One Telling Stat Per Team: Western Conference Edition

Boring season preview content is forbidden, per the Winsidr Handbook. What follows is fresh—a nap repellent. If you want to learn about all 12 WNBA teams in a fun and engaging manner, keep reading. If you’d rather snooze, please close this webpage immediately so the rest of us can enjoy ourselves. 

 

Yesterday, we previewed the Eastern Conference through a statistical lens. Today, we do the same for the Western Conference. Let’s jump right in. 

All stats in this piece are courtesy of WNBA.com/stats unless otherwise noted.

 

Dallas Wings – 1.26 (points per possession off turnovers, second in the WNBA, per Inpredictable)

The Wings are in a fascinating spot. They’ve returned to the playoffs, established a promising young core, and avoided doing anything overwhelmingly stupid in *takes gander at watch* a minute. 

It won’t get easier from here. Arike Ogunbowale is signed through 2025 on a supermax contract, meaning Dallas has hitched its wagon to a player who has yet to prove if she’s a viable No. 1 option on a contender. This doesn’t mean she won’t get there; I’m more optimistic than most on the 25-year-old’s trajectory. But the rookie-deal clock is already ticking on Satou Sabally, Awak Kuier, and others. Getting stuck in WNBA purgatory—the eighth-to-tenth-seed range—will get old fast. Dallas has a poor organizational reputation. Any turbulence or stagnation and players will flee, forcing the team to begin another rebuild before the first one finishes. 

One way to minimize Ogunbowale’s current weaknesses and exacerbate her strengths is by surrounding her with disruptive defenders who generate transition opportunities. Dallas finished third in fast-break points last season, trailing two elite ball clubs, Seattle and Chicago. 

The Wings then drafted Veronica Burton seventh overall, a three-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year at Northwestern. Burton was the steal of the draft. She’s a nuisance on defense and a volume scorer who can both shoot and pass. Slot Burton alongside Allisha Gray, and suddenly you’ve surrounded Ogunbowale with the perfect 3-and-D supporting cast. When Ogunbowale is feasting in transition, the whole team hums. When she isn’t, the Wings become a rather static bunch, standing around and passively watching Ogunbowale isolations. 

There are myriad questions here regarding playing time, lineup fits, and which of Dallas’ young players are true building blocks. To answer those questions, head coach Vickie Johnson must establish roles early in the season. No more yanking Gray in and out of the starting lineup; reward the folks who do more than one thing well. 

If you tune into a Wings game this season and see opponents huffing and puffing, hands on their knees, you’ll know things are developing nicely in Dallas. 

 

Las Vegas Aces – 13.5 (three-point attempts per game, 12th in the WNBA)

Duh! You knew where this was heading. Every other team forced me to delve into “advanced stats” tabs and peruse websites that provide more than just box score figures. For Las Vegas, I paused my Walkman, dipped my quill in ink, took a breath, and selected the “traditional” tab. Moral of the story? Shading Bill Laimbeer never goes out of style. 

The Fever finished 11th in three-point attempts last season, hoisting 17.3 per game. The Aces launched nearly four fewer long balls each time they laced up their kicks. It’s not as if there’s a dearth of capable three-point shooters on the roster—Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray, and Riquna Williams are major threats from behind the arc. Dearica Hamby has proved she can be a stretch-4 in the right setting. 

Guess what? New head coach Becky Hammon will provide the right setting, and that’s a nightmarish prospect for the rest of the league. “Wasn’t it more fun when Las Vegas was stuck playing an archaic, stunted brand of basketball?” opposing coaches will likely grouse this season. 

At times under Laimbeer, it felt as if the three-time WNBA champion (2003, 2006, and 2008) was stubbornly trying to revive (flex) offensive sets from his glory days, sets in which you might see all five players bunched inside the arc. No such atrocities will occur under Hammon, a coach who has embraced on-court evolution and met the game where it stands today. 

In Gray and Plum, the Aces have two exceptional shooters and passers (Plum may not be exceptional in the passing department yet, but it’s coming), a perfect guard pairing behind which to unleash spread pick-and-roll terror upon opponents. Give A’ja Wilson—the 2020 MVP—space to operate, and she’ll take her dominance to new and perhaps unprecedented heights. 

Hamby may benefit most from the coaching change. Previously pushed to the back burner, Hamby is precisely the switchable defender Las Vegas will need in matchups against the league’s elite. A Gray-Plum-Hamby-Wilson framework allows Hammon to slot whomever of Williams, Jackie Young, and 11th overall pick, Kierstan Bell, at the 3—dependent upon need and matchup. 

