Flagrant Stats – Statistical analysis for women's basketball

Scouting Brittney Griner – Game 5 of ’18 Eastern Conference Finals – First Quarter

I was a little late to Diana Taurasi’s Bun’s rewatch of this game, but I decided to take the time to watch it. Thanks, boring Rockets-Jazz Game 2!

I decided to do this while focusing on Brittany Griner. Griner finished the game with 21 points, 4 blocks, 9 boards, 6 assists, and a steal. She shot 8-12 from the floor and 5-6 from the line. She finished with a team high 40 minutes played, but with a +/- of -10.

These notes are chronological in order. It’s hard to take the time to post too many time stamps when you’re trying to keep up with the game. Also, the rewind function in the WNBA app is in thirty second increments. I tried to catch all the typos in it as well, so sorry for any I missed.

  • Griner looked a little uncomfortable passing out of a double cross court 9:45 to Bonner, so kicked it to more covered Taurasi
  • Set a sneaky pick for Taurasi around 1 minute in. Next play down the court tried to draw a cheap foul around midcourt from Stewie
  • SEA Alysha Clark drove in and Griner didn’t seem to pick up on it
  • 7:44 – Howard got called for foul on Griner; it looked a little bit like that should have been on Griner but it could have just as easily been a no-call
  • 7:36 – Griner had a much better pass out of a double to Turner for a wide open triple. Turner was directly in front of her, making it easier.
  • Seattle unsurprisingly is trying to draw Griner out of the paint with Howard. I haven’t seen Phoenix go into a zone yet but I wonder if they will.
  • January gets a pass in to Griner for a close shot. January nearly threw it away on the pass.
  • Griner passes out of the tail end of a double to find open Taurasi for three.
  • Taurasi plays way off of Howard, which lets her hit a three in response to the Taurasi 3
  • Griner may have been out of position on a turnover that ended up in the coach’s hand
  • SEA Clark took a three that Griner looked like she could have defended but opted not to. Griner was defending Stewart, so probably not a terrible decision?
  • Griner provides a nice help shot contest on Stewart, though Stewart still makes it.
  • Griner got great position just inside of 5 minutes on offense, gets the ball and puts it in.
  • Stewart drives right at Griner and makes a lay up.
  • Griner looked wide open behind the arc for most of a series where Phoenix had multiple offensive rebounds. At no point did the ball get close to her.
  • Coming out of the timeout, Griner seems a little more lively on D but is still drawn out to the three point line, allowing a Seattle layup
  • Griner tried a straight on 12 foot jumper against a Seattle double team but missed it. This was with 8 left on the shot clock and a teammate (January?) that looked open in the corner
  • It feels like every time that Griner is positioned outside of the three point line on offense, the ball never gets to her. Ignoring when she’s used to set a pick, she doesn’t seem to be a great decoy option.
  • Griner knocked down Stewart after they exchanged forearms to each other’s head. Both looked incidental to a possible offensive foul on Griner when she was boxing Stewie out on a free throw
  • Turner gave Griner a great entry pass for a nice layup despite three Seattle players around her.. Griner did great to  finish in that circumstance.
  • Another attempt to get the ball in to Griner is a bad pass.
  • Griner gets the ball in the paint a third time but passes out to January, who misses the three. For whatever reason, it kind of looked like the ball stuck to Griner’s palm and the ball came out a little funny, but still got to her.
  • Griner seemed to do a decent job of making Stewart uncomfortable while defending her.
  • Griner provided amazing defense on Canada as she drove to the hoop at the end of the quarter, forcing her to make a bad pass out to the perimeter that was intercepted.

I hope to get back to this by watching the second quarter soon.

