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Who Should Be the WNBA Coach of the Year? (2012 Version)

It's time to look one more time at our metric for advocating a 2012 WNBA Coach of the Year. We've done this before last year and we outlined the method we used in the link. But it is worth repeating for any new readers.

The following categories are the ones considered in the ranking.

1. Close games. A good coach should do well in close games. In a close game, the advice given by a coach during timeouts can have a direct impact on the won-loss record of a team. This year, we'll look at won-loss record in games decided by five points or less - games where two baskets could have saved a team from defeat or cost it the victory. These are games where small changes by a coach can make a big difference.

This is a change from last year's method, where we called a close game decided by six points or less. Every team has played at least three close games this year, with Los Angeles and Seattle playing the least (3) and Chicago playing the most (9).

2. Turnovers. The coach might not be able to control for shooting percentage, but should have some control over turnovers. The offense should be designed so that the players can move the ball competently, and within the limits of their capabilities.

3. Offensive rebounds permitted. How much does it say about a coach if her team allows putbacks on missed shots from the opponents?

4. Momentum. This is measured by "streak wins", or counting all sets of wins that are accompanied by a preceding or following win - in short, counting the total wins in all winning streaks greater than or equal to two wins long. A well-coached team builds on its successes and is relatively consistent.

5. Opponent 3-point shooting. Teams should be able to guard the perimeter.

6. Road record. Does the team depend on the coach to help it win, or does it depend on favorable circumstances like a passionate home crowd?

7. Rotation consistency. In essence, a coach should know who she wants to start, and start them.

We use an imperfect tool called the Herfindahl Index. The Herfindahl Index is a basic measure of how well minutes are distributed across all players. There are two extremes: to give all five starters 40 minutes and leave everyone else on the bench, or to split minutes evenly between however many players there are.

Since a good coach shouldn't be looking for bench players to blossom deep into the season - a sign of desperation -we'll favor the first of the two extremes, the extreme of giving a small number of players a great number of minutes. This decision has two consequences - it rewards coaches in the Brian Agler mold who are likely to play their starters high minutes, and it penalizes coaches like Gary Kloppenburg who might not have any good players and who might have to give minutes to bench players because the starters aren't much better. It's a tough decision, but there's no easy way to measure rotation consistency.

8. Stupid moves. There should be a negative bonus for stupid moves, but there's not much of a way to measure stupid moves. So we ignore this category in our metric.

(* * *)

With Marynell Meadors leaving the Dream and Fred Williams taking over, we have an interesting situation in the WNBA - there are more male head coaches than female ones.

Male: Fred Williams, Mike Thibault, John Whisenant, Corey Gaines, Dan Hughes, Brian Agler, Gary Kloppenberg
Female: Pokey Chatman, Lin Dunn, Carol Ross, Cheryl Reeve, Trudi Lacey

It's untelling if this represents a trend or if it's just a fluke. Fred Williams ended up as head coach when Marynell Meadors left. Tulsa has started every season with a male head coach.

Now, our look at the categories.

1. Close games. There is a tie for winner here - both Connecticut and Los Angeles have the highest close game winning percentage. Connecticut is 6-0 in games decided by five points or less, and Los Angeles is 3-0. We give Mike Thibault and Carol Ross equal credit for their performances, although Thibault has been tested more.

The worst performance is from Atlanta, which is 1-5 in close games. (Meadors is 1-4 and Williams is 0-1.) Tulsa isn't much better at 2-5.

The most interesting close game performance comes from Chicago. The Sky have played nine close games with a 3-6 record - and have lost six out of their last seven close games! The Sky have a problem in closing the deal, with five straight close game losses - which must cause Pokey Chatman no end of woe.

2. Turnovers. Last years leader's - and losers - look pretty much the same. Dan Hughes of the Silver Stars takes care of the ball, with his team turning the ball over only 13.44 times per game as this writing, and Hughes won the trophy last year as well. Whereas Pokey Chatman's Sky is turning over the ball 19.29 times per game, a full two turnovers more than the nearest competitor, Washington. If Chicago could hang on to the ball, they might have turned some of those close losses into victory.

