Possessions are 9/10 of the Holdsclaw Trade

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  • Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | Mar. 31, 2005
    Near the end of the 2003 regular season, I wrote a WNBA Primer column for the NBA Web site Hoopsworld.com. Part of that process was attempting to introduce NBA fans to the WNBA's elite by comparing them to their male counterparts.

    In the column, I said I couldn't come up with a particularly good comparison for Chamique Holdsclaw, eventually settling on Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal. (Oddly, O'Neal has become much more Holdsclaw-like over the last two seasons than he was then.) Now, my equivalent for Holdsclaw has become clear, an opinion only reinforced when Storm play-by-play broadcaster David Locke made the same comparison after Holdsclaw was dealt to the Los Angeles Sparks in a blockbuster deal earlier this month: Chris Webber.

    Holdsclaw took more shots per game than any other WNBA player in 2004.
    Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty
    Granted, there are differences between Webber and Holdsclaw, notably Webber's superior passing pitted against Holdsclaw's rebounding. Still, after a period of six weeks in which both Holdsclaw and Webber were traded, the comparison might be illuminating.

    When Webber was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers on the eve of the NBA's Trade Deadline in February, the consensus was that in pairing two of the game's better individual talents in Webber and Allen Iverson, the 76ers had made themselves the favorites in the wide-open Atlantic Division and possibly contenders for the Eastern Conference Championship. 26-27 at the time of the deal, the Sixers have gone 9-7 with Webber in the lineup (Philadelphia also lost two games in which Webber did not play).

    Meanwhile, Webber's own statistics have plummeted precipitously in Philadelphia. A nightly triple-double threat with the Sacramento Kings, Webber averaged 21.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists at the time of the trade. With the 76ers, Webber's numbers have fallen to 16.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

    While Webber has steadfastly refused to criticize Iverson, the public perception has been that the two All-Stars have struggled to integrate their games. (Or, more accurately, they've struggled to integrate Webber - Iverson continues to lead the NBA in scoring.)

    So what does this have to do with Holdsclaw? Like Webber, Holdsclaw is one of the game's premier shot-creators. Last season, no WNBA player attempted more field goals per game than Holdsclaw's 17.5.

    Holdsclaw's shot-happy style was little cause for concern in Washington, where she only teamed with a teammate who needed a lot of looks this past season in rookie Alana Beard. (Nikki McCray was also a high scorer, but because of volume of shots more than efficiency.) Things will be different in Los Angeles, where, like Webber, Holdsclaw will team with another top scorer in MVP Lisa Leslie. As the saying goes, there's only one ball to go around. More accurately, there are only so many possessions to go around.

    Player Pos%
    Teasley 18%
    Dixon 20%
    Mabika 24%
    Holdsclaw 32%
    Leslie 27%
    Total 120%
    The best way to measure possession usage is the percentage of her team's possessions a player uses while she's on the court. (Possessions being defined statistically as FGA + .44*FTA + TO.) During 2004, Holdsclaw used 32% of Washington's possessions, one of only three players in the league above 30% (Tina Thompson and Diana Taurasi were the others).

    With the Sparks, Holdsclaw replaces DeLisha Milton-Jones, who used 19% of L.A.'s possessions before being injured. (Replacements Christi Thomas and Tamika Whitmore used 16% and 19%, respectively.) Using the chart at right, we can add up the possession percentages of the Sparks projected 2005 starters.

    The total is 120%, and that should tip you off that something won't quite be right for Los Angeles. While it's common for starting lineups to add up to more than 100% because starters use more possessions than reserves (the Storm's 2004 starters totaled 108%), 120% is an extreme, unsustainable figure. Someone will have to lose possessions, and here's where the Webber comparison begins to make more sense.

    While he hasn't really admitted it, it's believed that part of Sacramento President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie's willingness to deal Webber was the Kings success without him in recent years. On a team as offensively diverse as Sacramento, having relatively inefficient Webber taking so many shots may actually have hurt the team.

    Player TS%
    Teasley .546
    Dixon .506
    Mabika .517
    Holdsclaw .474
    Leslie .552
    The best way to judge shooting efficiency is True Shooting Percentage, which is points divided by two times shooting possessions (FGA + .44*FTA). At right are the 2004 True Shooting Percentages of the Sparks projected starting five.

    While Holdsclaw's efficiency can be expected to improve next season as she's called upon to create her own shot less often, she is still likely to be a much less efficient option than Nikki Teasley and Leslie in particular.

    It would be a mistake to say that adding Holdsclaw will hurt the Sparks. Holdsclaw is one of the league's best rebounders, and having her alongside Leslie should reduce the defensive pressure opponents can put on the MVP. But as good as Holdsclaw may be, possessions mean her acquisition isn't quite a slam dunk for Los Angeles.