WNBA Power Rankings: San Antonio, Seattle Moving Up In Hollinger Rankings

Jia Perkins and the San Antonio Silver Stars have plenty to smile about after winning 5 of their last 6 games and starting to hit their stride. Photo by Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE.

What might have immediately stood out about the San Antonio Silver Stars's 93-84 win against the first place Minnesota Lynx on Sunday is that they started out the game on fire, making their first nine shots and 12 of their first 16.

As impressive as it was to get out to a 12 point lead less than six minutes into the game - against a team that some people figured could go undefeated this season - it was also obviously unlikely that they'd be able to sustain that sort of shooting.

But what is always more impressive about the Silver Stars when they're playing well is not that they shoot efficiently but moreso how they get those shots. More importantly, we're starting to see them execute consistently and few teams play a more beautiful brand of basketball than the Silver Stars when they find their rhythm.

"Offensively they are playing very confidently," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said after the game. "We think the two teams, Minnesota and San Antonio, are very similar. That is what we told our team. This is a team that is unselfish. They share the ball. They don't care who gets the credit. They just want to get the win. They are deep. They have a great bench and they have a great coach."

But what their 7-5 record doesn't do justice is how much they've improved over the course of the season.

Obviously, the fact that the Silver Stars have now won 5 of their last 6 games after starting the season 2-4 says that they've made some sort of improvement, but wins and losses alone don't necessarily tell us how well they're playing relative to the league.

That's what power rankings are for - to establish the relative strength of teams right at this moment beyond what the standings tell us. With more games under every team's belt at this point, ESPN's Hollinger Power Rankings provide a pretty good look at where teams stand now.

WNBA Hollinger Power Rankings

As of today, the Hollinger rankings are as follows (including strength of schedule, Four Factors, and the other team ratings described here):

Team

SOS

eFG% diff

FT Rate diff

OReb% diff

TOV diff

MEV diff

Team Facs Diff

Minn.

0.48

0.89

0.10

0.35

-0.02

34.45

1.32

S.A.

0.6

0.26

0.10

-0.23

0.27

12.09

0.39

Ind.

0.53

0.33

-0.01

-0.20

0.28

14.97

0.40

Conn.

0.55

-0.07

0.10

0.06

0.14

7.32

0.23

Atl.

0.48

-0.04

0.13

0.12

0.13

6.90

0.35

Sea.

0.54

0.34

0.03

-0.30

-0.31

-9.59

-0.25

Chi.

0.46

0.17

-0.05

0.37

-0.30

0.36

0.20

L.A.

0.43

-0.05

0.07

0.12

-0.07

3.31

0.07

N.Y.

0.58

-0.20

-0.16

-0.25

-0.16

-18.75

-0.77

Tulsa

0.46

-0.96

-0.09

-0.22

0.65

-13.81

-0.63

Wash.

0.49

-0.35

-0.17

0.22

-0.26

-13.97

-0.56

Phoe.

0.47

-0.35

-0.13

-0.08

-0.32

-24.20

-0.88

2012 WNBA Hollinger Power Rankings, Four Factors, & Performance Ratings (as of 7/2/2012).

Observations:

  • San Antonio: Before getting to the Silver Stars' performance ratings, what really stands out right now is their strength of schedule, which has been the toughest in the league to this point. They still show rebounding as a significant weakness relative to opponents, but you'll also note that they have among the third best turnover differential in the league and it's moreso because they're not turning the ball over rather than them forcing a lot of turnovers (like the Tulsa Shock). That ball control, which represents the team's extremely efficient ball movement at their best, is a large part of what makes the Sparks go. And it was actually on full display in the game before the Lynx win against the Los Angeles Sparks - the Sparks' defense had absolutely no answer for the Silver Stars ball movement and high ball screens and simply got picked apart. It would be considered a beautiful offensive performance were it not for the fact that the Sparks barely seemed to put up any resistance at times.
  • Seattle Storm: The team that disrupted the Silver Stars' current streak and handed the Lynx their first loss is also worth mention. A few weeks ago, people had written them off for dead and assumed that they were tanking. Now they've won 6 of their last 7, punctuated by an impressive overtime road win against the Connecticut Sun. Road games pretty much defined the Storm's 2-6 start that sent some fans into a panic and still what has made their schedule the second toughest in the Western Conference - the Storm have played league-high 10 of their first 15 games on the road. It's perfectly reasonable to say that the Storm's sub-standard start to the season was more about the combination of an unfortunate schedule, the absence of Lauren Jackson, and the addition of new pieces to an offense that relies heavily on making reads rather than prescribed structure.

