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WNBA Statistics: Who should be the WNBA Coach of the Year? - 2014 version

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For the fifth straight year, we look at some statistics that might - emphasis might - throw a light on which coaches in the WNBA are the best. It's hard to disentangle a coach's contribution from a team's success, but we'll take a stab at it.

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

Every now and then at Swish Appeal, I do a post on who I think should be the WNBA Coach of the Year.  I've done this in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 so you can learn all about my successes (or failures) in making my picks.

The 2014 picks will be done using the same process as all the previous years - by looking at a set of metrics that *might* give us an insight as to how well a coach is doing.  Note that it is very difficult to separate a coach's success from a team's success, but with that in mind, here are the 2014 numbers.

1.  Close games.  One of the big tests of a coach is what do you tell a player in a time out, particularly when the game is so close that it might hinge on one or two possessions?  A great coach should be be able to win close games, and by "close game" I mean one decided by five points or less.  Let's look at the coaching record of all coaches in games up to the end of Saturday (August 2, 2014).

Close Wins Close Losses C Pct Rank
MIN Cheryl Reeve 6 2 0.750 1
SAS Dan Hughes 8 3 0.727 2
PHO Sandy Brondello 4 2 0.667 3
CHI Pokey Chatman 5 3 0.625 4
SEA Brian Agler 4 3 0.571 5
ATL Michael Cooper * 5 4 0.556 6
NYL Bill Laimbeer 5 5 0.500 7
IND Lin Dunn 6 7 0.462 8
CON Anne Donovan 3 4 0.429 9
WAS Mike Thibault 2 4 0.333 10
LAS Carol Ross/Penny Toler 2 6 0.250 11
TUL Fred Williams 3 10 0.231 12
* - Karleen Thompson also served as coach due to illness



Sandy Brondello has been talked up a lot this year as a COY candidate, but she's only third overall in close game percentage.  Perennial COY candidate Cheryl Reeve leads with a .750 record (6-2) in close game outcomes, followed surprisingly by Stars Coach Dan Hughes in second place at (8-3). Note that Los Angeles's record in close games is 2-6, which might be one reason that Carol Ross - the winner of the COY trophy in 2012 - was dumped mid-season.

2. Turnovers.  This one's a no-brainer - if you can't protect the rock, you can't win games.  And if you can't teach your players to protect the rock, you'll be out as a coach. 

The leaders in lowest team turnovers :  Reeves at #1, Brondello at #2 and Hughes at #3.  However, Ross/Taylor are at #5 - whatever the Sparks did wrong, they were relatively good in not giving up the ball.

3.  Offensive rebounds allowed: Protect the glass.  No second chances!  Which teams give up the fewest offensive rebounds per game?

Can't guess?  Give up?  It's actually Brian Agler of Seattle where the Storm give up 8.7 offensive rebounds per game.  The worst team is Chicago, where the Sky give up 11.1 offensive rebounds per game.

4.  Momentum: It isn't just enough to win.  A good coach uses the lessons from the previous victory to build on the next one.  This leads us to the definition of streak wins, or the number of wins which are accompanied by either a preceding or following win - in short, we just count the number of wins in win streaks, even small win streaks of just two wins.

The number one coach in streak wins should be easy to guess - Sandy Brondello, as all of Phoenix's wins have come from win streaks of one length or another.  At the bottom is Brian Agler, where the Storm's longest - and only - win streak this year was two games long.

5.  Opponent three point percentage: A coach should make things difficult around the perimeter and never give away three point opportunities to the opposing team. 

The leader here is Sandy Brondello, as the Mercury only allow their opponents a .300 3-point percentage.  Fred Williams is at the bottom with .374 - but Cheryl Reeve take a hit here as the Lynx are 10th worst at defending the three.

6.  Road record. A coach should be able to win in hostile territory.  Which WNBA coach is the best at that?  Taking the lead is Sandy Brondello, with a 10-3 road record.  Tied for worst road record are Bill Laimbeer and Fred Williams, each at 3-10.

7.  Rotation consistency.  Do coaches avoid fiddling around with the lineups if they don't have to?  Do they know which players are most talented right away, or do they not get it right until late in the season?

We use the Herfindahl index as a measure, which requires its own article for explanation:

Herfindahl
TUL 7.79 1
MIN 7.95 2
PHO 8.4 3
ATL 8.41 4
LAS 8.65 5
WAS 8.95 6
CON 9.01 7
SAS 9.03 8
NYL 9.06 9
SEA 9.26 10
IND 9.44 11
CHI 10.08 12



So which coach has stuck with a lineup through and through?  Fred Williams of the Tulsa Shock!  His 7.79 Herfindahl value pulls him out of the cellar of coaches. Note that the four worst coaches in Herfindal index -Bill Laimbeer, Brian Agler, Lin Dunn and Pokey Chatman - have been prime candidates or winners of previous Coach of the Year awards.

8. Stupidity. Points aren't so much as awarded here as they are docked, where a coach can earn a penalty for doing something egregiously stupid that gets the attention of fans, or the press, or the league.  We won't give any of the candidates negative points this season...well, so far anyway.

(***)


For each candidate, we give 1 point for finishing at the top of their category, 2 points for finishing second, all the way down to 12 points for finishing last.  To finish at the top, you want a *low* overall score, not a high one.  So which coaches finished at the top of the seven categories above?

Total
PHO Sandy Brondello 20
MIN Cheryl Reeve 26
SAS Dan Hughes 32.5
LAS Carol Ross/Penny Toler 45
IND Lin Dunn 47
SEA Brian Agler 48
ATL Michael Cooper * 51.5
TUL Fred Williams 53
CON Anne Donovan 53.5
WAS Mike Thibault 56
CHI Pokey Chatman 56
NYL Bill Laimbeer 57.5



Sandy Brondello has been touted by many writers as a prospective Coach of the Year for 2014, and I can't find any reason to disagree.  The last time she had a chance to compete - in 2010 - she finished eighth.  Six of those coaches in 2010 - Julie Plank, Marynell Meadors, Jennifer Gillom, Corey Gains, Steven Key, and Nolan Richardson - have now moved on.  Winning COY would be a great honor to match a fantastic season.

Cheryl Reeve was my top finisher in 2011, 2012, and 2013.  She finishes second this year to Brondello, who has had an amazing year.  At least this season, Reeve won't suffer the "Mantle Effect" where someone is so dominant that sportswriters have to find reasons not to award them the signal honor for multiple years in a row. She can also take comfort not only in the fact that she's already won the award, but that two previous winners - Meadors and Ross - were coaches of teams that she beat over and over again.  If the voters give Reeve the award, there will be no tears from this quarter.

But the third place winner is something of a surprise.  Dan Hughes won the award twice already and even though the Stars are behind the Mercury and the Lynx, he's a coach who clearly does things right.  I don't know if we can get the WNBA to award an honorable mention, but if they did, he'd take the silver or bronze.

And Carol Ross?  Did the Sparks pull the trigger too soon...?