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Player Similarities For Tulsa Shock & Washington Mystics Rookies

LaSondra Barrett's versatility and ability to attack the basket made her a valuable player at LSU, but how much of that production will transfer to the WNBA? <em>Crystal Logiudice-US PRESSWIRE</em>
LaSondra Barrett's versatility and ability to attack the basket made her a valuable player at LSU, but how much of that production will transfer to the WNBA? Crystal Logiudice-US PRESSWIRE

Prior to this year's draft, I looked at statistics from 2009-2011 to create player similarities for draft prospects based on SPI playing styles.

I described the framework for SPI playing style similarities the other day and while it provides countless examples of statistically similar players that lend themselves to the "poor man's" comparison, it also yields a few pairs (or triplets) in which a 2012 prospect might be expected to be better than the past prospect they compare to.

Before using these similarities to do a more complete analysis of 2012 rookies - during training camp and throughout the season - here are a few examples of relatively close similarities between 2012 WNBA draft prospects and the statistical profiles of current WNBA players to flesh out how exactly this process works.

Quick overview of the SPI playing styles similarity framework

I laid out the general idea behind this analysis at length the other day, but here are the major points:

  • These comparisons are based upon their SPI player style percentile rankings relative to all the other prospects since 2009 (and a select few from 2008). Click here for a complete description of what these style rankings mean.
  • A "direct match" means that there was no more than a sum 8% differential across two players' scoring, perimeter, and interior tendencies not necessarily that you should expect the two players to be as good as each other. That means if you were to
  • Physical attributes are not taken into account in these comparisons. So things like athleticism, conditioning, height, quickness, strength, weight, etc. are left out. The obvious reason - and definite shortcoming of any statistical analysis - is that many of those things can't be measured. But that very shortcoming also adds to the analysis in a way: it can be interesting to note what a "direct match" between a very athletic player and a not so athletic player might mean.
  • Obviously, intangibles like attitude, leadership and work ethic were not taken into account here.
  • There were a few instances where a player was a direct match to a player who did not get drafted. I'll point those out where players currently in the WNBA don't match quite as well, but those undrafted similarities don't mean that a player will end up facing the same fate.
  • In addition to the SPI ratings, I included shooting efficiency, offensive rebounding percentage, and steal percentage, which have been important draft statistics in the past. 3-point shooting is not necessarily accounted for in SPI playing styles so I mention those when the difference is significant.
  • Consistent with most NBA draft analysis, these similarities are constructed with players' senior year statistics only.
  • All of the statistics referenced below are explained in our statistics glossary.

That the players listed below happen to play for the teams with the two worst records in the league is really just a coincidence: they just happened to be the ones that caught my attention as I was trying to figure out this whole framework.

More than anything, these similarities might help the better understand what questions we might ask about various players as they aim for roster spots in training camp.

Player comparisons

Headers include player name, the team that drafted them, and where they were selected in the draft. Links are to draft prospect profiles.

Glory Johnson, Tulsa Shock, 4th overall

Player (School, Draft Year) Height S% P% I% TS% Oreb% Stl%
Glory Johnson (Tennessee, 2012) 6'3" 12 18 95 57.87 13.06 2.66
Kia Vaughn (Rutgers, 2009) 6'4" 13 13 96 57.75 11.47 1.97

Glory Johnson projects as an "interior utility" player or someone who is going to rebound well but not necessarily going to be a big scorer.

Johnson and Kia Vaughn aren't a direct match, but the small difference in SPI playing style might simply reflect that Johnson is a more of a power forward while Vaughn is a center; Johnson holds a marginal advantage in steals while Vaughn was more of a shot blocker and what Johnson might lack in size, comparatively, she could make up for with quickness.

Along those lines of Johnson being the quicker player of these two is a large difference in free throw production rate (FTM/FGA) for Johnson: 39.88% to 10.07%; Vaughn's free throw production rate was extremely low for any draft prospect but especially for a post player. Often times, that's indicative of a post player who either didn't get the ball in a scoring position that often in their college team's half court offense or simply didn't have much of an offensive arsenal. For Vaughn, it was the former as her college usage rate of 16.40% was rather low; last season was essentially confirmation of how much upside Vaughn had and it might not be unreasonable to believe that Johnson could put up similar numbers at some point in her career.