The Aces roster is thin due to a void in Vegas’s front office this offseason. But if the team can avoid any catastrophic injuries, the switch to a modern, three-point-centric offense may be enough to mitigate any depth-related concerns. 

 

Los Angeles Sparks – 43.8 (rebound percentage, 12th in the WNBA) 

Enter the best DJ in the WNBA, a bundle of smiles and side-eyes who also happens to be one of the most fearsome rebounders in the league. Liz Cambage finished fourth in rebounding percentage last season (among players with at least 150 minutes played), trailing only Jonquel Jones, Teaira McCowan, and Sylvia Fowles, per Her Hoop Stats. The Sparks acquired Cambage for more than just her rebounding prowess, but attacking the glass is a mighty important part of the Australian center’s game, and one that will help Los Angeles immensely. 

Consider Brittney Sykes. A defensive superstar, Sykes offers quite a bit on the other end if given an opportunity to rev her engine and launch into space. When rebounds fall by the wayside, so too do transition opportunities, the most captivating and lethal part of Sykes’ offensive game. Los Angeles traded for Chennedy Carter this offseason—another player who toasts fools in the open floor. Playing Cambage and Nneka Ogwumike alongside one another will bump LA’s rebound percentage considerably, maximizing the talent of others on the roster. Sound familiar? What happens in Dallas following turnovers should happen in Los Angeles following defensive rebounds. 

The main concern staring head coach Derek Fisher directly in the eyes is a lack of shooting. Fisher, also the general manager, added Katie Lou Samuelson and drafted Rae Burrell, a nice start to addressing this concern but a far cry from approaching competency behind the arc (or narrowly inside it). One way to hide such deficiencies is to give yourself more opportunities on the offensive end. Rebounding is the best patchwork fix LA can muster in the short term.

In my view, there are seven locks for the playoffs: Chicago, Connecticut, Seattle, Las Vegas, Washington, Phoenix, and Minnesota. That leaves Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York to compete for the final postseason berth (barring an unexpectedly brilliant campaign out in Atlanta or Indiana). The distance between those three teams is mightily thin. If Los Angeles can approach the middle of the pack in rebounding percentage and grind teams down defensively, it may just vault past the Wings and Liberty into the playoffs. 

 

Minnesota Lynx – 45.8 (field goal percentage, second in the WNBA)

The top six teams in field goal percentage were undeniably the six best teams in the league last season. Statistics aren’t usually this tidy, but in 2021, there was a fairly direct correlation between overall efficiency from the field and success in the standings. Las Vegas hit the highest portion of its shots, followed by Minnesota, Seattle, Phoenix, Connecticut, and Chicago. There was a clear chasm between the top and bottom halves of the league. 

Sylvia Fowles deserves the lion’s share of credit. She is, after all, the WNBA’s all-time career leader in field goal percentage, having posted a staggeringly impressive 59.7 percent mark over 14 illustrious seasons in the league. Somehow, her 2021 season (at age 35) was one of her best. Fowles shot 64 percent from the field, averaging 16 points, 10 boards, 1.8 blocks, and 1.8 steals. Per Basketball Reference, the LSU graduate finished fourth in overall win shares (second in defensive win shares and sixth in offensive win shares), second in win shares per 40 minutes, and third in Player Efficiency Rating. In other words, the all-encompassing advanced stats serenade us with consensus—Fowles (who turns 37 in October) is still an MVP-caliber player. 

Can Fowles put together another gem in her final campaign? I wouldn’t bet against her. The rest of the roster begets more questions. 

Napheesa Collier will miss the beginning of the season due to pregnancy. Layshia Clarendon and Crystal Dangerfield were recently waived, while Odyssey Sims was signed. The team is leaner than it’s been in recent years, with much riding upon the health and effectiveness of 35-year-old Angel McCoughtry (already out with a right knee injury). 

To once again crack the W’s 75th percentile in field goal percentage, Fowles must author another mammoth season. Kayla McBride (who will arrive late from overseas action) was quietly excellent last year, and Aerial Powers appears healthy after battling injuries in 2021. Those two keep defenses honest, clearing space in the lane for Fowles to dominate. 

The Lynx are often better than you expect them to be. If they can stay afloat until Collier returns, they may make some noise come playoff time. 