Why ESPN Keeps Botching Their Women’s Hoops Coverage, and Why It’ll Probably Keep Doing It

During ESPN’s coverage of the WNBA Draft, they were criticized on Twitter for a variety of mistakes, including:

  • Showing on a graphic that Kentucky’s Maci Morris was drafted with the 36th pick, when it was actually South Dakota State’s Macy Miller
  • Misspelling the name of the 2018 WNBA MVP, Breanna Stewart
  • Showing on a graphic that the Minnesota Lynx has completed a trade with the Minnesota Lynx
  • Listing the wrong coach for the Seattle Storm
  • Listing the wrong team that Essence Carson has left
  • Listing the wrong college for Megan Gustafson

I’m probably missing a few from this list, but for just a couple of hours of coverage, it was a shocking rate of errors which started from the opening minutes of the show and carried through to the final draft pick of the night. Of course, all of this comes after ESPN ruined multiple bracket review parties by showing the bracket hours early on ESPNU.

There were some positives of their presentation.. The “talking heads” did a pretty good job throughout the show, the opening promo video was well done and on point (much better than the “Fate” stuff they did for the NCAA Tournament), and it was visually presented well in general. But, it’s hard to think that they would misspell Kevin Durant’s name or list the wrong college for Zion Williamson.

Overall, though, this wasn’t exactly a great night for ESPN, or by extension the WNBA.

I believe the reason for this is basically that ESPN has been shedding personnel – both on air & behind the scenes. Per the New York Times, ESPN laid off over 500 employees between 2015 and 2017. Of course, layoffs doesn’t mean that ESPN has not hired anyone back into those positions.

I think it’s a safe assumption that ESPN devotes the majority of their resources to their most popular sports – football, baseball, and men’s basketball. With the majority of their production work focused on those events, there’s less spent to the rarer broadcasts of the like of women’s basketball. In turn, this leads to questionable decisions and easily fixable errors, and these in turn reflect poorly on the product being presented.

The solution would seem to be a reinvestment into the production work across the board. This seems unlikely to happen any time soon. ESPN has infamously been losing money for years now, and Disney has been pushing them to make cuts to mitigate those losses. With several high dollar contracts for broadcasting rights having multiple years left on them, ESPN is stuck trying to trim their expenditures by cutting personnel costs.

In the face of the financial realities, I don’t see an easy solution that will benefit ESPN’s coverage of women’s hoops. It’d be nice if ESPN would invest sufficient money in their production so that they can avoid such simple mistakes, but with Disney breathing down their necks to turn a profit, it feels likely they’ll keep cutting any and all corners they can.

2019 Preview: Indiana Fever

2018 record: 6-28, last place in Eastern Conference

97.8 Offensive Rating (12th out of 12)

109.7 Defensive Rating (11th out of 12)

77.0 Pace (9th out of 12)

Projected Rotation
Starters:
G Tiffany Mitchell
G Kelsey Mitchell
F/G Betnijah Laney
F Candice Dupree
F Natalie Achonwa
Bench rotation:
F Cappie Pondexter*
G Erica Wheeler
G Shenise Johnson
F Erica McCall
Deep bench:
C Kayla Alexander
F Asia Taylor
F Stephanie Mavunga


* indicates unsigned

The Fever finished up with their worst record in franchise history. More depressingly, their second worst season came in 2017 when they went 9-25. They’re retaining Pokey Chatman as they continue their rebuild after Tamicka Catchings’ retirement.

I write this on the day of the WNBA Draft, so their fortunes could change in about 12 hours, but so far their offseason has been bleak. Victoria Vivians, who started 26 games last year and was their top three point option, tore her ACL and will miss the entire 2019 season. Despite having the worst record in the WNBA, the Fever fell to the third pick in the 2019 draft. Despite receiving a lower spot than expected in the draft, Indiana does benefit from two aspects of this draft: one, it’s deep, so the odds are that they will have a few different options for contributors available to them at number three. Two, it doesn’t have a clear number one pick like A’ja Wilson that would be able to help improve their record right away.

Indiana needs improvement on both sides of the ball, but their interior defense is particularly of concern. Their opponents made 60.6% of their shots around the basket, which was the second worst mark in the WNBA. I think shoring up this aspect of their defense will be a key part of their draft strategy. If they’re fortunate, Teaira McCowan will fall to them at the number three spot. If not, there will be other options like Kalani Brown.