Working in Johnson's favor are two things: first, Johnson was a much larger part of Tennessee's offense, with a usage rate of about 22.9% to go with that scoring efficiency above. Second, she's among the top 5% of all rebounders to enter the draft since 2009, a list that includes Vaughn, Courtney Paris, Ta'Shia Phillips, Carolyn Swords, and Krystal Thomas. Where Johnson stands out in comparison as a rebounder is that she's a bit more nimble than all of them in the paint and has become a much-improved scorer.

Vaughn's rookie numbers were nothing spectacular and Johnson will likely be playing a slightly different position than Vaughn in the pros. But statistically, it wouldn't be all that surprising if Johnson puts up numbers close to what Vaughn posted in 2011 - she's the more polished player coming out of college and should get plenty of opportunities to contribute with the Tulsa Shock.

LaSondra Barrett, Washington Mystics, 10th overall

Player (School, Draft Year) Height S% P% I% TS% Oreb% Stl%
LaSondra Barrett (Louisiana State, 2012)
6'2" 14.2 64.6
Kayla Pedersen (Stanford, 2011) 6'4" 12
56.88 7.56

LaSondra Barrett sits among unique company as a player with strong interior and perimeter tendencies, which begins to explain where the close similarity to Kayla Pedersen comes from.

A large part of what made both players dangerous in college was their versatility: both essentially played all five positions on the court when necessary and bring a skill set to the WNBA's 11-player roster that is attractive in that they might be able to do more than one thing well.

But there's also an obvious difference: Barrett is two inches shorter, which has to leave some question about how much of her versatility might transfer to the pro ranks. Yet that might not be the most significant difference between the two players.

Barrett holds some statistical "advantages" over Pedersen, although they wouldn't really detract from Pedersen's value as a prospect. The biggest difference is that while Pedersen had a great free throw production rate of 33.12% for a player in her position, Barrett had an astronomical 61.67% free throw production rate, which is the mark of an extremely aggressive scorer who is able to get to the rim from wherever she's playing. A more minor difference compared to Pedersen is that Barrett was a better 3-point shooter in her senior year: Barrett shot 38.7% in her senior year compared to Pedersen's 26.7%, which proved to be more of an anomaly than anything else for Pedersen as she shot 32.4% for the Tulsa Shock in her rookie season.

However, the most significant difference is 2-point percentage. Barrett obviously has a knack for getting to the free throw line, but she won't have the same size advantage against pro competition and she had a 2-point percentage of 41.33%, which is probably more of a red flag for a player who played the type of inside-out game that she did than it would be for, say, a 6'2" pure wing. And as for ball handling, part of what made Pedersen such an intriguing prospect was that she was an extremely efficient ball handler as a 6'4" player with a pure point rating of 1.11 in her senior year, which was higher than both 2011 Pac-10 Player of the Year and Stanford Cardinal teammate Jeanette Pohlen (0.24 PPR); Barrett in contrast had a senior year PPR of -4.62, which is primarily due to a high turnover ratio of 18.14% for a prospect that has been touted for versatility.

Barrett's success in the pros might depend on her fit with a system moreso than any static assessment of her talent. Getting drafted by the Washington Mystics was probably ideal for Barrett in that they were 10th in the league in 3-point shooting last season and they lost their two best long-range shooters from 2011 in Marissa Coleman and Kelly Miller who accounted for nearly 60% of the team's made threes last season. If Barrett can make the roster by showing the ability to contribute that, perhaps she could develop into a more efficient contributor in the future.

Riquna Williams, Tulsa Shock, 17th overall

Player (School, Draft Year) Height S% P% I% TS% Oreb% Stl%
Riquna Williams (Miami, 2012)
5'7" 88.3 68
Epiphanny Prince (Rutgers, 2009*) 5'9" 84.5
52.90 6.11
Candice Wiggins (Stanford, 2008) 5'11" 83.8
56.16 3.50

* These are Prince's numbers from her final year at Rutgers before leaving school early to play overseas.

