2014 WNBA statistics: Key resources and early season overview

While the Phoenix Mercury have opened the season as one of the league's elite, the Seattle Storm are struggling and have an uphill battle to catch up. - Christian Petersen

As with the past few years, Tuesday (or the day after the WNBA's regular off day) will be the day we geek out on statistics around here. To kick things off in earnest today, we first look at a couple of improved statistical resources for the WNBA.

It's really too early to make any major conclusions about the 2014 season based on statistics, but I do think it's worth taking a bit of time to point folks to two invaluable statistical resources for this season.

  • The biggest statistical development of this offseason was Basketball-Reference.com stepping up their WNBA section with daily stats, upgrading from annual updates. You can read the blog at Sports-Reference.com for more, but that's a pretty big development in terms of giving WNBA fans the type of resources that NBA fans have already enjoyed for years. They say that more updates are coming and I'd probably hope for two things in addition to what was mentioned there: 1) I'd love to have the Four Factors listed on the team pages as the NBA teams have and 2) advanced statistical leaders for the league for the current season. Even without additions, that's a great resource that any WNBA fan should have.
  • Ed Bemiss has revamped his National Sports Rankings site there's plenty to sift through, but one of the more interesting things is the projected lineups feature (and this is particularly interesting for the Tulsa Shock, which I'll get to tomorrow).

Anyway, with All-Star voting now in full effect, please vote responsibly.

But while we're here talking about stats, let's look at some of those league-wide stats from Basketball-Reference and look at some of the league's best teams:

Team

Ortg

Team

Drtg

Differential

Phoenix

111.4

Phoenix

97.9

13.5

Chicago

106.6

Chicago

94.2

12.4

Minnesota

111.5

Minnesota

102.8

8.7

L.A.

95.9

L.A.

90.1

5.8

Washington

96.1

Washington

93.4

2.7

Indiana

97.4

Indiana

97

0.4

AVERAGE

99.4

AVERAGE

99.4

0

New York

91.7

New York

92.3

-0.6

Atlanta

96.9

Atlanta

99.2

-2.3

San Antonio

100.7

San Antonio

108

-7.3

Connecticut

93.5

Connecticut

101.9

-8.4

Tulsa

103

Tulsa

111.5

-8.5

Seattle

90.7

Seattle

100

-9.3

Offensive and defensive efficiency ratings for the WNBA as of June 3, 2014.

Observations:

1. Chicago, Phoenix and Minnesota are the top contenders with L.A. not far behind: Remember that observation last year that champions tend to have a +6 or greater advantage in efficiency? Right now we see three such teams clearly in that range and it will be interesting to see if L.A. creeps into that range at full strength.

But the crazy thing is that two of those four top teams have been missing multiple starters: Chicago has been without Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince; Minnesota has been without Rebekkah Brunson, Devereaux Peters, and Monica Wright. That makes for a pretty clear elite early on in the season. Of course, Chicago was in a similar position last year and lost in the first round due to some fatal flaws not reflected in the numbers. So while it is likely the champion will come from that group, let's not crown anyone yet.

2. Minnesota will improve defensively: If you really believe Minnesota will be this bad defensively all season, then I have a great spaceship to sell you. Players arriving late to training camp is certainly part of that, but I'd probably attribute more of it to simply missing three rotation players: Rebekkah Brunson, Devereaux Peters, and Monica Wright. Although it's not easy to quantify defense, Brunson and Peters would help immensely on the boards and Wright would give them another weapon to defend the perimeter (and bring down that 40% opponent three point percentage).

And yes, I fully realize they're 7-0 - what's frightening is that they could not only get better but also become better than either of their past two title teams because rookie Damiris Dantas just adds starter-caliber talent to a team that wasn't lacking for talent to begin.

3. Seattle will probably improve, too: Seattle has been hit particularly hard by a tough strength of schedule in the early going: they began the season having to play those elites and then found themselves taking losses on the road. And although we should take five games worth of numbers with a grain of salt, putting them in perspective a bit might help to explain just how difficult the Storm's schedule has been so far.

Since the league was reduced to 12 teams back in 2010, the highest offensive rating of any team was 109.9 (2010, Phoenix Mercury, 2013 Minnesota Lynx) while the best defensive rating was 94.5 (2012 Atlanta Dream). You'll note that, so far, both Phoenix and Minnesota are above that level offensively and L.A., New York, Washington and Chicago (in order) have been better than that defensively - Seattle has played four of those six teams and took their other two losses on the road.

2-5 is by no means a good start, but it's also not at all far from what you might expect given the circumstances.

