The Chicago Sky were recently dealt a tough blow as center Jantel Lavender had season-ending surgery to repair a fracture in her left foot. Lavender was playing 26.9 minutes per game and putting up her best true shooting percentage (52.7 percent) since she won Sixth Woman of the Year in 2016.
So what will Chicago do in Lavender’s absence? It’s easy enough to guess that forwards Cheyenne Parker and Astou Ndour will absorb the bulk of those minutes. But how have they performed alongside the rest of the Sky thus far?
Such a question was tough to answer for a very long time, but we finally have access to lineup data at WNBA Stats, allowing us to view statistics for any combination of players for any WNBA team. Let’s use the Sky’s frontcourt dilemma to explore this new feature.
Evaluating the Sky’s lineups
Accessing lineup data is very easy. You’ll notice that there’s a shortcut on the nav bar that says “lineups,” which will give you every lineup played in the WNBA this season. That’s cool for league-wide comparative purposes (for example, which lineups have played the most, which are the most effective in statistical category X, so on and so forth), but a little too much for what we want right now, which is Chicago lineups only.
Fortunately, lineup data is also accessible from each team’s specific page:
The Sky’s lineup page will look something like this:
This is the landing page for Sky lineups, which is sorted by minutes played per game by default. The team’s go-to starting lineup of Lavender, Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot, Stefanie Dolson and Diamond DeShields has played the most minutes and scored the most points, which should go without saying.
On the other hand, there’s obviously not much to be gleaned from those lineups that have appeared in only one game. We’ll have to adjust the filters to get better data.
To get a better idea of how each Sky lineup has performed thus far, let’s view advanced stats rather than traditional ones. Choose “advanced” from the drop-down menu.
Once again, this is sorted by minutes played by default, but because of the metrics it shows, total minutes are used rather than minutes per game. This is actually preferable for us because it gets rid of those one-game sample sizes the page was initially showing us.
So what exactly are we looking at here? It’s the advanced stats for every five-player lineup the Sky has rolled out this season. What we’ll be focusing on is mainly OFFRTG (points scored per 100 possessions), DEFRTG (points allowed per 100 possessions) and NETRTG (the difference between these two values). You can infer a few other things from the table as well: Sky lineups with Courtney Vandersloot have much higher assist percentages than lineups without her, for instance.
Narrowing things down
While we could sift through this stuff all day, for the purpose of this piece, it would be more helpful if we specify that we only want lineups with Cheyenne Parker in them.
WNBA Stats allows us to set custom filters like so:
This gives us a table that is much more specific to what we’re looking for.
This tells us that a lineup of Quigley, Vandersloot, Dolson, Parker and DeShields has put up a net rating of 11.9 in 28 total minutes played this season. It has scored the basketball efficiently at a 57.6 true shooting percentage, but has been very poor on the glass.
To look at this from a different (and a bit simpler) perspective, we can also view four factor stats for lineups. This is under the same category as “traditional” and “advanced” stats in the drop-down menu.
This table displays one important category the previous one didn’t: free throw rate (FTA rate). The lineup we just discussed — the one with Parker — has owned a huge FTA rate advantage in its minutes on the floor, attempting .400 free throws per field goal attempt while holding opponents to .066 free throws per field goal attempt. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to surmise that free throw disparity has been key to the lineup’s success.
As for rebounding? The lineup has been horrible at it. An opponent offensive rebounding percentage (OREB%) of 50 percent is flat-out bad. The next most-played lineup featuring Parker, on the other hand, has been better at rebounding, but much less efficient at scoring. It has also turned the ball over more (27.8 percent turnover percentage, or TOV%).
But what about sample sizes?
Well ... yes, that’s a good question. We’re not exactly working with enormous sample sizes here, so it’s difficult for us to say that a Sky lineup with Parker subbing for Lavender will continue to be atrocious on the glass or allow virtually nothing from the free throw line.
The reality of this situation, though, is that WNBA teams play their starting lineups much more often than any other five-player lineup. Chicago has been blessed with relatively good health to its starters until this point, but even looking at an injury-plagued team like Seattle shows us that it’s hard to draw many conclusions from five-player lineups.
One way to compensate for this, then, is to be a little less specific. We can tell WNBA Stats to look at four-, three-, or even two-player lineups. Let’s try that for the Sky.
As you can see, by saying “give us data for lineups with Cheyenne Parker and any two other players,” we consolidate a lot of the lineups’ minutes played, thus increasing our sample significantly and making most of the four factor statistics seem far less outlandish.
Take the second one, for example: It combines all five-player lineups that feature Parker, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot, making the data hold a lot more weight and giving us more confidence when making projections.
Bringing it all together
With all that said, let’s compare a few three-player lineups that feature Parker and see if we can draw any conclusions. Since Parker is a frontcourt player and will be playing most of her minutes alongside a fellow forward or center, we’ll look at those lineups.
S. Dolson, C. Parker, K. Copper: 3.5 net rating (83 minutes)
C. Vandersloot, S. Dolson, C. Parker: 20.4 net rating (81 minutes)
A. Quigley, S. Dolson, C. Parker: 21.9 net rating (77 minutes)
S. Dolson, C. Parker, G. Williams: -15.7 net rating (69 minutes)
Across the board, results have been pretty favorable for Parker/Dolson frontcourt combinations. They have, however, struggled on the glass, as we can see from our four factor statistics. That might be a weakness for the Sky heading forward, if it wasn’t already, and likely the area in which they will miss Lavender the most.
All statistics, screen shots, and charts referenced in this piece courtesy of WNBA.com.