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.
Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
In the end Paige won every single award she was eligible for (did not win Wade trophy as freshmen are not eligible) . I do believe she was the best and most valuable player in the nation and the records show she did things in the UConn system that not only has no freshmen ever done at Uconn. (She is only Uconn player ever with 3 -30pt games in a row and holds the record for assists in a game regardless of classification.) She has the most points "per game" by a freshmen, most assists per game in a season by a freshman, (5th best season by a freshman in steals in 9 less games than most due to CVD cancellations), broke Uconn's freshman record for assists( with 168) by 45 (the older record of 123 was held by Pam Webber and Renee Montgomery who also played in 7 and 9 games more than Paige again due to cvid) But don't hate on Clark, if Paige was not playing and Iowa had made it to the elite 8, then there would be serious talk about Clark possibly being player of the year along with Smith of Baylor, and Boston of SC. And lets get real Paige may be surrounded by other underclassmen but most of them are 4 and 5 star players, Uconn has more talent than most teams.
Jared is correct, and you ignored offensive and defensive player ratings, which favor Bueckers hugely. Both win shares and PER factor in total stats, which skews towards volume. Clark was #1 in usages, #1 in % of touches and time with ball, and #1 in 3pt attempts and #2 in overall attempts. Given that she also shot way more FT than Bueckers( which are not factored into shot attempts), Clark was wildly ( by over 50%) more prolific in shot attempts and creating offense. When you are handling and shooting the ball 50-60% more than Bueckers, you HAVE to put up better box score numbers. That’s not talent, that’s math. Every single knowledgable person understands that Bueckers would have put up significantly better box score numbers if she was as ball dominant, which is why no one seriously uses box score numbers and discounts all advanced metrics that don’t adjust for volume, so that gunners are not confused with greatness. Now factor in defense, clutch performing, leadership and court IQ and there is no serious comparison. Paige wins EVERYWHERE, Clark NEVER does....not a single state final, a bench sitter on team USA, and awful performances in her 2 biggest games in college, the B1G final and the NCAA Sweet 16.