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WNBA statistics: Why is the Seattle Storm on a seven-game losing streak?

The Seattle Storm is on a seven-game losing streak, and we attempt to use some statistics to help answer why.

Photo by Troy Littledeer

It's safe to say that at this point, the Seattle Storm will be mathematically out of the playoffs later this week. After all, the team is last in the Western Conference with a 9-20 record. The stretch that put Seattle at this point has been a current seven-game losing streak that has gone on since July 13 at Minnesota. What statistical trends did we see with the losing streak?

Teams appear to be forcing the Storm to play faster than desired

Currently, Seattle plays at the slowest pace in the WNBA, and by multiple possessions. Here are the WNBA rankings for standardized pace from Basketball Reference, ranked from slowest to fastest:

Team Pace
Seattle Storm 85.4
Washington Mystics 88
Indiana Fever 88
San Antonio Stars 89
WNBA Average 90.1
Tulsa Shock 90.3
Connecticut Sun 90.6
Los Angeles Sparks 90.8
Phoenix Mercury 91
New York Liberty 91
Minnesota Lynx 91.4
Chicago Sky 91.9
Atlanta Dream 94.5

From looking at this ranking in and of itself however, you don't see trends within the season. Seattle has played at a slow pace all year long. Now, let's just look at how many combined possessions the Storm has per game during the 2014 season. I have stratified it between games played up to July 11, then from July 13. I have also included averages for non-overtime games in these periods:

Period TOTAL AVG/GAME
May 16 to July 11 3231 146.86
May 16 to July 11 w/o OT 2920 146
July 13 to July 31 1073 153.29
July 13 to July 31 w/o OT 910 151.67
2014 Season
148.41

Possession statistics are from Lynxdata.

As you can see, the average number of possessions have increased before the streak, where the Storm went 9-13, and for the ugly seven-game stretch since then. The number of possessions hasn't dramatically increased, but it was noticeable, and a sign that Seattle is not taking control of the game's tempo as well as it did before the losing streak.

So remember Washington Mystics Head Coach Mike Thibault complaining about his team's pace being too slow? The Storm must do the exact opposite of what he said. It's not a knock on the Storm, that's just how this team is based on the personnel there. The Storm is at its best as a walk-it-up team. By slowing down the pace, Seattle can frustrate opponents, and ultimately win games that way.

Still, possessions are just that. Basketball was invented around a ball falling in a hoop. So, what else is going wrong?

The Storm's defense has performed considerably worse in its last seven games. So has the offense.

Now, it's time to show the Seattle Storm's offensive and defensive stats.

I'm not showing you per game stats because they can be misleading, in particular for this team. The Storm is 4th in the WNBA for "scoring defense," which has been praised a bit too much. There were times where the Storm ranked even higher there, and the Storm was praised for having one of the best defenses in the league simply because of the number of points opponents were scoring. As you are about to see, that is really a product of Seattle controlling the tempo of the game before factors are standardized among all WNBA teams.

Now that I mentioned factors, here are the Storm's Four Factors before and after the losing streak:

STORM OPPONENTS
Period eFG% TOV% ORB% FTr eFG% TOV% ORB% FTr
5/16 to 7/11 49.15% 17.28% 22.14% 22.49% 48.00% 13.98% 27.45% 20.86%
7/13 to 7/31 46.76% 15.91% 16.74% 14.77% 52.15% 15.11% 28.36% 24.72%
2014 Season 48.54% 16.94% 20.72% 20.51% 49.00% 14.26% 27.66% 21.78%

Stats from Basketball-Reference.com. Don't know how these numbers were calculated? Click here.

Before the losing streak, the Storm's effective field percentage (eFG%) was very high, and it would rank among the best in the WNBA. But on the defensive end, the Storm was allowing opponents to have an eFG% nearly as high. Then opponents had considerably higher offensive rebounding (ORB%) rates, and weren't committing turnovers at as high of a rate as the Storm was.

Since the Storm started its losing streak, the team has allowed opponents to have an eFG% of 52.15%, while its own eFG% dropped to 46.76%. Further more, Seattle's ORB% and free throw (FTr) rates have dropped considerably, while opponents' rates have both increased. In short, the Storm's performance on both the offensive AND defensive end in three of the Four Factors. Therefore, it's hardly a surprise to see that Seattle has been losing a lot lately.

