Note: Numbers current through 8/6/15
First, a little background: I am a stats guy. I'm the kind of person who thinks that, as widely used as analytics are in this day and time, that they still are undervalued. The using of both traditional and advanced statistics is the foundation on which nearly all of my sports opinions are formed.
I know a little about basketball, in terms of offensive and defensive schemes and technique; but not enough to actually make an informed decision. But, I really wanted to do a predictions piece on the remainder of this 2015 WNBA season, and, maybe even more so than that, I wanted to test whatever little acumen I've gathered over the years.
For the predictions involving the records of the teams involved, I used the Pythagorean Expectation formula, which takes points scored and points scored against and spits out a winning percentage. I took that winning percentage, and put it against the remaining number of games, coming up with my predicted win total for the team at the end of the season.
I also used RPI (more commonly seen in college) to create a number that would represent just how good the team was when strength of schedule and opponents strength of schedule were factored in.
God, I hope all of that was comprehensible. Let's just get to the stuff.
PEwin% - Pythagorean Expectation winning percentage
Cwin% - Current winning percentage
PEwin# - Pythagorean Expectation wins number
CPwin#: Current Projected wins number
RPI: Relative Percent Index
PART I - TEAM PREDICTIONS
The best team, according to my calculations, is the Minnesota Lynx. I know, I know: you're shocked that the best record in the league belongs to the best team. But, if you've watched sports at all, you know that there are many times when the best team does not hold the best record. The math, in this case, however, backed up the win-loss records.
Minnesota, appropriately, holds the best point differential in the league; a whopping 8.4 points. They also hold the number one defense in terms of points scored against per game, just edging out the Washington Mystics. This isn't a surprise; with both Maya Moore and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Sylvia Fowles in charge of things, you can expect the winning to continue.
The best part about all this is that the Lynx have actually underperformed by one game, which doesn't mean a whole lot, but is funny in the context of how dominant they really have been.
NEW YORK LIBERTY
The Liberty have one of the best defenses in the league, and they need it, because their offense has been poor. In fact, they have the lowest points per game scoring average than any other possible playoff team.
At 73.2 points scored, the only teams lower than them are the Seattle Storm, the worst team in the entire WNBA. According to the rankings, they are outperforming their current win-loss percentage by 8%, which screams regression.
That all being said, this is still a kick-ass team. Their RPI bares that out, and like I said: their defense is no joke. Applying the Pythag winning percentage to the rest of their games only docks them one win, so it won't hurt them too much, but it is worth keeping an eye on as the playoffs get closer.
This one was a bit of a surprise for me, but perhaps it shouldn't have been. Their defense is strong, and their offense is as well; I think the thing that threw me was the lack of spectacular coming from them. The issues with Brittney Griner probably cast a shadow on how good this team really is, which just means that I have not been paying close enough attention.
The Pythag numbers say that the team is actually underperforming, though not by a huge margin; really, it's an extra win. However, just the fact that they are underperforming is a good sign, because that means they are a fair bet to do well later on.
Speaking of Griner: if she continues to impact games as only she can, going forward, the Mercury are going to be tough to beat. Her 6'8 frame and game can do a lot of damage. There's no reason, I think, that Mercury couldn't repeat as champions in just a few short months.
Another team that is underperforming, according to the Pythagorean Expectation equation. Underperforming by 7% is not a huge margin, but as it was with the Mercury, this can signal good things for the future. If you were to look at the numbers of a team underperforming their Pythag numbers, they usually play better in the future.
The biggest reason to believe in this team is the stifling defense. They have the second-best points scored against average per game, and a competent, if unspectacular, offense. Outscoring your opponent by 4 points isn't the biggest margin in the world, but it's not minuscule, either.
One bit of trivia about the Mystics: two of the players that were in play for my Defensive Player of the Year award came from Washington. Explains a lot.
Now, this one surprised me. Had I done this ranking just based on anecdotal evidence, I would've had the Lynx first, and the Sky second. Shows how much I know. The thing about the Sky is that they are blowing people off the court offensively; averaging 84.7 points per game is no joke. But they are also giving up 80.7 points per game. That defensive lapse seems to have counted against them quite a bit.
Again, they are another team underperforming the Pythag. I've said that more than a few times. It's a 4% margin, which bodes well for the future, blah blah. What bodes even better for the future is that they have the MVP favorite Elena Delle Donne, who is leading the WNBA in points at 24 and eating people alive.
One thing that is curious about her, though, is that her 3 point shooting percentage is below 30%, and anyone who has seen her shoot at all knows that's an aberration. I'm not predicting a move towards a better percentage, but I wouldn't be surprised, either.
The Fever, man. A terrible, terrible point differential for scored for versus scored against; a measly .2. They have a reputation for being defensively intense and a scoring machine, and only one of those things appear to be true. They have outperformed their Pythag by 4%, and if I were a betting man, I'd put my money on the Fever regressing to the mean.
Though that game doesn't factor into these calculations as it happened after they were made, the Fever were just run off the floor by the Sky, and they looked truly overmatched.
Like I said above, they have an excellent offense as 77.1 points per game, but if they can't get back on defense and stop the other team significantly more, they're going to have a hard time making the playoffs, let alone making any noise in them.
However, that being said, they do have a good RPI, equal to the Sky and Mystic. If there is a reason for hope, it's in that number.
There is a weird near-symmetry to the Sun. They are just a hair over .500; their RPI is .51; their points for is just .1 away from being identical to their points scored against. It's a team with a lot of good players, but no superstars. Kelsey Bone is a fantastic player, but can only do so much; Bentley is solid, as well, but her shooting percentage really hurts her ability to contribute.
