NCAA Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Candidates by Win Shares

What do the last five WNBA Most Valuable Player award winners have in common? They all led the league in win shares for the regular season in the year they won the award.

Win shares is an advanced statistic which approximates the number of wins a player produces for their team through their play on the offensive and defensive end of the court. It’s no surprise that the winners of the MVP awards have the highest win shares — they are contributing the most to their team’s success.

This year, it was Breanna Stewart who took home the trophy with a league high 7.7 win shares. Similarly in the NBA, the last five MVP winners have all ranked in the top 5 in the league for win shares. Three of the last five held the top spot, including James Harden in 2018.

We took a look at the semifinalists for the NCAA women’s basketball Naismith Trophy by win shares. (The Naismith Trophy has since narrowed their list to four finalists, but all of these players are still in play for the Wooden Award). Using the methodology developed by Dean Oliver (Basketball on Paper) and outlined by Basketball Reference, here’s how the national player of the year candidates stack up:

Naismith Trophy semifinalists by win shares (data for all games prior to the NCAA tournament)

From the win shares angle, Napheesa Collier and Megan Gustafson are the clear front runners. Both Collier and Gustafson exceed 11 win shares apiece, while no other semifinalist tops 10.

Similarly, Collier and Gustafson have stood out on the floor and with their stats all season long. Gustafson has been leading the way in the post, ranking first in the nation for points per game and points per scoring attempt while coming in fourth for rebounds per game. Collier has been stuffing the stat sheet in every way possible, ranking in the top 1% for points per game, points per scoring attempt and rebounds per game — plus in the top 20% or better for assists, steals, and blocks per game.

Comparison of Napheesa Collier and Megan Gustafson’s stats on the season (data for all games prior to the NCAA tournament)

While both Collier and Gustafson are both listed as forwards, their games are very different. Gustafson’s success for Iowa is due to her complete dominance in the paint. Collier, on the other hand, does a little bit of everything for the Huskies (even shooting the three as of late). Either would make an excellent pick for national player of the year as things stand. The remainder of NCAA tournament still leaves a national stage for either of these two, or someone else, to distinguish themselves as a clear favorite.


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