Natalie Achonwa was arguably their MVP last season. She was their leading rebounder and third in scoring on a per game basis. She was an efficient interior scorer while handling a moderate size of the offense. She was also second on the team in total rebounding percentage, barely behind Stephanie Mavunga. Achonwa had her best season by BPM (box plus minus) in 2019. Indiana will hope she can improve on that.

Candice Dupree was the team’s leading scorer last year and will continue to provide a steady influence on the squad. She was a strong defensive rebounder and a solid scorer with a 22.1% usage rate. Dupree’s numbers have fallen off slightly from her peak play in 2014 & 2015, but she’s still an above average forward.

A lot of the Fever’s hopes for improvement hang on the young combo of the Mitchells. They both need to improve their scoring efficiency; Tiffany shot a 39.9% eFG% (effective field goal percentage) on a 19.8 usage percentage, while Kelsey had a 43.2% eFG% on a very high 28.4 usage percentage. The league average for eFG% was 45.0%. Of the 97 players in the WNBA last year who launched 97 field goal tries, Kelsey ranked 79th and Tiffany ranked 90th. Kelsey did show some signs of being a capable point guard with a respectable 20.6% assist percentage. Tiffany’s yet to put up a PER above 15 – used as a marker for an average player – in a season so far in her WNBA career, and her BPM has never ben above -3. Both need to step up their games to hang with the league’s elite guards.

Cappie Pondexter (currently unsigned) is a former seven-time All-Star but her production has fallen off significantly over the last two seasons. Her PER reached a career low in 2017 at 9.09 and finished at 10.11 in 2018. She had finished above 20 in five of her first seven seasons. She’ll need to defeat Father Time in her age 36 season to get back to a level where she’s a clear positive player on the court.

The Fever’s only free agency addition to date is Betnijah Laney. A 6’0” wing, Laney signed from Connecticut where she ranked ninth in minutes played. Her PER of 12.3 and BPM of -0.21 were middle of the road, but far better than where she was in her first two seasons in the league while with the Chicago Sky. She also had a decent 51.4% true shooting percentage on a low 14.5% usage percentage. She’ll provide solid depth off the bench.

Erica Wheeler is a solid backup point guard, though her shooting last year hit worryingly low levels with a 38.8% eFG%. Shenise Johnson was having a great 2017 season until she tore her ACL; hopefully she’s recovered fully and will be able to re-establish herself as a strong guard option for the team. Erica McCall improved from “atrocious” to “below average” in BPM last season; if she could match her great offensive rebounding from last year with her strong defensive rebounding from 2017, she’d at least be a great option on the boards for the Fever.

Kayla Alexander fell off from her performances in 2016 & 2017 in San Antonio, in part because her turnover numbers went up while her assists and offensive rebounds declined. Asia Taylor’s numbers in 2014 & 2017 indicated a solid, end of bench player, but she fell off terribly last year. Her eFG% fell to 32.8%, her offensive rebounding rate hit an all-time low, and her turnover rate was worse than her rookie numbers. Stephanie Mavunga was a pleasant surprise as the 14th pick last year. A strong rebounder, she also scored efficiently, even if it was often as a last resort. She could have a long career as a solid role player, but the fact that there’s an actual argument that she’s the best big on this roster pre-draft is not a great sign for the team’s strength.

Excluding Achonwa, Dupree and maybe Victoria Vivians, this roster has no clear above average players, and it certainly lacks a player that will be a guaranteed star in 2019. The rebuild will continue in 2019, and there is a distinct possibility that they’ll finish with the worst record again this year.

Edit: Initially forgot that Cappie Pondexter is a free agent. I’ll leave her listed in case she gets picked up again.

Teams with more efficient half court offenses vs. transition offenses part 2: free throws?

After I published my essay on teams that oddly had a better point per possession statistic for their half court offense compared with their transition offense, I received the following comment from James Arnold, the head coach of NCAA Division III team Westminster (MO) College.

