WNBA Facts and Figures: The Halfway Point

Another assortment of random numbers from the first half of the 2018 WNBA season.

It's hard to believe, but we're halfway home already. The 2018 WNBA regular season has hit its midway point, and it's as good of a time as any to sift through the statistics again and dig up some compelling storylines. Welcome to the second installment of Facts and Figures.

3.7: Breanna Stewart win shares

The Seattle Storm are 13-5 and sit among the top of the WNBA standings (our team of writers currently has them ranked second). A change in culture, led by new head coach Dan Hughes, has been exactly what the Storm needed to take that next step on their way back to the WNBA's elite.

Great basketball teams are typically defined by their star players, though, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone playing better than Breanna Stewart. The third-year forward has officially made the leap from "great" to "elite" and ranks at or near the top of many statistical measures.

One such measure is Basketball Reference's win shares metric. The online hoops encyclopedia has finally started tracking WNBA stats game-by-game - including advanced stats not available on the league website - and so far, they rank Stewart as the best player in the WNBA. 

Here are the top 15 players in the WNBA to this point, sorted by most win shares:

Advanced Table
Player Tm G MP PER TS% 3PAr FTr ORB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG%   OWS DWS

WS

WS/48
Breanna Stewart SEA 17 546 28.6 .638 .300 .348 3.4 13.9 15.3 2.3 3.7 11.8 27.5   2.5 1.2 3.7 .322
Diana Taurasi PHO 18 563 24.0 .639 .643 .398 0.2 5.8 29.4 1.5 0.9 12.1 26.8   2.9 0.6 3.4 .291
Sylvia Fowles MIN 16 517 26.5 .648 .000 .494 15.6 23.0 9.8 2.9 2.9 19.2 23.4   1.8 1.5 3.3 .302
Brittney Griner PHO 18 592 25.3 .607 .016 .357 6.2 14.0 11.0 0.9 7.8 11.1 26.2   2.0 1.2 3.1 .255
Chiney Ogwumike CON 15 419 24.3 .669 .014 .434 11.7 16.5 6.2 1.9 2.2 15.0 20.1   1.9 0.7 2.6 .293
Natasha Howard SEA 17 447 23.9 .651 .139 .278 11.5 15.2 5.4 2.2 5.4 13.2 20.8   1.7 0.9 2.6 .284
A'ja Wilson LVA 18 555 24.8 .536 .000 .529 8.3 15.8 16.7 1.2 3.5 7.9 28.6   1.8 0.7 2.5 .218
Elena Delle Donne WAS 12 363 30.0 .600 .263 .330 5.9 14.0 15.9 1.4 3.9 7.2 27.5   2.1 0.5 2.5 .334
Elizabeth Cambage DAL 15 450 26.1 .618 .057 .563 6.9 19.0 15.1 1.0 5.2 16.1 27.5   1.4 1.0 2.4 .257
Maya Moore MIN 16 533 21.5 .546 .333 .220 4.7 10.0 14.1 2.3 1.0 9.1 27.6   1.4 1.0 2.4 .216
Nneka Ogwumike LAS 14 422 24.7 .643 .102 .236 5.6 15.2 13.1 2.9 1.2 13.0 22.6   1.4 1.0 2.4 .275
Jewell Loyd SEA 17 507 21.2 .558 .423 .306 5.8 9.3 20.9 1.8 0.5 11.3 25.4   1.8 0.6 2.4 .227
DeWanna Bonner PHO 18 574 19.1 .579 .403 .282 3.4 11.6 18.2 2.0 1.0 13.5 22.9   1.3 0.9 2.2 .182
Chelsea Gray LAS 17 532 21.0 .569 .209 .337 2.8 6.4 29.8 2.7 0.8 16.0 24.1   1.3 0.8 2.2 .197
Skylar Diggins-Smith DAL 15 524 19.9 .531 .388 .432 2.7 6.2 33.9 1.7 1.6 14.3 26.1   1.4 0.6 2.0 .184
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/4/2018.

Of course, there's a lot that goes into the win shares formula, but in this case, it doesn't really matter how you slice it: Stewart is simply dominating the WNBA right now. She's always been a tough check, but under Hughes, the Storm have found more creative ways to get her the basketball, resulting in easier baskets and a true shooting percentage of 63.8%. She's also attempting more 3-pointers on a team that takes a ton of them (the Storm attempt a league-leading 23.6 threes per 40 minutes), making her a nightmare for slower defenders to match up against.

For Stewart, it was only a matter of time before she became an MVP candidate. If the Storm keep up their high level of play, it might be her year.

109.4: Chicago Sky DRtg

We've alluded to it several times in our weekly recaps and previews, but it's something that needs to be elaborated upon: the Chicago Sky's defense is what's holding them back.

A quick glance at the numbers will put into perspective just how porous the Sky's defense has been. 

WNBA stats

(stats courtesy of WNBA.com)

For the league's other 11 teams, that's a fairly normal distribution. The Sky are the outlier. 109.4 points allowed per 100 possessions is completely unacceptable for any team, especially one whose offense runs hot and cold.

To be fair, players like Diamond DeShields, Cheyenne Parker, and Jamierra Faulkner rate as plus defenders per Synergy Sports, so it's not for a lack of individual effort. They've also been pretty good at defending ball screens. It's off the ball where Chicago has trouble: they allow the second-most points per possession of any WNBA team in catch and shoot situations and are dead last at defending jump shots in general.

The Sky have the athletes on the perimeter to be better at this. DeShields, Gabby Williams, and Kahleah Copper are all quick and long and have the potential to be real pests: Williams is leading the WNBA in steals as a rookie. 

Defense isn't about individuals, though. It's about five players defending one basket, and it's the thing that's keeping the Sky from taking that next step. Their defense simply must improve if they want to make the playoffs.

5: Number of players averaging 20 PPG or better

This one probably doesn't mean as much, but it's something fun to track throughout the course of a season. The WNBA currently has five players averaging 20 points per game or better: Breanna Stewart, Liz Cambage, Elena Delle Donne, Diana Taurasi, and A'ja Wilson (and if you round up, Brittney Griner and Maya Moore make it seven).

What immediately stands out about this is that four of these five players are forwards and/or centers. The term "post" may be on its way out when describing such players, however, because they all get their points in different ways: Stewart and Delle Donne with their smooth inside/outside games, Wilson by relentlessly attacking the hoop from the high post area, and Cambage just by overpowering everyone else in the paint.

However these stars get their buckets, one thing is for sure: offensive talent is at an all-time in the WNBA, and it's not just from the forwards. Look for team offense to continue to improve as the season goes on as teams gel and find their rhythm.

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