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Sparks’ Offensive Rebounding Overwhelms Silver Stars’ Team Dynamics

I have wondered about the Los Angeles Sparks’ strategy all season, but when you can grab offensive rebounds the way they did against the San Antonio Silver Stars last night, it’s all a moot point.

The Sparks out-rebounded the Silver Stars 18-1 on the offensive boards en route to a 75-63 victory. It seems like that must be some kind of record for offensive rebounding differential.

Derek Fisher commented near the end of the game that if they win this game it will be an ugly win. Indeed it was ugly, but to me that the forceful interior play they displayed last night is much more indicative of a style that suits them than the up-tempo style coach Michael Cooper has tried to use to this point in the season.

Yes, Cooper apparently started out wanting to push the tempo to take the Silver Stars out of their game. But if you watched closely in the 4th quarter -- when a 6 point lead doubled to 12 -- it was the Sparks running a half court offense and solid half court defense. They played to their strengths, which is there All-Olympian front line.

In fact, when the Sparks play like that, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could stop them, short of getting Leslie or Parker to just foul out. The Silver Stars are arguably the worst rebounding team in the league, only grabbing 47% of the available rebounds per game. So sure it’s the right thing for Silver Stars fans or coach Dan Hughes to say that, "…we could have controlled our own destiny if we rebounded the ball better." But rebounding is a major weakness for the Silver Stars and for the first time in a while, the Sparks exploited an opponent’s weakness rather than passively reacting to the opponents’ game plan.

Although the offensive rebounding was clearly the story of this game, I also found it interesting to look at this game in terms of their teamwork dynamics. And though the Silver Stars lost, I think this game says a lot about their style of play as well.

Team dynamics rating & offensive rebounding

Over the weekend, I looked at ball movement, team synergy, offensive rebounding, and turnovers as a theoretical means to make teamwork dynamics somewhat more tangible. There were some interesting results in terms of characterizing teams’ style of play and their overall effectiveness.

The Sparks demonstrated something that I think the Sacramento Monarchs did well last season – if you can do one thing extremely well as a team, you can overcome other deficiencies…even if every other element of team basketball is your weakness.

At times during the game, their 36% shooting from the field didn’t even seem to matter. The way they were dominating offensive rebounds, it almost looked like they could just come down the court, toss the ball off the back-board, and watch as Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker dominated the paint.

But as ugly as it was you can’t complain too much about the "strategy" because it will work for them, especially if they can shoot the ball better.

Offensive rebounding percentage – the percentage of available rebounds that a team gets on offense – is actually a more telling statistic than the raw offensive rebounding numbers. Comparing offensive rebounds (23-1) between teams doesn’t tell the full story about how dominant a team was on the offensive glass because you’re not really competing against an opponents’ offense for offensive rebounds – you’re going up against their defense.

So to put these numbers in perspective – on the season, the Sparks are getting about 33% of the offensive rebounds available, among the best in the league. The league average is almost 31%. In last night’s game, they got 43%...and in the fourth quarter, the got 70%. That means they got the ball back and extended their possession on 7 of every 10 opportunities in the fourth quarter.

I don’t have all-time stats on this, but it’s obvious that that is dominant. They crushed San Antonio on the boards. San Antonio normally gets 69% of the defensive rebounds available – in the bottom half of the league – but didn’t even approach that against the Sparks.

The thing is, this wasn’t just about San Antonio having an off night or playing with low energy – the Sparks just played with a tenacity that made it extremely difficult to keep the Sparks off the glass. And although I’ve been attributing that to Leslie and Parker, it was the whole team – Shannon Bobbitt even had a career high 3 offensive rebounds (Parker had 2). Of course, that it a matter of Bobbitt’s hustle and energy, but it’s also the result of San Antonio having to expend so much energy just to stop Leslie and Parker.

This is just a problem that the Silver Stars have and they can make up for it with good team synergy normally, just not last night.

Team Synergy

Synergy – the ability for a team to move the ball and create good scoring opportunities (click here for more) -- is one of the more important elements of team basketball and one that I'm partial to. However, games like this one are a reminder that you can win without ball movement if you have dominant players on the court.

I always believe that any team's goal should be to move the ball better than their opponents – with a good offensive strategy and a defensive strategy that disrupts their opponents. You can argue that the Silver Stars did that – their assisted field goal percentage was 28.5 vs the Sparks’ 18.31 and their true shooting percentage was 52.44 to the Sparks’ 44.77.

Although the Silver Stars had problems with synergy in the first quarter (SA: 49 vs. LAS: 73), they were actually quite efficient in the other three quarters, especially the 2nd and 4th. They had a 57.59 true shooting percentage (5 percentage points above their season average) and a synergy score of 90.

This is important because one of the things I like most about the Silver Stars is their synergy on offense. They are the best in the league thus far this season. And what was impressive is that despite being down big at times in the first and the fourth quarter, they stuck to their offensive scheme and kept trying to execute it. That’s what allowed them to get back into the game at halftime and again in the 2nd half. Some teams would panic when things aren’t going well, but the Silver Stars trust their offensive enough to keep working within it.