So where would the Storm's losing streak compare with the rest of the league? Well, here are the offensive and defensive four factors for all 12 teams for the season as of August 1, sorted by defensive eFG%:

OFFENSE DEFENSE
eFG% TOV% ORB% FTr eFG% TOV% ORB% FTr
Washington Mystics 47.00% 16.27% 28.88% 20.60% 44.61% 13.34% 29.29% 19.41%
Phoenix Mercury 53.69% 14.56% 22.89% 26.63% 44.79% 14.25% 27.34% 17.13%
New York Liberty 44.83% 16.40% 27.28% 19.63% 45.86% 13.75% 24.45% 20.97%
Atlanta Dream 47.28% 16.36% 32.52% 21.87% 46.30% 18.05% 28.25% 22.64%
Chicago Sky 45.81% 15.75% 27.02% 23.83% 46.35% 14.41% 30.67% 23.35%
Minnesota Lynx 50.55% 13.65% 25.50% 23.23% 47.29% 14.23% 25.84% 18.78%
Indiana Fever 46.25% 16.18% 30.35% 26.29% 47.33% 17.42% 29.54% 28.67%
WNBA Average 47.59% 15.28% 27.99% 22.30% 47.59% 15.28% 27.99% 22.30%
Connecticut Sun 45.17% 15.03% 33.10% 19.28% 48.52% 15.87% 29.45% 24.12%
Seattle Storm 48.54% 16.94% 20.72% 20.51% 49.00% 14.26% 27.66% 21.78%
Los Angeles Sparks 47.18% 15.21% 28.46% 20.39% 49.12% 17.21% 26.85% 21.77%
Tulsa Shock 47.15% 13.63% 32.87% 25.17% 50.69% 14.57% 28.54% 27.76%
San Antonio Stars 48.37% 13.54% 24.32% 20.41% 51.44% 15.98% 27.93% 21.54%

The Storm's defensive eFG% over its last seven games would rank last in the WNBA. In addition on the offensive end, the Storm would be last in ORB% and FTr as well. Not a good looking picture at all.

The team as a whole needs to improve its rebounding, especially for post players.

Now that these advanced rates are out of the way, we can now examine some of the more simpler stats. During the seven-game losing streak, the Storm never grabbed more than 30 rebounds in any single game. Meanwhile, opponents have grabbed at least 40 rebounds twice. To be fair, this happened during the first two games of the losing streak: July 13 at the Lynx and July 15 vs. the Sun.

Crystal Langhorne is the Storm's leading rebounder, where she averages 7.8 rebounds a game. However, during the seven-game losing streak, she has averaged 6.4 per game. In addition, her offensive rebounding has dropped from nearly 2 a game in the games before to just 1.1 per game during the losing streak.

Though Lang's numbers have declined, it's not just on her. The post players in particular need to step up on the rebounding aspect of the game despite Seattle's lack of height at the post positions. Camille Little is the second leading rebounder, but only rebounds the ball four times per game, and she's a power forward. Granted, she has more of a perimeter game than Langhorne does, but still, I think Little is capable of grabbing more than four rebounds a game.

Opponents have attempted more free throws than the Storm in each game during the seven-game losing streak.

When that happens, it contributes toward the team's really low free throw rate on the offensive end, as well as opponents' high free throw rates on the defensive end. I don't really have to elaborate much here.

Seattle's three point shooting rates have declined.

One of the reasons why the Storm's eFG rating is high in the Four Factors is because of three point shooting. The Storm is second in the WNBA for three pointers made, and is in the top 4 in three point shooting percentage at 34.5%. However, during the losing streak, the Storm only made 30.25% of its threes, which would be toward the bottom of the league. If Seattle didn't make 8-of-17 threes on July 31 against the Indiana Fever, the Storm wouldn't have made 30% of their threes.

I will say one player who hasn't been a problem in this area is Sue Bird. Yes, she has clearly declined, and her defense is awful. But these are things we have seen over the course of the entire season. During the six games she played during the losing streak, Bird has slightly improved her field goal shooting rates. Here is a breakdown of Bird's shooting rates and scoring averages for games before and after the losing streak, as well as the 2014 season:

FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% PPG
5/16 to 7/11 87 223 39.01% 26 80 32.50% 10.72
7/13 to 7/31 26 65 40.00% 6 16 37.50% 10.83
Total 113 288 39.24% 32 96 33.33% 10.75

So these are some of the major trends that I have seen during the Storm's seven-game losing streak. Even though statistics certainly can help explain trends that we see, they are never a be all, end all. Do you think the Storm can turn around some of its recent problems? Share your thoughts in the comments below.