Top 20: Tamika Catchings, no. 2
The definitive ranking of the WNBA’s best players.
Some of you won’t care, and we’re about 99 percent positive we’ll get a few of the traditional “what is the WNBA?” comments we usually do. But this is long overdue – SLAMonline’s first ever in-depth player rankings for the WNBA.
Why just the top 20 and not the top 50? Simple. There are 18 fewer teams in the WNBA than the NBA and roster sizes are limited to 11 players. Thus, the NBA has hundreds of more players than the WNBA does – and this list needs and deserves to be competitive.
This list is based solely on projected performance in the 2011 season. Traditional player statistics are taken into account but being a successful and effective player in The W is so much more than that. It’s what each player means to the team – in terms of responsibility, leadership, management and all-around game.
We know you’ll see players you think should be on the list but aren’t. Conversely, you’ll also see players on the list that you’ll vehemently disagree with. Maybe you agree with the entire top 20. Just be sure to let us know in the comment section.
Also, check out Ben’s weekly podcast at WNBA.com.– Ed.
No. 2 – Tamika Catchings
When I first sat down and began creating SLAMonline’s WNBA Top 20 list back in October of 2010, I already knew who the top three players would be. After all, if you take into account the accomplishments that Lauren Jackson, Tamika Catchings, and Diana Taurasi have all made (and continue to make) to women’s basketball, combined with the momentum each player created heading into the 2011 season, there’s not much of a debate.
The part I wasn’t sure of, however, was where each player would fall within those three spots.
As I mentioned on this week’s podcast with WNBA.com, each of those players (Jackson, Catchings, and Taurasi) occupied the the No. 1 spot at some point. Every time I felt good about putting Lauren Jackson there, I’d uncover something that propelled Catchings into that spot. Conversely, every time Catchings wound up at No. 1, I would find an unbelievable stat regarding Diana Taurasi which (as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now) cemented her position at the top.
It was a vicious, cruel cycle. For weeks, I was immersed in a downward spiral; I suffered from chronic insomnia, hallucinations, and began to look eerily similar to Christian Bale in The Machinist.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic but what I’m trying to say is that you really can’t go wrong with the order of the top three; a legitimate case could be made for every one of these players to be No. 1 and it just depends on the value you place on certain aspects of their game. But, that’s the beauty of it, right? We’ve been talking extensively about WNBA basketball from October through March (a time where the NFL and NBA reign) and that’s pretty awesome.
As for my decision to put Tamika Catchings at No. 2, it wasn’t simply that her game has zero weaknesses but also that she is profoundly efficient and excels in, literally, all areas of the game of basketball.
There isn’t another player in the entire league who can justifiably make that claim. To be proficient in multiple areas is one thing, but to actually excel and be amongst the league leaders in all areas is another.
In previous years, the one knock against Catchings (fair or unfair) has been her shooting. Prior to 2010, her highest career shooting percentage was 43% and that was during her second year in the league (2003). In 2010, however, she set a career-high in both shooting percentage (48%) and three-point percentage (45%).
Now, consider this: Tamika Catchings is the only player in WNBA history to rank in the top ten in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and blocks in the same season.
And, she has managed to do this twice.
The only category which she has not consistently ranked in the top ten is minutes per game (her career average is 33.2). Do you realize how significant that is? For a player to be in the top ten of so many categories (I’ll talk more about her defensive prowess later on) and not be amongst the league leaders in minutes per game is extraordinary.
For comparisons sake, in both the WNBA and NBA, the vast majority of players who currently lead the league in a specific statistical category also are in the top ten in minutes played.
Which leads me into how efficient of a player she is…
Of the top six candidates in MVP voting in 2010 (Catchings, Jackson, McCoughtry, Taurasi, Pondexter, and Fowles) the only player who took fewer shots than Catchings was Sylvia Fowles. Additionally, of the six candidates, only Pondexter and Fowles shot a higher field-goal percentage and nobody shot a higher three-point percentage than Catchings. She also posted a 22.4 efficiency rating (3rd in the league) and, of the six candidates, only Fowles posted a higher rating (24.4). This is especially important when you consider that Catchings posted these numbers in the Fever’s offense. Unlike any of the other candidates, Catchings plays a considerable amount of time outside the paint and usually ends up creating her own shot from the perimeter; Fowles and Jackson usually get isolations, Taurasi and McCoughtry put up more shots with more specifically designed plays, and Pondexter has the ball in her hand 90% of the time in the Liberty’s offense.
So, what conclusion can we draw from this information?
Quite simply, nobody does more for her team than Tamika Catchings.
Think about that for a moment…
Think of how consistent of a player you have to be, especially on teams that aren’t considered to be legitimate contenders, to finish in the top three of MVP voting five times. It’s no secret that the player who typically leads the league in scoring usually ends up being favored to win the MVP award. For Catchings, though, it’s a bit different. Not only do the Fever rely on her to put points on the board, she exerts an enormous amount of energy on the defensive end of the floor guarding the opposing team’s best player (which can be anyone from a point guard to a center).
In fact, of all the MVP candidates in 2010 (other than Catchings), if they ranked in the top ten in one defensive category, none of them ranked in at least the top twenty of another. For example, Catchings finished the 2010 season 1st in steals and 11th in blocks. The closest candidate to rank in the top 20 for both was Angel McCoughtry who finished 3rd in steals and 25th in blocks. Catchings also led the league in both defensive win shares (3.1) and defensive rating (91.4). As another testament to her all-around game, her offensive rating (117.1) was good for 7th in the league and her offensive win shares (4.8) put her at 3rd in the league.
Knowing this, it would be insane to think Tamika Catchings isn’t going to produce another record-setting year in 2011. Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results) summarizes my point perfectly; Catchings has been posting ridiculous numbers every year she has been in the league – why should 2011 be any different?
What does this all mean?
It means that in 2011, there is little reason to doubt that Catchings will have another phenomenal year. In all likelihood, she could very well capture an unprecedented fifth Defensive Player of the Year award while continuing to improve offensively, adding to her unrivaled versatility.
If this trend continues, Catchings could be unstoppable. Just think if Catchings took as many shots as Taurasi or Jackson; she would easily score 20 points a game to go along with her typical six or seven rebounds and three or four assists (not to mention two or three steals)…in just 30 minutes of action!
In my opinion, I wouldn’t be surprised if Catchings could find herself ranked in the top three of both offensive and defensive rating in 2011. Am I the only one who sees how spectacular that could be? Should that happen (and it’s definitely attainable), it would be a crime for her not to be named the Most Valuable Player.