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Were Paige Bueckers and Caitlin Clark the most valuable players statistically this season?
Breaking down this season's national player of the year candidates by Win Shares and Player Efficiency Rating
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The national player of the year race this year in NCAA Division I women’s basketball is tighter and more contested than any season in recent memory. We at Her Hoop Stats are once again taking a look at who was the most valuable player statistically for the 2020-21 season.
There are two main advanced statistics to measure a player’s value on the court. First, Win Shares approximates the total number of wins a player produces for their team through their play on the offensive and defensive end of the court. Unsurprisingly, winners of the WNBA and NBA MVP awards often lead the league in Win Shares, as they are contributing the most to their team’s success by this measure.
Taking a look at all the players on this year’s Wooden Award ballot, and adding in Caitlin Clark and Ashley Owusu who were named AP All Americans for good measure, Paige Bueckers comes out on top with 12.1 total Win Shares for UConn this season.
Bueckers, who also tops most player of the year lists, also leads all candidates with 0.52 Win Shares per 40 minutes of action. In fact, only two players in the country have her beat there: Florida Gulf Coast’s Kierstan Bell and Stanford’s Cameron Brink (yet another elite member of this year’s freshman class).
Naz Hillmon also stands out here as the only player other than Bueckers to rank in the top 10 nationally for both Win Shares and Win Shares per 40 minutes. Hillmon has collected her 8.7 total Win Shares (10th in the nation) in just 21 games this season for Michigan, but when adjusting for minutes played ranks fifth in the nation on a per 40 basis. Worth noting - the last five Naismith Player of the Year Award winners (Breanna Stewart, Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson, Megan Gustafson, and Sabrina Ionescu) have all ranked in the top 10 nationally for both Win Shares and Win Shares per 40 minutes.
In addition to Win Shares, value can also be measured using Player Efficiency Ratings (PER). PER, an advanced statistic developed by John Hollinger, aims to estimate the per minute value of a player from box score stats. Multiplying this statistic by minutes played creates another estimate of the total value created by a player on the court.
This time it’s not Bueckers but another freshman that leads the way: Caitlin Clark. Clark has a total PER * Minutes of 36,130 which not only tops the national player of the year candidates but also the nation. Even removing her high amount of minutes from the equation, Clark ranks 10th nationally in PER.
It’s clear that Bueckers and Clark are two of the most statistically valuable players in the country, but which has the edge? Well, that depends what you value. PER places a higher emphasis on volume. At nearly 27 points and seven assists per game, Clark’s numbers are eye popping. Win Shares, on the other hand, places a higher value on efficiency and on team success - both of which are things Bueckers and UConn excel at.
In addition to the freshmen, it’s worth noting that Oklahoma State’s Natasha Mack checks in at second for both Win Shares and PER* Minutes among national player of the year candidates. Mack’s excellence on the defensive end of the floor has led to 4.1 defensive win shares this season, which ranks second in the nation - and propels her to a high ranking in both Win Shares and PER*Minutes despite her offensive numbers lagging behind other candidates.
While Bueckers and Clark are the frontrunners for the most statistically valuable players this season, Hillmon and Mack also have strong cases. All four, of course, and multiple other names on this list have an argument to take home one or more of this year’s national player of the year awards.