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How Point Guards Influence the Game - Part 4

So after ranking all the starting point guards, I was left with a few questions:

1) Is Ivory Latta really a better point guard than Becky Hammon?
2) Should Domique Canty really be considered an elite point guard?
3) Is Ticha Penicheiro really nothing more than an average point guard at this point in her career?
4) Shouldn’t Candice Wiggins be starting at point guard for the Lynx?
5) Is Candace Parker the next Magic Johnson, as some claim?

And hopefully answering them will help add some meaning to these numbers...

By the way, he’s how the final rankings came out:


Lindsay Whalen 115
Deanna Nolan 107
Candice Wiggins 104
Dominique Canty 95
Diana Taurasi 91
Sue Bird 88
Candace Parker 87
Ivory Latta 87
Alana Beard 85
Ticha Penicheiro 80
Kiesha Brown 76
Shannon Johnson 67
Noelle Quinn 67
Nikki Blue 66
Leilani Mitchell 65
Loree Moore 63
Becky Hammon 51
Kelly Miller 51
Temeka Johnson 42
Helen Darling 37
Tully Bevilaqua 33

Deanna Nolan is Amazing…

So for the last few days, I’ve watched the games with these rankings in mind. I made a point to watch Deanna Nolan who I honestly had not paid much attention to before. Watching her will her team to victory against the Lynx on Friday could go down as one of the greatest regular season performances in WNBA history.

Nolan is not flashy on the court, which is why she might not get the attention of the casual fan (I had never heard of her before I started watching this season). But like Whalen she’s able to do whatever her team asks of her – rebound, play defense, run the offense, or score. And when the team needed big shots at the end of the game to win, she provided that too.

She’s confident, aggressive, and one of the smoother athletes in the WNBA. She seems to get almost anywhere she wants on the floor.

In the rankings I did, the main things that separated her from Lindsay Whalen are possession efficiency – points per zero point possession, Win Score, and Hollinger’s assist ratio. It’s difficult to be more efficient on the court than Whalen has been this season.

Wiggins also played well in that game, but I’ll come back to that…anyway, on to those questions…

Is Ivory Latta really a better point guard than Becky Hammon?

No, not yet at least…and neither are 8 of the other players ranked ahead of her.

Becky Hammon is a tough competitor, an outstanding scorer, and clearly a team leader.
The problem is that Hammon has been terribly inefficient this year. And those other players ahead of her are not very productive, but are extremely efficient as role player point guards.

The reason Hammon is ranked so low here is because she’s started off this season looking more like a volume shooter than point guard. (By the way, the numbers I used to calculate these rankings also did not take into account outstanding performances against the Dream and Sparks last week. If she keeps playing like that, she’ll fly up these rankings).

But that’s not to take away anything from Latta – she’s having a great year statistically and had put up statistics very similar to Hammon’s…before they faced each other on Wednesday. Check out their stat lines:

Hammon: 14.3 ppg, 4.6 ast/g, 3.5 to/g, 2.4 rpg, 33.6 FG%, 28.9 3pt%, 33.5 mpg
Latta: 10.5 ppg, 4.2 ast/g, 2.0 to/g, 1.6 rpg, 32.5 FG%, 27.8 3pt%, 29.6 mpg

Hammon was shooting more, as poorly, and turning the ball over more. It’s perfectly reasonable to say that with more minutes and experience, Latta could duplicate these numbers.

And if you were starting an expansion team that really has no immediate playoff aspirations, it seems reasonable to take a relatively young point guard like Latta over Hammon if given the choice. Given her improvement this year, there’s no reason to believe that Latta couldn’t be as good as Hammon in the next 10 years.

The one glaring difference is that Latta doesn’t yet have the scoring instincts that Hammon has. However, Latta does have good defensive instincts from what I’ve seen and should end up being a better defender…and that will show up in her plus/minus numbers.

But for those of you that watched Atlanta play San Antonio this past Wednesday, there’s no way on earth you could say Latta looked better than Hammon.

Part of that was a porous Dream defense. But more importantly Hammon and the San Antonio coaching staff figured out how to exploit that defense (the pick and roll) and Hammon just picked them apart. Hammon clearly has good court vision and point guard instincts. She just makes some risky plays occasionally that are magnified in these efficiency stats.

