Facts And Figures: Miscellaneous Numbers From the First Month of the 2018 WNBA Season

Oddities, outliers, and other stats of significance from the first month of the 2018 season.

We're a little over a month into the 2018 WNBA season, and it's already been an eventful one. From the debut of the Las Vegas Aces and an impressive rookie class to the long-awaited return of some familiar faces, there has been no shortage of storylines. Let's take a look at some of the numbers that have stuck out so far and what they mean.

1: How many starting lineups the Phoenix Mercury have used this season

The Mercury were 2018's first team to reach 10 wins, and if you've watched them play lately, it's easy to see why. Sure, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi remain among the most dominant players at their respective positions (even as Taurasi turns a ripe 36 years old), but Phoenix's 8-game win streak is the product of much more than just two superstars.

For one, having DeWanna Bonner back has been quite important. After sitting out the 2017 season while pregnant with twins, the 3-time Sixth Woman of the Year has injected new life and versatility into the Mercury starting lineup. She's technically listed as the team's small forward, but Bonner's length and mobility allow the Mercury to assign her to just about any opposing perimeter player; couple this with the addition of longtime Dream defensive stalwart Sancho Lyttle, and head coach Sandy Brondello has suddenly had a wealth of options beyond relying on Griner to anchor the team's interior defense.

Despite changing three of their five starters from last season (Bonner, Lyttle, and veteran point guard Briann January), the Mercury have boasted a remarkable continuity thus far. There's something to be said for what a stable starting lineup does for a team's chemistry, and it's a major reason why the Mercury are back atop the WNBA.

(thanks to ESPN's LaChina Robinson for the assist on this one!)

0.141: The Las Vegas Aces' 3-point rate

When Bill Laimbeer was tasked with bringing the franchise formerly known as the San Antonio Stars back to WNBA relevancy, most people weren't sure what to expect. Sure, A'ja Wilson was the obvious #1 pick of the 2018 WNBA Draft, but the rest of the roster was surrounded by question marks. Laimbeer has carved out a reputation as a coach who likes big, strong guards, not many of which were to be found on the Aces offseason roster.

One question regarding Las Vegas that has since been answered: this is not a 3-point shooting team. Their 3-point rate (how many threes they attempt per total field goals attempted) is just 0.141, by far the lowest of any WNBA team. What's more: there have already been several instances this season in which Las Vegas made just one 3-pointer. They have made 40 total threes on the season.

For further perspective, well...

42: How many 3-pointers Diana Taurasi has made so far

Yes, you read that correctly. Taurasi has made more threes on her own than the Aces have as a team. This one is self-explanatory.

5: The number of rookies whose USG exceeds 20%

The 2018 draft class has been heralded as one of the deepest in WNBA history, and the rooks haven't let us down. Not only was there lots of talent in this class, that talent has mostly proven itself to be pro-ready.

Among rookies who have played at least 300 possessions, five players have usage rates higher than 20%: A'ja Wilson, Kelsey Mitchell, Ariel Atkins, Diamond DeShields, and Kia Nurse (with Jordin Canada just missing the mark). In fact, Wilson, Mitchell, and DeShields lead their respective squads in this statistic.

While it's not exactly a shocker that players like Wilson and Mitchell have already been handed the keys to the car, the early confidence WNBA coaches are showing in their rookies is encouraging not only for the players themselves, but for the growth of the league. The class of 2018 is certainly living up to the hype so far, and its arrow remains pointed directly up.

19.7 and 10.4: Elizabeth Cambage's point and rebound averages

Ever since she was drafted in 2011, Elizabeth Cambage has been somewhat of an enigma. She played well enough her rookie season in Tulsa and even better in 2013, but constant commitments to her native country of Australia (along with an Achilles injury, ironically suffered against Team USA in the 2014 FIBA Championship friendlies) left WNBA fans wondering when - or if - they'd see the 6'8" center play in America again.

Much has changed since then. The Tulsa Shock are now the Dallas Wings, Cambage is finally back in the WNBA, and she's providing them with the physically imposing interior presence they've been lacking in her absence.

What Cambage has done in Dallas is transform the Wings from a run-and-gun team that lives and dies by the jumpshot to one that's more balanced and can lean on its defense if necessary. They've been able to do this without abandoning their fast-paced, aggressive mentality; even with Cambage playing over 30 minutes per game, the Wings currently lead the WNBA in both pace (83.2) and free throw rate (.394). They've just been able to add Cambage post-ups and offensive rebounds to the seemingly endless ways in which they draw fouls.

But it's the defensive end on which Cambage has had the biggest impact. In each and every season since the franchise's original relocation from Detroit, the Wings/Shock have been either last or second-to-last in points allowed per 100 possessions; certainly not area of consistency to be proud of. With a mature and vigilant Cambage manning the paint, though, the 2018 Wings have been able to discourage and disrupt opponents' shots at the rim, yielding a defensive rating of just 97.7 - third-best in the league. A remarkable turnaround for sure.

18.3: Minutes per game Lindsay Whalen is playing

One of the bigger stories of the season so far is the surprisingly mediocre play of the Minnesota Lynx. They've been the class of the WNBA since drafting Maya Moore in 2011, and though they've gotten it together somewhat after an uncharacteristically slow start, it would be tough to argue that isn't the most vulnerable the Lynx have looked since Moore's debut.

There are several things one could point to as to why this is, but let's address the obvious one: the Lynx are old. For the most part, head coach Cheryl Reeve has found ways to fight through this; last season, Minnesota ran considerably more offense through center Sylvia Fowles (thus easing the load on her aging perimeter players) and forward Rebekkah Brunson made the necessary adjustment of turning some of her midrange jumpers into 3-point shots. Such adjustments earned the Lynx their fourth title in the past seven years.

The weaknesses of those aging perimeter players, though, are becoming more and more difficult to mask. Most notably, point guard Lindsay Whalen's playing time has fallen off a cliff; her 18.3 minutes played per game is by far a career-low, and she's been benched in favor of backup Danielle Robinson several times.

This was bound to happen eventually, of course, and the recent hiring of Whalen as the University of Minnesota's head women's basketball coach is further indication that her legendary WNBA playing career is probably nearing its end. With Whalen's backcourt partner Seimone Augustus likely not far behind, it's a critical period for the Lynx; can Reeve squeeze one more championship run out of her veteran group before they're forced to reload?

Keep a close eye on the Lynx minutes distribution as the season wears on. Given the point the franchise is at, keeping their players rested and healthy is more important than ever. 

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