Who are the WNBA All-Stars? An Introduction, Using Shot Location Data

Knowing nothing about the WNBA, but wanting to learn more about the league, I try to compare the top WNBA players to their NBA counterparts, purely using shot chart data.

I don’t watch the WNBA.  Most people don’t.  I want to believe that I personally don’t watch because the level of play isn’t adequately entertaining.  But maybe (probably) I’m actually prejudiced: they’re women.  They can’t dunk like men, they’re slower than men, and many of them have funny-looking jump shots.  And, sad to say, most WNBA players aren’t as physically attractive as other women you see on television, or even other women’s sports like tennis.

These are all unfair criticisms.  We should judge WNBA players based on their talent and productivity, not on what our eyeballs see.  After all, there are entertaining NBA players that can’t dunk (Andre Miller), aren’t fast (Andre Miller, again), and have funny-looking jump shots (Joakim Noah, Kevin Martin, and Andre Miller, yet again).  Plus, as a straight male, I don’t watch the NBA for the players’ physical attractiveness (though I suppose the female cheerleaders on the sidelines do help).

So that’s what I wanted to do: to be less prejudiced against WNBA players, and judge them based on their basketball playing abilities.

Again, I turn to data, because data don’t have eyeballs.  In particular, I acquired shot location of every game in the current 2013 WNBA regular season.  And to start off, I wanted to learn about the best players, so I looked at the 2013 season’s All-Star rosters.

In doing so, I realized I knew only 2 or 3 of the players, and even then, I didn’t know what kind of player each woman was.  To keep it simple, I just wanted to know what kinds of shots each all-star took.  And to further draw the mental image, I wanted to see which NBA player each woman resembles the most.

For each WNBA player, I took the shot frequencies within each of the 14 shot zones you see on vorped.com, and compared them to all NBA players’ shot zone frequencies from the 2012-2013 NBA regular season.  Then I calculated which NBA player had the most similar shot frequency pattern, using the sum of squared deviations from the WNBA player’s shot frequency across all zones.

So here’s what I got.  Let’s start off in the East.

Eastern Conference All-Stars

Cappie Pondexter

Most similar to: Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Mo Williams, Jrue Holidaycappie_pondexter

Epiphanny Prince

Most similar to: Nate Robinson, Deron WIlliams, Marcus Thornton

Apparently she likes to take last-second half-court shots.

epiphanny_prince

Tina Charles

Most similar to: Carlos Boozer, Elton Brand, Luis Scola, Brandon Bass

tina_charles

Tamika Catchings

Most similar to: Gordon Hayward, Reggie Jackson, Andre Iguodala

tamika_catchings

Angel McCoughtry

Most similar to: Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Monta Ellis, Eric Gordon, Lebron James

McCoughtry basically shoots from everywhere, but likes to get to the rim, which is apparently why she resembles many point guard-like shot charts.

angel_mccoughtry

Erika de Souza

Most similar to: DeJuan Blair, Derrick Favors, Larry Sanders, Bismack Biyombo, Nikola Pekovic

erika_desouza

Sylvia Fowles

Most similar to: Tiago Splitter, Javale McGee, Kosta Koufos, Kenneth Faried

Apparently she should play for the Denver Nuggets, because she shoots exactly like all their big men.

sylvia_fowles

Allison Hightower

Most similar to: Beno Udrih, Steve Nash, Andrea Bargnani

Hightower shoots from everywhere, which is why she has similarities to shoot-first types of players, ranging from an NBA point guard to a center.

allison_hightower

Crystal Langhorne

Most similar to: Iam Mahinmi, Jordan Hill, Tyler Hansbrough, Meyers Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins

This is a very interesting shot chart.  Langhorne doesn’t take any high paint shots, only taking the long 2-pointer or the 4-footer near the rim.  I would be interested in further analyzing her shot selection, seeing if this is a natural consequence of the spacing of the offense, or perhaps even her ability to pass up sub-optimal shots.

crystal_langhorne

Ivory Latta

Most similar to: Jimmer Fredette, Vince Carter, Roddy Beaubois, Nate Robinson, Deron Williams

ivory_latta

Shavonte Zellous

Most similar to: J.R. Smith, Marco Belinelli, Brandon Jennings, Danilo Gallinari, Paul George

shavonte_zellous

Elena Della Donne

Most similar to: Arron Afflalo, Rudy Gay, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Kobe Bryant, Jordan Crawford

As you can see, Della Donne definitely has a swing(wo)man’s type of game, given her NBA comparisons.

elena_delladonne

Western Conference All-Stars

Diana Taurasi

Most similar to: Ryan Anderson, Omri Casspi, CJ Miles

This seems to me the oddest comparison my crappy model spit out.  I would have guessed James Harden.  But you get the idea here: lots of threes, lots of drives to the paint.  I suppose she’s pretty unique in that she shoots more from the baseline than from the long-two wings.

diana_taurasi

Seimone Augustus

Most similar to: Shannon Brown, Monta Ellis, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Rudy Gay

seimone_augustus

Candace Parker

Most similar to: Dwyane Wade, Josh Smith, Lebron James, Paul Millsap

Lots of action at the rim, but does have some shot frequency from the three-point line, albeit not successfully.

candace_parker

Maya Moore

Most similar to: Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Brandon Jennings, O.J. Mayo, Paul George

Another swingwoman’s/shooting guard type of game, with a lot of similarities to shoot-first types of point guards as well.

maya_moore

Rebekkah Brunson

Most similar to: Luis Scola, Tim Duncan, Jason Maxiell, Glen Davis

rebekkah_brunson

Tina Thompson

Most similar to: Mirza Teletovic, Byron Mullens, A.J. Price, Ryan Anderson

She was all over the place with her comparisons.  A really unique shot chart: lots of threes, but also lots of low block and baseline shots befitting of a true frontcourt player.

tina_thompson

Glory Johnson

Most similar to: Jared Sullinger, Zaza Pachulia, DeJuan Blair, Kendrick Perkins

glory_johnson

Nneka Ogwumike

Most similar to: Larry Sanders, Chris Wilcox, DeAndre Jordan

nneka_ogwumike

Danielle Robinson

Most similar to: Tim Duncan, Jason Maxiell, Tyler Zeller

This has to be the most interesting shot chart of all.  Shots at the rim, and a bunch of 17-footers.  And, is it a coincidence that this San Antonio Sliver Stars most similar comparison is the quintessential San Antonio Spur?  They don’t play the same position, but the basketball philosophies around floor spacing and shot selection may be the same.

danielle_robinson

Kristi Toliver

Most similar to: Stephen Curry, Gary Neal, Jose Calderon

kristi_voliver

Lindsay Whalen

Most similar to: Jason Thompson, Jeff Adrien, Serge Ibaka

Yes, Lindsay Whalen, a guard, has power forwards as her closest comparisons.  Her nearest guard comparison is Dwyane Wade.

lindsay_whalen

Brittney Griner

Most similar to: Roy Hibbert, Marcin Gortat, Tristan Thompson

brittney_griner

How accurate was this exercise?  Am I right in the NBA player comparisons?  I would like to extend this analysis to rebounding, assists, and defense too, and also tighten up the comparison calculation.  But for a first analysis, I learned quite a bit about our WNBA All-Stars.

What I love about data is that it can help you see past superficial things like skin color, sexual orientation, and physical attractiveness, all things somewhat associated with the league.  I want to see the WNBA product for what it is: basketball.  And though I find the quality of the WNBA game a little rough and aesthetically/qualitatively disjointed, I’ve learned through this data that the WNBA can spark my curiosity and teach me interesting things about basketball, even if it isn’t the NBA.