One Woman Teams

For any Atlanta Dream fan, there was a lot to be annoyed about in Game Two. The horrible officiating. The homerism of the announcers. (I didn't know Terry Gannon played for the Lynx.) Iziane Castro Marques' 1-for-6 shooting performance at the free throw line in a game that essentially depended on free throw shooting (in general, 20 percent of WNBA points are scored at the free throw line; in this game, 30 percent were scored there).

On the other hand, you couldn't help but be astonished at Angel McCoughtry who tied the WNBA Finals record for points scored in a game in Game One and then broke that record in Game Two (although, not surprisingly, Gannon and Lobo barely mentioned it). McCoughtry is one of those rare players that can elevate a game single-handedly.

But then I thought about another player who could single-handedly take the game into his own hands: Michael Jordan.

From 1987 to 1990 other teams played the "Jordan Rules" against him. Chuck Daly, coach of the Detroit Pistons, explains:

"If Michael was at the point, we forced him left and doubled him. If he was on the left wing, we went immediately to a double team from the top. If he was on the right wing, we went to a slow double team. He could hurt you equally from either wing—hell, he could hurt you from the hot-dog stand—but we just wanted to vary the look. And if he was on the box, we doubled with a big guy.

The other rule was, any time he went by you, you had to nail him. If he was coming off a screen, nail him. We didn't want to be dirty—I know some people thought we were—but we had to make contact and be very physical."

If there's been a theme in interviews with Atlanta Dream head coach Marynell Meadors, it is that other teams are very physical in playing against McCoughtry. Meadors has stated that McCoughtry has been double and triple-teamed all year. However, McCoughtry gets the benefit of physical play - part of her effectiveness depends on going to the free throw line after getting the inevitable defensive foul on the drive to the basket. A set of McCoughtry Rules won't work against her.

Rather, I wondered if a Reverse Jordan Rules would work - why don't you just give Angel McCoughtry forty (or fifty) points and spend your time stopping everyone else on the Dream? This was the advice that B. J. Armstrong told Donyell Marshall at Golden State: "Let Michael score his points, and stop everyone else."

I doubt that there's a coach in the WNBA bold enough to try something like that. But this brought to mind yet another theme in the book The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith. The theme is that Jordan had to learn to distribute the ball to his teammates in order to prevent defenses from focusing on one player. Daly also stated that it's very difficult for a superstar's teammates to learn what their roles are - do they take the shot or do they look to set the conditions so that the star can shine?

It was then time for the math. Have there ever been "one woman teams" in the WNBA? We could find these teams by using the Boxscores values method by David Sparks.

The method attempts to estimate a player's contribution to a team's total wins by divving up wins among the team's players. In order to assign wins to players, the method determines the percentage of wins that that player is reponsible for. In this case, I wasn't so much interested in the wins the player received as the percentage of total team value the player was responsible for.

Here are the top twenty "one woman teams" in WNBA history. The percentage that follows is the percentage value of team wins that would be assigned to the given player for the given season.

Tamika Catchings 2002 IND 37.53%
Sylvia Fowles 2011 CHI 31.54%
Lauren Jackson 2003 SEA 31.05%
Cynthia Cooper 1997 HOU 30.93%
Lauren Jackson 2007 SEA 30.74%
Yolanda Griffith 1999 SAC 30.57%
Tamika Catchings 2003 IND 30.35%
Candace Parker 2008 LAS 29.71%
Lisa Leslie 1998 LAS 29.34%
Sylvia Fowles 2010 CHI 29.33%
Yolanda Griffith 2001 SAC 29.30%
Lauren Jackson 2005 SEA 29.28%
Katie Smith 2001 MIN 29.27%
Tamika Catchings 2005 IND 29.09%
Tamika Catchings 2004 IND 29.00%
Tamika Catchings 2006 IND 28.52%
Sheryl Swoopes 2000 HOU 28.31%
Yolanda Griffith 2000 SAC 28.23%
Yolanda Griffith 2004 SAC 28.20%
Brandy Reed 2000 PHO 28.13%

A few things stand out.

1. This list is dominated by players who will someday be in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
2. Tamika Catchings has the best claim to being a "one woman team", appearing five times on this list and accounting for 37.53 percent of the wins of the 2002 Indiana Fever. That was the first year Indiana went to the playoffs but Catchings wasn't strong enough to elevate the Fever past the first round. Yolanda Griffith would win the silver medal in the One-Woman-Team sweepstakes.
3. Only two of these teams ever won a WNBA championship. Both were the Houston Comets, in 1997 under Cynthia Cooper and in 2000 with Sheryl Swoopes carrying most of the load. Both of these cases could be seen as extraordinary circumstances not easily replicated.

Of course, only looking at 15 years, there might not be enough data. The above, however, implies that one player can't elevate a team to a WNBA title.

But certainly, McCoughtry would be a one-woman team? Isn't that what's keeping Atlanta from the championship?

No. According to Boxscores values, McCoughtry has never provided more than 20 percent of the Dream's total value. McCoughtry has been able to depend on Erika de Souza, Sancho Lyttle and Iziane Castro Marques - and even though this has been a disappointing year for Iziane, Lindsey Harding came right in to pick up the slack. Meadors has talked a great deal about Atlanta's balance. Look at the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where McCoughtry underperformed but the Dream swept Connecticut anyway.

It looks like there are no sorts of rules - Jordan Rules, McCoughtry Rules, or otherwise - that would allow anyone to stop the Dream by simply stopping McCoughtry. Maybe it's just best to let Lori Ann have her way and hope for the best.