    But you still see the problem in the Storm's numbers: while they've actually improved their ball handling as the season has gone on - and the return of Svetlana Abrosimova might also help - the offensive rebounding problem has remained consistent throughout the season. Either way, their two offensive rebound performance against the Washington Mystics was a WNBA season-low while the New York Liberty's defense gave them serious ball handling problems. Saying the Storm are better than people first assumed is different than saying they've established themselves as a contender.
  • Los Angeles Sparks: The Sparks have lost three straight games and have allowed those three opponents to shoot nearly 50% from the field, with the Tulsa Shock's 91 points on 49.3% shooting representing something of a low-point. That's how to read their negative shooting efficiency and turnover differentials: they're struggling to stop opponents while being exactly average in both categories themselves (47.7% and 20.3%, respectively). The power rankings obviously turn the Western Conference playoff standings upside down (you can see the gap between the top four and Phoenix and Tulsa in the numbers above) - L.A. is second in the standings right now, but only a couple games ahead of the fourth place Storm and one ahead of the surging Silver Stars. With Jackson returning after the break, the Sparks' position as second-best in the West - which seemed like a safe bet early on - looks to be anything but secure.
  • Chicago Sky: The Sky obviously took a dip after losing Epiphanny Prince to injury. And while some might assume that their scoring efficiency would take the biggest hit, it's the fact that it only exacerbates their pre-existing ball handling problems that really presents a problem. The Sky have turned the ball over more than any team in the league this season (23.7%) and losing Prince, who is able to create her own scoring opportunities, doesn't help that problem. Having a healthy Ticha Penicheiro should help, but that injury to Prince is the primary reason the Sky aren't ranking higher. The question for the Sky is whether they can stay close enough in the standings without Prince to remain within striking distance of the Eastern Conference title. And the schedule isn't exactly kind to them in that regard: after facing the Liberty on Friday, they have to play the Indiana Fever on the road followed by two home games against the Silver Stars and Connecticut Sun. Playing against three of the top four teams in the league, it's conceivable that they could find themselves closer to fourth than first heading into the Olympic break.
  • New York Liberty: You'll note that two teams have negative differentials across the board: New York and the Phoenix Mercury. In the Mercury's case, we can just attribute that to missing four their five healthy starters recently. But the Liberty are just tougher to figure out. As our own Ray Floriani has described recently, they've just been wildly inconsistent, even quarter to quarter. If you're looking for positives, their shooting efficiency differential is improving and that starts on defense.
  • Tulsa Shock: Should the Shock really be out of the cellar here? They still have the worst record in the league and worst shooting efficiency differential. But what the Shock have that the Mercury and Mystics (and really the Liberty too) don't is a dominant strength: they create chaos on the court for opponents and can make up for their poor shooting efficiency with easy baskets in transition. As has been the norm since their relocation to Tulsa, they've made a number of changes recently and turning around that rebounding differential is in reach with the recent addition of Oklahoma University product Courtney Paris and (hopefully) the eventual arrival of Elizabeth Cambage after the Olympics. While they have their second meeting with the Mystics on Sunday, after the break they still have two games against New York and one against Phoenix, which are all winnable games. Fortunately for L.A., the Shock and Cambage once after the break.

Click here for the previous power rankings from May 29.

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