TeamRecordTransition PPPHalf Court PPPPace rankOverall PPP RankFT rateFT %
Little Rock Trojans21-110.7920.81332813132497
Boston University Terriers15-140.7220.78334317426566
CSU Fullerton Titans14-160.7550.792215207212244
Colorado State Rams8-220.7480.78234728430934
Drake Bulldogs27-70.9040.94530182521
Grand Canyon Antelopes7-200.6800.743311289180346
IUPUI Jaguars20-120.7770.80631911241161
Loyola (MD) Greyhounds7-240.6640.70332631628587
Miami Hurricanes25-90.8580.8841462972230
Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders23-110.8770.88334932119165
Northern Kentucky Norse11-180.7320.74628425557235
South Dakota Coyotes28-60.9320.93919614623
UTSA Roadrunners
7-210.6790.684145321327283
Virginia Tech Hokies22-120.8420.91321634921

Unfortunately, I’m not aware of anywhere that breaks FTs down on a comparison of if they come from transition or half court offense. I think Arnold’s question is a really pertinent one, though – if a team is just much better at getting to the free throw line in the half court, that could explain why they have their expected offense performance “flipped.”

The closest thing I could find to the answer for this question is Synergy listing what percentage of a team’s transition & half court points come from the free throw line. However, I don’t see a very easy way to compare this across teams without pulling up the numbers for each DI team. Which, uh, no thanks.

So I did the next best thing and looked up the teams in question’s FT rate & FT % numbers from last year. Unfortunately, neither really provided an answer to the question. Free throw rate is spread out in this group, with some teams getting to the line a lot and some other ones almost being allergic to it. There’s also no apparent link between free throw rate and overall offense within this group; Little Rock had a pretty good O, but they took very few free throws. Meanwhile Northern Kentucky got to the line at a great late but had a poor overall offense.

Free throw percentage was a little closer, but again didn’t offer a clear answer. Grand Canyon was very poor at making freebies. UTSA wasn’t much better, and there were three more teams that I’d generally classify as not great. But it also includes the best & third best teams at making shots from the charity stripe, plus five more teams from the top 100.

It feels like the strongest correlation is between ability to make free throws & these “flipped” offenses, but I don’t think it’s strong enough to make any kind of an actual declaration of a relationship.

The frustrating thing is I’m not any closer to solving this issue. Maybe it’s not a circumstance that actually has an answer. Maybe these 14 teams are just kind of weird in how their offense performed. Maybe it’s actually most meaningful that 11 of the 14 teams had an edge of less than 0.05 points per possession in their half court offense, and that just means it’s within the realm of possibility to have these numbers come out of your offense, and it’s basically just statistical noise.

Teams with more efficient half court offenses vs. transition offenses

After listening to a talk from the head coach of Western Illinois, JD Gravina, I was struck by a comment Gravina made that teams practically always have more efficient transition offenses compared with their half court offenses on a per possession basis. I wasn’t sure how often the opposite happened – that a team scored more points per possession in the half court than as a transition team.

TeamRecordTransition PPPHalf Court PPPPace rankOverall PPP Rank
Little Rock Trojans21-110.7920.813328131
Boston University Terriers15-140.7220.783343174
CSU Fullerton Titans14-160.7550.792215207
Colorado State Rams8-220.7480.782347284
Drake Bulldogs27-70.9040.9453018
Grand Canyon Antelopes7-200.6800.743311289
IUPUI Jaguars20-120.7770.806319112
Loyola (MD) Greyhounds7-240.6640.703326316
Miami Hurricanes25-90.8580.88414629
Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders23-110.8770.88334932
Northern Kentucky Norse11-180.7320.746284255
South Dakota Coyotes28-60.9320.93919614
UTSA Roadrunners
7-210.6790.684145321
Virginia Tech Hokies22-120.8420.91321634

The above transition & half court points per possession (PPP) data is from Synergy Sports. The team ranks in pace & overall PPP data is from Her Hoop Stats.

