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How Point Guards Influence the Game – Part 2

This post has been edited to reflect some changes in the formulas and in the process overall. Please see the notes in the next post for details.

So I maintain that even in a shooting slump, Sue Bird is the best pure point guard in the league right now, with Lindsay Whalen a close second.

We all probably have our favorite point guards, but how can we determine what makes a great point guard?

People typically use "assists" or "assist to turnover ratio" to evaluate point guards statistically, but it’s pretty well established that those numbers can be misleading. Other than that, there are isolated metrics out there that capture one or two aspects of what a point guard does, but very little that can paint a complete picture.

I came across a blog the other day that came up with a ranking system to determine the best point guards in the NBA. The results passed the "laugh test" – they seem reasonable based on what I would assume from common sense (Jason Kidd ended up as the top point guard). So I thought it would be interesting to do the same for the WNBA.

So here it is – a narrative description of the skills that are important for a point guard to have and a set of statistics that approximate the value of those intangibles. I’m no statistician, but fortunately, there are plenty of folks out there that have already crunched the numbers for the NBA that I’m just applying to the WNBA.

For the sake of this exercise, I’m going to start by comparing the WNBA’s starting point guards in statistics that measure their effect on their team:

Pure Point Rating
Net plus/minus
Winscore/40 minutes

Then I’m going to look at statistics that say something about a player’s decision making:

Turnover ratio

Usage Rate
Zero point possessions
Assist ratio

Each point guard will be ranked in each category. For now the goal is to see how guards are performing this year in order to answer questions about Sue Bird’s performance. But later, it will probably be more useful to look at career statistics.

A few notes on who’s included...

Two point guards have been injured or inactive: Temeka Johnson and Nikki Blue so their backups are included here.

Both Kelly Miller and Diana Taurasi are included because the share ball handling duties.

And oh yeah, I threw Candace Parker in there too since she does just about everything. But she isn’t ranked with the others, just there for the sake of comparison.

After all that we’ll arrive at a "conclusion".

Pure Point Rating

The most obvious thing a point guard needs to do is to bring the ball up the court and initiate the team’s offense. But after that, a point guard is expected to create points for others, which is judged in box scores as "assists".

Pure point rating (ppr) was developed by ESPN’s John Hollinger to replace "assist to turnover ratio". The problem with assist to turnover ratio is that it assumes that a) assists and turnovers are equal and b) all levels of productivity are equal. PPR adjusts for the fact that good point guards play more minutes and get more turnovers because they take more risks with the ball as they create for others.

Hollinger also wisely points out that assists are a three part statistic:
  • The Passer has to pass it to the would be shooter
  • The shooter has to get open
  • The shooter has to make the shot
So Hollinger counts 2/3 of an assist in order to represent the true value of what the passer did. So here are rankings and scores for pure point rating among the WNBA’s starting point guards:

PPR

Lindsay Whalen 6.15
Deanna Nolan 5.18
Ivory Latta 5.07
Dominique Canty 5.01
Sue Bird 4.25
Nikki Blue 3.77
Kiesha Brown 3.53
Leilani Mitchell 2.70
Loree Moore 1.60
Candace Parker 1.52
Noelle Quinn 1.43
Candice Wiggins 1.32
Shannon Johnson 0.90
Temeka Johnson 0.58
Kelly Miller 0.28
Diana Taurasi 0.24
Ticha Penicheiro -0.30
Tully Bevilaqua -0.85
Helen Darling -1.89
Becky Hammon -2.22
Alana Beard -3.90

This is the best metric available for point guards in my opinion and right off the bat Whalen takes a noticeable lead. Dominique Canty’s named surprised me because I would not normally consider her a pure point guard…but she’s put up some good numbers this season.

Penicheiro is surprisingly low as we would all likely consider her to be the purest point guard in the league, but her numbers are unimpressive this year. Becky Hammon also shows up shockingly low given all the commotion about her playing for Russia.

But the point of this tedious exercise is that there’s more to a point guard than assists and turnovers…that why I have the other numbers.

Net +/-

It is often assumed that as a distributor, the point guard should be able to establish a rhythm for the team and have a positive impact on the game. Put simply, the team should play better and more smoothly when the point guard is on the floor than when she’s off the floor.

