Angel Reese's Hot Start
The sophomore transfer has put up huge numbers against lesser opponents - and LSU's schedule gives her a chance to keep rolling.
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It’s way too early to declare Angel Reese the player of the year. But have you seen her numbers?
The LSU sophomore has powered the Tigers to five easy wins over less-than-taxing competition. The transfer from Maryland is averaging 23 points and nearly 16 rebounds during that stretch, having recorded a double-double in every game so far as the Tigers have yet to score less than 100 points a game. That’s video game type production.
If she were able to even come close to sustaining those numbers, Reese would be in line for a historic season.
One of the better ways to measure the value of a player is through Win Shares, an advanced statistic that estimates the total number of wins a player produces for her team through offensive and defensive performance. Your MVP-caliber players often are at the top of the table in Win Shares or in Win Shares per 40 minutes, which helps account for the opportunity to contribute. If your team has a lot of blowout wins, as LSU does, the per-minute metric is a better one to use.
So far this season, there’s Reese and then there’s everyone else.
Through Nov. 20, there were nine players who averaged at least 20 minutes a game with a Win Shares per 40 minutes score of 0.70 or higher (minimum of three games). Reese’s score of 1.08 is the only one above 1.0. To give you an idea of how dominant that is, there are no collegiate players in the Her Hoop Stats era (2009-2022) who have achieved that for a single season. The closest are Elena Delle Donne in 2011-12 (0.77) and Breanna Stewart in 2015-16 (0.75).
It’s necessary to take early-season stats with a heaping of salt. November is when teams like to rack up wins, quality or otherwise, in order to gain the notice of Top 25 voters and tournament selectors alike. And LSU’s schedule has been, well, modest: the team’s strength of schedule ranks 341st among Division I schools.
That weak schedule has given Reese and her teammates, most notably first-year player Flau’jae Johnson, a chance to rack up gaudy stats against lesser opponents. Johnson’s current Win Shares per 40 minutes is second only to Reese’s.
The players who currently trail Reese this season are a mostly familiar set of names and some less familiar ones who have been boosted by remarkable individual performances. Esmery Martinez of Arizona has upped her output in her first season at Arizona after transferring from West Virginia. You shouldn’t be too surprised to see names like Maddy Siegrist of Villanova or Kiki Jefferson, the James Madison standout, on this list, even if you haven’t seen much of them. Still, Reese’s early-season performance has been even more dominant.
How dominant? She leads the nation in every category of Win Shares that Her Hoop Stats tracks:
As gaudy as Reese’s offensive performance has been, the stats tell a story of rebounding dominance, too. Reese ranks second in total rebound rate and total rebounds per 40 minutes. Her current Defensive Win Shares per 40 minutes of 0.40 is far above historical highs: only a dozen players in the Her Hoop Stats era have recorded a score of 0.25 or higher for a season.
It’s reasonable to expect that as LSU plays stronger teams that Reese’s performance will lessen, at least somewhat. Regression to the mean is a real thing in basketball, and while LSU’s strength of schedule is cupcake city now, by the end of the season it’s projected to rank 57th by Warren Nolan. You also could be forgiven for looking at the Her Hoop Stats’ current predictions of the Tigers’ remaining games, in which there is just one in which they are not solid favorites (78% or greater chance of winning), a visit to the defending national champions South Carolina on Feb. 12. Take those predictions, too, with a grain of salt; this early in the season they are more reliant on last year’s performances.
Reese probably isn’t going to get a double-double every game from here on, but she recorded 17 of Maryland’s 19 double-doubles a year ago, so it’s not impossible to think that she could do something similar - or better - in SEC play.
Next up for Reese and the Tigers is George Mason on Thanksgiving Day, a good rebounding squad but a team that has struggled to score against quality opponents. For Reese and her teammates, all of November has been Feast Week. According to LSU, the five straight games of scoring at least 100 points is one short of a six-game streak by Louisiana Tech in 1981-82, when current LSU coach Kim Mulkey was the Lady Techsters’ starting point guard.