The direct match for Williams is actually 5'7" Tennessee State guard Kenda Appling (2009), who currently plays for the Atlanta Battlecats of the Women's Blue Chip Basketball League. What they had in common in college was that they were both volume shooting perimeter players with low assist ratios, which is typically not a recipe for success for a player under 5'8".

The bottom line is that Williams projects as a scoring perimter player, which helps to explain why her closest WNBA comparisons, statistically, were Epiphanny Prince and Candice Wiggins: not many college scoring perimeter players make the league right now by SPI playing styles and those two have been among that group. But that doesn't negate the glaring differences related to height and size: both Prince and Wiggins had stronger interior tendencies than Williams, with Wiggins having a far superior defensive rebounding percentage for a guard (12.31%) while Prince was the better offensive rebounder.

But more significant is that, comparatively, Williams was an inefficient volume scorer. Not shown above - although implied by the true shooting percentage - is that Williams had a 2-point percentage of 41.72%, which is significantly lower than that of Prince (45.9%) or Wiggins (48.99%); as mentioned elsewhere, guards that fall under the 45% mark in college struggle to make it in the pros, particularly if they're not particularly efficient distributors.

Along those lines of shooting efficiency, another comparison that came up was Taylor Lilley, who played for the Phoenix Mercury after graduating from Oregon. But what helped Lilley make the league was that she was both a better distributor and a prolific 3-point shooter - she was a 40.5% 3-point shooter in her senior year and had twice as many made threes as Williams, who shot 36% her senior year. And again, the 2-point percentage matters: as much as she was known as a long-range shooter, Lilley did have a 46.26% percentage from inside the arc.

Williams' athleticism, partially indicated by an impressive steal percentage, will certainly help her as she aspires to make a WNBA roster and even separates her from any of the above attempts at comparison. Like Johnson, being in Tulsa should help Williams' cause: they need perimeter scoring and if Williams proves that she can do that against WNBA defenses, she has as good a chance as any second round pick to make that roster.

Natalie Novosel, Washington Mystics, 8th overall

Player (School, Draft Year) Height S% P% I% TS% Oreb% Stl%
Natalie Novosel (Notre Dame, 2012) 5'11" 85.7 48.4
Tyra Grant (Penn State, 2010)
5'11" 89.9
48.52 4.38

Although Novosel strikes many as a versatile playmaking guard, she is far closer to a scoring perimeter player statistically, albeit not as much of a pure scorer as the players above. That begins with her rather high usage rate of 27.92%. But it's punctuated by the fact that she turned the ball over more often (12.92% turnover ratio) than she created an assist (10.82% assist ratio) at Notre Dame. One knock on Grant was that she wasn't much of a playmaker, but statistically Novosel wasn't much better in her senior year.

Yet the most significant similarity between Grant and Novosel goes beyond being the same height and is alluded to by the Minnesota Lynx' 2010 draft prospect profile of Grant: "an incredibly good scoring guard, and vicious when attacking the rim." As it turns out, Grant and Novosel had almost identical free throw rates in college (43.13% and 43.7%, respectively); that knack for drawing contact and earn points from the free throw line made them dangerous college scorers.

However, they also share a major red flag: 2-point percentages under 45%. Novosel (42.24%) was better than Grant (37.63%) in this regard. Wings with low 2-point percentages tend not to fare well in the WNBA because it usually indicates a tendency to settle for jumpers too often or an inability to create high percentage scoring opportunities for themselves inside he 3-point arc.

Nevertheless, there's still a major advantage that Novosel has over Grant, which shows up in her stronger true shooting percentage: 3-point shooting. It's hard to find an example of a prospect that has overcome the inefficient distributing and shooting with 3-point shooting in the era of 11-player rosters, but it's still noteworthy that Novosel (41.1%) was a much better shooter from beyond the arc than Grant (32%).

Similar to Barrett, Novosel fits a 3-point shooting need and if she can knock down threes with any measure of consistency, she will certainly improve her chances to make the Mystics' roster.

Feel free to leave any feedback you have in the comments - this is all a work-in-progress that's interesting but far from finished or perfect.