WNBA advanced stats: Efficiency differentials for Lynx, Sparks place them atop the league

So far this season, the Sparks' struggle to win on the road is the difference between them and the Lynx. - Marilyn Indahl-US PRESSWIRE

In this week's statistical look around the league, we look at efficiency differentials and the early pecking order in the league.

Last year, Rohan of SB Nation's New Orleans Hornets Pelicans site At the Hive wrote an article trying to define "contention" statistically by looking at offensive and defensive efficiency differentials.

Although a strong differential was no guarantee of winning a title, he concluded that a +6 differential was a pretty strong indicator for a finalist. For the WNBA, that wisdom just about holds as well:

And as the WNBA season nears its midpoint, it's interesting to look at where things stand in that regard this season: who are emerging as the league's top teams? Just how strong are they? And also the flip side: Are the league's worst teams really that bad?

So let's look at the numbers in the WNBA and, for the first time this season, I'll even offer some power rankings (because things appear to be that clear right now).

Offensive & defensive efficiency

As we've done previously, we'll take a look at both the standard and schedule-adjusted efficiency ratings to see who the best offenses and defenses in the league are.

Team

Pts PPO

ADJ PPPO

Team

Pts PPD

ADJ PPPD

Los Angeles

1.06

1.05

Atlanta

0.89

0.9

Minnesota

1.05

1.05

Los Angeles

0.92

0.93

Phoenix

1.03

1.04

Minnesota

0.93

0.93

Chicago

1.02

1

Indiana

0.93

0.94

Tulsa

0.95

0.97

Chicago

0.93

0.94

Atlanta

0.98

0.97

New York

0.95

0.95

AVERAGE

.968

.968

Washington

0.96

0.96

Washington

0.97

0.97

San Antonio

0.91

0.94

Connecticut

0.98

0.98

Connecticut

0.92

0.92

Seattle

0.99

0.99

Seattle

0.93

0.92

San Antonio

1.04

1.01

Indiana

0.91

0.9

Phoenix

1.04

1.03

New York

0.9

0.9

Tulsa

1.06

1.04

Offensive and defensive efficiency (via National Sports Rankings)

It's pretty easy to glean who the elite might be just from glancing at the numbers above: only Atlanta, Chicago, L.A. and Minnesota are above average both offensively and defensively. But the order of things in the league becomes even more stark when looking at the differentials.

Efficiency differentials

Team

Off/def diff

Los Angeles

12.1

Minnesota

11.3

Atlanta

6.3

Chicago

5.9

Phoenix

0.4

Washington

-1.2

Indiana

-3.7

New York

-4.5

Connecticut

-5.5

Tulsa

-6.3

Seattle

-7.1

San Antonio

-7.9

First, it has to be noted that these numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt: Tulsa has played the most games of any team (16) and these numbers could change dramatically over the course of 34 games (or 82, in the NBA). Then you have to factor in all the injuries that continue to occur this season.

But in any event, it is interesting to look at the Tulsa Shock's numbers: so many of their games have been affected by injury that it's still hard to tell just how good they'd be if they had their full roster (they just got Tiffany Jackson-Jones back as they lost Glory Johnson) and established a consistent rotation. Despite six straight losses a couple of bad losses to the top of the order, there are signs of moving forward. But moving ahead of San Antonio and Seattle for a playoff spot? A look at the Four Factors numbers might help to answer that.

Four factors

Team

eFG% NET

TO% NET

Oreb% NET

FTR NET

Los Angeles

8.6

-1.9

-3.4

3.4

Minnesota

3.9

-1.4

7.1

3.7

Atlanta

3.5

-3

1.2

1.5

Chicago

2.7

1.7

9.2

5.1

Phoenix

2.2

3.2

-3.5

-0.1

New York

1.2

6.1

3.8

-0.8

Washington

0.1

1.4

-0.5

6.1

Seattle

-1.2

1.7

-4.8

-4.1

Connecticut

-1.6

0

0.4

-4.7

Indiana

-3.7

-3.4

-1.7

-3.8

San Antonio

-7.3

-3.5

-4.6

-7.6

Tulsa

-8.1

-1.7

-4.2

0.4

Click here for a full sortable list of the Four Factors statistics.