(By the way, I was surprised to see that that Hammon, Helen Darling, Vickie Johnson and Ann Wauters ALL have negative plus/minus scores. It’s weird given that they play significant roles on the team.)

I thought Teresa Edwards made an interesting comment about Hammon during the Dream game after the play-by-play guy mentioned that she was the second leading vote getter in last year’s all-star game:
You know I don’t know how to vote those but we have a lot of quality players in the league. Becky probably had a great season – I’m not saying she didn’t – but there’s a lot of star quality players that come out and play this game. And a lot of those star players will not be on our Olympic team.

Interesting comment…and I’ll try not to read into it too much. But the statistics seem to back that up.

And for whatever it’s worth, I think the uproar over her playing for Russia is overblown. As Auburn University coach Nell Fortner said, she didn’t make a choice between the U.S. and Russia because she just wasn’t going to make the U.S. team. And really, I think there are plenty of quality players in the WNBA that are more worthy of an Olympic bid.

Should Domique Canty really be considered an elite point guard?

Canty’s numbers are better than what I had imagined based on watching Sky games this season. However, I couldn’t find a set of point guard statistics that dropped her out of the top five overall on this list. She’s shooting worse than Bird thus far, but even if you stack the deck against her with shooting statistics, she ranks very well relative to the field of point guards. She’s doing surprisingly well at managing possessions overall and that’s what counts for a point guard.

But every time I’ve watched her I’ve thought, "All she’s doing is looking for her own shot." I’ve watched her fail to get the ball to wide open teammates on multiple occasions…but that’s just not something we can capture with statistics.

Is Ticha Penicheiro really nothing more than an average point guard at this point in her career?

I won’t answer that question directly – it seems blasphemous.

But her whole game has turned upside down this season.

She’s on pace for career highs in field goal percentage and points…but her numbers are down in every other category.

She still has all the instincts that make her amazing – she’s crafty with the ball and has amazing court vision. She does an amazing job of finding open scorers by drawing the defense out of position.

The Monarchs lost Yolanda Griffith in the off-season. Although Griffith is on the downside of her career, her loss is clearly hurting the team overall and maybe Penicheiro’s numbers as well.

Shouldn’t Candice Wiggins be starting at point guard for the Lynx?

Statistically, I’d say yes -- Wiggins is just outplaying Quinn – Quinn is just more of a distributor. Lindsay Harding’s return could also have some influence on whether Wiggins starts.

In her last two games against Detroit and Houston, Wiggins has shown the ability to carry a team and put pressure on the opposing defense. But in the end, it was the experience of veterans Deanna Nolan and Shannon Johnson that took center stage.

Wiggins comes in the game and gives her team a huge boost of energy on both ends of the floor. She's made some huge defensive plays at the ends of close games. Whereas at the beginning of the season it looked like she might not be able to contain the energy, she channeled it well against the Shock.

Similar to Whalen and Nolan, Wiggins is not just scoring or making the right passes. She’s everywhere – getting loose balls, rebounds, and steals – while keeping her turnover percentage relatively low. The one thing that separates her from Nolan and Whalen is her assist ratio, which is well below that of the average starting point guard. With experience that could change and if it does, she could emerge as the best point guard in the game.

As she improves, people would start talking her up as rookie of the year…if not for that other rookie phenom in L.A…

Is Candace Parker the next Magic Johnson, as some claim?

I think this little exercise shows that Parker does have the skills that make this a valid point. She’s already shown that she can distribute the ball and she’s an efficient scorer. She uses her possessions very well.

However, rather than playing the point, I think she’ll have an amazing career as a point forward – someone who can initiate the offense from the 3 or 4 spot. The big difference between Parker and Magic is that Parker has a bigger height advantage in the WNBA than Magic did in the NBA. It seems wrong not to capitalize on that.

I think playing her off the ball and forcing teams to adjust to the mismatch on the wing is the best position for her.

The team would seem to be better served by pairing her with a slashing point guard who can defend. She’s a scorer who can distribute the ball, not a distributor who can score. I think there’s a difference.