To be totally clear, you should expect those lofty numbers to fall back within normal ranges at some point (and likely sooner than later). But Seattle should still be expected to see their winning percentage improve as the season wears on: in addition to not playing elite teams every night, they'll get better once the new additions gel and Sue Bird hits her stride. And if you honestly believe that Bird, Camille Little, and Tanisha Wright will all shoot under 36% from the field for an entire season, I might have a spaceship that you can land on that bridge I was talking about as a package deal.

4. The Western Conference's "talent gap": So I've made this point a few times this season already and gotten some pushback, but wanted to use the numbers to make the point a bit more clearly.

There are two ways to interpret that: one is just that the bottom is horrible while the other is that the top is just that good. It's probably safe to assume that it's going to end up being more the latter than the former over the course of the season.

There's actually a rather compelling argument that, despite wins and losses, the San Antonio Stars, Seattle Storm, and Tulsa Shock (...offensively) have all gotten better. More on Tulsa a bit later - close losses can be demoralizing - but both San Antonio and Seattle have gotten former All-Star MVP candidates back after injuries last year in addition to rookie Kayla McBride and offseason acquisition Crystal Langhorne, respectively.

The real problem here is just that the top of the Western Conference has gotten that much better. As described previously, Minnesota is undefeated without three rotation players. Phoenix is not going through the turmoil that plagued them for about half of last season and Brittney Griner is healthy and adjusted. L.A. maintained their core and upgraded the bottom of their rotation.

The simplest way to think through this is with a question: How many wins do you think the bottom half of the West is going to get against the top?

Last season, the bottom half went 11-27 against the top half in the regular season, highlighted by Seattle sweeping Phoenix and splitting with L.A. It's already beyond conjecture that it won't happen again: Phoenix already beat Seattle once and L.A. beat Seattle at KeyArena after taking their two losses there last season. With Phoenix playing at a reasonable level this season, they're not going to drop six games to those bottom three teams again and even Seattle splitting with L.A. is hard to imagine. It would be an achievement for the bottom three to even win 25% of their games against the top.

Even if the early numbers even out a bit - the difference between L.A.'s +5.8 differential and San Antonio's -7.3 looms both large and ridiculous right now - that's a significant chasm that will almost certainly be larger than it was last season no matter how you look at it.

5. Everything in New York ain't always what it seems: Drilling down to the team level, most people thought New York would excel this season after trading to acquire Tina Charles to pair with Cappie Pondexter.

Yet they're having a problem that I feared from the moment the trade went down: they're a veteran-laden team that is unmistakably in win-now mode and yet they sit at 2-4 with the worst offensive rating in the conference despite having two offensive superstars.

The problem with putting two high usage players together is that one or both players necessarily has to defer and figure out how to play a more complementary role within the system (i.e. become a lower usage player). Statistically, that could mean that one player goes from high usage to moderate usage or they both fall from high to above average usage levels. In a perfect world (see: the San Antonio Spurs), the touches will be re-distributed such that both players could co-exist in a harmony of maximum efficiency.

Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world and in that imperfect world age does have an impact.

In the case of Tina Charles and Cappie Pondexter, they have both seen their usage rates decline from where it was last season: while Pondexter is at one of the lowest rates of her career, Charles fell back to about career average. The problem is that neither has been a model of efficiency during their careers and both are now (slightly) below their career average true shooting percentage, according to Basketball-Reference.

Player Career Usg% Career TS% 2014 Usg% 2014 TS%
Tina Charles 26.4 50.1 26.7 49.8
Cappie Pondexter 27.3 53.3 25.6 51.3

2014 usage and effiicency numbers for Tina Charles and Cappie Pondexter (via Basketball-Reference).

But that's not even the real big problem: the big problem here is that those are the Liberty's two highest usage players and they're not efficient. Or, put another way, two players currently account for 40% of the team's field goal attempts and only make 41.8% of those. Although they're making up for that as a team somewhat by hitting 39% of their threes, reality is that the (not-atypical) inefficiency of their (high-usage) stars is really killing them right now. That all five of their players with a usage percentage of 20% or more have a TS% under Pondexter's isn't doing them any favors either.

So can they break out of this?

I'm not sure there has been a formal study of this, but if the Liberty struggle this season I suspect it won't be the first time that putting two high-usage players together failed to fulfill lofty goals (New York fans might be interested in looking at Carmelo Anthony's career and/or the NBA's Knicks as an example, but no point in adding insult to injury). The problem for them is that their go-to options have always been inefficient options who have needed more efficient complements (and preferably an efficient distributor to get them scoring opportunities) in order to excel. The Liberty just don't have either right now and it's not immediately obvious where an improvement might come from.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Swish Appeal

You must be a member of Swish Appeal to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Swish Appeal. You should read them.

Join Swish Appeal

You must be a member of Swish Appeal to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Swish Appeal. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9347_tracker