The WNBA is behind the curve compared to the NBA when it comes to analytics. So when Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post reported that the Washington Mystics and Minnesota Lynx would be playing a 20-minute "analytic scrimmage" on Tuesday, it certainly caught my eye.
Before the scrimmage started, Mystics owner Ted Leonsis gave a 30-minute Q&A on what the scrimmage would be like, and how he got Mystics head coach Mike Thibault, Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve, and the WNBA to get this to work. The video of his pregame presser is embedded above, or you can view it by clicking here.
The scrimmage had two 10-minute periods, each with some interesting rule changes. Here are the full details from Monumental Network's Jacob Raim:
Period 1 (10 minutes): Modified Location Scoring
- Shots only count from 3-point range, paint, and extended low block
- Mid-range shots do not count (made shots from mid-range result in loss of possession)
Period 2 (10 minutes): Modified Pacing Rules
- 20-second shot clock
- Shot clock resets to 14 seconds following offensive rebounds
- 1 point automatically granted on all 2-point free-throw situations, with 1 free throw taken for additional point
- 2 points automatically granted on all 3-point free-throw situations, with 1 free throw taken for additional point
- 1 free-throw is taken for an additional point if a player is fouled following a successful basket
- 1 ball advance per team (stop play and advance ball to the 28' mark in the frontcourt)
The result of this scrimmage didn't matter that much to me. The Mystics won, 48-41 over the Lynx after the two periods.
The scrimmage itself, however, is something that should be lauded, because it gives us a chance to really see how basketball is played when many of the concepts that basketball bloggers and statisticians talk about turn into reality. Since this provided a new look into how the game could be played in the future, Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and head coach Randy Wittman were also in attendance. The two teams will face off again on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. as the Mystics host the Lynx again, this time in a regular 40-minute setting.
Analytics is one of the things I like in basketball and talk about. It provides teams and fans quantitative evidence to show how well (or not so well) a team is playing.
In the NBA, there is no shortage of stats, both basic and advanced, that anyone can access through the Internet. You can take a look at the league's stats page where you can filter them at the player or team level. In addition to that, you can also look at SportVU player tracking data, which can give you more information on how players shoot or defend in various situations. In short, this is one excellent resource.
The WNBA, however, has been behind in this area to say the least. All of the stats on their page are generally of the simple variety. If you want more advanced figures, Basketball-Reference is your best bet, and as valuable of a resource as it is, the site still doesn't have many of the same figures that are available in the NBA section of the page. Therefore, numbers like the Four Factors -- which I have done on past pieces here -- have to be done by hand.
I certainly don't mind running numbers in order to find out what trends a team is going through. I like it actually. Still, the disconnect between the amount of data available to NBA fans and teams appears to be a lot more in-depth than in the W. Some fans may like the simpler nature of the WNBA and don't care too much for all of these advanced numbers. But at the same time, the lack of figures shows that the women's game still has a long way to go in order to catch up to its men's counterpart.
Sure, there are some minds who don't believe that analytics is something that should be used extensively in the sport, whether it's the men's or the women's game. But to many fans, including myself, statistical data -- and experimenting with concepts like Tuesday's analytical scrimmage -- is something that allows teams to really see if they can be catalysts toward advancing the game forward.
Kudos to the WNBA, Leonsis, Thibault, and Reeve for helping make this happen. I hope to see some more concepts like this in the future, not only in the WNBA, but in the NBA as well.