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  • Writer's pictureTopher Enneking

What the data shows about Caitlin Clark's debut


Connecticut Sun guard DiJonai Carrington (21) fouls Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) during the third quarter of a WNBA basketball game, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

At STATSdraft, we recognize stats only have value if they help you win, so let’s give our flowers to the Connecticut Sun. DiJonai Carrington specifically caught my eye from before the tip off. Her steely intensity was evidenced on her face and in her play, harassing you-know-who all day. As a Jayhawk, I had very much been hoping to get to see Taiyanna Jackson’s WNBA debut, but since she was waived just days before the regular season began, we don’t get to focus on her numbers. We’ll instead take a look at Caitlin Clark’s.


My first game watching while on social media

I had heard of live posting along with games and how that can get, but I’ve never done it before tonight. In the first half of the game, there was a flood of “worst debut ever” posts across social media and, of course, they were way over exaggerating. Even at halftime, with many turnovers and play that could at the very least be described as sloppy, Clark had seven points. That seven points represents half of the season average of Aaliyah Boston, Clark’s teammate and last year‘s rookie of the year. I posted that stat and of course what happens happened.


A little in my feels and no fan of Michael Jordan

I grew up a Knicks fan. Patrick Ewing is my favorite basketball player. I have a hard earned respect for Michael Jordan — yet I still consider him one of the greatest athletes of all time. In no way wanting to compare Clark to Jordan but rather to compare this “worst debut ever” to the debut of a G.O.A.T., I looked up the stat line for Michael Jordan‘s first NBA game.


In games that are 20% longer, Jordan’s 16 points scored were 25% fewer points than Clark scored in their respective debuts. Both Clark and Jordan made five field goals, Jordan on 16 attempts and Clark on 15. Four of Clark’s field goals were three-pointers, of which she took 10. All of Jordan‘s field goals were two pointers. Both Jordan and Clark made all six of their free throw attempts. Where it gets dicey is what everyone who was watching could see, Clark couldn’t stop turning the ball over. In a testament to the defense of the Sun (Jackson would’ve been a great fit) Clark sent a rookie debut record with 10 turnovers. 


Context

The rookie record for most interceptions thrown by a quarterback in the NFL belongs to Peyton Manning. Very few rookies get to continue to have the ball in their hands. If they are turning it over, it typically is a sign of an organizations investment in that players future. The list of players in the NBA with 10 turnovers as a rookie includes Steph Curry, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson


The Goliath quotient

We haven’t quite figured it out yet, but there has got to be something hidden in the numbers that could help you balance things based on the opponent's strength. The best I could think to do in this exercise was comparison of Jordan and Clark’s debuts was to compare the records of their opponents from the previous year. Both Jordan and Clark’s teams represent David well, having had an identical 32% winning percentage the year before. The teams they played against, however, had very different winning percentages.


The Bulls played a team whose winning percentage the year before had been 12 percentage points higher than theirs, while the Fever played a team who’s winning percentage points were higher by 35. Perhaps that is what accounts for the turnover differential. Or, perhaps a wildly skilled Connecticut Sun squad had the entire off-season to prepare for the big stage and all the attention Clark would bring did what they do (they were ranked 3 in defensive rating last year). I know that’s the story I believe. And that’s why I’ll be watching plenty more WNBA games this year to see how this story evolves, playing along with STATSdraft the entire way.

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