November 20, 2021
Charting individual EuroLeague performances and league-wide trends
Taking advantage of the second straight week of rest to chart EuroLeague individual performances and statistical trends
The EuroLeague, as you know, is going through a two-week hiatus due to international play. The competition will get back to our televisions and YouTube streams next Wednesday, with the EL entering its sixth week of play.
Another week of pause means another week to draw. Last week, I presented some charts covering the first third of the 2021-22 EuroLeague season. I focused primarily on the competition standings and teams but also looked briefly at how WNBA imports have performed individually through the first five weeks.
This week, I’m going all-in on player stats and performances. It’s been five games, so we have a good bunch of stat lines to analyze, from phenomenal outcomes to some dubious efforts here and there. The trends are waiting for us to dig through the numbers and depict them.
Go get your pencils and crayons, folks, because we’re back at the drawing board!
WNBA imports have (mostly) gotten better over time
There have been a total of 738 player-games so far this season, and I have plotted them all in the following charts, representing WNBA imports with red circles against yellow diamonds for players not linked to American franchises. Let’s start with pure scoring.
As you can see, WNBA and Europe-based players have been all over the place when it comes to scoring. But over time, WNBA imports have gone from trailing their European counterparts to leading all players at this very fundamental skill.
In the first two weeks of the season, as many as eight European players finished above the highest-scoring WNBA player. Eva Lisec and Alina Iagupova did so in Week 1, while six players bested Kennedy Burke‘s 19-point performance in Week 2 as the highest-scoring import. That development flipped starting in Week 3, though.
In the last three weeks of play, WNBA players have been absolutely dominant in terms of points per game. The top three scorers in Week 3 (Burke, Megan Gustafson and Bernadett Hatar) came from the WNBA; the same happened in Week 4 (Kayla McBride, Natasha Howard and Burke); and things got even better in Week 5, when a season-high four imports (McBride, Gabby Williams, Sophie Cunningham and Howard) led the slate in points scored. It makes sense considering that the finish of the WNBA season and its playoffs overlapped with the start of the EL, not affording much time for imports to rest/recover/get back in shape for overseas play.
I have grouped the other four mainstream stats in a single gallery above. The shapes and colors have stayed the same, and once more it’s easy to spot trends here and there.
Rebounding is perhaps the steadiest statistical category so far this season, as Europe-based players and WNBA imports have pretty much balanced each other out atop the weekly leaderboards. Boards are, after points, arguably the most important stat in basketball given that they either produce a change of possession or extend a possession after a missed shot. There have been 41 player-games of 10-plus rebounds through Week 5, and 16 have come from WNBA imports.
Only once, though, has an import led a week in rebounds (Elizabeth Williams in Week 3). Coincidentally, that outing was trailed by four other imports who made the top five in Hatar, Amanda Zahui B., Gustafson and Alyssa Thomas. But no import (nor Europe-based player, for that matter) has come even remotely close to reaching Sandrine Gruda‘s Week 1 19-rebound game, a true outlier.
Some of the other classic statistical categories have shown trends similar to those already discussed regarding points. Assists have gone down a little bit for Europe-based players while they’ve risen for WNBA-linked players. No import reached eight dimes in the first two weeks of play, but Emma Meesseman put up that mark in Week 3, Riquna Williams and Epiphanny Prince did so in Week 4 and Thomas became the first WNBA-signed player to lead a week in assists thanks to her masterful 11-dime outing in Week 5.
While something similar has happened in terms of steals (from no imports with four or more steals in the first couple of games to three consecutive game days with WNBA players leading the category), the opposite has occurred with blocks. Obviously, blocks are scarce, and only 11 times has a player swatted at least three shots in a single game this season. Elizabeth Williams was a fixture at the top of the leaderboard during three of the first four weeks (with six blocks in Week 1, five in Week 3 and four in Week 4), but she missed the cut in Week 5. The one taking her place? Jonquel Jones with three blocks. But the tendency is going down for WNBA imports.
The WNBA reigns supreme
All right, “reigns supreme” might be stretching things a bit, but after five weeks of play, there is a WNBA import at the top of the accumulated efficiency leaderboard: the New York Liberty’s Natasha Howard. Howard has a total efficiency of 114 in five games. That is reasonable: the more games, the more chances to rack up stats and thus efficiency.
But Howard isn’t alone. If we filter players based on the number of games they’ve played in this EuroLeague season, an import also leads the pack in efficiency while playing four games (Gustafson at 74), three games (Jones at 73) and one game (Allie Quigley at 15).
Here is the accumulated leaderboard showing the progress of all players through the first third of the year.
Howard is leading the competition, and she’s been quite a steady performer. While she had a little bit of a bump in her road to the lead back in Week 3 (9 efficiency), her efficiency has exceeded 20 in all other games. No other player has had four games with an efficiency of 20-plus, with Elizabeth Williams, Jones and McBride being the only other imports with three games at that level.
Speaking of Jones … Have you seen the stat line she put together just a few days ago for the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team? Here is a good summary, or if you don’t have time to watch that video, let me sum it up for you: Jones destroyed the game of basketball, dumping 44 points, 22 rebounds and four dimes on Belgium for a ridiculous efficiency mark of 51. I was relieved to see I wasn’t the only one thinking that efficiency was an error and actually impossible to reach; turns out we all were wrong and Jones, in fact, pulled off such a feat.
And she is pretty much doing it at all levels of play, including as the reigning WNBA MVP and in the EuroLeague these days. Here is how Jones, the leader in average efficiency, and Howard, the leader in accumulated efficiency, compare in the EuroLeague so far. Jones is shown in red and Howard is shown in green.
I already mentioned that Howard has been as steady as it gets, and the chart above shows it. She’s been able to maintain high efficiency marks all season, and she’s played in all five games. But what Jones is doing in her three games is nonsensical.
Jones has put up efficiency marks of 24, 24 and 25 in the past three game days. Only one other player (Alice Kunek in Weeks 1-3) has strung together three games at or above an efficiency of 24. But Kunek put together those games in an average of 38 minutes per game to Jones’ 26; Kunek never played fewer than 36 minutes while Jones never topped 33 minutes. That’s why…
That’s the cream of the crop right there: The 18 players in the chart above are the only ones putting up average efficiency-per-minute marks above 0.50 while playing at least 75 total minutes. Of course, Jones, Howard and Kunek all made the cut.
In case the chart doesn’t make it clear enough, Jones is the leader in efficiency per minute by a freaking mile. Her mark of 0.96 is staggering. Howard is second at 0.78. That’s one player (Jones) being 23% more efficient per minute than the other (Howard).
Of course, three games played for Jones against five for Howard is definitely swinging this in Jones’ favor. But all signs point toward Jones avenging her “early” exit from the WNBA playoffs by smashing EuroLeague competition. And I can’t wait to watch it in full.
Luckily for WNBA fans hurting for professional basketball these days, we have competitions such as the EuroLeague throughout the WNBA offseason. And in a matter of days, the ball will get rolling for five more consecutive weeks of Euro-ball. Color me excited!