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WNBA advanced statistics & power rankings: What big road wins mean for Indiana and Seattle

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In our weekly look at league-wide WNBA statistics, we check in with some power rankings in light of a busy Tuesday.

Photo by Soobum Im | USA Today Sports

Although you never really want to base power rankings on a single game, yesterday's WNBA results offered reason for pause up and down the league's hierarchy:

  • The Washington Mystics losing to the New York Liberty at the Prudential Center isn't really a huge deal. But that it's the fourth consecutive loss - which began with a home loss to the Liberty - and the sixth in seven games is a bit of a concern. After starting the season hot, this is their second extended losing streak of the season and you can't imagine that the Minnesota Lynx will take them lightly in Minneapolis tomorrow.
  • The Indiana Fever's win on the road at Allstate Arena was as big a deal as to them as the loss was to the Chicago Sky. The Fever have been surging for a while now - they've won 9 of their last 12 after last night's win - but beating the Sky with a healthy Elena Delle Donne on the road is a sign that they're really coming around as they get healthier. For the Sky, it's not so much that they lost back-to-back games to the Fever - Delle Donne was out for the first and had a subpar game last night - but
  • The Seattle Storm's win in Phoenix last night was huge: not only does it keep them within striking distance of third place - they're now only a half game back - but it also means they've clinched the season-series with the stumbling Mercury who have now lost 7 of 9 games. The fact that it was a road game that they took control of with their defense even before DeWanna Bonner and Brittney Griner went down with injuries is even more impressive.

What makes all of these interesting is that they were not necessarily just isolated incidents: they were exclamation points on patterns that have been developing for some time. Does that prevent us from looking at season long stats then? Not really, but it does suggest we look at the stats differently.

Offensive and defensive efficiency statistics

Team

Adj Ortg

Team

Adj Drtg

Team

Poss/G

Minnesota

104.5

Atlanta

91.6

Phoenix

82.1

Phoenix

103

Indiana

92.2

Atlanta

81

Los Angeles

102.4

Minnesota

92.8

Los Angeles

80.9

Chicago

99.1

Los Angeles

93.1

Washington

80.3

Tulsa

97.3

Chicago

94.2

Chicago

80

WNBA AVERAGE

95.8

Connecticut

95.1

New York

80

Washington

94.7

New York

95.4

Tulsa

79.9

Atlanta

94.2

WNBA AVERAGE

95.8

Minnesota

79.6

Seattle

92.8

Washington

96.9

WNBA AVERAGE

79.4

Indiana

91.4

Seattle

98.7

San Antonio

79.3

San Antonio

91

San Antonio

99.1

Connecticut

78.7

Connecticut

90.3

Tulsa

99.5

Seattle

75.6

New York

89.1

Phoenix

101.3

Indiana

75.2

Offensive and defensive efficiency numbers for the WNBA as of 8/4/13 (via National Sports Rankings).

I'm going to start with the Mystics here because the recent story described above really speaks to a broader theme for them this season.

We all thought that the hiring of Mike Thibault would have an impact on the Mystics and it did early on: They quickly established themselves as a threat in the season, even chasing a franchise milestone for best start. They put two players in the 2013 WNBA All-Star Game. And ultimately, they still are still in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Yet statistically, they've hovered just below average as an offensive and defensive team all season. For those thinking the Mystics were playing a bit over their heads early on by playing injured or sleepwalking teams, the numbers do in fact lend credence to that - they've barely moved even though they've suffered setbacks in six of their last seven games.

When the Mystics are winning, that can be looked at as “balance”; when they're losing it looks far more like a team lacking strengths. And a closer look at their numbers reveal that.

What actually seems to be happening here is that teams like the Connecticut Sun and Indiana Fever have gotten better as the Mystics have held steady.

Efficiency differentials

Team

Tot Diff

Minnesota

11.7

Los Angeles

9.3

Chicago

4.9

Atlanta

2.6

Phoenix

1.7

WNBA AVERAGE

0

Indiana

-0.8

Washington

-2.2

Tulsa

-2.2

Connecticut

-4.8

Seattle

-5.9

New York

-6.3

San Antonio

-8.1

Efficiency differentials for WNBA teams (as of 8/4/13).

Neither Connecticut nor Indiana look particularly special here, but check out their numbers from July 16: Indiana's efficiency differential has improved by 2.9 points per 100 possessions over a relatively short period of time. As for Connecticut, it's not so much about their statistics but that they're nearing the point where they have a healthy backcourt, which could help them become a more competitive team - reserve guard Renee Montgomery was clearly important to the team last season and her value has been on display this season in her absence.

For those wondering what has happened to the Atlanta Dream, their offensive efficiency rating tells the story: they've dropped about four points per 100 possessions in about two weeks' time, from an above average offense to a below average offense. That dropoff combined with a slight drop in defensive efficiency dropped them from an efficiency differential that had them as a contender to a much more modest rating.

Part of the Dream's decline can be explained by their falling shooting efficiency: their effective field goal percentage differential has dropped nearly 3% over the last few weeks, exposing their struggles to hit shots when teams turn them into a jumpshooting team as well as a weak early season schedule.

And with the Indiana Fever making an equal and opposite improvement, the Dream will have to find a way to get things going without the offensive contributions of Tiffany Hayes and Sancho Lyttle if they expect to hang on to their current standing in the East.

But to further sort out the below average efficiency differential pack, a closer look at Four Factors statistics might help.