This statistic is not perfect – it doesn’t take into account which players she’s playing with, the effect of "chemistry", or good defense. Nevertheless, it’s the best indicator we have to judge a point guard’s value on the floor. Let’s see how Ticha does here:

Plus Minus

Alana Beard 28
Candice Wiggins 23.9
Sue Bird 18.9
Ivory Latta 17.3
Ticha Penicheiro 15.7
Dominique Canty 15.3
Deanna Nolan 5.8
Temeka Johnson 5.5
Leilani Mitchell 3.7
Kelly Miller 3.7
Lindsay Whalen 2.8
Kiesha Brown 2.5
Shannon Johnson -4.2
Diana Taurasi -6.3
Loree Moore -6.5
Candace Parker -8.4
Noelle Quinn -9.1
Helen Darling -9.2
Nikki Blue -10.6
Becky Hammon -12.2
Tully Bevilaqua -18.6

Now we see Penicheiro and Bird at the top of the list, as I would expect for a statistic like this – Bird has in fact ranked tops in the league in this stat for the season. But again, I’m surprised at Canty and Ivory Latta’s position. It’s starting to look like the Sky depend on Canty more than I thought.

Hammon again comes up extremely low and keep in mind, this statistic is not based on box scores, but the player’s impact on the floor. Let’s see if Hammon can turn it around now…

Winscore per 40 minutes

As I’m evaluating point guards, who range from high scoring (Whalen) to average (Penicheiro), it doesn’t make sense to focus on scoring. However, as alluded to above, a point guard’s primary responsibility is to manage possessions.

Essentially, win score attempts to measure a player’s total contribution to their team’s wins. There are many player productivity statistics available but the claim is that this metric focuses on possessions rather than scoring. The simple breakdown is points + possessions gained – possessions lost + offensive and defensive help – helping the opponent. I’m looking at per minute production to level the playing field for those who just play less.

WS40 Rank

Lindsay Whalen 7.84
Candace Parker 5.99
Candice Wiggins 3.97
Diana Taurasi 3
Ticha Penicheiro 2.66
Deanna Nolan 1.82
Alana Beard 1.77
Loree Moore 1.70
Kiesha Brown 1.60
Noelle Quinn 1.32
Shannon Johnson 1.23
Tully Bevilaqua 1.01
Dominique Canty 0.47
Leilani Mitchell 0.43
Kelly Miller -0.12
Sue Bird -0.64
Becky Hammon -1.60
Nikki Blue -1.71
Helen Darling -1.92
Ivory Latta -2.85
Temeka Johnson -4.17

Whalen is again at the top of this list, but Canty and Bird who were near the top of the other metrics are much further down the list. This makes sense because Win Score favors rebounders. There is no better rebounding guard than Lindsay Whalen.

Again we see Becky Hammon at the bottom of this list as well. It may be obvious what is hurting Hammon in this first set of overall statistics – an extremely low field goal percentage and high number of turnovers.

Brief Summary

So with these three statistics that try to measure overall performance, here are the rankings:

1. Lindsay Whalen 50
2. Deanna Nolan 49
3. Candice Wiggins 48
4. Dominique Canty 41
5. Sue Bird 40
6. Ticha Penicheiro 38
7. Ivory Latta 37
8. Alana Beard 36
9. Kiesha Brown 36
10. Candace Parker 35*
11. Leilani Mitchell 33
12. Loree Moore 32
13. Diana Taurasi 31
14. Noelle Quinn 28
15. Shannon Johnson 28
16. Kelly Miller 25
17. Nikki Blue 22
18. Temeka Johnson 22
19. Tully Bevilaqua 15
20. Helen Darling 10
21. Becky Hammon 9

*Keep in mind that I'm not actually scoring Parker relative to the rest because she isn't a full-time point guard...I just wanted to see where she stacked up.

My instinct about why Hammon is so low is because she shoots too much…and that was also my instinct about Canty from watching her play and that's just not the case statistically. Latta is having a good season, but I would never have thought she’s one of the league’s top point guards.

So the next step is to look at the statistics that represent player decision making and possession use: usage rate, turnover ratio, assist ratio, and zero point possessions...