November 13, 2021
Having fun with EuroLeague charts
Is UMMC as good as its record suggests? Which WNBA players have performed the best in EuroLeague? And more
If you have been following the EuroLeague this season, or following our coverage here at The Next, then you are already aware of the sad news: no games this week, and no games next week, either. Ugh. It’s time to stay positive, though, and take advantage of this (first of two) break in the regular season to reflect on what has happened and review some of this season’s storylines so far.
I already went a little bit in that direction last week, when I presented the standings from both regular-season groups and their teams five games into the season. We walked through four teams going into the break on hot streaks and four teams heading in the opposite, perhaps concerning, direction. That gave us a broader view of where things stand one-third of the way toward the postseason and got us ready for what is to come. But it wasn’t that fun.
So that is why I’m here today, even though there are no new games to talk about: to have some fun. But I’m also here to revisit a very popular adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” In other words: Ideas can oftentimes be conveyed by a single image that translates their meaning more effectively than its verbal counterpart.
That is how we’re covering the EuroLeague season in this week’s column. Charts are coming!
UMMC Ekaterinburg has looked unstoppable, but has it been the best at everything?
The Russian side everybody is afraid of: UMMC Ekaterinburg. Some things never change, I guess. That’s why UMMC won last year’s EuroLeague… and why UMMC leads the whole pack of EL teams with a perfect 5-0 record.
The 16 EuroLeague teams are collectively averaging 69.5 points per game. UMMC is averaging almost 10 more points per game with its 79.0 average and is winning games by an average of 11.4 points. It has looked unstoppable, yes, but is it the true, one-and-only beastly team through Week 5? Not quite.
As you can see in the chart above, UMMC is one of the best teams of the EuroLeague, and there’s no arguing about it. That said, though, there are two teams edging Ekaterinburg in the two things it has excelled at through the first five games. Fellow Russian team Dynamo Kursk is scoring more points per game (80.6 to UMMC’s 79.0) while Czech side ZVVZ USK Praha is winning games by a wider margin (14.8 to UMMC’s 11.4).
So yes, the 5-0 record is the best league-wide, but UMMC isn’t the No. 1 team at everything.
What explains UMMC Ekaterinburg’s 5-0 record, then?
We know that UMMC has the best record in the EL, but we also know that UMMC is not the best team at everything. How is that possible? Well, here is a handy chart with UMMC’s points scored (red) and points allowed (gray) through Week 5.
As you can see, UMMC has scored a lot of points—never fewer than 71, in fact, which is above the league per-game average—but it has sometimes struggled to prevent opponents from scoring. To wit: Week 2 and Week 4.
UMMC struggled a bit against Umana Reyer in the second game of the season, and they were really close to dropping a game to ZVVZ USK Praha in Week 4. The margin came down to just two points, and we were that close to living in a universe in which Praha and Ekaterinburg would be sharing a 4-1 record, with the former looking more dominant than the latter. Just look at the Czech team’s chart…
…which makes everything look even more frustrating for Praha! The team is 3-2, yes, but it is also three points away from a perfect record through five games! Praha lost the first game of the season by one measly point against BLMA, then had that super-close game against Ekaterinburg. Keep an eye on the Czech team for the remainder of the season, because its record doesn’t speak as highly as it should.
Are we sure KSC Szekszard is as bad as its 0-5 record?
As harsh as it sounds, yes. We don’t really need a chart to depict this in an easier-to-understand way, but we’re doing it anyway. Here is how KSC’s per-game stats compare to those of the other 15 teams in the EL this season.
The Hungarian team is scoring almost eight fewer points per game than the field and averaging fewer rebounds per game, barely the same amount of assists and almost no blocks at all. KSC is averaging more steals than the other 15 squads, but steals aren’t that important if you can’t turn them into points. And overall, KSC’s players are putting together a team-wide efficiency of just 62.4 compared to the field’s average of 78.3.
That last point regarding efficiency averages is surely crucial. The most efficient KSC player is Nikolina Milic at 19.4. That is a top-10 efficiency in the league, yes, but Milic’s plus/minus (-34) over her five games played is the worst among the players in that top 10 and the worst among all players with an efficiency above 13.0 so far this season.
How have WNBA imports compared to their European counterparts?
Time to analyze individual performers, then. Without further ado, here’s a chart that includes all 180 players with at least one minute played through Week 5. I have highlighted WNBA imports in red while leaving all others in gray.
That is a packed mess of dots right there. But let’s break it down so it’s easier to digest. First of all, most WNBA imports are at the top of the chart, from left to right. What that means is that, among players who have been on the court for a certain amount of minutes (horizontal axis), the WNBA imports have been some of the most efficient (vertical axis). The higher up the vertical axis a dot is, the better that player’s performance has been because their accumulated efficiency is larger.
Only one player has notably underperformed while playing more than 60 minutes in the EuroLeague, sitting at an almost net-zero efficiency (2.0) through 64 minutes: Chelsea Dungee. The Dallas Wing has already left Galatasaray and won’t be part of the squad for the remainder of the season, as I pointed out in last week’s column. Other than her, the imports have steadily been at the top of the class.
Which WNBA imports have stood out?
The easiest way to see this is by filtering out every non-import from the chart above, which results in the following, much clearer graphic. I have also used different team colors for each WNBA franchise now that all WNBA players involved in EL play have played at least one game in the European competition.
Ah, it feels good to know that an image is truly worth more than a thousand words, doesn’t it? I have already covered many of the players who appear in the upper right corner of the chart above in past columns. Makes sense, considering those have all been fantastic performers in the 2021-22 EL.
Elizabeth Williams is playing a lot of minutes yet maintaining a freakish efficiency. Gabby Williams is keeping up Sopron by herself. Kayla McBride is one of the few players from Fenerbahçe saving face for the Turkish side. And what about MVP candidates Natasha Howard (the best import in terms of accumulated efficiency), Kennedy Burke and Bernadett Hatar?
The talent abounds, the old continent is enjoying it and more than a few players will fully gear up in the coming weeks because they arrived late (Brittney Griner, Jonquel Jones, Allie Quigley, Katie Lou Samuelson, etc.).
How have each WNBA team’s imports looked?
That’s an easy one. We can organize the previous chart by team instead of showing each individual player. I have changed the vertical axis to show the average efficiency of all of the players from that WNBA franchise with at least one minute of EL playing time and the horizontal axis to show the minutes per game that all of the players from that WNBA franchise are averaging. Here are the results:
New York, Indiana, Atlanta and Minnesota have been “lucky” to only have one player hooping in the EuroLeague, as the stats for their four players (Howard, Hatar, Elizabeth Williams and McBride, respectively) have not been dragged down by any WNBA teammates’ subpar performances.
It also makes sense that Chicago and Phoenix have multiple players who rank relatively low on the efficiency axis given that those two teams advanced to the WNBA Finals and thus their players have had fewer days of training and less time to rest or fine-tune their games after an already long WNBA season. Expect all of those players/franchises to improve their outcomes as we get deeper into the season and reach the levels already shown by members of the Connecticut Sun, who have really hit the ground running. They are averaging the second-highest efficiency mark as a group, bested only by Natasha Howard/New York Liberty’s one-woman army through Week 5.
And, most definitively: Get ready, because we haven’t gotten even remotely close to the best and highest-stakes part of the 2021-22 EuroLeague season!