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2014 WNBA Finals preview: Why the Chicago Sky's rebounding will be a stat to watch against the Phoenix Mercury

The Phoenix Mercury's one weakness all season has been their rebounding, but the Chicago Sky haven't been any good on the boards during the playoffs either, which could make that a major key to their upset chances in the 2014 WNBA Finals.

Photo by Getty Images.

We've been harping on the Phoenix Mercury's rebounding woes throughout the entire season, but the one trend that has remained consistent for the Chicago Sky this season regardless of health is surprisingly poor rebounding.

Prior to the 2014 WNBA Playoffs beginning, I noted that we knew very little about the Chicago Sky but one potential area of improvement for them despite their sub-standard numbers during the season would be their rebounding numbers.

As described previously, the Sky led the league in both offensive rebounding percentage (30.5%) and second chance points (12.76 per game) last season without the help of Jessica Breland, rookie Markeisha Gatling, and Sasha Goodlett, three of their top five offensive rebounders this season. None of those latter three players were exceptional rebounders during the season, but just by the sheer depth of rebounders they have available at full strength you figure they have the capacity to compete with anyone on the boards.

Strangely, they still haven't been a good rebounding team in the postseason while playing mostly at full strength. In fairness, Breland missed most of the first round and Delle Donne's back problem has likely contributed to her having just eight rebounds in the three-game Eastern Conference Finals series against the Fever.

"I felt like I was holding back the team, especially on defense," Delle Donne said during a Chicago Sky media session on Thursday. "I couldn't grab rebounds. I couldn't get in to help side, so she was phenomenal in coming out there and giving us the boost we needed and filling that 4-spot for us."

And that is just something that will have to change if they have any hope of beating the Mercury in the WNBA Finals.

eFg%

Tov%

OReb%

Fta/Fga

Chi

47.61%

15.20%

23.03%

38.46%

Opp

43.85%

12.45%

35.94%

29.55%

Weighted Differentials

eFg%

Tov%

OReb%

FTA/FGA

Chi

0.38

-0.23

-0.54

0.19

Four Factors statistics for the Chicago Sky during the playoffs.

As always, we can look at these numbers and say that the fact that they've won while both giving up so many rebounds and doing so little rebounding themselves means that it hasn't been a barrier to them advancing. However the issue here is that against a team like the Mercury that is so potent in so many ways, the one best opportunity to steal a victory is by outrebounding them.

Really, the only player on the Sky who has done any sort of consistent rebounding so far for the Sky is Sylvia Fowles (10.33% offensive rebounding percentage), further adding to the general sentiment that she has been a major factor for the team despite Elena Delle Donne's epic scoring outburst against the Atlanta Dream in the first round. Reserve center Sasha Goodlett has put up outstanding rebounding percentages (team-high 11.38% offensive rebounding percentage), but has only played less than four minutes per game in the playoff.

One explanation is to look at their rebounding opportunities relative to shot locations. During the regular season, the Sky shot a league-high 27.6% of their shots from the 16-21 foot range while shooting just 36.6% of their shots within five feet, which likely generated a lot of long rebounds. In the playoffs, the situation has become even more exaggerated: the Sky are now shooting an above average 24.6% of their shots from 3-point range in the playoffs as well and 22.6% from that 16-21 foot range. They're a team that is taking nearly 50% of their shots from beyond 16 feet, which is not uncommon but contributes to explaining why they're just not doing much on the offensive boards.

Defensively, the story is pretty much the exact opposite: they're allowing a league-high 47.1% of their opponents shots to be taken within five feet and a below average 16.7% of their opponents' shots to be taken from the 3-point line.

The question is what it will take for the Sky to change this.

Given that they're simply not making many threes (just 30.5% in the playoffs), one answer is to simply shoot less. And one player to pinpoint is Epiphanny Prince: Prince has shot 26 threes in the Sky's six playoff games while making just six (23.07%). Prior to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals when she was 3-for-7, she had shot just 3-for-19 from long-range in the playoffs. That's about her career average of threes attempted per game (4), but when they're not falling it's doing nothing but taking shots away from more efficient scoring options and creating long rebounds that don't give the team much of a second chance to score.

The other option, as Pat Friday has mentioned a number of times, is to simply move Elena Delle Donne (who hasn't rebounded well all year) to the small forward spot and move Breland into the starting lineup. Compared to the past two series for the Sky, the small forward spot would be a much easier guard for Delle Donne as DeWanna Bonner has essentially become the fifth scoring option on the floor for the Mercury this season and has shot just 27.9% from the 3-point line. By going big against the Mercury, the Sky could find a greater rebounding advantage which would at least help them get some second chance scoring opportunities.

But the main point is that when two poor rebounding teams face each other, someone has to win the battle of the boards. If the Sky can do that, it would go a long way toward extending the series beyond the point many people are expecting. And ultimately, the fact that we still don't entirely know what this Sky team is capable of at full strength leaves open the possibility of a surprising rebounding performance that gives them a real chance to compete in this series.

For more on both teams and in the league's championship series, check out our 2014 WNBA Finals storystream.