They're just good enough to be .500, and maybe even catch a little bit of fire, but they've already had one long losing streak this season. None of the portents bode well for the Sun going forward.
The Shock are a bit of a funky team. Their RPI is borderline, but they're underperforming their Pythag. Their offense is strong, but their defense is just like the Fever's. They're holding on, but without Skylar Diggins, who is lost for the season to a torn ACL, I don't see how they make much of a push.
If there is reason for hope, it's in the Pythag difference. They're basically locked into the third seed in the Western Conference, due to the poor teams behind them, but I can't imagine them making much of a headway when the playoffs come around. But then again, it's a 12% difference, which is massive.
The Dream, after having been perennial championship contenders these past few years, have fallen off tremendously. A mediocre offense at 74.7 points per game, coupled with a porous defense at 79.7 points against leads to a record well under .500. What's interesting is that they've actually overachieved relative to their Pythagorean Expectation, by a total of 6%.
They're going to have some rough times going forward, and not just this year. Hopefully, they'll get a good draft pick and rebuild quickly, because it sucks to watch one of the better teams of the last few years really fall off the wagon.
LOS ANGELES SPARKS
I had to do some fudging here, because Candace Parker is back for LA, and that puts a whole different light on this Sparks team. I decided, in an attempt to correct for her reappearance, to remove the season points scored with the number from last season, when Parker was there the whole time. The defensive numbers, surprisingly, were almost identical, so I kept that the same.
Obviously, they're projected to way outperform their Pythag numbers, and most certainly will. Truthfully, I could see them at 14 or maybe even 15 wins; that Sparks team has come out swinging, and Parker is probably eager to remind everyone why she's a two-time MVP in this league.
In the playoffs, I'd be apprehensive about them for the reasons listed above. This is a good, solid team, and could really make someone's day bad if they get hot at the right time in the playoffs.
SAN ANTONIO STARS
Your potential fourth seed in the West, ladies and gentlemen!
In all seriousness, this Stars team is bad. So, so bad. Scoring just 72 points a game and giving up nearly 78 is not a recipe for success. They're going to be in contention for the fourth seed (though I think they've been bumped for good by the next team on the list), and that's pretty incredible.
They are just not a good team, in any facet. They've overachieved, which is a nice feather in a ratty cap, but it wont count for much. Could, potentially, screw them out of a good draft pick if they make the playoffs. I just can't see them actually doing anything when they get there.
This is a bad team, even more than the Stars. They're scoring only 69 points per game, and giving up 76; it's, uh, how you say, a disaster. They're even outperforming (I bet you're sick of hearing that), and yet. There isn't really much to say about them, except perhaps better luck next year.
One thing that's a reason for positivity (going forward next year, of course) is that they cannot possibly be this bad again. There'll be some improvement.
PART II - PLAYER AWARD PREDICTIONS
For this portion of the article, I didn't pick winners based on whom I thought should win; rather, I took statistical averages from past seasons and tried to predict which way the voters will vote. I looked at three awards: MVP, DPOY, and ROY. For MVP and ROY, I used points as a baseline to thin out the candidates; for DPOY, it was harder, so I had to use blocks and steals.
I split MVP into five categories: Points, Rebounds, Assists, FG%, and Win Shares per 48; I split DPOY into four categories: Steal, Blocks, Opponents FG%, and Team Defensive rating; I split ROY into three categories: Points, Rebounds, and FG%; whichever person hit the most categories, won my vote, so speak.
- Elena Delle Donne [4/5]
- Maya Moore [2/5]
- Tina Charles [1/5]
- DeWanna Bonner [1/5]
- Candice Dupree [1/5]
- Jantel Lavender [2/5]
- McCoughtry [1/5]
- Ogwumike [1/5]
- Elena Delle Donne
Delle Donne hit four of the five categories: Points, Rebounds, FG%, and WS/48. The next closest competition was Maya Moore and Jantel Lavender, whom both hit two of five categories. I don't think this result was a shock to anyone; Delle Donne has been a force of nature this year, and is a presumed WNBA MVP favorite by people with much bigger brains than I.
- Alex Bentley [1/5]
- Kia Stokes [3/4]
- Emma Meesseman [2/4]
- Jayne Appel [1/4]
- Courtney Paris [1/4]
- Stefanie Dolson [2/4]
- Elena Delle Donne [1/4]
- Kiah Stokes
I'm not sure how good I feel about this prediction, because of how difficult it was to come up with the parameters. Nevertheless, I do feel good about Kiah Stokes as a viable candidate; she hit every category except steals, which I regarded as the least important of the four metrics. She is a wonderful player who contributes to a very, very stout defense, and is worthy in my mind.
[Special mention to Delle Donne, the only person to make both lists.
- Natalie Achonwa [1/5]
- Ramu Tokashiki [1/5]
- Ana Dabovic [1/5]
- Mariana Tolo [1/5]
- Kiah Stokes [1/5]
- Cayla Francis [1/5]
- Kiah Stokes
Well, damn. My metric kind of fell apart here. The Rookie class for this year has not been all that impressive, and it kind of screwed up my numbers. So, basically, none of them hit the Points or Rebounds margins, and only these six hit the FG%. If I had to pick, it'd be Kiah Stokes, because of her contributions on the DPOY (shoutout to her making both lists). Kind of disappointing, but that's the way it shook out.
Alright! That's it! We're done! Finished! Caput!
Thanks for reading, and I hope it provided some small insight, or perhaps even gave you an iota of entertainment. The rest of the WNBA season should be a great one.