WNBA Midseason All-Rookie Teams: Who Are The Top Rookies After Nneka Ogwumike?

While Minnesota Lynx rookie Devereaux Peters is having a very productive learning year, undrafted rookie Avery Warley is making an impact on the boards. Photo by Greg Smith-US PRESSWIRE.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike is currently the unanimous favorite among WNBA coaches and GMs to win the 2012 WNBA Rookie of the Year, as reported by Kristofer Habbas of SB Nation Arizona yesterday.

To Habbas' point, Prahalis might deserve mention in the discussion because she is among the best rookie point guard in the past five years, which is no small feat given how difficult it has been for NCAA players to step into starting point guard roles in the WNBA over the last few years. But you'd really have to deny a lot of what you've observed to make an argument that anyone deserves the award more than Ogwumike - putting the impressive numbers aside, no rookie has dominated games quite like she has.

Nevertheless, while there probably isn't much reason to explain why Ogwumike deserves the ROY as the WNBA prepares to resume play during the Olympic break, the discussion about candidates for the All-Rookie Team is a bit more interesting.

The Rookie Ranking Framework

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

  • Minutes & Valuable Contributions Ratio VCR: 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 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.
  • 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 shooting 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 Top 15 Rookies At Midseason

The following is the list of the top 15 rookies ordered by VCR and including all the metrics described above.

Player

Team

Position

MPG

VCR

Pts/empty

2p%

Value Added

MVP

G Johnson

Shock

F

26.83

1.52

2.29

49.29

1.9

9.23

Ogwumike

Sparks

F

28.9

1.38

2.63

51.45

3.03

9.9

Goodlett

Fever

C

6.76

1.2

2.25

46.42

0.81

1.62

Kizer

Mercury/Shock

C

10.36

1.19

1.81

34.88

0.07

1.5

Clark (2010)

Storm

F

8.5

1.16

2.34

64.28

-0.11

1.19

Warley

Mercury

C

18.73

1.11

1.8

51.9

3.83

4.32

Williams

Shock

G

19.58

1.05

1.43

29.85

-3.23

4.31

Stricklen

Storm

G/F

19.52

1.04

1.75

44.77

-0.84

4.62

Player

Team

Position

MPG

VCR

Pts/empty

2p%

Value Added

MVP

Novosel

Mystics

G

9.2

1.02

1.78

42.3

-0.31

1.77

Peters

Lynx

F

12.56

1.01

2.19

55.17

0.85

3.27

Henry (2009)

Dream

F

24

0.99

2.21

50

2.54

6.04

Prahalis

Mercury

PG

31.89

0.95

1.44

40

-2.86

6.49

Hayes

Dream

G

20.78

0.91

1.98

41.89

-0.45

4.85

S Johnson

Silver Stars

G

18.05

0.9

1.59

38.02

1.64

4.57

Sykes

Sparks

G

9.7

0.84

1.97

43.33

-0.4

2.07

Statistics for the top 15 2012 WNBA rookies by VCR.
Draft year in parentheses for players not drafted in 2012.

And from there, we have enough to figure out some midseason All-Rookie teams.

Ok, ok - we'll move on to filling out the rest of the All-Rookie teams.

First Team All-Rookie

Nneka Ogwumike, F, L.A. Sparks | 1st overall

As impressive as Ogwumike's 14 points and , what's most impressive is the ease and efficiency with which she scores, turning the ball over on less than 10% of her possessions and making good use of her opportunities to score on a team that has its share of veteran scorers also using possessions.

Glory Johnson, F, Tulsa Shock | 4th overall

Glory Johnson – not Prahalis – might be Ogwumike's closest challenger for top rookie honors. She's a very efficient scorer (57.49% true shooting percentage) in large part because of her league-high free throw production rate of 58.45% - just as Ogwumike has figured out how to use her athleticism, basketball IQ, and strength to score in the post, Johnson has done the same in finding her way to the basket for free throws. The combination of scoring efficiency without costing the team too many missed shots and rebounding on both ends of the floor is what gives Johnson the highest rookie VCR in the league (and fifth overall in the league among players who have played all of their team's games). All of that makes her the Shock's statistical MVP for the first half of the season.

