After leading the 2012 Olympic field with a PER of 49.76, we're probably expecting Atlanta Dream wing Angel McCoughtry to return to WNBA action and dominate games as usual.
However, the most interesting stat - or contributor to that other-worldly PER - was her scoring efficiency: McCoughtry shot a team-high 62% from the field during the Olympics, something that isn't exactly the norm for anyone who watches her statistics closely.
McCoughtry hasn't shot above 47.6% in her WNBA career and that was during her rookie year when she wasn't yet a full-time starter - in her last two seasons, she has been under 42.5%. But relatively low shooting percentages don't tell the whole story for McCoughtry.
What continues to stand out about McCoughtry-the-WNBA player is that she has already paved the way for a legacy as one of the most dominant scorers in league history - McCoughtry has led the league in usage rate for the past two seasons, setting a league record of 35.48% last season. If she maintains her current usage rate from this season, that will be the second-highest of all-time.
The number of missed shots she puts up in the process of shooting so much certainly drags down her efficiency numbers, but she currently ranks 7th in the league in plus/minus and it should come as little surprise that her team is more than 13 points better with her in the game (per 40 minutes). And after leading the Dream to consecutive WNBA Finals appearances, it's clear that harping on her efficiency is a bit abstract - she's still one of the top players in the league and was impressively among the top 20 in the league prior to the Olympic break despite missing 6 games.
So what was the difference between the McCoughtry-the-Olympian and McCoughtry-the-WNBA-All-Star? She didn't have to be one of the most prolific shot creators of all time while playing with Team USA; she's the obvious focal point of the Dream's offense. She was a quietly spectacular scorer with the U.S. women's basketball team because they simply didn't need her to score on every possession (her usage rate was still high at 26.8%, but also clearly lower than than where she has been in the WNBA). As a result, not only did her efficiency go up, but she also turned her attention to rebounding and was the best offensive rebounder on the team by percentage (18%). In that she patiently picked her spots during the Olympics and helped her team win in ways other than scoring, her role shifted from volume shooter to energy player off the bench.
The question is whether a more efficient, better rebounding McCoughtry would actually help the Dream more than the higher usage McCoughtry. And it made me think back to a piece on big games vs. team wins by James Bowman around the beginning of this WNBA season.
But surely, those nights when McCoughtry is the best player - as opposed to say, De Souza or Harding - should mean something. So I ran a correlation comparing wins or losses to games where McCoughtry is the best player. There should be a relationship between wins there, right.
No. The correlation was -0.02. If McCoughtry is the best player, she's going to be the best player during both wins *and* losses.
It just goes to show. Women's basketball is not a one-woman game, not yet.
This is not to say McCoughtry is bad in a leading role - the last two WNBA postseasons have shown us how unstoppable McCoughtry can be as a scorer when she gets hot.
Yet in contrast, even putting strength of competition aside, McCoughtry could be even more efficient as a player if she didn't assume such a heavy scoring burden.
The 2012 Olympics offered a glimpse at how dangerous a player McCoughtry could be if she shot less and picked her spots to score - a player just as dangerous in transition and disrupting passing lanes, even more dangerous off the ball on the offensive boards yet taking what the defense gives her offensively instead of settling for the 11-15 foot shots that drag her shooting efficiency down (she shot 28.6% from that range prior to the break). And James' piece suggests that there's reason to believe that the Dream wouldn't be that much worse off if McCoughtry assumed a lesser scoring burden but used the threat of her scoring ability to set up other players while still getting her points on higher percentage opportunities - as things stand now, the Dream are only 7-6 this season with McCoughtry in the lineup.
Either way, it wouldn't be terribly surprising if she generated a bit of a MVP buzz based on her second half performance for the second consecutive year. But there was actually something more impressive about the way she got her points in the Olympics as a more efficient all-around player.