That’s not to say everything was rosy for the Silver Stars – Sophia Young was 1-5 with 4 turnovers and was a complete non-factor during the game. Most of that was because she was trying to establish position inside and with Leslie and Parker roaming around the paint, that just didn’t work. And with a bona fide MVP candidate taken out of the game, that put extra pressure on Becky Hammon to carry more of the offensive load.

In the last 5 wins for the Silver Stars, Hammon was more than capable of carrying the team earning Player of the Week recognition. In the past five games, she had a true shooting percentage of 67.6, which is quite amazing to maintain across games (league average is around 50%). Last night, she had a true shooting percentage of 46.6. A large part of that was her 1-8 three point shooting performance.

Having her shoot so many threes in the first quarter was probably not just her being trigger happy – they probably wanted to "loosen" up the Sparks’ defense. Unfortunately, her inability to get going the end of the first quarter with a few driving baskets really her team.

On top of that, the Silver Stars weren’t exactly taking care of the ball very well either.

Turnover percentage

Moving the ball is no good if you’re moving it out of bounds or into the other team’s hands. Unfortunately for the Silver Stars, that was a major part of their problem.

The Silver Stars are one of the better teams in the league in terms of turnover percentage, but almost 25% of their plays last night ended in a turnover. When you consider that they were tossing away possessions while the Sparks were extending possessions (with offensive rebounds) the Silver Stars really needed stronger games from Hammon and Young to pull off a win. And when you think about the fact that they were actually within striking distance in the fourth, it makes that point all the more important.

The Sparks weren’t exactly a sparkling model of ball handling efficiency either as they turned the ball over almost 20% of the time…but their offensive rebounding probably made up for that.

Team Dynamics Rating

So overall, here are the final team dynamics rating, which is calculated by adding a team’s synergy differential to their offensive rebounding percentage and subtracting turnover percentage:

Sparks: 6.12
Silver Stars: -2.84

Hammon or Young… or both…would have needed a much more dominant performance to overcome that. Hammon had an off night and Young was stifled by the Sparks’ interior defense. The Silver Stars complete inability to rebound really hurt them, especially in the first and third quarters when they weren't shooting well either.

But imagine if the Sparks had even better synergy on offense? There were moments were they move the ball extremely well, but there were moments where they just reverted to their make-shift streetball offense. Dan put it best when describing the Sparks’ implosion against the Monarchs on the 5280 blog, so I’ll quote him:
…too often saw LA's offensive strategy reduce itself to "throw the ball to whoever is standing in front of the basket and hope the magic happens." Even with a future Hall of Fame center and one of the most talented rookies to ever enter the women's game, that's not the most effective way to run an offense. The times when I saw their offense working at its best was when they took the opportunity to move the ball in, out and around; maybe it was inevitably on-route to Leslie or Parker in the paint, but it at least had the defense on its heels until then.
Really, you could describe last night’s game in much the same way. Yes, they did a better job of going high-low and inside and out, but their inability to find many open shots for each other puts a lot of pressure on Leslie and Parker. The difference is the Monarchs are one of the best rebounding teams and the Silver Stars the worst. Beyond that, it’s hard to say that they played "better" offensively, though they did make more of an effort to play half court basketball, which suits them.

A major problem they’re having is that they lack any kind of credible outside shooting threat. Sidney Spencer is their best, but she’s easy to jam and neutralize because she doesn’t create much off the dribble. Bobbitt is great at keeping the team in rhythm and moving the ball, but not at all a consistent scoring threat.

I don’t know much about Amber Jacobs, but if she can shoot the ball and defend, she could get more playing time. From what I saw of her last night, she’s a good distributor and understands the need to actually run an offense, something that the other Sparks point guards lack. She only played a few minutes, but I’ll look forward to seeing her play again.

I’ll also look forward to seeing the Silver Stars go up against Phoenix tonight. Their trust in their offense could be valuable in heading into back-to-back road games…and since Phoenix really doesn’t believe in defense, I would imagine that they could pull out a win. And that would be an even stronger testament to the value of their team synergy.

Transition Points:

A quick note on the Sparks turnovers as they pertained to their much maligned point guard play – the three point guards accounted for 4 of the Sparks 16 turnovers. Leslie had 6 and Parker and DeLisha Milton-Jones had two each. While it’s reasonable to blame point guards when a team is playing less than fluid offense, in this case, it seems like there might be something with the team’s offensive strategy that is causing these costly turnovers. I know point guards are responsible for maintaining rhythm and distributing the ball as well, but you cannot do that either without a coherent offensive structure.

I still think Derek Fisher is a pretty solid commentator. He knows the game extremely well and is able to pick out the most important nuances of the game. However, I had to snicker when he talked about flopping. He said that he didn’t know why people had labeled him a flopper. But I’m a Warriors fan…I know why…check this out (the league later announced that the Fisher play was a bad call):

The Silver Stars did not break any records for least offensive rebounds, believe it or not. Apparently, that dubious honor belongs to the Houston Comets who only recorded one rebound against the Phoenix on July 27, 2006 (via p_d_swanson @ Rebkell).

Relevant Links:

The latest offensive rebounding stats can be found here, via the outstanding Lynx stats site

A previous post about the Sparks' team chemistry: