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2012 WNBA Free Agency: Finding Value Among The Remaining Unrestricted Free Agents

There were two truly elite players - as in, MVP-caliber in 2011 - in this year's unrestricted free agent class and they've already been re-signed.

And although there are still some potential contributors among the remaining free agents, the question might be just how much they're able to contribute. To help answer that question, we turn to the numbers.

Obviously, one of the biggest considerations when adding a free agent is the nebulous "chemistry" factor or how well a player fits with the existing personnel on a team as well as strategic factors envisioned by a coach.

But another consideration - especially for those signing paychecks - is how many quality minutes a player can be expected to give once changing scenery; in other words, independent of how much their previous team had to play them, how do we separate players that can play starter's minutes from rotation players from reserves? We can all think of countless examples in any professional sport where a player put up great numbers on the surface (e.g. points, assists, rebounds) but either declined after that or simply wasn't able to repeat the feat because their basic numbers were deceiving.

Age (or age curves) is definitely part of figuring out whether a player might decline. Yet for younger players - or the handful of seemingly ageless players in the WNBA - what you might want to know is how much a productive player could produce in more minutes in a new situation or whether there might be a diamond in the rough with pedestrian basic numbers that might be poise. Conversely, there might be a player who was inefficient in big minutes but could be more efficient in decreased minutes.

The statistics:

VCR: Last off-season I used Valuable Contributions Ratio (VCR) as a way to understand how many "quality minutes" a player might give you: a player with an average VCR probably gave you about as many quality minutes as they're capable of, a player with an above average VCR could probably remain efficient in the number of minutes they got previously, and a player with a below average VCR would probably be more efficient in less minutes. VCR is therefore not so much a standalone metric as much as a modifier to put productivity in context. For reference, the average VCR was .85 in the 2011 season.

ValPct (or Percent Valuable Contributions): ValPct is the percentage of a team's total production that a player contributed. For some perspective on ValPct, the best in the league in 2010 was Chicago Sky center Sylvia Fowles at 28.97 with Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings not far behind at 27.35. The average was 8.4. So again, that helps us get a sense of how much they contributed to the team's overall statistical production.

RAPM (Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus): Described at length previously, RAPM is an adjusted plus/minus metric that controls for "backup", bad team, and teammate effects to actually give us a metric that says something about the value of a player. For our purposes here, we'll look at 4-year RAPM to get a sense of the impact a player has had on their team over time as those factors above have changed (click here for 1-year RAPM).

WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player): Based on performance and playing time, WARP is simply the wins a player has created as compared to a replacement-level player seeing the same minutes. Kevin Pelton - who uses WARP at - elaborates on it at Basketball Prospectus.

With all of that, we can start to look at how much the remaining unrestricted free agents might contribute to teams this season.


Name 2011 TEAM 2011 Games 2011 Min/G 2011
4-year RAPM 2011 WARP 2011 VCR Status?
Catchings, Tamika Ind. 33 31.52 23.24% + 8.6 8.5 1.52 Re-signed
Bird, Sue Sea. 34 33.02 21.85% + 3.6 6.5 1.32 Re-signed

It's no surprise the Indiana Fever and Seattle Storm wanted to keep these players around.

Valuable Contributors

Name 2011 TEAM 2011 Games 2011 Min/G 2011 Val Pct
4-year RAPM 2011 WARP 2011 VCR Status?
de Souza, Erika Atl. 32 27.42 14.80% + 1.0 2.2 1.16 Cored
McWilliams, Taj Min. 34 28.39 12.77% + 4.5 1.2 0.90 Re-signed
Penicheiro, Ticha L.A. 34 23.74 12.21% + 1.9 0.4 1.04
Wright, Tanisha Sea. 33 28.89 13.58% + 1.2 0.8 0.97 Re-signed
Swoopes, Sheryl Tul. 33 26.65 14.57% + 0.3 0.3 1.13
Snow, Michelle Chi. 34 24.14 11.14% + 0.4 -0.4 0.93 Signed with Washington
Thompson, Tina L.A. 34 25.02 10.78% - 1.0 1.6 0.87
Riley, Ruth S.A. 34 18.96 8.75% + 0.3 0.1 0.93 Signed with Chicago

  • Sheryl Swoopes: What Swoopes' numbers suggest is that she was a very productive starter in significant minutes for the Tulsa Shock last season and that she could remain productive with more minutes. And she is a perfect value of the utility of VCR: while she might not be responsible for nearly 15% of a playoff team's production, she was still an efficient contributor for the Shock. But how does that work out for a player that only averaged around half of her career scoring average last season? Despite not scoring as much as we remember, Swoopes was still a very effective all-around player. She had one of the best defensive rebounding seasons of her career (17.5% defensive rebounding percentage) and was a low-usage scorer who proved to be an efficient distributor as well (0.64 pure point rating). For all the talk about her age, it's possible that Swoopes could still be a valuable free agent addition for someone if she chooses not to retire.
  • Ticha Penicheiro: Like Swoopes, she's apparently ageless and probably has more in the tank to offer. As we should expect, she remained among the most efficient point guards in the league last year (4.58 pure point rating) and was an efficient scorer who could get to the free throw line though she's obviously not a big scorer. Barring another move to acquire a point guard, Penicheiro's retirement decision could have a huge influence on the Sparks.
  • Ruth Riley vs. Michelle Snow: The Chicago Sky have essentially swapped Michelle Snow for Ruth Riley in their rotation and what stands out is that their numbers are strikingly similar. What separates them lies in a closer look at the RAPM numbers: while Snow is a much better offensive player (though both are in the negative), Riley was a much better defensive player. In fact, her defensive RAPM of +2.6 is among the best over the last four years. The one-year numbers show that the gap is not quite as large as it looks over the span of four years, but it will be interesting to see how and whether this "swap" benefits the Sky - WARP is in favor of Riley, but Val Pct suggests that Snow contributed more to her team...albeit a non-playoff team.
  • Taj McWilliams-Franklin: No matter how you look at it, McWilliams-Franklin was among the biggest free agent prizes this season because her impact on the Minnesota Lynx' defense was huge. The four-year RAPM numbers basically reaffirm that.