When you compare the combination of her statistics and team standing – and perhaps include her +15.5 plus/minus, also fifth overall in the league – to Ogwumike's, you could make an argument for her as Rookie of the Year. The problem as described by Full Court Press staff writer Bob Corwin, who also named Johnson an All-Star, is that, "Her team’s lack of success does hurt her chances toward top rookie honors given the difference to date in results of Los Angeles and Tulsa." Johnson is putting up great statistics on a bad team; the fact that Ogwumike is so productive on a team full of veterans and is still outperforming Johnson in multiple categories is impressive on its own.

Avery Warley, C, Phoenix Mercury | Undrafted

Warley might be the best story of this rookie class and by far the biggest surprise, if for no other reason because she was undrafted. She hasn't been all that involved in the Mercury's offense as a scorer and shot 37.5% from the field in the six July games before the break, but she is a gifted rebounder – she leads all rookies with an offensive rebounding percentage of 15.13%, which is only second in the league behind Rebekkah Brunson.

Warley could certainly improve offensively, the combination of a strong 2-point percentage and that dominant rebounding ability not only set her apart from others in the 2012 rookie class but also bodes extremely well for her future in the league.

Aneika Henry, F, Atlanta Dream | Undrafted (2009)

Henry is another undrafted rookie who has had shots at the WNBA in the past, but has finally broken through this season as a starter for a potential playoff team with Erika de Souza absent from the Dream. You could probably make an argument that Henry should be dropped to the second team because she isn't particularly dominant in any one area and, honestly, her numbers could decline as her role changes with the return of de Souza.

But putting up average WNBA numbers in 24 minutes per game as a starter on a playoff-caliber team bodes well for her future in the league even if she ends up not being more than a solid role player down the road.

Samantha Prahalis, PG, Phoenix Mercury | 6th overall

It has to be noted that point guards always have lower VCR and points per empty possession ratings because a larger portion of their statistical production is tied to assists and a byproduct of that is turning the ball over a bit more as they get more touches and look to create more often; Prahalis' VCR is in the top 10 among WNBA point guards and clearly one of the best rookie point guards in the last five years even though her numbers are near the bottom of this list of rookies. It's just a tough adjustment to make and she's made it admirably.

Nevertheless, while she has been talked up as the closest challenger for Rookie of the Year on a few occasions, she probably has more to improve upon than Johnson or Ogwumike - she is still a somewhat inefficient, turnover prone, scoring point guard with a negative pure point rating. The thing is that we also have to acknowledge that her team's injury situation has thrown her into the fire unlike other rookies and forced her to take on a larger burden of the team's production than most point guards in the league (her 15.02% of the Mercury's total statistical production is fifth in the league among point guards).

If the Mercury ever do get their full complement of players this season, it will be interesting to see how Prahalis' production changes. Even more interesting is waiting to see what she's able to do next season with forward Penny Taylor back with the team and likely one of the coveted 2013 lottery picks. Both Prahalis and the Mercury have a bright future ahead of them as she continues to adjust to the league.

Second Team All-Rookie

Riquna Williams, G, Tulsa Shock | 17th overall (5th pick, second round)

The first half of this season has confirmed both the positives and (on-court) negatives about Williams as a draft prospect coming out of Miami: she's adept at creating scoring opportunities for herself – something the Shock have definitely needed – but she does so rather inefficiently. Where that should leap out at you in the numbers above is her 2-point percentage of just under 30% - unfortunately, there aren't a lot of guards that stay in the league long with shooting percentages like that. That inefficient scoring is compounded by having the lowest value added rating of the players above, which indicates that she's a player whose primary contribution to the team is scoring.

Yet the reason why Williams has maintained a high VCR – in addition to the scoring average – is an exceptional steal rate of 5%. In short, Tulsa was a perfect landing spot for Williams, even if falling into the second round was a bit of a draft day disappointment for her – her ability to break down defenses is of huge value to the Shock and her athleticism is a perfect fit for their aggressive full court defensive schemes.

Shekinna Stricklen, G/F, Seattle Storm | 2nd overall

Similar to Williams, Stricklen's negative value added rating suggests a player that doesn't add much beyond scoring and she hasn't been a particularly efficient scorer either. But there are two differences between the two: Stricklen is getting the vast majority of her shots within five feet where she's shooting 50% and she has gotten better over the course of the season.