See Also

 

Phoenix Mercury – 50.1 (two-point field goal percentage, second in the WNBA)

Brittney Griner should be getting ready for opening night. Instead she’s been wrongfully detained in Russia for going on three months. Bringing Griner home is all that matters, and let’s pray it happens soon. 

Griner was the main reason Phoenix was so spectacular inside the arc in 2021. She finished second in MVP voting and led the Mercury to a WNBA Finals berth, shooting 58 percent from the floor. Doubling her gave Phoenix a 4-on-3 advantage; playing her straight up served as an invitation to the bucket boutique. 

With Griner unavailable, Tina Charles will start at center. Diamond DeShields, acquired in a three-team deal this offseason, will start on one of the wings. 

Charles is a highly accomplished player who excelled on a decimated Washington squad last season. DeShields is a WNBA champion who has seen her stock plummet since suffering injuries following a brilliant 2019 campaign. Neither player is known for their efficiency, signaling a drop in the statistic listed above. DeShields shot an especially paltry 42.5 percent on two-point field goals last season, helping Chicago in other ways but failing to find her shooting stroke or touch around the rim. Charles is a chucker. 

Phoenix doesn’t have much hope of replicating its surprising 2021 playoff run without Griner. To stay competitive in the regular season, the Mercury must carefully monitor the health of Diana Taurasi. The 39-year-old future Hall of Famer still bends defenses to her will when at 100 percent, but is a complete liability on defense. With Griner in the lineup, that was less of a concern. Charles isn’t on the same level defensively as the superstar she’s temporarily replacing, meaning Taurasi’s defensive flaws will be exposed to a greater degree. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Skylar Diggins-Smith, another key component in Phoenix’s stellar two-point percentage. Diggins-Smith shot 53 percent from two in 2020, and 49 percent in 2021—stupendous marks for a guard. Her ability to contort around defenders and finish at the rim makes life easier for every single one of her teammates. It’s fair to say that Diggins-Smith is Phoenix’s most important player entering 2022, and that the Mercury will only go as far as she takes them. 

 

Seattle Storm – 37.9 (three-point field goal percentage, first in the WNBA)

We close with the most dominant team of the last five years, but one whose future may soon be in flux. It’s too early to start talking about Breanna Stewart’s impending free agency, but it isn’t too early to predict the Storm going all-in on winning a title in Sue Bird’s final season. 

Surprisingly, given Seattle’s placement atop the three-point efficiency leaderboard, Stewart shot a career-worst 33.3 percent from behind the arc last season on a career-high 5.1 attempts per game. Bird was a sniper, nailing 41.9 percent of her 5.3 attempts. Jewell Loyd, the team’s most reliable perimeter threat, hit 37.6 percent on a team-high 5.6 attempts. Others chipped in, but it was Seattle’s three-headed monster that led the onslaught from deep. 

There’s no reason the Storm shouldn’t be able to replicate last year’s three-point production. Seattle added Briann January, perhaps the best under-the-radar (if one can classify it as such) signing of the offseason. January is a career 38 percent three-point shooter who shot—you guessed it—38 percent in 2021. She doubles as a menace on the defensive perimeter, figuring to form a fearsome trio with Gabby Williams and Loyd. If teams struggle to generate good looks against Seattle and begin hoisting bad shots out of frustration, that will improve the quality of Seattle’s own offensive palette. 

Like many teams in the league right now, Seattle’s depth is a major question mark. The Storm strayed older in filling out their bench, waiving Evina Westbrook, Kennedy Burke, and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan while keeping Reshanda Gray and Jantel Lavender. This is in keeping with Seattle’s “win-now” timetable, though I’m skeptical whether the vets will provide as much as the youths would be able to this season. 

Recently re-signed Mercedes Russell suffered a non-basketball injury in April and appears to be a ways from returning, meaning Gray, Lavender, and Ezi Magbegor will be thrust into the thick of things early on. Magbegor is due for a breakout—a dazzling player with All-Star potential. These players won’t play a large part in Seattle’s three-point percentage, but they will in the trajectory of the season. And if Magbegor starts scaring teams with her offense, Bird, Loyd, and Stewart will benefit behind the arc.

 

Hey… do you hear that? It’s the sound of tip-off! It’s imminent; it’s finally here!! Enjoy the season folks. I know I will.

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

© 2021 Winsidr. All Rights Reserved.

Scroll To Top