Team

EFG NET

Tov% NET

Oreb% NET

FTR NET

Atlanta

0.3

3.5

3.6

-1.9

Indiana

-2.4

3.4

1.7

-2.1

Minnesota

4.6

3.1

5.6

1.8

San Antonio

5.9

1.9

4.5

-5.6

Los Angeles

6

1.8

2.5

1.8

Connecticut

-1.8

1.1

-1.6

-3.2

Tulsa

-3.8

0.6

-1.7

2.7

WNBA AVERAGE

0.1

Chicago

2.2

-0.5

5.3

4.9

Washington

0.2

-1.9

-2.2

3.8

Seattle

-1.3

-2.6

-3.2

-3.4

Phoenix

2.2

-3.7

-4.3

1.4

New York

-0.2

-5.5

3.6

-1.1

Four Factors differentials for WNBA teams as of 8/4/13 ordered by turnover differential (via National Sports Rankings).

The list above is ordered by turnover differential to demonstrate an important improvement Connecticut has made: they've made a small improvement in that category, which is important given who they're competing with at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Connecticut's improvement on the turnover front is especially relevant to the discussion of the Eastern Conference playoff race: if they continue to improve on that front with their backcourt fully healthy, it's not hard to imagine them jumping ahead of both New York and Washington for a playoff spot. And when considering just how inconsistent those two latter teams have been, that has a major impact on this week's power rankings.

Unsurprisingly, turnovers continue to tell the story for New York, albeit a marginally positive one now. Although New York is still last in the league in turnover margin, they've improved a bit which is at least a bright side to an otherwise inconsistent season.

To reiterate the earlier story about Washington, the Mystics really aren't bad in any particular area, but they've been leapfrogged by a few teams that had major weaknesses early on that they've rectified. Indiana shooting efficiency improvement is part of that, Chicago has improved their turnover differential, and Seattle has made a small improvement in their offensive rebounding margin.

It's unlikely that Seattle will become an outstanding 3-point shooting team anytime soon, but where they beat a team like the Mercury was defense and rebounding, two things you'll note they have negative differentials for: when they can hold a team like the Mercury to 40% shooting and win the battle of the offensive boards, they're hard to beat. And that's why they've found ways to win even when you would think the odds are against them on paper - it's that old saying that rebounding and defense travel well. A bit of discipline and hustle don't hurt either.

So, now everything is clear as mud, right? Yep. So let's take a stab at some power rankings.

Power Rankings as of August 7

1. Minnesota: Right now, they're the only team playing consistent ball and, as said in previous weeks, the only team that simply has no glaring weaknesses which allows them to most easily adjust to opponents.

2. Los Angeles: The loss to the Tulsa Shock exposed weaknesses most of us here were already familiar with: this team relies heavily on Candace Parker and they have players on the roster that don't necessarily fit together well. But at full strength, they've clearly established themselves as the second-best team in the league right now.

3. Indiana: The Fever's statistics have finally started to catch up to how competitive they are and as they get healthier it wouldn't be terribly surprising to see them continue to climb. How high can they climb? They're a full three games behind Atlanta in the East standings and their next five games are against teams #2-5 while Atlanta has a bunch of games against the bottom half of the league coming up and a week off before facing the Fever on Saturday.

4. Chicago: Similar to LA, Chicago has shown how much they rely on EDD. Nevertheless, everything else in the East has been so inconsistent that it's hard to drop them much further. The pair of losses to Indiana exposed their struggles to execute when all three of their All-Stars aren't clicking.

5. Phoenix: It's hard to know what to make of this team but they're entirely too talented to continue playing as poorly as they have. Right now, making the case for putting another team above them is just difficult.

6. Atlanta: Well, we were all waiting for this western road trip to show us how good the Dream are. It ended up being a nightmare. The Fever are now just 2.5 games behind Atlanta in the East standings but their next five games are against teams #2-5 whereas Atlanta has a week off before facing the Fever on Saturday followed by a bunch of games against the bottom half of the league coming up.

7. Seattle: This might look a bit high for Seattle in light of their recent showing in Minnesota, but considering that the Lynx are by far the best team in the league right now and Seattle is fighting for the third spot in the Western Conference it's not exactly unreasonable either. They just have a grit that the teams beneath them haven't shown consistently. It will be easy to move them up even further if the Dream and Mercury continue to struggle.

8. Connecticut: The Sun won two in a row with Renee Montgomery back in the lineup and when they get Kara Lawson back they'll have their full backcourt in action for the first time in a while. That's huge and the big question now is whether they can find some consistency.

9. Tulsa: I know this seems awfully high for a team that is currently at the bottom of the Western Conference, but consider three things: 1) their numbers are better than most other teams below them because they've played extremely well since Skylar Diggins started coming off the bench, 2) they've won four of their last six including 3 of their last 4 at home during that time and 3) Liz Cambage is establishing herself as a potent go-to option. The problem for them is that they dug themselves a huge hole at the beginning of the season.

10. New York: The Liberty are just entirely too inconsistent right now to really know what to do with them.

11. Washington: Washington has now lost six of seven games and the last four losses post-All-Star break were all winnable: New York at home, Chicago without Delle Donne, L.A. Without Candace Parker, and then New York again. The big question for Washington is whether this is a slump we can expect them to snap out of or a sign that they were simply playing over their heads early in the season.

12. San Antonio: San Antonio deserves credit for how competitive they've been this season and as poorly as Washington is playing, you could argue they belong here instead - the Silver Stars just beat them. But in the end, the Silver Stars are still the least efficient shooting team in the West and aren't helped by also giving up the most offensive rebounds in the league.

Feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments or try to find better explanations for any one of these teams' recent performance.