In five July games, Stricklen bumped her scoring average to 10.6 points per game on 46.2% shooting from the field and 6.4 rebounds. If she can keep up those numbers – or something close – for the remainder of the season, the Storm will be much better for it.

Veteran Storm teammate Tina Thompson believes Stricklen – as well as fellow rookie Alysha Clark, who also showed improvement in July – used the break as an opportunity to take a mental break and recharge mentally.

“They came back energized and ready to work,” said Thompson. “I've seen so much improvement in them already just with their game, but also in their confidence,”

If Stricklen's confidence in her abilities at the WNBA level has indeed increased, she'll have a good shot of playing her way onto the first team.

Tiffany Hayes, G, Atlanta Dream | 14th overall (2nd pick, second round)

Another player who made big improvement in July was Hayes, who averaged 13.6 points on 51.2% shooting in 4 July games. She's an aggressive guard who gets herself to the free throw line extremely well, with a free throw production rate of 36.84%. The fact that she's also a pretty strong passer – a 0.84 pure point rating is solid for a rookie wing player – also bodes well for her in the future.

The primary reason she's not rated higher is that she also has a negative value added rating – although she's not a high usage player, she also has a low 2-point percentage and doesn't particularly have the rebounds or steals that Stricklen and Williams, respectively, have to offset their inefficient scoring numbers.

Devereaux Peters, F, Minnesota Lynx | 3rd overall

The main thing keeping Peters from being ranked higher is her minutes – the Lynx have said from the beginning that they considered this a learning year for Peters and, in one of the few cases in the WNBA where a team deliberately develops a player, she's done well in the minutes she has gotten.

And according to Lynx teammate and mentor Taj McWilliams-Franklin, the Olympic break just gave her more time to learn, even though she spent most of it with a broken hand.

“For Devereaux I think the break was great for mentally just to relax after playing the whole year NCAA, making it to the final game, and now coming directly into the WNBA, she really now used the break just to take a mental break to relax and take it all in and go see her family and hang out,” said McWilliams-Franklin during yesterday's WNBA media teleconference. “She came back in and she's been rehabbing her hand and getting acclimated to the plays.”

Although Peters was injured during the majority of the break, McWilliams-Franklin thought that time to acclimate herself to the playbook was probably more valuable than playing would've been anyway because with Lynx Olympians Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen not with the team due to the Olympics, they weren't able to do quite as much on the court anyway. And it wasn't just learning the playbook that she thought was valuable, but giving Peters – by all reports a smart player who picks up on things quickly – an opportunity to understand the nuances of the principles underlying those plays.

Similar to what Thompson said about Clark and Stricklen, building confidence in their system was a big part of that.

“For her, I think it was about her confidence in her ability and our coaching staff teaching her some nuances of the game that are different from college,” said McWilliams-Franklin, who has continued the mentoring process over the break. “And the spot that she plays is the same spot that I play so just teaching her things that I might know that the playbook does not teach you: I know you can get away with this when you're playing in the game or you can't do that in the game. So just being able to sit down and say, 'Hey, that play works great, but if you tweak this, it will work even better and you will get them an open shot.'

“So I think that more, as far as learning the plays and the nuances of our offense and what we do here in Minnesota.”

Peters might not get any individual postseason honors, but she has certainly proven that she has a bright future ahead of her in her limited time on the court and it will be interesting to see how the break benefits her moving forward.

Shenise Johnson, G, San Antonio Silver Stars | 5th overall

Johnson was among my favorite draft prospects and has been among my favorite rookies to watch despite putting up rather pedestrian numbers. She did improve in less minutes in the Silver Stars' seven games in July, but not quite by the margin that Hayes or Stricklen did.

Her most significant statistical contribution to the Silver Stars is her surprising team-high 10.5% offensive rebounding percentage, but like Hayes, Stricklen, and Williams, she also has a low 2-point percentage to work on overcoming in the second half of the season.

Johnson's rebounding is one example of what a versatile guard she has become, but it will be interesting to see how she continues to expand her game in the second half of the season.

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