It’s quite a collection of teams, with varying levels of success through the season. There’s also no clear connection between having a more efficient half court offense & a team’s overall pace of play. Seven of these 14 teams played among the 50 teams with the slowest pace, and eight among the 100 teams with the slowest pace. But Drake had the thirty fastest pace of play, and three other teams ranked among the top 200 teams in pace.

Additionally, there is no correlation between having a more efficient half court offense and having either a better or worse overall offense. Five of the teams in this group were in the top 34 offenses nationally, but two ranked in the bottom 33 teams. Five teams ranked among the bottom 100.

If I learned anything from this dive into numbers, it’s that more teams have a half court offense that outperformed their transition offense than I expected. If I had to guess before looking at these numbers, I would have expected no more than two or three teams to have the flipped half court/transition efficiency.

FOWLES Scores for the Elite Eight

So I forgot to calculate these before the Elite Eight started

GameChannelTimeFOWLES Score
#2 UConn vs. #1 LouisvilleESPN23/3183.2
#2 Oregon vs. #1 Mississippi StateESPN23/3182.7
#2 Stanford vs. #1 Notre DameESPN24/1 9 p.m.81.7
#2 Iowa vs. #1 BaylorESPN24/1 7 p.m.76.7

Unsurprisingly, this was the highest batch of scores for a round. We get our first scores in the 80s since the round of 32. The previous highest score was Florida State vs. South Carolina at 81.7.

Iowa & Baylor are hurt by the larger gap between the two teams’ ELO rating and both teams’ low three point rates. The only category they lead in is number of blocks, which is not a surprise.

Coaching changes

I’m trying to track the coaching changes that are happening before the 2019-2020 season. I started with a lot of information from Raoul’s WBB Blog; that’s an invaluable resource I can’t recommend enough.

SchoolOld coachNew coach
Arkansas-Pine BluffNate Kilbert
Arkansas StateBrian BoyerMatt Daniel
College of CharlestonCandice Jackson
East CarolinaHeather Macy (resigned in October 2018)Kim McNeil
Eastern KentuckyChrissy RobertsSamantha Williams
Fairleigh DickinsonPeter Cinella
Florida A&MLeDawn Gibson
Georgia SouthernKip DrownAnita Howard
Georgia TechMaChelle Joseph
HofstraKrista Kilburn-Stevesky
Holy CrossBill GibbonsAnn McInerney (interim for '19-'20)
Incarnate WordChristy SmithJeff Dow
LipscombGreg Brown
Louisiana-MonroeJeff Dow
Penn StateCoquese WashingtonCarolyn Kieger
PortlandCheryl SorensonMichael Meek
Rhode IslandDaynia La-Force
RichmondMichael ShaferAaron Roussell
SamfordMike Morris
St. Francis (PA)Joe Haigh
TennesseeHolly Warlick
UMBCPhil Stern
Western CarolinaStephanie McCormick
XavierBrian NealMelanie Moore

FOWLES Scores – Sweet Sixteen

Here are the FOWLES scores for the upcoming Sweet Sixteen match-ups.

GameChannelTimeFOWLES Score
#3 NC State vs. #2 IowaESPN3/30 11:30 a.m.79.6
#4 Oregon State vs. #1 LouisvilleESPN3/29 9 p.m.75.8
#6 South Dakota State vs. #2 OregonESPN23/29 11 p.m.75.5
#4 South Carolina vs. #1 BaylorESPN3/30 1:30 p.m.74.5
#6 UCLA vs. #2 UConnESPN3/29 7 p.m.74.3
#4 Texas A&M vs. #1 Notre DameESPN23/30 4 p.m.73.1
#5 Arizona State vs. #1 Mississippi StateESPN23/29 9 p.m.72.1
#11 Missouri State vs. #2 StanfordESPN23/30 6 p.m.70.0

FOWLES really likes NC State vs. Iowa because of how close these teams are together in Warren Nolan’s ELO rating. Unsurprisingly as a #11 vs. #2 match-up, Missouri State vs. Stanford ranks lowly in this category. Of course, Missouri State playing well against the Cardinal would make this one of the most noteworthy games in this round, but FOWLES doesn’t consider that.

