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Rookie Rankings: Sorting Out The 2010 Rookies Chasing Charles

Seattle Storm rookie forward Jana Vesela has quietly emerged as one of the top rookies of 2010. <em>Photo courtesy of <a href="" target="new">Kailas Images</a>. </em>
Seattle Storm rookie forward Jana Vesela has quietly emerged as one of the top rookies of 2010. Photo courtesy of Kailas Images.

The WNBA's Rookie of the Year race was pretty much over after the first few games of the season.

As evidenced from yesterday's MVP rankings, Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles has pretty much had any rookie honors handed out this season locked up. Charles has either lived up to or exceeded the hype depending on who you talk to and is helping to make the Sun's aggressive off-season moves look worthwhile.

Yet perhaps making discussions of 2010 rookies either more boring or more interesting to examine closely, the race for the All-Rookie team is also starting to look settled, especially with the Tulsa Shock's release of guard Natasha Lacy whose numbers still rank her as one of the top 3 rookies. What makes things potentially interesting is that after Charles, the core group of All Rookie contenders is rounded out by two top five draft picks, a second round pick, and an undrafted rookie.

The way this rookie class is shaping up could be taken in two ways -- either it reinforces the widespread opinion that this was a weak draft class to begin with or it demonstrates just how difficult that whole draft process actually is, especially in a league like the WNBA that is both young and constantly developing making it hard to know what attributes translate to rookie success. While I tend to lean toward the latter, I would also suggest that there are also plenty of indicators that made some of this season's performances predictable to those paying close attention. However, it also demonstrates a bigger point -- so much of rookie success is dependent on context and the ability for their team to leverage their strengths. So when evaluating WNBA rookies, I tend to look more at a player's strengths that might indicate future success rather than solely looking at what they've accomplished in the present.

The rookie ranking framework

I described a framework for ranking rookies last year, but have since updated that framework to with the power of hindsight.

Based on that framework, my rookie rankings and essentially my 2010 All-Rookie team (through Sunday's games) are as follows:

Name/Team Usage% Pts/Empty* Floor%** VCR*** Value Added**** 2 point %
1. Tina Charles, Connecticut Sun 24.15% 2.32 69.02% 1.61 4.62 49.23%
2. Epiphanny Prince, Chicago Sky 26.87% 1.86 44.16% 1.14 -1.01 43.22%
3. Jana Vesela, Seattle Storm 12.07% 2.86 54.10% .94 1.02 78.94%
4. Natasha Lacy, free agent
26.16% 1.40 42.85% 1.51 1.04 51.47%
5. Kelsey Griffin, Connecticut Sun 15.49% 1.63 42.94% .78 .80 40.29%
6. Kalana Greene, New York Liberty 17.46% 1.81 40.75% .68 -1.29 52.56%

*WNBA average pts/empty possession = 1.77
**WNBA average floor% = 41.29%
***WNBA average VCR = .917
**** WNBA average Value Added = -.35

The reasoning:

1. Tina Charles: She's dominant. Productive. Efficient. And she does plenty beyond score points. There's no rookie who does more than her.

2. Epiphanny Prince: Mark Bodenrader of wondered aloud last week if Prince could have challenged Angel McCoughtry for 2009 Rookie of the Year. My answer is no. The reason is that McCoughtry, DeWanna Bonner and Shavonte Zellous were all more efficient scorers, though Prince's playmaking ability is a bit ahead of Zellous statistically. Nonetheless, Prince is good and would have been a justifiably #2 or #3 pick in the draft.

3. Jana Vesela: I imagine this comes as a bit of a surprise to some with Vesela not getting many minutes on the Storm. But I would also recommend considering the numbers. Vesela is a very, very efficient reserve. A large part of that value added rating is her 21.6% assist rate, which is well above average for a player at her position. The one glaring flaw in her performance thus far is her 24.17% turnover percentage, which will probably have to change in order for her to earn more minutes. While value added does account for defense moreso than other numbers, Vesela's versatility on both ends of the floor is noteworthy and part of what makes vaulting her to #3 more reasonable that it might first seem. Regardless, her numbers suggest that she is a player that would be making a lot more noise with more minutes on another team.

4. Natasha Lacy: It's still not entirely clear why Lacy was released from the Tulsa Shock, although Ivory Latta is in fact playing very well in her place. Lacy's turnover percentage of nearly 20% is way to high for a player who often has the ball in her hands and in four games (through Sunday) Latta had already shot twice as many threes (24) at 50%. Latta just offers things that Lacy didn't. What the value added shows about Lacy is that if she can manage to cut down on the turnovers, she might have a lot to offer another team. Her defensive rebounding percentage of 15.03% is great for a guard as is her 51.47% 2 point%. It's also worth noting that her steal percentage of 4.9% puts her near the elite category. Lacy has talent and for a team like the Shock that needs all the talent they can get, her release comes as a bit of surprise.

5. Kelsey Griffin: It was never clear to me why people doubted Griffin's talent around draft time. She was by far among the most statistically productive players in college basketball last season right up there with Charles and Moore. She demonstrate a versatile skillset and an outstanding sense of where to be on the court to make plays. Her performance thus far in her rookie year reflects everything we saw in college. She's not a high usage pro who is going to shoot a lot and change the fortunes of a franchise. But she is the type of player who will come into the game, rebound (defensive rebounding percentage of 18.84%), generally make smart plays for her position (assist rate of 13.32%), and not make a whole lot of mistakes. Her floor percentage is just above average meaning that she can contribute positively to a team, but obviously one might like a forward to have a 2 point% above 40.29%.

6. Kalana Greene: Greene is difficult to figure out. The reason she stands at #6 is a) the people behind her have played such limited roles that it's hard to drop her lower or b) the people behind her who have played larger roles for their teams are performing worse. What stands out about Greene in the the pros -- as in college -- is a strong 2 point% of 52%, which is quite impressive for a rookie guard (or any guard, really - her 52.56% is second on the Liberty). She has an assist rate of 16.46%. The problem is that Greene doesn't do a whole lot else and her assist rate is almost negated by her 15.58% turnover percentage. With her percentages, that wouldn't be terrible if she was more of a dynamic scorer and maybe she could become that with more touches. Right now, it's not that Greene is a bad player, but that she is a player who really has yet to distinguish herself.