WNBA Player Movement

Continuing the theme of continuity in the WNBA, this time we’ll look at player movement around the league. Let’s start with a breakdown of a few figures, and we’ll dive deeper from there. Keep in mind this is based on each team’s roster as of June 17, 2018.

TeamAvg. # of MovementsAvg. # of Movements Per Years of ExperienceAvg. Years on Current TeamNumber of Former Players on Teams
Atlanta Dream1.250.0272.758
Chicago Sky0.750.0202.512
Connecticut Sun0.500.0143.2910
Dallas Wings0.420.0161.926
Indiana Fever0.750.0211.9811
Las Vegas Aces0.830.0261.929
Los Angeles Sparks0.820.0124.274
Minnesota Lynx0.920.0114.336
New York Liberty1.000.0163.1711
Phoenix Mercury1.000.0144.0011
Seattle Storm1.080.0174.029
Washington Mystics1.420.0262.8313

Counting Movement

First, we can look at average number of team movements per player on each team’s current roster. This is calculated as the total number of times a player on the roster has moved teams divided by the number of players on the roster. Years off are not counted, and franchise moves do not count. This means every player who was on the Tulsa Shock roster and is now on the Dallas Wings roster is considered as having stayed on one team in that period.

The Washington Mystics roster features the highest average number of movements (1.42) and three players who rank at and near the top of the list in number of movements in their career: Monique Currie (6), Krystal Thomas (4), and LaToya Sanders (3). The Atlanta Dream are next in line at 1.25, having built a lot of their roster through trades and free agency. Renee Montgomery and Jessica Breland have each made four moves in their career.

Toward the bottom of the rankings are two of the youngest teams in the league; the Dallas Wings are at the bottom at 0.42 moves per player, followed by the Connecticut Sun at 0.50. Seven of Connecticut’s players have only ever played for the Sun, and 10 of the Wings’ players have only played in Dallas/Tulsa.

Factoring in Experience

You might argue that a team with more veteran players is more likely to have more players who have moved around the league than a younger team, and that’s probably true, and we do see a few changes if we do this, but the Mystics and Dream remain at the top of the list. However, Atlanta leads that category (0.027 average movements per player per year of experience) and Washington is a close second (0.026). However, the Las Vegas Aces, one of the youngest teams in the league, move into third in this category (0.026) due to veteran movers like Kelsey Bone, Carolyn Swords, and Tamera Young. Those three have moved teams a combined nine times, while the rest of the young team, made of mostly rookies and second-year players, have moved teams just once combined.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Minnesota Lynx, who average 0.92 moves per player, fall all the way to the bottom of this category due to their volume of veterans, logging a mere 0.011 moves per player per year in the league. Right in line with the Lynx are the also veteran-laden Los Angeles Sparks.

Current Continuity

Player movement impacts a team’s continuity the more recent it is. There are certainly players who moved early in their careers but have been with their “new” franchise for many years. Think of a player like Rebekkah Brunson, who moved to Minnesota after the Sacramento Monarchs folded; she has been with the Lynx since 2010. Similarly, many probably think of Alana Beard as a Sparks mainstay, though she played the first six years of her WNBA career with the Mystics; longevity has likely made her movement a non-factor. One of the players with the most movement, Allie Quigley played for four different teams before settling in Chicago, where she has played the past six seasons.

All that said, a team’s continuity could be measured by the average number of years their current players have been with the franchise. For these numbers, a single year off during a long tenure is not considered a break (think Angel McCoughtry’s rest in 2017 during her ten-year career, or Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker’s similar stints away from the WNBA), while a lesser-established player’s earlier years are not counted in; in this case, consider that Liz Cambage has technically been with Dallas/Tulsa her entire WNBA career, but several years away from the game completely destroys any continuity.

The top four teams here make sense, as they also represent four of the most veteran teams in the league. The Lynx lead with an average of 4.33 years  with the team, followed closely by the Sparks (4.27), and then followed by the Seattle Storm (4.02) and Phoenix Mercury (4.00). Though the Sun are one of the youngest teams, they are fifth in this category (3.29), again due to the low number of movements by their players.

The Wings and Aces have the lowest continuity, both measuring at 1.92 in this statistic. The Indiana Fever are not far behind (1.98).

Former Players

Though it’s not as related to a team’s current continuity, it’s interesting to see how players stick in the league after leaving a team. Simply look at how many players from each team are now playing on a different team in the league. Washington leads this category with 13 former Mystics playing on other teams in the league. The potential for this number makes sense given how much of their current team is built from other players moving, but it also speaks to the talent they have had on their rosters over the years. The Sky are next with 12 former players still in the WNBA, followed by the Mercury, Liberty, and Fever, each with 11.

At the bottom of this category are the Sparks, who have just four former players on other teams, an indicator of the strength of the roster they have built and the stickiness of their roster over the past several years. Close behind are Dallas/Tulsa and Minnesota, each with just six former players in the league.

Visualizing Movement

One of the most interesting ways to understand the movement in the league is to see it represented graphically. Using the current rosters from each team, I built a graphic showing player movement over the years.

First, you can see players organized by current team, to get an idea of the movement by players within a single roster:

Next, we can see all players organized first by number of moves and secondarily sorted by career length:

Last (for now) we organize by number of years with their current team:

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