflect a slow start and the all-around game her college numbers suggested she might contribute: her offensive rebounding percentage of 10.64% is outstanding for a wing and a major contribution to a Silver Stars team that is struggling to compete on the boards (again). She's a player that should probably be expected to improve and she already has over the last two games: the Silver Stars seem to be finding their rhythm as their rotation is taking form and over the last games Johnson has scored 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting and 9 rebounds in 48 minutes.
  • Riquna Williams is an interesting case, whose highlight-worthy plays might disguise what really jumps out in her numbers. Williams' tendencies thus far rate her as a high-usage (29.88%) low-efficiency (40.30% true shooting percentage) pure scorer. To her credit, she leads the Shock in steals (an elite 6.8% steal percentage) and her athleticism allows her to get to the line well. But a 2-point percentage of 29.5% is not a positive sign for any player and especially not someone for whom the majority of their production comes from shooting and making shots.
  • Are undrafted Aneika Henry and Avery Warley really better than third pick Devereaux Peters? First, do note that they are contributing to their teams (MVP) almost equally, which is a credit to Peters given that she plays the least minutes of the trio. But Henry (18.85% defensive rebounding percentage) and Warley (18% offensive rebounding percentage) have proven to be outstanding rebounders, which helps each of them relative to Peters (14.83% defensive rebounding percentage and 13.75% offensive rebounding percentage). Essentially, these numbers are rewarding Henry and Warley for being low-usage rebounders - they're not generating many missed shots and making up for their lack of scoring with rebounds. The advantage Peters has is a strong assist ratio (12.19%) for a post player, which makes her more valuable to the Lynx than these numbers suggest. In summary, I doubt the Lynx are regretting the pick.
  • What's up with Shekinna Stricklen? What's hurting Stricklen most is that she too rates as a low efficiency (38.81% true shooting percentage) scorer who does a little bit of everything but hasn't done much exceptionally well. The positive thing - especially for the Storm - is that she has a low turnover ratio of 7.58% and has actually been a better defensive rebounder than Peters to this point (15.32% defensive rebounding percentage).
  • Sonja Petrovic is a player to watch. The one thing that is hurting her is an extremely high 31.25% turnover ratio. The thing is that 7 of her 10 turnovers came in her first two games; since her first game, she's averaged one per game in similar minutes. If she can continue to keep the turnovers down, her scoring efficiency alone will make her look better compared to this group of players.

For explanations of all of these statistics, visit the Swish Appeal statistics glossary.

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