If you're hoping to figure out who the final playoff team in the Western Conference might be based on the early season performances, Seattle might be the best bet and here's my reasoning: of those three teams at the bottom of the efficiency differential list, Seattle has the least significant weaknesses. Or put differently, they're probably the most well-rounded of those teams at the bottom, which could give them a chance to win more often. Of course, Tulsa did beat Seattle twice but the fact that both San Antonio and Tulsa struggle so much with their shooting puts them at a bit of a disadvantage.

Power rankings

1. Minnesota Lynx: So why put the Lynx number one after all of that? Both the Lynx and the Sparks have a significant strength. But the Lynx don't have a significant weakness at this point whereas the Sparks have a negative differential in offensive rebounds.

2. Los Angeles Sparks: The Sparks are a very good team, but they've been rather inconsistent: they've been blowing out teams at home and hadn't won on the road until last week, as noted by Lynx commentator Alan Horton on Twitter. And just to be precise, those road wins came against a Tulsa team playing largely without Glory Johnson and a Phoenix team without Brittney Griner. So while some analysts considered the Sparks' road wins a statement, it might be fair to continue playing wait and see.

3. Atlanta Dream: Remember last time we did this and said that the Dream were benefiting from the weakest strength of schedule in the league? Well it looks like that's caught up to them a bit. They're still the best defense overall, but haven't established the type of major strength that the top two teams have.

4. Chicago Sky: Chicago is the only team on the list without a Four Factors weakness and they've been an outstanding rebounding team. And with Sancho Lyttle out, the Sky might close that gap in efficiency differential.

5. Phoenix Mercury: Is this a fair ranking? Perhaps not as the Mercury have very rarely had their full team, with Penny Taylor just returning to action recently and star rookie Brittney Griner in and out of the lineup with injuries. But those defensive struggles highlighted recently by Mercury writers puts them a step behind the top four based on early results.

6. Washington Mystics: What's interesting about Washington is that they're still almost exactly average, but do have one strength that really illustrates the difference between this year and last: they have the best free throw differential in the league. They've shown that they can beat the teams below them in the standings and challenge (or beat those above them. The combination makes them a solid playoff contender, but it's also noteworthy that they've yet to play the New York Liberty this season and still have three games remaining against Indiana.

7. Indiana Fever: This is actually pretty interesting because the Fever got off to a really poor start due to injury, but they've now won four of their last five (incidentally against teams beneath them on this list) and if they ever get healthy they might end up posing a bigger threat come playoff time.

8. Connecticut Sun: It's probably possible to just ditto what was said about the Fever for the Sun: with Lawson back as well as Renee Montgomery and Tan White eventually coming back from injury, they should be more competitive at some point this season. They don't have a major strength, but they also don't have a major weaknesses.

9. New York Liberty: You can probably predict why I flipped Connecticut and New York, aside from the injury factor: turnovers. Whether it's a matter of poor timing or just throwing away possessions in bunches, the turnovers continue to hurt them.

10. Seattle Storm: What the Storm have over the Shock and Silver Stars is experience and the knowledge of how to just stay focused and establish a winning record at home, which is something that both San Antonio and Tulsa have struggled with. The blue collar label is appropriate for how they play and it's helping them overcome their weaknesses.

11. San Antonio Silver Stars: The Stars have lost a number of close games and it's obvious that they'd be a more competitive team with Becky Hammon and Sophia Young in the lineup. For now, they have one of the best point guards in the league which helps give them the best turnover differential.

12. Tulsa Shock: The Shock have the league's longest losing streak at six and the recent blowouts - regardless of who was healthy - just don't bode well.

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