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WNBA Hollinger Power Rankings: What Difference Might Angel McCoughtry Make For The Atlanta Dream?

Atlanta Dream wing Angel McCoughtry had an 18-point fourth quarter on Sunday in her return to action from an indefinite suspension. But what specific impact might her presence have on the Dream? <em>Photo by Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE.</em>
Atlanta Dream wing Angel McCoughtry had an 18-point fourth quarter on Sunday in her return to action from an indefinite suspension. But what specific impact might her presence have on the Dream? Photo by Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE.

The WNBA Hollinger Power Rankings haven't changed a whole lot since last week, as we might expect.

The Los Angeles Sparks overtook the San Antonio Silver Stars as the second-ranked team in the power rankings, setting up an intriguing matchup with the Minnesota Lynx tonight (8 p.m. EDT on NBA TV) as we discussed as a possibility last week. The Tulsa Shock moved ahead of the New York Liberty into ninth place after a road win over the Atlanta Dream and a home win against the Los Angeles Sparks, which is certainly noteworthy for a franchise that hasn't had much success over the last couple of seasons.

But the most interesting team in the the rankings might be a team that hasn't made a move at all in the past week: the Dream.

Rank Team
1 Minnesota Lynx
2 Los Angeles Sparks
3 San Antonio Silver Stars
4 Indiana Fever
5 Connecticut Sun
6 Atlanta Dream
7 Seattle Storm
8 Chicago Sky
9 Tulsa Shock
10 New York Liberty
11 Washington Mystics
12 Phoenix Mercury

2012 WNBA Hollinger Power Rankings as of 9/3/12.

After all the drama surrounding the dismissal of Marynell Meadors, Angel McCoughtry's absences, and what M Robinson has described as a gloomy atmosphere at Phillips Arena, McCoughtry's dramatic fourth quarter performance in a win against the Connecticut Sun on Sunday has the Dream looking like a team poised to make another late-season run to become the team that nobody wants to see in the playoffs.

But as WNBA fans continue to ponder whether the Dream should be looking to trade McCoughtry this offseason, it's also interesting to consider what the team has looked like with and without their star scorer this season. And what's interesting is that it's not necessarily scoring that the Dream lost without McCoughtry in the starting lineup.

Looking at the Dream's Four Factors numbers, the biggest change in differential with McCoughtry in and out of the starting lineup has been their offensive rebounding percentage differential.

Period eFG% Tov% OReb% FT Rate Record
First 15 games - 0.04 + 0.13
+ 0.12 + 0.13 7-8
Last 12 games - 0.07
+ 0.13
- 0.06
+ 0.10
Overall - 0.05
+ 0.13
+ 0.04
+ 0.12

Weighted Four Factors differentials for the Atlanta Dream during the 2012 season.

The "McCoughtry Effect"

Bear in mind these numbers are perfect "McCoughtry splits" - those last 12 games include a) the four games McCoughtry was out for prior to the Olympic break and b) the two games after the Olympic break in which McCoughtry did start (in the other two games she came off the bench and played more than 10 minutes less than her prior season average). But even with that caveat, the difference is pretty stark.

So why might the team have seen a larger dip in offensive rebounding than scoring efficiency? The answer lies in the play of rookie Tiffany Hayes, who started in McCoughtry's absence and saw her minutes almost double.

As most Swish Appeal readers are probably well-aware now, McCoughtry scores a lot but shoots so much that she's not particularly efficient; Hayes shot 51.2% from the field in July and 46.3% in August, both numbers well above her season rate of 40.1%. So while the Dream have not had McCoughtry's points, they didn't suffer much at all in terms of scoring efficiency.

The reason for that negligible change - in addition to Hayes being a rather efficient scorer during that time - is also something that might have stood out through simply observation: the Dream were much better at moving the ball, without McCoughtry, with an adjusted synergy of 34.19 compared to 24.78 with her (a leap that represents mediocre to above average). That's not all that surprising when you take out a player who uses more plays as a scorer than any in WNBA history and is among the most dominant one-on-one scorers in the league.

Why the change in offensive rebounding?

The drop-off in offensive rebounding can probably be explained, at least in part, by replacing McCoughtry with Hayes - McCoughtry's 8% offensive rebounding percentage this season is excellent for a small forward and among the best in the league at her position. In contrast, Hayes' 3.6% offensive rebounding percentage isn't exactly noteworthy and Cathrine Kraayeveld - who also saw an increase in minutes, albeit only by about 5 per game, in McCoughtry's absence - is only at 4.5% this season.

Obviously, there have been a number of other roster changes for the Dream in that time, most notably the return of Erika de Souza to the WNBA after spending the first half of the season preparing for the Olympics and the absence of 6-foot-5 center Yelena Leuchanka after the Olympic break. But we would probably expect the opposite effect on the team as a result of those personnel changes: without de Souza, rookie rebounder Aneika Henry got triple the minutes in July that she got in August and was an outstanding rebounder. With de Souza, they still have Henry coming off the bench, which we might expect to improve their rebounding numbers.

All of those other confounding factors make a McCoughtry split of any type difficult to sort out - the Dream have still only put their entire roster on the floor once this season and that was against the Indiana Fever, the team that gives up the third highest offensive rebounding rate in the league.

Yet in short, we can say that McCoughtry isn't just a dominant scorer but a dominant athlete at her position who gets the Dream - a below average offensive team, scoring 95.86 points per 100 possessions as of right now - more second chance scoring opportunities than her opponents at her position. Few players in the league would be able to replace her impact defensively on the perimeter, playing passing lanes and getting steals that lead to easy fast break buckets. The Dream might be able to make up for McCoughtry's scoring with increased ball movement and redistributing shots, but McCoughtry is such a unique player in the WNBA that it's hard to simply replace what she offers with one or two players. For a team that doesn't shoot particularly well, having a player that can create easy shots for the team in so many ways - getting to the rim, getting to the free throw line, creating transition points - is a major asset, even if she misses a lot of shots.

Still, perhaps the more perplexing thing about the Dream is that they still haven't been that much better with McCoughtry than without her this season, no matter who else was on the roster: they're 9-8 with McCoughtry in the lineup and 7-7 with her as a starter. They're 5-5 without McCoughtry.

There's certainly an argument that the Dream are better off moving the ball more often even with McCoughtry in the lineup, as discussed shortly after the Olympics ended, perhaps reinforced by their play over the last 12 games, and punctuated by Sunday's win against the Sun: in that game they had an outstanding synergy rating of 54, which included 21 assists on 33 made field goals. But in terms of the tangible impact on the roster this season, we might just have to wait and see how well they do in the postseason and accept that McCoughtry just has that "It factor" that makes the Dream the type of team nobody wants to see in the postseason.

Click here for explanations for the statistics used in this piece.