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On August 20 last year, the Seattle Storm were 13-12, fighting for a playoff spot.
Enter Lauren Jackson.
The three-time WNBA MVP, who sat out 21 games with injuries, came back and energized the Storm and they went on to win eight of their last nine games (one of which Jackson sat out) to secure the second seed in the Western Conference.
Almost exactly a year later, Seattle, sitting at 10-12, is hoping it can replicate a similar late-season surge.
Once again, enter Lauren Jackson.
The 6-foot-6 center, who this year missed the season’s first 22 games as a result of training with the Australian National Team, made her return on August 23 versus Indiana.
“We’ve really worked hard to keep ourselves in playoff contention and now that we are getting (Lauren) back at some point here in the near future we feel like she is going to be a strong addition, and statistically you can sort of see how important she is to us,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said.
Coach Agler – you are correct.
In 2011, when Lauren Jackson played in the regular season and playoffs, the Storm were 11-5 (.688 percent). When she was out, they went 11-10 (.524 percent).
But that was last year’s team. What about this year’s team?
Even without Jackson playing a game this season, her impact on the 2012 Storm is measurable when using a new rating system called Player Impact Estimate, or PIE, developed by NBA.com/stats. Using this equation, seen below, we can formulate an educated prediction for how many wins the Storm will have the rest of the way.
The PIE formula, as you can see, compiles everything a single player does in a game -- points scored, rebounds, blocks, missed free throws etc. -- and weighs that number against the same stats generated by everyone in that same game. For the mathematically-minded, the individual player’s stats are the numerator (top) of this equation and the cumulative stats of everyone in the game are the denominator (bottom). The formula then computes a percent value for each player which gives us, in laymen’s terms, the percentage of positive things attributable to that player in that game.
To see this correlation, look at the first half for the Storm (chart on the right). Through 19 games, the Storm generated a team PIE rating of 48.250 percent, which, using the PIE formula, would correlate to a .421 winning percentage. The team’s actual winning percentage was just slightly better at .450 percent.
But now, the Storm get Jackson back, who has been one of the highest ranking PIE players in the past decade. NBA.com/stats looked at all individual NBA and WNBA seasons from 2001 to now and only Tamika Catchings (8) and LeBron James (8) have accounted for more seasons in the top 100 than Jackson (7).
Jackson’s PIE average over the last three seasons (71 games, 30.4mpg) is 13.645 percent. So, we will use that number as what her impact will be on this year’s Seattle team if she plays 30 minutes a game the rest of the way.
Now, if Jackson is playing 30 minutes a game, that means a few of Seattle’s post players will play less minutes, namely Ann Wauters, Tina Thompson and Ewelina Kobryn (the replacements in red, below).
To account for this, we estimated the number of minutes each of those players would play per game in the second half – based on how many minutes they each played per game in the first half and subtracting from those proportionally from the minutes Jackson will log – and from there we were able to adjust their individual PIE percentages.
Armed with that information, we can project Seattle’s overall team PIE ranking based on the team’s first-half production (chart on the left) and Jackson’s predicted impact (chart on the right).
So, when Jackson suits up for the Storm, Seattle is projected to have a PIE percentage of 53.208 percent – up from 48.250 percent – which correlates to a winning percentage of .645, close to the .688 winning percentage that the Storm put up last year with Jackson on the floor. With 12 remaining games in 2012, that extrapolates to an 8-4 record for the Storm, leaving them at a predicted 18-16 at the end of the season, a mathematical lock for a playoff spot.
Is this fail-proof? No. Things like strength of schedule, injuries, players’ minutes and Jackson getting acclimated to the team after a long absence will all have an intrinsic impact.
Another unquantifiable impact, at this point, is how Jackson’s presence will affect the other players on her team. Opposing defenses will obviously key on the player that has career averages of 19.2 points and 7.8 rebounds and who just became the all-time leading scorer in Olympic play.
“What happens when Lauren comes on the floor is that she attracts so much attention that it opens up a lot of things for her teammates,” Agler said. “The floor, all of a sudden, gets more space because people have to play a lot of attention to her.”
Jackson’s positive impact extends to the defensive side of the ball, too.
“She’s such an extremely huge defensive presence too when you have that athleticism and length around the rim it makes it a little bit difficult to score on you,” Agler said.
In conclusion, Jackson can both score and stop people from scoring. That’s what winning – and PIE – is all about.
“I will say this, to have a good team you need to withstand some injuries and some absences and we’ve been able to do that,” Agler said. “It’s hard to be a strong, championship caliber team unless you have all your players healthy. Health and being involved on your team consistently is very important to make a championship run.”
For the first time this year, Seattle is both healthy and at full strength. It is the perfect storm for the season's second half.
*All stats are for games played on or before August 22.