None of these games really look to be a sprint, but Arizona State and Mississippi State will most likely end up being the slowest paced game of the eight. Arizona State was involved with the expected slowest game in the round of 32 with Miami and in the first round with UCF.

South Dakota State & Oregon is the best offensive match-up of the tournament so far. Oregon is the best team in the country in points per 100 possessions per game (per Her Hoop Stats), while South Dakota State ranks seventh.

If you’re a fan of shots from downtown, I wouldn’t expect A&M-Notre Dame or South Carolina-Baylor to scratch that itch for you. For all of the reasons to watch those two games – the amazing young talent of the Aggies like Chennedy Carter & Ciera Johnson or Tyasha Harris of South Carolina, or this season’s likely first round WNBA draft picks Teaira McCowan of Mississippi State or Jackie Young & Arike Ogunbowale of Notre Dame – an eagerness to engage with three pointers on offense is not one of them. Baylor takes the least three pointers as a proportion of their field goal tries of any D-I school, while Texas A&M and Notre Dame rank as the seventh and eighth least likely to throw up a trey. By comparison, South Carolina are the Golden State Warriors of this bunch, as they only rank among the 100 teams that are the least likely to take a three pointer.

On the defensive end, South Carolina & Baylor are going to throw their own block party. They’re the top two teams in blocked shots. None of the games in this round particularly look like they’ll feature a lot of turnovers, though Arizona State vs. Mississippi State is the game where the teams combine for the highest ranks in turnovers forced per game.

FOWLES Scores for the Second Round

I’m pressed for time as far as the write up due to being very tired, but here are the FOWLES scores for the round of 32 for this year’s NCAA tournament.

GameChannelTimeScore
#5 Florida State vs. #4 South CarolinaESPN23/24 2 p.m.81.7
#6 South Dakota State vs. #3 SyracuseESPN3/25 7 p.m.80.3
#5 Marquette vs. #4 Texas A&MESPN23/24 2 p.m.79.0
#6 UCLA vs. #3 MarylandESPN3/25 7 p.m.77.2
#5 Arizona State vs. #4 MiamiESPN23/24 7 p.m.76.8
#6 Kentucky vs. #3 NC StateESPN3/25 7 p.m.76.4
#5 Gonzaga vs. #4 Oregon StateESPN3/25 9 p.m.76.1
#11 Missouri State vs. #3 Iowa StateESPN3/25 9 p.m.76.1
#7 Missouri vs. #2 IowaESPN23/24 2 p.m.74.7
#7 BYU vs. #2 StanfordESPN23/25 11 p.m.70.1
#10 Buffalo vs. #2 UConnESPN3/24 7 p.m.69.3
#9 Clemson vs. #1 Mississippi StateESPN3/24 9 p.m.68.9
#8 Michigan vs. #1 LouisvilleESPN23/24 noon68.5
#9 Michigan State vs. #1 Notre DameESPN3/25 7 p.m.67.1
#8 California vs. #1 BaylorESPN3/25 9 p.m.66.6
#10 Indiana vs. #2 OregonESPN23/24 9 p.m.66.5

Florida State & South Carolina reach new heights for the tournament, beating the previous high set for Clemson & South Dakota. Clemson’s next game’s appeal falls off due to the disparity between its rating and Mississippi State. In fact, the games of the 1 & 2 seeds unsurprisingly clustered towards the bottom. For the women, there’s still a big disparity between the top 8 programs this year & those that would fall into the 7-10 seed range. Note that I’m still using statistics from prior to the first round of games, so that could artificially increase the divide between these teams, and thus knock their FOWLES score down lower than would be accurate.

The appeal of the 1 & 2 seed games is generally higher than their corresponding game from the first round, but it’s not exactly a lock that these match ups are going to produce the most exciting games possible. Iowa & Missouri in particular have a good score for their seeds.