The expectation entering the season was that it would be another year where parity ruled the WNBA, what with a strong crop of rookies and Sacramento players dispersed to the league’s weaker teams in 2009. Those newcomers have surely helped, but what we’ve seen in the early going is a surprising amount of imbalance. That’s true between the East and the West (five of six East teams are .500 or better; just the Storm is in the West), in terms of individual games (look at all of last week’s blowouts) and the early team ratings.
Team ORtg Team DRtg ------------------- ------------------- Seattle 111.6 Indiana 89.0 Chicago 104.6 Connecticut 92.6 Connecticut 104.3 Atlanta 94.8 Phoenix 102.2 Washington 97.3 LEAGUE 100.0 Seattle 98.0 Atlanta 99.5 Chicago 98.8 Los Angeles 99.4 LEAGUE 100.0 Indiana 99.1 Tulsa 103.0 Tulsa 97.2 New York 103.4 New York 96.9 Phoenix 104.7 Washington 96.9 San Antonio 105.6 San Antonio 95.0 Minnesota 106.8 Minnesota 92.4 Los Angeles 107.9
One team that has found balance is Indiana, which surged from last in the league in offense to seventh on the strength of an 89-51 win at Minnesota on Sunday. That was the Fever’s third consecutive victory, and Indiana is starting to look like the juggernaut that reached the WNBA Finals last season. The Fever’s defense remains far and away the league’s best.
The Storm has actually opened up its advantage on the rest of the league on offense. The Storm ranks in the top three in all four offensive Four Factors, leading the league in both offensive rebounding and turnover percentage. In the wake of Sunday’s loss at KeyArena, Phoenix has slipped to fourth in the league in Offensive Rating, and I’m not sure I’ve seen the Mercury so low since I started doing this weekly updates in 2008. Probably not.
At the other end of the spectrum, while Los Angeles has been unlucky during its 1-6 start (more on that in a moment), the Sparks are badly in need of improvement at the defensive end of the floor. The Lynx and the Silver Stars, who have slumped lately, could use help at both ends. Seimone Augustus can’t return fast enough for Minnesota.
EXPECTED WINS STANDINGS
Team Exp. W% Team Exp. W% ------------------- ------------------- Seattle .839 Indiana .760 Tulsa .388 Connecticut .760 Phoenix .378 Atlanta .625 Los Angeles .312 Chicago .619 San Antonio .227 Washington .516 Minnesota .128 New York .345
The difference between the two conferences is arguably even more stark when viewed through the prism of point differential and expected winning percentage. Right now, it looks like a very good team is going to miss the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, while a slow start shouldn’t really hurt Los Angeles much. The Sparks have been playing close games, which is something that Minnesota and San Antonio can’t say.
Connecticut and Indiana, sporting identical +7.9 points per game margins to lead the East, face off in a home-and-home series this weekend that should help determine the conference’s favorite at the quarter pole.
Player Tm Win% WARP ------------------------------------- Lauren Jackson SEA .823 2.8 Tamika Catchings IND .848 2.5 Sylvia Fowles CHI .779 2.3 Sue Bird SEA .690 2.0 Camille Little SEA .744 1.9 Angel McCoughtry ATL .675 1.8 Candace Parker LAS .683 1.7 Monique Currie WAS .705 1.6 Tina Charles CON .694 1.5 Katie Douglas IND .660 1.4
According to friend of StormTracker Paul Swanson, Tamika Catchings posted a single-game PER of 64.6 (average is 15) in Sunday’s blowout win over the Lynx, scoring 27 points in 26 minutes on just 14 shooting possessions. That she still didn’t win Eastern Conference Player of the Week is testament to how well Fowles is playing and how overdue she was for the honor (the first of her career). Lauren Jackson’s Western Conference Player of the Week nod was the 16th of her career, now the most in league history, and surely not the last if Jackson keeps up this level of play.
WARP rounds out the top five with a pair of Storm players, and only partially because the team has played nine games already. On a per-minute basis, Camille Little has been better than anyone besides the three MVP candidates listed above. More on this later. Sue Bird had an incredible pair of weekend games, going from primarily a scorer (22 points, six assists at Los Angeles) to a distributor (12 points, season-high 11 assists, no turnovers vs. Phoenix) with ease. Bird’s assist-to-turnover ratio is north of 3.5, a mark that has been topped just twice in WNBA history. Aussie Michelle Cleary had an incredible 5.5 mark in her lone WNBA season in 2000 backing up countrywoman Michele Timms in Phoenix, while Miami’s Debbie Black posted a 4.3 assist-to-turnover ratio in 2002. Bird’s previous career high was 2.2, achieved last season.
Katie Douglas, a key figure in the Fever’s offensive surge last week, makes her first appearance of the season on this list.