Just a few weeks ago, we were talking about how the San Antonio Silver Stars as part of a two-team elite in the WNBA based on ESPN's Hollinger Rankings.
Sure the Los Angeles Sparks were coming up, but the Silver Stars were right with the Minnesota Lynx in second. Then the Silver Stars fell off a cliff, losing six of their next seven games, which leaves them where they are today - fourth.
So what happened?
|Los Angeles Sparks
|San Antonio Silver Stars
|New York Liberty
WNBA Hollinger Power Rankings (as of Sept 10, 2012)
Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com suggests that a large part of the problem for the Silver Stars is their schedule.
The Silver Stars have also struggled due to a brutal schedule, including a pair of road meetings with the uber-efficient Lynx...The interesting question is whether Los Angeles can catch San Antonio for the league’s second best schedule-adjusted point differential. Right now, the difference between the two teams comes down strictly to schedule.
And the schedule has certainly been an issue - three of those seven games were on the road and three of the home games were against Connecticut, Indiana, and Minnesota, which aren't exactly cake walks.
Still, something stood out about their consecutive games against Phoenix (Sept. 1) and Indiana (Sept. 7) - their poor rebounding caught up to them at critical points in both of those games.
The Silver Stars have been a notoriously poor rebounding team over the last few years, ranking near the bottom in rebounding percentage annually. But the common theme in both of those games was that they had major breakdowns in pivotal quarters that ended up leading to a loss: 1) they stopped forcing turnovers and 2) they got badly outrebounded.
Despite well-documented rebounding struggles, the Silver Stars have actually done pretty well this season in preventing second chance points - at this point, their 11.32 second chance points per game allowed is the best in the Western Conference. Similarly, their 15.93 points points turnovers allowed is tops in the conference and reflects a major strength they have to overcome their poor rebounding: they normally force turnovers at an above average rate this season.
Against Phoenix, the rebounding was really what stood out as the Silver Stars were outscored 28-14 in the second quarter. San Antonio allowed 5 offensive rebounds and 13 second chance points in that quarter while only getting 1 offensive boards and no second chance points themselves. While it was impressive that they committed no turnovers, they also only forced one. With no real answer for Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner, they took one of their more disappointing losses of this recent run.
Against Indiana, the story was similar though not so dramatic. During the decisive fourth quarter, the Fever outscored the Silver Stars 28-19. San Antonio was again beat badly on the offensive boards by percentage, 57.1% to 33.33%, though they only allowed 4 second chance points; Indiana is hardly a better offensive rebounding team than San Antonio and Tulsa, the two teams with the lowest percentages in the league (27.7% to Indiana's 27.8%). And again San Antonio only forced one turnover and allowed 15 free throw attempts to an Indiana team that only shot 38.5% in the final quarter despite an impressive performance by Tamika Catchings at the end of the game.
In short, the Silver Stars have had some major defensive lapses that are costing them games. And when among the most perimeter-oriented teams in the league (they shoot the most shots from 11-15 feet in the conference and take less than average inside of ten feet) has a defensive lapse, it can be hard to recover if they for some reason go cold from 3-point range - their 37.2% 3-point percentage is above average.
What this might signal is something that was evident earlier in the year: because their identity this year essentially involves conceding rebounding while relying heavily on ball movement and scoring in transition, they have a somewhat limited margin of error - their not a team that can easily overcome a lapse on any of those fronts. And when they're playing top-tier competition, even teams with a similar weakness like Indiana, that delicate balance of attributes can haunt them.