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Jia Perkins is Making Her Case As an All-Around All-Star Starter…and Sky Lead Guard

It must be nice to have the best guard in the Eastern Conference playing for your team.

Especially when you choose to sleepwalk through about 35 minutes of a game and need someone to bail you out at the last minute.

Jia Perkins strengthened her case for being voted into the 2009 All-Star game as a starter, hitting big shots down the stretch to lead the Chicago Sky to a 74-70 win over the Sacramento Monarchs in the UIC Pavilion last night.

However, as good as it must feel to add a game to the win column, once again, the victory cannot leave much for the Sky to feel proud of.

The Sky blew an early 10 point lead, went into the fourth quarter tied, and were down by five late in the fourth before Jia Perkins returned to the game after an awkward fall to give the Sky the necessary jolt of life at the end of the game.

In search of their first road win, Sacramento managed to stay in the game by playing typical Monarchs basketball: playing hard, crashing the offensive boards, and playing a rather methodical, if sloppy, offense. But it’s not really that the Monarchs "crumbled down the stretch" as the Sacramento Bee reports – it’s probably more accurate to say that they reduced it to a chaotic mess of turnovers, free throws, and scattered defense…and Jia Perkins lifted the Sky above the fray.

Aside from the 2nd quarter in which the Monarchs shot 58% on 7-12 shooting from the field, the Monarchs never shot above 33% in any other quarter. Their 21.86% turnover percentage for the game probably didn’t help them much either, though the Sky returned the favor with a 21.51% turnover percentage of their own.

So if the Monarchs never really had complete control of the game, that begs the same old question that people should be tired of hearing from Rethinking Basketball:

What exactly are the Sky doing?

Again, just to contextualize the question: as a distant observer that is not privy to practices, video sessions, or pre-game chalk talks, I do not necessarily expect to fully understand what a professional basketball team is doing play to play. Ultimately, we will never really know what’s going on with any given team if we are not a player or other paid employee.

Nevertheless, it’s obvious when a team is just completely disorderly. But yes, as an outsider, I wasn't with them step for step at every moment: many times the Sky players seemed to be asking, "What are we doing?" about a few seconds before I thought to ask, "What are they doing?"

When they aren’t standing around waiting for one of their post players to take their defender one on one from the wing, they have their guards ignoring their post players and forcing up contested jump shots or drives to the basket that end with blocked shots. And when they did try to settle down and run something, they looked just as confused.

On one play in particular during the third quarter, the Sky brought the ball upcourt, Erin Thorn had the ball at the top of the key, saw Sylvia Fowles on the left block, and zipped a pass right into the crowd. After the play, it looked like Thorn was gesturing to Fowles to say that she expected Fowles to pop out a little on the wing… but Fowles didn't...and Thorn threw a pass to nobody. Who's ever fault it was, it was one of many moments where the Sky’s dysfunction was so evident that you almost had to feel sorry for them.

It’s not really that they started playing better as a team at the end of the game either – Perkins bailed them out by playing aggressive defense, making plays for teammates, and hitting big shots at the end when the team needed it.

So despite the victory, the enduring question, "What are the Sky doing?" still stands.

Basketball is ultimately a team game. And usually, good teams have systems.

Right now, the only system the Sky have going for them is Jia Perkins. So the question becomes, how should they best utilize her talent?

And right now, Perkins is carrying the Sky as a scorer and distributor.

So if for some reason you don’t already think Perkins is an all-star, let me just rehash the facts.

By almost any metric you look at – EFF, MEV, plus/minus, Tendex, WARP, whatever – Jia Perkins is the best guard in the East, if not one of the top guards overall in the WNBA. She gets it done offensively as a scorer and defensively, putting pressure on the other team’s lead guard and picking up skills that shift the momentum of games at critical moments.

Upon returning to the game after an injury scare in the third, Perkins put the breadth of her skills on display in the final minutes of the game, putting pressure on the Monarchs’ guards to help create turnovers, running the offense, getting out and scoring on the fast break, hitting a key three, and hitting clutch free throws to ice the game.

Another way to quantify Perkins’ contribution to the Sky is by looking at David Sparks’ metric for assigning credit to players for their contribution to their team’s final score (that is described in depth here...I also used it for Team USA here). For this particular game, Perkins deserved 15% of the credit for her team’s success, with Candice Dupree and Sylvia Fowles coming next closest hovering right around 10%.

However, while Perkins gets most of the credit for scoring, another major contribution she makes to the team is running their offense. Whatever it is the Sky do with the ball, Perkins does it best.

She has the best point guard numbers on the Sky and compares very favorably to other WNBA point guards in her ability to run a team. She recorded 8 assists last night, had a pure point rating of 10.75 and an assist ratio of 31.74%...all while scoring 17 points on 46.15% shooting from the field.

Those are extremely impressive numbers for someone who most people consider to be primarily a scorer – she is making extremely good decisions with the basketball setting up her teammates in addition to scoring.

So not that it matters who is officially named point guard with Dominique Canty and Jia Perkins in the backcourt, but Perkins is the best lead guard on this team and the team actually plays better when she is doing everything – scoring, passing, and playing defense. While some people fear that giving a scorer distributor responsibilities, that does not seem to be the case with Perkins.

In their 5 wins prior to last night’s game, Perkins had a pure point rating of 4.79, an assist ratio of 21.35%, and a turnover ratio of 7%. In their three losses, she had a -3.48 pure point rating, a 15% assist ratio, and a 14% turnover ratio. In other words, without establishing a strong correlation, we can see that there is at least some sort of pattern of Perkins functioning as more of distributor in the Sky’s wins in addition to scoring.

This is clearly Jia Perkins’ team right now and if they are not going to have a highly structured system that utilizes their post players, it seems that they should be putting the ball in Perkins’ hands and letting her work her magic.

Transition Points:

Perkins is currently #7
in’s MVP race, but I think an argument could be made for her to at least be ahead of almost anyone not named Lauren Jackson. She’s having an amazing season, her team is doing well, and she is coming through for her team whenever they need her. If that’s not the definition of a MVP, I don’t know what is.

I actually watched last night’s game
to get a look at Kristi Toliver, but apparently she was not feeling well last night. I hope she is able to get healthy soon.

Mouthpiece Sports recently asked Kristi Toliver
about whether she can be the Derrick Rose of the WNBA. Aside from the fact that they are both rookie professional basketball players and reside in Chicago, I don't think the comparison is really fair to either player.