Fact or Fiction: Examining Some Early WNBA Trends

Now that every WNBA team has played at least five games, we have enough to see some trends developing. But, are those trends going to continue? We’ve got a pretty small sample size of data to play around with so far, but the WNBA season itself is a fairly small sample—how much can we accurately know from 36 games of basketball?

That small amount of games is why I’m more willing to forgive a one- or two-year issue. Did a good shooter suddenly become a bad shooter? I’m willing to attribute it to a small sample that isn’t representative of the whole player—more on this and how it relates to someone like Lexie Brown later.

But that small amount of games also means if we see a trend developing early, we can be more certain of it continuing, simply because there aren’t as many games for things to even out. If a player is shooting 50 percent from three over the course of their first five games, it’s more likely they end the season with a high three-point field goal percentage than it would be in the NBA, where there are 82 games for things to work themselves out.

With that in mind, let’s play some fact or fiction.

 

The Aces will average 90 or more points per game

Fiction: Per Across the Timeline, the 2009 Phoenix Mercury averaged 92.82 points per game (PPG), and the 2010 Mercury averaged 93.88 PPG. No other team has hit that mark over a full season.

The Aces currently sit at 91.71 PPG. They lead the league in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. And maybe they’ll continue to do those things, but there’s a reason that only two teams have hit that mark: it’s really hard and takes both a lot of talent and a lot of luck. Vegas has the talent. So far, they have the luck. But, I worry that the three-point shooting isn’t sustainable based on the makeup of this team, and, because of that, I expect the Aces to fall just short of that 90-point mark. 

 

The Liberty becomes the first team since the 90s to average 19 or more turnovers per game

Fact: New York is currently sitting at 19.8 turnovers per game (TPG). Their primary ball handler, Sabrina Ionescu, is known for her turnover issues, which comes with the territory when you make the kind of high-risk, high-reward passes she makes. The team’s backup point guard is Crystal Dangerfield—who hasn’t even made her debut with the team yet because she was signed to a hardship—and she’s also had turnover issues in her career. The team doesn’t have another point guard on the roster. Just a ton of issues with ball handling, and while I like Dangerfield, her being the answer to those issues…probably isn’t the answer to those issues. Even if New York doesn’t hit the 19 TPG mark, I think it’ll surpass the 2008 Mystics’ 18.74 mark, the highest number of this century (per Across the Timeline).

 

Connecticut posts the best net rating ever

Fiction: One team has had a net rating—a measure of point differential per 100 possessions—over 18. That was the 2000 Comets. WNBA Stats has the Sun at a 18.0 net rating. Across the Timeline has them at 18.47. Regardless, in the early going, Connecticut is playing like the greatest team ever and…they can’t keep it up. While the Sun have assuaged most of my spacing-related concerns, there’s just no way this team does something that only the Comets did.

A better question might be if Connecticut posts the best non-Houston net rating. Across the Timeline has the 2019 Washington Mystics at 15.39. I think that’s obviously more possible, but Connecticut has also played a really easy schedule, with four games already against New York and Indiana (who are a combined 3-10 at this point). That schedule is contributing to this number. The Sun are a good team, but not historically good.

 

See Also

Lexie Brown keeps shooting like this

Fiction, but with some Fact: No, Lexie Brown won’t shoot 55 percent from three this season. But, I do think Brown’s improved shooting is sustainable, albeit at a less efficient rate than it has been.

Brown really struggled from deep in 2020 and 2021, shooting under 27 percent in both of those seasons. But that poor shooting obscures the fact that she was pretty good earlier in her career. In 2019, she shot 38.5 percent from three on 4.1 attempts per game (per WNBA Stats). Brown never shot under 34.5 percent from three in college. She’s got a nice role in L.A., and Synergy logs that 53.8 percent of her shots are catch-and-shoot, which is the right kind of shot to be taking if you want to make things efficiently.

 

A’ja Wilson leads the WNBA in blocked shots

Fact: I’m going out on a limb here, but with Vegas shifting A’ja Wilson to the five, her defensive numbers have exploded. Per WNBA Stats, she’s averaging 2.9 blocks per game, which leads the league. Ezi Magbegor is second at 2.8, but will see some of her minutes fade later in the year when Mercedes Russell is back.

Wilson has three games with four or more blocks already. She’s had at least one block in every game. Playing Wilson out of position might be the best thing for the Aces defense, because she’s got the athleticism and speed to defend in space, and also the strength to get in there and defend at the basket. She blocked three layups against Seattle, but also blocked two three-pointers.

The 2020 WNBA MVP is on her way to being the 2022 Defensive Player of the Year. This increase in blocks is for real.

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