Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

July 26, 2011

Cross-Gender Similarity

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:55 am

If you’re missing professional basketball, there’s never been a better time to give the WNBA a chance. Currently celebrating its 15th anniversary, the WNBA is entering the second half of the season with excellent races in both conferences. Since the move to a 24-second shot clock in 2006, the WNBA has emphasized the growing individual skill of its players, especially on the perimeter.

For curious NBA fans looking to put the league in familiar terms, here’s a statistical solution. Using the same similarity scores that form the basis of the SCHOENE Projection System, I’ve found NBA peers for WNBA stars based on their skills relative to their leagues. Here’s a look at the 10 players voted starters in last Saturday’s All-Star Game, as well as a handful of other key players.

Sue Bird, Seattle: Jeff Hornacek, 1994 (98.2), Derek Harper, Chauncey Billups, Mike James
How does Bird, the league’s best point guard, draw a shooting guard as her best comp? In part, it’s an issue with using just this season’s statistics. Bird has been more of a scorer with Lauren Jackson sidelined after hip surgery. Also, Hornacek had more of a playmaking role in Philadelphia before being traded to Utah in February 1994. Billups is a better match.

Rebekkah Brunson, Minnesota: Horace Grant, 1995 (96.0), Dennis Rodman, Dale Davis, Kevin Willis
Apparently, Brunson–the league’s leading rebounder–would be ideal as the starting power forward for the ’90s Chicago Bulls.

Swin Cash, Seattle: Paul Pierce, 2009 (97.0), Detlef Schrempf, Dan Roundfield, Clifford Robinson
There’s something about Seattle small forwards who complement a point guard-post duo (making Bird and Jackson, in a certain sense, the neo-Payton and Kemp).

Tamika Catchings, Indiana: Scottie Pippen, 1998 (94.8), Kevin Garnett, Clyde Drexler, Julius Erving
The WNBA’s top defensive player, Catchings swings between the two forward positions, so it’s fitting that she matches up with one of the NBA’s best defensive small forwards and one of its best defensive power forwards.

Tina Charles, Connecticut: Chris Bosh, 2007 (97.1), Al Jefferson, Elton Brand, LaMarcus Aldridge

You wouldn’t know it from this list, but Charles is a pure center who does share with this group the ability to step away from the basket or score in the post.

Katie Douglas, Indiana: Ray Allen, 2008 (97.2), Scottie Pippen, Eddie Jones, Jeff Hornacek
The sweet-shooting Douglas is knocking down 46.2 percent of her three-pointers this season and is also a very capable ballhandler.

Sylvia Fowles, Chicago: Patrick Ewing, 1988 (97.5), Amare Stoudemire, Alonzo Mourning, Shawn Kemp

At the break, Fowles and Catchings seem to be the leading candidates for MVP. Despite playing for a .500 Chicago team, the 6-6 Fowles has stood out by topping the WNBA in both scoring and shot blocking.

Becky Hammon, San Antonio: Tim Hardaway, 2001 (98.1), John Lucas, Sam Cassell, Gary Payton
Hammon is the league’s best scorer at the point. A shooting specialist when she came into the league undrafted out of Colorado State, Hammon has broadened her game to develop into one of the league’s Top 15 Players of All Time, as unveiled at the All-Star Game.

Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta: Alvin Robertson, 1987 (88.2), Ron Harper, Darrell Walker, Ron Artest

The defining point of McCoughtry’s game statistically is her high steal rate, which explains this list. She’s also a streaky, dangerous scorer who got hot at the right time and led the Dream to the WNBA Finals last year. The McCoughtry-Artest comparison is amusing because, although their games are relatively similar, McCoughtry is as slender as Artest is stout.

Maya Moore, Minnesota: Quentin Richardson, 2002 (97.4), Rashard Lewis, Paul Pierce, Mike Brooks
The former UConn star has been solid across the board as a rookie for the Western Conference’s top team. That’s been a bit of a disappointment to the extent that Moore was expected to be a dominant superstar since day one, but her future remains bright.

Candace Parker, Los Angeles: Kevin Garnett, 2001 (97.6), Chris Webber, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki

I think I like the Webber comp best for Parker because it emphasizes her versatility. Parker, currently out after arthroscopic knee surgery, starts at center but can also handle the basketball and shoot from the perimeter.

Cappie Pondexter, New York: Mike Bibby, 2007 (97.3), Baron Davis, Chauncey Billups, John Starks

Not quite sure how the league’s best one-on-one player ended up with so many point guards. Yes, Pondexter is starting at the position this season, but she’s a scorer first and foremost. I’d think of her more as a super-Monta Ellis.

Diana Taurasi, Phoenix: Steve Smith, 1998 (96.7), Mark Aguirre, Paul Pierce, Alex English
Taurasi’s list is also a weird group. Subjectively, I’ve always considered her comparable to Kobe Bryant because of their ultra-aggressive mentalities. Pondexter and Taurasi have the most NBA-friendly games of any WNBA players, and Taurasi’s run-and-gun Mercury are probably the best introduction to the league possible.

Penny Taylor, Phoenix: Clyde Drexler, 1992 (94.5), Magic Johnson, Scottie Pippen, Manu Ginobili
A perennially underrated Aussie, Taylor actually inspired this list because of a thread on the RebKell WNBA message boards. Subjectively, I came up with Schrempf as a comparison. As it turns out he’s nowhere close, both because Taylor is playing at a near-MVP level this season and because she’s turned into a top playmaker, ranking sixth in the league in assist rate.

From time to time, we get emails asking us to cover the WNBA here at Basketball Prospectus. That’s not possible, but I do track advanced statistics as part of my coverage of the Seattle Storm at the StormTracker blog.

You can contact Kevin at kpelton@basketballprospectus.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kpelton and @kpeltonWBB.

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