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Who should be the WNBA Coach of the Year? (2013 version)

For the fourth straight year, Swish Appeal looks at some special numbers to determine which of the many contenders should be the WNBA Coach of the Year in 2013.

Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

In the last three years Swish Appeal has looked at the candidates for the WNBA Coach of the Year using a metric that tries to capture what coaches should do well. In 2010, the metric chose Julie Plank of the Mystics as its candidate, and Brian Agler - who finished a very close second - won the honor. The following year, Cheryl Reeve finished at the top of the metric and the WNBA voters agreed. In 2012, the metric's choice was Cheryl Reeve and with eventual winner Carol Ross in third place.

The metric appears to be doing a good job so far but this year it might have its work cut out for it. There are all kinds of coaches you could make a case for - Pokey Chatman, Lin Dunn, Mike Thibault, Brian Agler - and not sound completely crazy. So who does the metric pick this time in the merry go round?

We'll review the factors that make up the metric:

1. Close games. Coaches should do well in close games - in close games, when it comes down to one or two possessions what a coach says during a timeout really matters. So which coaches were the best in games decided by five points or less?

LAS Carol Ross 6 1 0.857
WAS Mike Thibault 8 3 0.727
PHO Corey Gaines/Russ Pennell 5 2 0.714
NYL Bill Laimbeer 4 2 0.667
SEA Brian Agler 3 3 0.500
CHI Pokey Chatman 2 3 0.400
CON Anne Donovan 2 3 0.400
SAS Dan Hughes 3 5 0.375
IND Lin Dunn 1 2 0.333
MIN Cheryl Reeve 1 2 0.333
ATL Fred Williams 1 3 0.250
TUL Gary Kloppenburg 1 8 0.111

Even though Mike Thibault's 8-3 record in close games is really impressive, Carol Ross of the Los Angeles Sparks has moved up to the top with a 6-1 ranking. This shouldn't be surprising as both are great coaches. Note, however, that Phoenix is 5-2 in close games with Russ Pennell going 3-0 in close games as an interim coach.

2. Turnovers. A coach's offensive schemes should be designed so that players can move the ball without turning it over, and an emphasis should be made on protecting the rock. The winners of that category? The Minnesota Lynx, with a league-low 11.97 turnovers per game.

3. Offensive rebounds allowed. Never let your opponent get second chances. The Seattle Storm are currently league leaders, limiting their opponents to 8.58 offensive rebounds per game.

4. Momentum. A sign of good coaching is an ability to build on previous successes. This is measured by streak wins, or the number of wins which are accompanied by a preceding or following win - in short, counting the total wins in all winning streaks at least two wins long.

Minnesota has 23 streak wins to lead all WNBA teams. At the bottom of the list is Connecticut, with only two wins counting as streak wins.

5. Opponent 3-point percentage. Good coaches make sure that their teams can depend the perimeter. The best team this year at defending the long bomb is the Sparks, holding opponents to a 29.5 percent accuracy rate. The worst? Phoenix, which allows opponents to hit 3-pointers with a 34.5 percent success rate.

6. Road record. How much does a team need a favorable crowd as a crutch to help it win? Can a coach get wins in the toughest places to get them? By a measure of a half-game as of this writing, Minnesota's 10-5 road record finishes ahead of the Chicago Sky at 10-6.

7. Rotation consistency. Does a coach know who to play, or is the coach constantly fiddling with the lineup? My method of measuring this mathematically uses the Herfindahl Index. (An explanation of how it works can be found here.)

Teams coached by Brian Agler generally lead the league, and this year is no exception. The top three teams this year were Seattle, Phoenix and Minnesota.

8. Stupidity. If a coach makes a real bonehead move, he or she should be docked points. For the first time in four years, we dock a coach - Bill Laimbeer of the New York Liberty. We penalize him for his comments regarding Maya Moore. (I suspect he won't mind.)

(* * *)

We now assign each coach a value from 1 (best) to 12 (worst) in the first seven categories. We add a point to Laimbeer's total, and we look at the final results:

MIN Cheryl Reeve 24.5
CHI Pokey Chatman 32.5
LAS Carol Ross 33
SEA Brian Agler 33.5
IND Lin Dunn 35
PHO Corey Gaines/Russ Pennell 41
ATL Fred Williams 48
WAS Mike Thibault 48
SAS Dan Hughes 55
NYL Bill Laimbeer 64.5
CON Anne Donovan 65.5
TUL Gary Kloppenburg 66.5

Cheryl Reeve leads the pack for the third straight year. When you coach a team as talented as the Lynx, you can expect to score high, and Reeve's success illustrates the difficulty of separating a team's performance from the coach's.

So does Reeve win in a walk? Probably not with the voters. I call this the "Mantle Effect" after Mickey Mantle, a baseball player from the 1950s who was dominant for a long period of time. Sportswriters couldn't keep giving the award to Mantle over and over, so the goal was to give the award to a player who wasn't Mantle. The Lynx's success hurts Reeve instead of helping her.

There are other odd/amusing/interesting results.

* Corey Gaines/Russ Pennell finish 6th in the metric. The argument regarding if Gaines would have finished lower (or Pennell higher) if either had coached a full season is an exercise left to the reader.

* Mike Thibault, a leading contender for the award this year, shows up tied for 7th. He has a lot of close wins, but there are still a lot of things that the Mystics don't do very well. The argument for his candidacy - one that can't be discounted - is that the Mystics were so terrible over the last two years that for them to be doing as well as they are is nothing short of miraculous.

* People want to claim that Anne Donovan is the worst coach in the W this year, but she escapes the cellar. Bill Laimbeer - a WNBA Coach of the Year winner in 2003 - is pretty close to the bottom.

As I doubt that either Reeve or Ross will get the award given the success of their teams and the fact that they are recent winners, I believe that it's down to Chatman, Agler or Thibault. My vote goes to Pokey Chatman. She helped Chicago not only reach the playoffs for the very first time, but a) the Sky finished in first place in the East and b) she's never won the award before. But if Agler or Thibault get the award, I won't cry very much.