Women's Hoops Blog

Inane commentary on a game that deserves far better

Thursday, November 18, 2004

It's often said, by the likes of Coach Wooden, that the women's game is more fundamentally sound than the men's. "We can't dunk," say the defenders, "but we're better passers and better team players. We play the game right."

I've never really bought that argument. To me, the women's game often looks sloppier -- worse passing, stupider offense. My view may be skewed since I live in Minnesota (the Wolves are often sublime; the Lynx turn it over like there's no tomorrow). So I ran some numbers, Kevin Pelton-style.

Here's a comparison of the 2003-04 NBA season with the 2004 WNBA season.

Assists per minute:
NBA -- .888
WNBA -- .768

Turnovers per minute:
NBA -- .624
WNBA -- .730

Assist to turnover ratio:
NBA -- 1.42
WNBA -- 1.05

Field goals per minute:
NBA -- 1.46
WNBA -- 1.22

Field goal percentage:
NBA -- 43.9
WNBA -- 42.0

Those numbers don't look good. Now, there are many possible explanations for the disparity. One is the dunk itself, which increases field goal percentage (and, indirectly, assists).

It's also possible that the women play better defense. There's no way to measure that, but as a subjective matter, I don't see it. The NBA has a great emphasis on defense these days, and the best teams (Detroit, San Antonio) are defense-oriented.

I would guess that the discrepancy is largely caused by the length of the season. Teams get better as the year goes on. I bet that if you looked at only the first 34 of the NBA's 82 games, the statistics would be closer, but I have no idea how much.

Is there a lesson here?

We talk a lot about the success of the league, and we mostly talk about marketing, media coverage, and so on. But at some fundamental level, the popularity of the game is related to its quality. It's just not that much fun to watch a team that has more turnovers than assists -- the WNBA had four of them last year, the NBA had none.

To some extent, this problem will correct itself over time. The women's game is progressing (and the men's game may be degenerating). But, instead of just waiting for the Candace Parkers of the world to arrive, the league should also think of ways to improve the quality of play.

It should consider lengthening training camp or preseason, or finding other ways to allow teammates to have more court time together. It should also be open to rule changes that will open up the offense -- as Mark Cuban has noted, the NBA has increased scoring this year by cutting down on perimeter contact. The NBA is even experimenting with getting rid of the three-point line to encourage better fundamental offense. The WNBA should be open to that sort of experimentation.

When we're not happy about the league's success, we can complain about media bias, gender bias, and so on. Those complaints have some validity. At some point, however, we need to be willing to examine the product that the W is putting on the floor. It's not as good as it should be.

Related Posts:
1. More numbers
2. Kevin Pelton's take