Rotation Players

Name 2011 TEAM 2011 Games 2011 Min/G 2011 Val Pct
4-year RAPM 2011 WARP 2011 VCR Status?
Miller, Kelly Was. 34 27.74 10.53% - 1.3 -0.6 0.77
Smith, Katie Sea. 34 25.10 9.6% + 0.8 1.0 0.77 Re-signed with Storm
Kraayeveld, Cathrine Chi. 33 20.64 7.66% + 1.4 1.5 0.77 Signed with Atlanta
Thorn, Erin Chi. 34 16.79 6.35% - 3.9 0.4 0.76 Signed with Lynx
Miller, Coco Atl. 31 17.37 5.64% - 5.5 -0.7 0.72
Lacy, Jennifer Tul. 34 19.22 7.86% - 3.1 - 0.8 0.82 Re-signed

  • Katie Smith: Last off-season's numbers suggested Smith could still be productive in less than the 30 minutes per game she played for the Washington Mystics in the 2010 season. This off-season's numbers suggest that the Storm got just about as many quality minutes as one could expect out of her. But one thing that stands out about Smith is that she's still got that warrior mentality that makes her a defensive presence: her 4-year defensive RAPM of +2.4 is what makes her a "positive" player and her 1-year defensive RAPM from 2011 was a more modest +0.5, but still indicative of value.
  • Erin Thorn: Thorn is an example of a player whose ability to one thing exceptionally well (she has shot right around 40% from the 3-point line for the last 3 years with Chicago) makes her relatively minor statistical contribution to her team significant. Not that the Lynx needed more talent, but it does give them another ball handling and scoring option.

Role Players

Name 2011 TEAM 2011 Games 2011 Min/G 2011 Val Pct
4-year RAPM 2011 WARP 2011 VCR Status?
Walker, DeMya Was. 30 16.30 4.88% - 0.1 - 0.4 0.69
Castro Marques, Iziane Atl. 34 19.76 3.90% -1.0 -2.0 0.40
Ferdinand-Harris, Marie Pho. 34 17.44 3.33% - 1.0 - 2.2 0.38
Robinson, Scholanda S.A. 32 16.18 3.69% - 1.1 - 1.1 0.49
Irvin, Sandora Atl. 30 8.28 2.73% - 0.1 - 0.1 0.76
Canty, Dominique Chi. 22 15.05 1.66% + 2.5 - 1.6 0.34
Spencer, Sidney
Pho. 24 7.4 1.60% - 0.5 0.0
Ely, Shyra Ind. 33 10.75 2.21% - 1.2 - 1.2 0.43 Re-signed
Snell, Belinda Sea. 21 6.39 1.37% + 0.1 0.1 0.70
Moore, Jessica Con. 29 6.85 1.20% + 0.3 - 0.9 0.42

  • Dominique Canty: Canty's numbers reflect the fact that she had the least productive season of her career by any statistical standard, but what stands out about her RAPM is that she's been a solid defensive player. She might be an interesting fit with a team looking for a veteran ball handler who can defend for stints.
  • Scholanda Robinson: Although Robinson's numbers above suggest that she didn't have a particularly strong 2011 season, a closer look at her numbers reveals three positives: her 4-year defensive RAPM of 1.2 is solid, her 34% 3-point percentage could be useful for a team that's looking for a perimeter threat, and she didn't turn the ball over much at all. She could be a good pickup in the right situation.


(Veteran players who saw limited or no action last season due to injury or other absence)

Name 2011 TEAM 2011 Games 2011 Min/G 2011 MEV 4-year RAPM 2011 WARP 2011 VCR Status?
Lennox, Betty Tul. 9 N/A N/A - 3.4 N/A N/A
Currie, Monique Was. 4 N/A N/A + 1.7 N/A N/A Cored
Alana Beard Was. Out for season N/A N/A - 3.6 N/A N/A Signed with L.A.
Nikki Blue
N/A N/A N/A N/A - 0.8 N/A N/A
Shameka Christon
Chi. Out for season N/A N/A +1.3 N/A N/A Signed with San Antonio
Ann Wauters N/A N/A N/A N/A + 0.5 N/A N/A Signed with Seattle

  • Ann Wauters: Wauters was an outstanding addition for the Seattle Storm this offseason and her acquisition makes trading Ashley Robinson make even more sense. The Storm had the second-lowest offensive rating in the Western Conference ahead of only the last place Tulsa Shock. Wauters has been a very efficient scorer and solid passer - especially in the high post - throughout her career and should help the Storm offensively.
  • Monique Currie: Currie is yet another example of a player whose numbers are misleading because she was injured most of last season, had a career year in 2010, and was a far less productive player last season. But she's an aggressive defender, has the ability to get her own shot, and is still a relatively young player. Pretty much any team that feels they have a hole at the small forward spot could use Currie; right now, that would certainly apply to the Mystics