The 2014 Nancy Lieberman Award watch list: A closer look at the nation's top senior point guards

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The 29-player 2014 Nancy Lieberman Award watch list was announced earlier today.

The 2014 Nancy Lieberman Award watch list has been announced with a wide range of players from national scoring leader Odyssey Sims to national assist leader Jamierra Faulkner and everything in between.

A California Athletics release states that, "The award recognizes the top point guard in women's NCAA Division I college basketball. Candidates exhibit the floor leadership, play-making and ball-handling skills of Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman." A quick glance at the list probably makes it clear that being a "pure point guard" is not a requirement for inclusion: although the nation's top nine assist leaders are included on the list, five of the nation's top 10 scorers are also on the list. Past winners have generally skewed toward the scoring end of the point guard spectrum.

You can take a look at the full list, the nation's assist leaders, and the nation's top scoring guards elsewhere, but the following is a look at the 29-player list ordered by John Hollinger's metric "pure point rating" (an important indicator for WNBA point guard success).

Name

School

Year

MPG

USG%

APG

A/TO

PPR

Calli Berna

University of Arkansas

Jr

31.53

12.70

7.53

3.66

9.39

Rebecca Henricson

Western Illinois University

Sr.

36.13

9.70

5.50

4.00

6.34

Lexie Brown

University of Maryland

Fr

24.29

17.40

4.64

2.71

5.69

Chelsea Gray

Duke University

Sr

27.71

20.00

7.18

2.22

5.59

Ariel Massengale

University of Tennessee

Jr

30.81

19.20

5.94

2.57

5.34

Kacie Cassell

University of Akron

Sr

31.29

11.80

6.29

2.44

5.18

Amber Orrange

Stanford University

Jr

30.75

15.90

4.63

2.96

4.95

Jordan Jones

Texas A&M University

So.

27.35

16.60

6.00

2.22

4.73

Natasha Cloud

St. Joseph's University

Jr

34.40

21.90

8.07

2.09

4.39

Andola Dortch

University of Toledo

Sr

32.57

19.70

5.14

2.57

4.39

Tiffany Bias

Oklahoma State University

Sr.

34.44

22.90

6.75

2.20

4.17

Valencia McFarland

University of Mississippi

Sr

32.53

25.10

6.18

2.23

4.16

Jamierra Faulkner

University of Southern Mississippi

Sr.

31.00

24.80

9.00

1.90

4.09

Fantasia Hilliard

Sacramento State University

Sr.

25.85

24.50

7.23

1.88

3.77

Bria Hartley

University of Connecticut

Sr

30.28

24.40

4.39

2.19

3.06

Samantha Logic

University of Iowa

Jr

33.39

22.10

7.00

1.85

2.66

Odyssey Sims

Baylor University

Sr

30.81

37.40

4.44

1.87

1.89

Jennifer Schlott

Utah State University

Sr.

32.50

34.20

6.57

1.70

1.61

Jennifer Newsome

University of Tennessee at Martin

Sr

34.78

26.30

5.11

1.77

1.49

Jerica Coley

Florida International University

Sr.

38.27

38.30

4.40

1.61

0.52

Brittany Boyd

University of California

Jr.

30.33

28.00

5.53

1.54

0.29

Dequesha McClanahan

Winthrop University

Sr.

37.19

31.90

7.81

1.49

-0.11

Ashley Deary

Northwestern University

Fr

34.63

17.40

6.81

1.40

-0.96

Yashira Delgado

Florida State University

Sr

36.50

15.80

6.13

1.36

-1.14

Keena Mays

Southern Methodist University

Sr

31.53

32.10

3.88

1.08

-3.17

Chelsea Douglas

Wake Forest University

Sr.

30.94

30.80

2.25

0.86

-3.64

Damika Martinez

Iona College

Jr.

36.00

32.40

2.14

0.70

-4.56

Joanna Harden

Troy University

Sr.

35.87

29.30

2.67

0.69

-5.82

Senee Shearer

University of Detroit Mercy

Sr.

31.75

34.60

2.13

0.58

-7.15

The 29 players selected for the 2014 Nancy Lieberman Award watch list, ordered by Pure Point Rating.

Before moving on, this provides an interesting illustration of what PPR is constructed to do relative to assists and assist-to-turnover ratio by way of comparison.

As it turns out, Faulkner and Sims have very similar assist-to-turnover ratios but a significant PPR differential: in the past, a pure point rating of 2.5 has been a reasonable threshold for WNBA point guard success (along with a few other criteria). So what's happening there?

