Shooting is Queen in a Game of Four Factors


A WNBA game has an average of 160 total possessions, and nearly every single one ends in one of four ways. The shot is either made or missed, the offense turns it over, or there is a foul which results in a free throw.

That is it.

Statistically, the terms for these “possession enders” are effective field-goal percentage (eFG%), offensive rebounding percentage (OREB%), turnover percentage (TO%) and free-throw rate (FTr).

(Note: For the sake of simplicity, the rest of the article will refer to the four factors as shooting, offensive rebounding, turnovers and free throws)

One might think that these four factors would carry equal weight in a game.

And they would be wrong.


There is a much larger correlation between shooting and winning than any of the other factors. Limiting turnovers is second and getting to the free-throw line is third.

Offensive rebounding has little correlation to winning in the WNBA this season. This has been a consistent trend in the game in recent years because transition offense is drastically more efficient than halfcourt offense.

Because of this, coaches have their teams get back to set their halfcourt defense instead of crashing the glass on the offensive end and risking a run out off a defensive rebound.


In every game, the four factors for each team can be calculated and compared.

There have been 11 games this season where a team has been worse in three of the four factors but still won. The other 64 games have resulted in losses.

If a team is going to win a game despite losing in three of the four factors, it’s usually an extreme case. And the majority of the time, it’s because of a large difference in shooting.


On June 11, the New York Liberty hosted the Dallas Wings. As Dallas has done all season, they pounded New York inside. The Liberty had no answers for the Wings’ size. Dallas was 23-of-28 on free throws and collected 14 offensive rebounds. Dallas also had an incredible 20 assists to only four turnovers.

Defensively, Dallas allowed only five offensive rebounds from the Liberty. New York was 11-14 from the free-throw line and turned the ball over 11 times.

Dallas completely controlled every aspect of the game except for one.


The Liberty shot 55.7% from the field and 40.0% from three, both well above league averages. Their 65.0% eFG% is the third-best shooting performance in any game in the WNBA this season!

Dallas, meanwhile, shot 42.7% eFG%, well below the league average of 49.4%.

Final score: New York 102, Dallas 93.

In the nine games this season where the winning team had a better shooting percentage and worse in the other three factors, the average difference in eFG% was +16.3%!


Shooting is by far the most important factor in the game, and it is reflected in the standings.

The best teams in the league this season have been the best shooting teams. The worst teams in the league are the worst shooting teams.

Las Vegas, New York and Connecticut are head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the WNBA. Not surprisingly, they rank first, second and third in shooting, respectively.

Los Angeles and Seattle have struggled to win games and are at the bottom of the standings. They rank 11th and 12th in shooting.

There are two teams that stick out. Phoenix is ranked fourth in shooting but are sitting in 10th place in the WNBA. Indiana is ranked sixth in shooting but are tied with the Mercury in the standings. How are their shooting percentages so high, yet they struggle to win games?

Short answer: Extremes.

For Phoenix, it’s a combination of turnovers and defense. They have by far the worst turnover rate in the league. Because of this, they are attempting almost six less shots per game than the WNBA average.

They also rank 10th in defense.

For Indiana, they also struggle with turnovers and are the second-worst team in the league in getting to the free-throw line.

Defensively, Indiana is ranked dead last.

The extremes in their faults outweigh their above-average shooting performances.


The game is easier for teams that can score. If teams can do it with a balanced roster and maintain a credible defense, they will be able to contend in the playoffs.

But when you have super teams like the Aces and Liberty, playing the same game as them will prove to be fatal.

Being different is the best way to compete.

While the Aces and Liberty zig, teams like the Wings have decided to zag.

There is a lot of merit to this decision, and they’ve proven they can beat both teams.

But in a playoff series, the ability to shoot and the ability to force tough shots will be a tough formula to crack.

After all, shooting is queen in the WNBA.


About Kenyon Wingenbach

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

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