3. Offensive rebounds permitted. If Pokey Chatman hasn't solved the turnover problem, she has solved the offensive rebounding problem - the Sky only allow 8.17 offensive rebounds per game, a full rebound head of Minnesota's 9.76. Believe it or not, the team that allows the most offensive rebounds per game is the Los Angeles Sparks. (And even with this problem, Ross is still a contender for Coach of the Year.)

4. Streak wins. Minnesota has 21 streak wins and the Sparks have 19. As of this writing, all of their wins were streak wins. Out of the Sun's 19 wins, 18 are streak wins.

There are two teams that have been unable this year to build a winning streak of at least two wins. Phoenix and Washington earn the goose-egg. The last time the Washington Mystics won back-to-back games was on August 20 and August 22, 2010 - a home 75-74 win over New York and a 90-81 road win against the Dream to close the regular season with a six-game win streak and take the conference title. (Don't you miss Julie Plank?)

5. Opponent 3-point shooting. Minnesota and Los Angeles tie by allowing their opponents only a 32.6 percent accuracy rate from behind the arc. Worst of all are the Silver Stars who allow 37.1 percent 3-point shooting to their opponents as of the end of Friday's games.

6. Road record. Connecticut has the best road record with a 10-2. At the bottom are the Washington Mystics with a 1-12 road record, a half-game behind Tulsa at 1-11.

7. Rotation consistency. It's Herfindahl Index time! As said before, the smaller the value the more the concentration of total team minutes belongs to fewer people. The numbers as of this writing:

LAS 8.11
NYL 8.40
SEA 8.70
SAS 8.73
MIN 8.74
IND 8.76
PHO 8.81
CON 8.85
ATL 8.89
CHI 9.42
TUL 9.57
WAS 9.91

Once again, coaching choices can have a lot to do with these values. Seattle tends to be high because Brian Agler leans on his starters. But it looks like he might be beat this year by Carol Ross.

(* * *)

We do what we did the year before: we give each coach a rating in each category from 1 (best) to 12 (worst) and see which coaches float to the top. Since the best value you can get is a one, you want to have a low overall ranking.
MIN Cheryl Reeve 20.5
CON Mike Thibault 27.5
LAS Carol Ross 30.0
IND Lin Dunn 33.5
SAS Dan Hughes 41.0
NYL John Whisenant 44.5
SEA Brian Agler 49.5
CHI Pokey Chatman 50.5
ATL Marynell Meadors/Fred Williams 57.0
PHO Corey Gaines 59.0
TUL Gary Kloppenburg 64.5
WAS Trudi Lacey 65.5

Cheryl Reeve would be my candidate for Coach of the Year. She's not below a five in any of the categories. She's leading the Western Conference for a second year in a row, and led the Lynx to 10 opening season victories. The argument will come that "it's not the coach, it's the players" but if that's the case then Cheryl Reeve does an excellent job of standing out of the way - if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and that's a lesson some coaches never learn.

Of course, the voters could give it to Mike Thibault if they want to change things up. Mike Thibault is inching his way closer to Van Chancellor's record for most career coaching wins and a win of the Coach of the Year award would give him victory #3 in that category, tying Van Chancellor which would make some good press for a franchise that seems to stay out of the limelight.

Carol Ross would be the real dark horse candidate. The Sparks and the Lynx are good candidates to meet in the Western Conference Finals. As of this writing, they were only 2 1/2 games behind the defending WNBA Champions. If they did a better job on the offense glass, the race would be a lot tighter.

Let's look at the bottom three candidates. Corey Gaines has never scored well on these metrics and he's missing some of the key wheels to the Mercury sled. Gary Kloppenburg has had to do without his franchise player and needed to repair two years of mismanagement, so we can give him a pass. But for Trudi Lacey, I doubt there's any good news - if Lacey isn't out at Washington this season, she must possess incriminating photographs of someone. The big question would be if Marynell Meadors is desperate enough to take a job with the Mystics.