2012 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year Award: Recent Second Round Picks Head The List

Far too often in professional sports drafts, people are looking for signs of superstar talent instead of indicators that a player might simply contribute to the team's effort.

Nobody can claim that drafting is a science and the WNBA is certainly not uniquely guilty of that tendency, but that is the thought that came to mind when evaluating who we might consider the top 2012 Sixth Woman of the Year candidates: four of the five players with the highest percentage of valuable contributions (PVC) off the bench were drafted in the second round or lower and two of the top three candidates for the honor were prospects with legitimate question marks who fell to the second round in the last two drafts, which were generally considered weak.

With the regular season over and four teams already thinking about the 2013 WNBA Draft, it is interesting to look across benches in the league and see how many top contributors weren't necessarily the highest regarded draft prospects based on draft position.

More on what that means for the evaluation of talent later, but for now a look at that list of sixth woman candidates.

A Sixth Woman of the Year Candidate Framework

In essence, I see Sixth Woman of the Year (SWOY) as the MVP off the bench - it should be the player with the greatest contribution to their team's success off the bench, rather than the "best" or the "best player on the best team".

The main difference between SWOY and MVP is the matter of complementary: how well does that bench player complement the starting unit or the rest of the roster? Is putting them in the game somehow a "game-changer"?

You can click here for more description of the statistics for this award, which are laid out in the table below.

The top 10 2012 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year candidates

The following is just a list of the top ten bench contributors in the league according to PVC (as of 9/18/12*).

Player

Team

Mins/game

PVC

MVP

PER

Team Facs

Contribution

Riquna Williams

Tulsa Shock

19.97

12.37

6.49

18.63

0.85

Ability to create shots

Leilani Mitchell

N.Y. Liberty

27.55

12.21

5.69

11.38

0.88

Highest PPR on team

Shekinna Stricklen

Seattle Storm

22.55

11.67

5.65

14.1

1.03

Defensive rebounding, 3-point shooting

Danielle Adams

S.A. Silver Stars

20.1

11.62

6.47

21.77

1.13

Rebounding, scoring versatility

Jia Perkins

S.A. Silver Stars

22.97

11.48

6.4

18.7

0.89

3-point shooting

Mistie Mims

Connecticut Sun

18.3

10.72

5.61

19.69

1.1

Rebounding rate

Tiffany Hayes

Atlanta Dream

23.09

10.13

5.46

14.05

0.97

Ball handling efficiency, free throw rate

Renee Montgomery

Connecticut Sun

23.75

9.59

5.02

15.14

0.57

Team-high free throw & usage rates

Erlana Larkins

Indiana Fever

14.55

8.75

4.87

17.83

0.92

Offensive rebounding

Monica Wright

Minnesota Lynx

19.1

7.46

4.48

15.21

0.53

Free throw rate

Observations:

  • Leilani Mitchell probably isn't a top contender for this award, but she does make a noteworthy contribution to her team: she's essentially its only point guard and, beyond the positional label, she's the team's most efficient distributor. Mitchell creates an assist at almost twice the rate (28.54%) that she commits a turnover (14.27%), which not only gives her the highest pure point rating (1.87) on the team but also the only positive pure point rating.

    On a team that really struggles with turning the ball over and goes long periods of time when they're not moving the ball all that well, Mitchell's contributions might be more significant than a number of others on this list because she offers something that isn't otherwise on the roster. The problem with Mitchell as a 6WoY candidate is two-fold (and perhaps obvious to Liberty fans: although she's a 40% 3-point shooter this season, she has the lowest usage rate on the team (12.64%) and only has 12 free throw attempts all season. In other words, she's what Ken Pomeroy might call nearly invisible in the team's offense in terms of scoring impact. She does rebound quite well considering her size (there are bigger point guards with lower rebounding percentages), but overall she has a somewhat limited impact on the team.
  • Renee Montgomery is probably going to get heavy consideration for the award, but the numbers don't look to favorably upon her season. With the highest usage rate on the team (26.05%), Montgomery could be described as a semi-efficient volume scorer who still isn't an efficient distributor (compared to point guards or the league average). The argument can certainly be made that on a team that can experience some major dry spells, Montgomery's ability to score and get to the free throw line (her free throw production rate of 36.39% is a team-high) add something that the team really needs even if she's not the picture of efficiency. But it's just hard to ignore what happens in between earning free throws and her 36.5% 3-point shooting: she has a 2-point percentage of 34.7%, which is maybe most clearly explained by saying that she shoots almost as many long 2's (16-20 foot jumpers) as Minnesota's Maya Moore and makes them much less often (10-for-36).
  • Monica Wright was a top contender for this award at the Olympic break, but August and September were rather cruel to her. As someone whose primary contribution to the team is what she does as a scorer, shooting under 40% in August and September really hurt her.
  • Shekinna Stricklen took the opposite path as Wright, starting slow and then steadily getting better over the course of the season. So it might actually come as a surprise that she ranked so high on the list above in terms of her statistical contribution to the Storm. It's doubtful she'll get any consideration for this award - and there are stronger candidates - but she should definitely get strong consideration for one of those spots on the 2012 All-Rookie team.

The Top 3

  • Riquna Williams' presence on the list is pretty much a final confirmation of what most reasonable basketball minds said when she "fell" to the second round of the 2012 WNBA Draft: falling to the Tulsa Shock immediately seemed like a blessing in disguise. She projected as a volume scorer and Tulsa was a team that could use more players who could create scoring opportunities. And that's exactly what her rookie year numbers reflect – Williams created a whole lot of shots on a team that didn't move the ball well at all times, but was also their second least efficient scorer (46.06% true shooting percentage). Williams was indeed a great fit for what the Shock needed this year and low efficiency volume shooters can be useful in providing quick points off the bench when their teams need a jolt, but it's also hard to name someone who is so inefficient the best bench player in the league.
  • Jia Perkins fills a similar role as Williams off the San Antonio Silver Stars' bench, having made a career out of coming up with big shots when her team needs it. However like Williams, she was also an inefficient scorer (48.57% true shooting percentage). The difference between the two is simply that Perkins has always had the ability to create plays for others and this season was no different: Perkins not only kept her turnover rate to the bare minimum, but created assists often enough to be the third-most efficient distributor on a very good passing team. What you can't quantify about Perkins is that uncanny ability to make plays when her team needs it even if she's inefficient overall.
  • Danielle Adams was a fringe candidate for this award last year but didn't figure prominently into that discussion in part because of an injury set back. Unimpeded by injury this season, Adams matched her numbers from last season and really stands out despite arguably not contributing the most of any bench player statistically. The reason: Adams is a rebounder on a team that continued to struggle on the boards this year and a versatile scorer on an extremely perimeter-oriented team – Adams is essentially their only post scoring threat this season. It's the combination of solid numbers, versatility in terms of shot locations, and adding a unique quality off the bench that makes her a strong – and possibly the strongest – candidate for the Sixth Woman of the Year award.

Note:

* This piece was written days ago with statistics as of 9/18/12 and since the final 2012 statistics didn't change the evaluation much I left the numbers as-is. If you want any of the final numbers, just ask in the comments below.

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