Aces

How Do the WNBA’s Top Offenses Do It?

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Four teams in the WNBA have distanced themselves offensively from the rest of the pack.

Collectively, their average offensive rating is 107.5. The rest of the league has an average of 99.4.

These four teams have also found themselves at the top of the standings. New York has the top offense and the second-best record. Las Vegas is second in offense and fifth in the standings. Minnesota has the third-best offense and is third in the standings. And Connecticut owns the best record in the league and the fourth-best offense.

With different personnel and coaching philosophies, it’s not surprising that their offensive production comes in different ways. Despite different make-ups, they have three things in common. But first, the differences in the four factors.

Four Factor Differences

Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%)

Shooting is queen in the WNBA.

The top shooting teams generally have the top offenses. This year is no exception. Minnesota, New York and Las Vegas are the top three in eFG%.

However, Connecticut is an outlier.

The Sun achieve massive production despite having an eFG% of only 47.7%, below the league average of 48.5%. They have five players averaging double-figures, and four of them have an eFG% above league average.

DiJonai Carrington, though, has struggled from the field and has the second-most field-goal attempts on the team. She is shooting 47.6% on two-pointers and 4-for-24 (16.7%) from three. On the bright side, her shooting woes may be temporary. She shot 33.9% on 124 three-point attempts the previous two seasons combined for the Sun. Until she comes out of her shooting slump, her volume will continue to negatively affect the Sun’s shooting numbers.

Turnover Percentage (TO%)

Las Vegas and Connecticut are in the top three in the league in limiting turnovers.

Six of the Aces’ top eight regular rotation players have an individual TO% under the league average of 15.6%. The same is true for the Sun.

What separates the two is who each team runs their offense through. The fulcrum of the Sun’s offensive attack, Alyssa Thomas, has one of the highest individual turnover percentages in the league at 27.3%. A’ja Wilson, the hub of the Aces’ deadly offense, has one of the lowest (6.4%).

Implementing motion offenses with a high number of passes have Minnesota and New York at the top of the league in assists per game. All of the passing and movement does come with consequences, though. New York and Minnesota both have above-average turnover rates.

New York’s TO% of 15.8% ranks seventh in the WNBA, while Minnesota’s 16.3% ranks ninth. Both teams utilize slashing diminutive point guards Courtney Vandersloot (NY), Courtney Williams (MIN) and Natisha Hiedeman (MIN) to create opportunities for teammates. They all have high assist percentages, but they also have high turnover percentages.

Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OREB%)

Offensive rebounding is more about philosophy than it is about ability.

With highly efficient scorers, the top offenses in the league tend to forego crashing the offensive glass. Instead, they are instructed to sprint back to get their halfcourt defense set. There is a very big difference in offensive efficiency in transition than there is in the halfcourt.

Minnesota and Las Vegas fall back to prevent opponents’ transition opportunities.  The Lynx rank 11th in OREB% (21.2%), and the Aces are last (19.6%) – well below the league average of 25.0%. This strategy has worked for the Aces in the past. The Aces were 11th in OREB% in the 2023 regular season but finished first in offensive rating (114.8) and defensive rating (99.2).

This year, however, the Aces have struggled on the defensive end with a defensive rating of 105.0 (eighth). The Aces’ blueprint has worked for the Lynx so far this season, as they own the league’s top ranked defense – just ahead of the Sun.

Connecticut and New York, conversely, do crash the glass at an above-average rate. The Sun are led by Thomas, Brionna Jones and Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Together, they have propelled the Sun to the third-highest OREB% in the league. Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart lead the assault on the boards for the Liberty, who rank fifth in OREB%.

Free Throw Factor (FTF)

According to Basketball-Reference, free throw factor is “a measure of both how often a team gets to the line and how often they make them.” It is a simple ratio of free throws made to field-goal attempts.

Connecticut leads the league in FTF at 0.263 (league average is 0.216). Las Vegas is second (0.250) and New York is fifth (0.222). All three have physical players on the perimeter and in the post who draw numerous fouls.

