Working Paper: How Dominant is Iowa's Caitlin Clark?
Caitlin Clark is in her third season with Iowa's women's basketball team. She's an incredibly impressive player, and I have no choice but to respect her.
And yet, she's my least favorite player in college basketball. Why? Because she plays for a team that so often beats mine. Indiana University's women's basketball team went 1-1 against Iowa this year; in the game we lost to Iowa, it was on a last-second three-point shot from Caitlin Clark. It was an unbelievable shot.
As I watched that shot fall through the basket, I started to ponder the question: just how good is she?
I worked with two of my high school classmates, Zachary Phelps of Stanford University and Humza Raza of the University of Miami, to boil down some basketball statistics to try to answer that question.
After a few days of data gathering and analysis, we wrote a "working paper" that aims to start answering that question. The full report — which you can read below — is about 15 pages in length. It's full of tables and graphs, and I've made attempts to make it as readable as possible. But in case you don't want to read a 15-page report about basketball statistics (understandable), I've organized a few conclusions in this article.
Sidenote: this paper is still a working paper, meaning it could be edited or expanded upon in future versions. Do you have questions? Advice? Suggestions? Contact me.
Caitlin Clark's production numbers lead the nation's pool of best players
Our paper compared Clark's statistics to the other 49 players included on the Atlanta Tipoff Club's watch list for National Player of the Year.
Clark led all NCAA Division I women's basketball players in points per game (PPG) in both of her last two seasons. She's in the top three this season, trailing by less than 2 average PPG. We looked toward two factors in scoring: how productive is Clark and how often she leads the game in points.
We examined hundreds of basketball games. In the window of games we reviewed (a five-year period that ended on February 25, 2023), Clark scored more points per minute played (PPM) than any other player in the NPOY candidate pool. Clark scores about .78 each minute played. In second place is Aneesah Morrow, the DePaul standout who is scoring about 26 points per game on average this season.
Leading the Game and Her Team
Clark is frequently the leader in points for both Iowa and her team. In fact, among our sample, she's tied as the most frequent point leader. She leads the game in points 68% of the time. Villanova's Maddie Siegrist is at 68% as well. However, Clark has more games left to play in her career than does Siegrist; there's a decent shot that Clark will lead Siegrist in this category by the time they've both turned professional.
Siegrist has been Villanova's top scorer in 80% of the games she's played. Clark's led her team in 77% of Iowa's games.
Clark shoots...a lot
One statistic we reviewed is shots taken. On average, Clark shoots 19 times each game, and almost half those shots are from beyond the arc. Her average field-goal percentage each game hovers around 47%.
She leads the NPOY candidates in three-point shots taken, and her expected number of successful three-pointers each game is 3.31 (second only to Oklahoma's Taylor Robertson).
For a guard, Clark is pulling down more rebounds than expected
The rebound leaders in the country are nearly all forwards who play underneath the basket. Anecdotally, this makes sense. Forwards Aneesah Morrow, Angel Reese, and Aliyah Boston are the rebound leaders in the NPOY candidate group.
Among players who only play in the guard spot, Clark is second on the list. She pulls down seven rebounds each game.
The only player to outdo Clark among guards is Alyssa Ustby, who is putting up almost 8 rebounds each game. Ustby is in her third year at the University of North Carolina. It’s worth mentioning that she’s made some appearances as a Forward in the 2022-2023 season; UNC lists her as a Guard/Forward. Our report lists her as solely a guard in accordance with our methodology section.
The attention on Clark is deserved, but the media needs to look more broadly at players
There is no question that Caitlin Clark is a dominant player. To some, it may even be a foregone conclusion that she is the best player in Division I women's basketball. That said, the media's sole focus on Clark is leaving some unbelievable players out of the limelight. That's a problem.
Maddie Siegrist is no joke of a player. While she plays in a non-Power Five conference, she’s putting up outrageously impressive numbers. She’s also remarkably consistent, being the most consistent player on the NPOY candidate list for scoring.
The national media puts a ton of attention on Caitlin Clark. It’s deserved; she’s an outstanding player. But we must be careful to not minimize the achievements of other players on this candidate list. It is possible Aliyah Boston wins her second NPOY award in a row, and Siegrist deserves serious consideration as the best Division I player this year.
There are other names the national media wrote off too soon. Mackenzie Holmes is quite possibly the best post player in the country. Aneesah Morrow is getting very little attention, but her rebounding ability is helping to increase DePaul’s chances with the ball.
To view the full series of quantitative results and the working paper's conclusions, download the full report.