A week away, the Wall Street Journal’s relatively new and analytical sports section ran a feature in “The Count” looking at scoring in the WNBA. As if on cue, the WNBA’s league-wide Offensive Rating surged forward and hit a milestone last week – an even 100.0 points per 100 possessions around the league. I’ve been doing weekly ratings for the last couple of years now, and I can’t remember ever seeing the league average in triple digits. For comparison, the league’s Offensive Rating was 98.9 points per 100 possessions a year ago and topped out at 99.1 in 2006.
The WSJ pointed to rule changes – specifically, the 24-second shot clock – which have increased the pace of play, but the expectation in most quarters was that a faster game would also be a less efficient one. That instead the WNBA is scoring more efficiently than ever before is testament to the growing level of talent in the league.
That being said, let’s check out the team stats just before this week’s schedule kicks off with Indiana visiting Los Angeles.
Team ORtg Team DRtg ------------------- ------------------- Phoenix 108.8 Indiana 93.2 Minnesota 104.2 Connecticut 96.3 Indiana 102.0 Los Angeles 96.9 Seattle 101.6 Atlanta 97.7 Atlanta 100.3 New York 98.3 Connecticut 100.2 Seattle 98.8 AVERAGE 100.0 Washington 99.3 San Antonio 98.8 Detroit 99.3 Chicago 98.7 AVERAGE 100.0 Sacramento 98.2 San Antonio 100.8 Washington 97.8 Minnesota 104.0 Detroit 97.1 Sacramento 104.2 New York 96.6 Chicago 104.6 Los Angeles 92.2 Phoenix 105.0
The big mover in terms of Offensive Rating is Connecticut. Scoring 96 points, as the Sun did in yesterday’s win over Washington, will do that. However, I think we’re also seeing a Connecticut team in evolution. After taking some time to adjust to the WNBA game, Latvian rookie Anete Jekabsone-Zogota has moved into the starting lineup and has scored double-figures in four of the last five games, giving the Sun more perimeter punch. With Connecticut also second in the league in Defensive Rating, the Sun has to be considered Indiana’s toughest competition in the Eastern Conference.
There’s less positive news for the Phoenix Mercury, which despite an overtime win in Seattle on Tuesday has slipped into last place in the league defensively. As talented as Phoenix is at the offensive end – and with Penny Taylor back, I’m willing to believe this is the best offense the league has ever seen – the Mercury will have to defend at least adequately to match 2007’s playoff run.
EXPECTED WINS STANDINGS
Team Exp. W Team Exp. W ------------------- ------------------- Phoenix 20.7 Indiana 23.2 Seattle 19.6 Connecticut 20.5 Minnesota 16.6 Atlanta 18.9 San Antonio 15.7 Washington 16.7 Los Angeles 14.6 New York 15.9 Sacramento 11.2 Detroit 15.1 Chicago 11.9
The most interesting development in terms of point differential is probably the Fever opening up a sizable advantage over the Mercury in the wake of Saturday’s showdown win. Right now, Indiana – which combines the league’s third-best offense with its best defense – has to be considered the favorites to win the WNBA championship.
The heartbreak continues for the New York Liberty, which lost by one point to the Storm on Saturday at KeyArena, falling to 2-7 in games decided by six points or fewer. That’s how a team that has been outscored by but 20 points in 21 games has a 7-14 record.
Player Tm Win% WARP ------------------------------------- Nicky Anosike MIN .760 5.7 Lauren Jackson SEA .736 5.4 Becky Hammon SAS .748 5.4 Diana Taurasi PHO .735 5.2 Tamika Catchings IND .724 5.1 Jia Perkins CHI .694 4.5 Shameka Christon NYL .649 3.8 Sancho Lyttle ATL .669 3.8 Cappie Pondexter PHO .610 3.7 Janel McCarville NYL .661 3.6
Speaking of the Liberty, Janel McCarville replaces Charde Houston in our WARP top 10 this week, giving New York two players in the top 10 – a feat matched only by West-leading Phoenix. So why hasn’t the Liberty been more effective, even factoring out the bad luck? Well, just two other New York players (Tiffany Jackson and Loree Moore) rate above replacement level, and that’s too much to overcome. There’s other talent for the Liberty, but those players (Cathrine Kraayeveld, for one) are suffering through off seasons.
Higher on the list, Becky Hammon is creeping closer to the league’s top ranking. What’s funny is Hammon’s numbers are far, far better than they were two seasons ago when she finished second to Lauren Jackson in MVP voting. The Silver Stars aren’t as strong this year as they were in 2007, but Hammon has forced her way into the MVP discussion, as Q noted in breaking down her standing amongst the league’s best point guards.