Minnesota’s outside shooting has been immaculate so far. Kayla McBride (51.7%) and Alanna Smith (48.6%) lead the league in three-point percentage (minimum of 20 3PA). Cecilia Zandalasini (44.0%) and Bridget Carleton (43.8%) are also in the top 10. Over two-thirds of the combined field goal attempts of McBride, Zandalasini and Carleton have been threes.

Because of their propensity towards shooting jump shots, the Lynx are currently 11th in FTF (0.177). This won’t be a major concern unless their shooting comes back down to Earth and they need more scoring from the free-throw line.

Offensive Similarities

Star Forwards

So, what does it take to dominate offensively in the WNBA? For starters, it helps to have an All-World forward spearheading the offensive charge.

Each of these teams has the luxury that most other teams in the league don’t have. Having a power forward who can handle the ball, rebound and score opens up a plethora of opportunities offensively.

In the tightest MVP race in WNBA history, Stewart edged out Thomas and Wilson to win in 2023, with the Lynx’s Napheesa Collier finishing fourth. Wilson won MVP in 2020 and 2022; Stewart was runner-up each time.

All four will be representing Team USA in the 2024 Olympics.

True Shooting Percentage (TS%)

True shooting percentage combines two-point field goals, three-point field goals, and free throws into one metric. It gives a better comparison between teams like Connecticut, who do not shoot well from three but make a lot of twos and free throws, and Minnesota, who is lighting the league up from three but does not get to the free-throw line often.

Minnesota (57.4%), New York (56.6%), Las Vegas (55.1%) and Connecticut (52.9%) are the top four in the league in TS%, respectively.

Las Vegas is leading the league in free-throw shooting by hitting a sizzling 85.4%. New York is second at 84.8%.

Minnesota has a high TS% by leading the league in three-point percentage. The gap between their scorching 41.8% 3P% and second place is larger than the gap between second place and last place.

Connecticut does it with brute force, dominating defensively and getting Thomas the ball in transition to create easy baskets. In the halfcourt, they sacrifice three-point attempts for pounding the ball inside with Thomas and Jones, while Carrington and Bonner aggressively drive to create contact.

Assist-to-Turnover Ratio (A:TO)

Lastly, the four best offensive teams in the league have the four best assist-to-turnover ratios in the league.

Despite Chelsea Gray, arguably the best point guard in the WNBA, missing the entire season so far, Las Vegas has the best A:TO at 1.75 (league average is 1.42). Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum have stepped up offensively to provide the Aces with consistency on the offensive end. Young has been especially valuable, having to take over point-guard duties and responded with 64 assists to only 21 turnovers (3.05 A:TO).

New York found itself in a similar situation, and they also found a similar solution. Legendary point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who has an impressive A:TO of 1.92, has not played since June 4th due to personal reasons.

In her place, Sabrina Ionescu has stepped up admirably. Like Young, Ionescu is more dynamic off the ball. Also like Young, she is more than capable of handling the point. So far this season, Ionescu has 71 assists and 40 turnovers (1.78 A:TO). The Liberty’s overall A:TO of 1.56 is fourth in the league, and their 22.2 assists per game are second to Minnesota’s 25.0.

The Lynx’s 1.70 A:TO ranks them second in the league behind the Aces. The quick triggers of the Lynx’s three-point arsenal naturally reduce turnovers, and their incredible percentages lead to a lot of assists.

Connecticut (1.57) ranks third in A:TO. The entirety of the Sun’s dynamic offense revolves around Thomas’s unique skill set. Despite her large turnover percentage, Thomas has a solid 1.83 A:TO due to her league-leading 8.1 assists per game.

It is no surprise that the best offenses have a matchup nightmare who is versatile in many facets of an offense. It also makes sense that the teams who are able to swing the ball around without turning it over and who ultimately put the ball in the basket are at the top.

How they do it is the key. All four teams have seasoned head coaches with years of valuable experience. Finding the right system and role players to compliment the stars, and having those ancillary players understand and accept their roles isn’t always as easy as it seems.

About Kenyon Wingenbach

High school girls' basketball head coach and educator at West Fargo Public Schools (North Dakota).

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