Sims' efficiency as a distributor this season is unquestionably affected by leading the nation in scoring as well - her extremely high usage rate of 37.5% (fifth-highest in the nation) reflects a player who is heavily involved in creating plays for her team's offense (as defined by field goal attempts, free throw attempts, and turnovers). Turnovers come with that territory, but it's somewhat amazing that she still only averages 2.37 turnovers per game given how often the ball is in her hands.

Faulkner is not nearly the high-usage player that Sims is, but commits about twice as many turnovers (4.73) in the same minutes as Sims. Looking solely at A/TO ratio, one might conclude that they're essentially "equivalent" in their ability as distributors - they pick up assists at about the same rate as they turn it over. Pure point rating operates on a different assumption.

Pure point rating doesn't just credit a player for not turning the ball over - hypothetically, a point guard could do that by passively bringing the ball up court and making the easiest pass possible every time down the floor and picking up assists only when a teammate is wide open (e.g. fast breaks or swinging the ball to the wing for an open three off a screen). Instead, PPR gives a player some credit for the fact that taking the risk of actively creating a play comes along with an associated risk of turning the ball over. In this case, the fact that Faulkner picks up nine assists in about the same minutes as Sims considerably boosts her PPR.

I use that example because nobody is going to read the APG, A/TO, or PPR and say Faulkner is better than Sims as a basketball player; what we might say is that Faulkner is a more efficient distributor than Sims, which makes sense because Sims is asked to do so much for her team as a scorer and is not always her team's lead guard. Without actually counting the possessions, it stands to reason that Faulkner has more opportunities to create assists than Sims does and that's basically what PPR gives us a clearer picture of: how well a player is managing the opportunities they have.

For those with an eye on the 2014 WNBA Draft, there's a lot more to say about the seniors on the list and that small comparison also helps us get a better sense of which seniors we might want to keep an eye on. And I'm sure there are other players that we can all think of who should be included on this list (which, it is noted in the release, is fluid and subject to change). Yet given the numbers and our ongoing look at the draft, it's worth highlighting two additional seniors in particular: Oklahoma's Morgan Hook and Vanderbilt's Jasmine Lister.

Name

School

Year

MPG

USG%

APG

A/TO

PPR

Jasmine Lister

Vanderbilt

Sr

35.24

20.30

5.06

2.05

2.56

Morgan Hook

Oklahoma

Sr

31.82

16.80

5.47

1.86

2.22

Coincidentally, Hook and Lister would rank 17th and 18th in PPR on this list, which happens to be immediately above Sims.

Again, you can't stress enough how impressive Sims' efficiency is given her high usage rate - there's a reason that nobody ranked higher than her in PPR has a usage rate even within 10% of hers, including Hook and Lister. It's really tough to pull off what she's doing this season.

But moving on, Hook and Lister should probably be on people's draft radars.

Hook is more of a borderline prospect based on her efficiency as a distributor and scorer - shooting 46.2% from the field is quite good compared to most point guards and she's hovered right around her 35% from the 3-point line for most of her career. Outside of the numbers, she runs her team about as well as any coach would want and is a gritty player on both ends: she has an outstanding free throw rate of (FTA/FGA) of 54.62% and took on the defensive challenge of guarding 6-foot-3 forward Hallie Christofferson in a recent game against Iowa State (and did an admirable job in those situations given the height differential). If she's not deemed WNBA roster-worthy, she's the type of player who might warrant a spot in someone's training camp based on the numbers.

But Lister is a prospect whose numbers might deserve more serious attention, particularly in light of the discussion the other day about Mississippi's Valencia McFarland: McFarland is more efficient than Lister as a distributor, but Lister has an edge as a scorer that's noteworthy. Lister is shooting an outstanding 47.8% from beyond the 3-point arc this season and gets to the line at a very solid rate of 31.21%; McFarland gets to the line at an almost identical rate (31.70%), but only shoots 29.4% from the 3-point line. When comparing two 5-foot-4 point guards as WNBA prospects, that extra scoring efficiency from the 3-point line should probably out-weigh the differential as distributors.

The usage rates demonstrate something else that separates the two though: McFarland is the focal point of her team's offense to a much greater extent than Lister, who shares the burden with Christina Foggie (highlighted here the other day). Yet Lister's selection as espnW Player of the Week after helping Vanderbilt to beat Tennessee is an example of what she can do as both a distributor and scorer: she showed that same ability to completely control a game when her team needed it.

All of these comparisons sort of illustrate the difficulty in naming a "top point guard", especially as traditionalists will cling to notions of purity that coaches are clearly letting go of when deciding who's most fit to lead their offense: there's a whole range of ways to be a point guard from players who are literally on the floor to dribble and pass to those who throw in a bit more scoring to those who alternate between ball handling and moving without the ball. The Lieberman field clearly captures the whole spectrum.

For more on players to watch for the draft, check out our 2014 WNBA Draft prospect watch storystream.

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