Cappie Pondexter: Among the Elite?

With the end of the season comes the tweaking of a season's-worth of various stats and metrics, including the Hall of Fame Projector.  The purpose of the Hall of Fame Projector is to determine which players would enter a hypothetical Hall of Fame based on their professional statistics alone.  (There are other various Halls of Fame that consider a player's non-professional career as well.)  The strength of the Hall of Fame projector is that it bases its analysis not on a comprehensive look at statistics but at the kinds of things that have traditionally impressed MVP voters:  points, rebounds, assists, MVP voting, All-Star appearances and championship rings.

When I built the WNBA version of the HOF Projector, I put in the restriction (for most players) that the Projector returns a value of zero for any player playing less than 160 games.  Five seasons is approximately 160 games; less than that and there's not much of a career to look at.  As a result, players who cross the 160-game threshold have the potential for making an unexpected appearance at the top of the list.

Enter Cappie Pondexter.

Games:  163
PPG (career):  19.7
RPG (career):  3.9
(career):  4.2

MVP Shares (so far):  0.36 - Pondexter first began receiving votes in 2008.
All-Star Selections:  Five in total, from 2006 - 2010:  Pondexter's appearance on the US Olympic team in 2008 and the USA Basketball FIBA team in 2010 shall count as All-Star appearances.
Rings:  Two in total, from the Phoenix Mercury 2007 and 2009 championship teams

Height:  Listed at 5'9".

Feeding all of those numbers into the HOF projector yields a value of 99 percent.  Cappie Pondexter might not be a "Hall of Famer fer sure" yet but she is certainly playing like one.  Her MVP shares total will probably increase shortly - even if she doesn't outright win the MVP she'll probably finish well and add to her total of MVP Shares.  And who knows, she might even earn a third ring?

So let's ask a set of questions that evaluate a player's place in the game.  The list of questions is called the Keltner List, after baseball statistician Bill James who used it to evaluate the careers of perennial HOF candidates like Ken Keltner.  This list comes from a modified list created by WNBA fan pilight.

1. Was she ever regarded as the best player in the WNBA? Did anybody, while she was active, ever suggest that she was the best player in the WNBA?

Ben York of SLAM Magazine suggested that if she wasn't the best in the world, she was one of the best.  However, he might be one of the only ones suggesting that.  As long as Lauren Jackson, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi are still active I don't think Pondexter will be regarded as the holder of that title.

2. Was she the best player on her team?

Since for four years Diana Taurasi was on her team, this is sort of an unfair question.  In 2006, Taurasi was the best player on the Mercury and Pondexter and Penny Taylor would have had to fight it out for #2.  In 2007, Pondexter would have fallen to third place on that championship squad.  Without Taylor in 2008, Pondexter moved to second place on the Mercury and was able to retain the spot in 2009 as Pondexter and Taylor were moving in different directions on the age curve. 

In short, the answer is "no" for the first four years of her career because of Taurasi.  Sometimes, she wasn't even the clear choice for second-best Mercury player.  In 2010, Cappie Pondexter became the best player on her new team, the New York Liberty.

3. Was she the best player in the WNBA at her position? Was she the best player in the conference at her position?

Hmm, who is the best tweener guard in the WNBA?  After all, she's played both point and shooting guard.  I'm going to be bold and say that of all the players who can play either role, she's the best one in the WNBA right now.

4. Did she have an impact on a number of postseasons?

Pondexter's first post-season year was 2007.  She averaged over 20 points a game and dumped 33 points on San Antonio in the deciding game of the Western Conference finals.  In Game Four of the Finals against Detroit she had 26 points when the Mercury needed a 77-76 win to stay alive and had 26 points and 10 assists in a Game Five blowout of the Shock that led to Phoenix's first WNBA championship.

In 2008, Phoenix missed the playoffs.  The following year, Pondexter was pretty much one-part-out-of-several in Phoenix's march to the championship.  However, against Indiana Pondexter was either the leading scorer for her team or tied for the lead in two out of those three wins and contributed 24 points and four rebounds in the deciding game on the 2009 WNBA Finals.

In both of the Liberty's post-season games in 2010 Pondexter has been the leading scorer for either team. Let's give her a "yes" on this one.

5. Was she a good enough player that she could continue to play regularly after passing her prime?

Pondexter hasn't even hit her peak age yet.  Imagine what she'll do next year.

6. Was she selected to any All-WNBA Teams?

She has been only named once to an All-WNBA Team - to the first team in 2009 with Becky Hammon, Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings and Lauren Jackson.

7. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

She only has five seasons, but she's currently playing at a Hall of Fame pace.

8. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by her statistics?

I don't see anything that would suggest that Pondexter's ability isn't captured in her statistics.  The Phoenix teams play at a very fast clip which allows individual players to collect a lot of points, but nothing in New York has suggested that Pondexter isn't capable of putting up big numbers no matter what the pace.

9. How many MVP-type seasons did she have? Did she ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was she close?

Pondexter has only received votes on the ballot twice:  in 2009 and 2010.  Pondexter received 13.58 votes in 2008 during a year when Candace Parker won in a walk.  (The year 2008 is the only year where parts of a vote were added to the total.  Long story.)  In 2009, she had 99 votes to Taurasi's 323, good for fourth place.  She's a major candidate for an MVP award in 2010, but has never been really close previously.

10. How many All-Star-type seasons did she have? How many All-Star games did she play in? Are most of the other players who played in this many likely to make the Hall of Fame?

She's been an All-Star or an All-Star equivalent all five years she's played.  Five All-Star selections, however, won't get you into the Hall of Fame.  Tari Philips has six All-Star equivalents (two from the ABL) and she's at 2 percent on the HOF monitor.  Penny Taylor has five equivalents (we count medal-winning Olympic teams) and she's at 25 percent.  But at least both of those players have a number greater than zero percent.

11. If this woman were the best player on her team, would it be likely that the team could make the playoffs?

Look at New York.

12. What impact did the player have on WNBA history? Did she help establish the league? Was she responsible for any rule changes? Did she change the game in any way?

Aside from odd haircuts and the WNBA logo that she has tattooed on her forearm, the answer would be "no".

13. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and community service?

With the little brou-haha during Game Two of the Eastern Conference semis, there's been some speculation than Cappie Pondexter might be a dirty player.  But I think that's merely speculation and not much else; smoke but no fire.  Pondexter is definitely a hard working player, and is willing to do the "dirty work" that most players don't like to do.  But if there's a line to be drawn between "competitive" and "dirty", I believe that Pondexter is on the proper side of that line.  Sometimes when you go all out, it can get a little rough out there.