The Weekly Roundup: Rhyne Howard Has Arrived, the WNBA’s Golden Age of Offensive Efficiency, and Minnesota’s Woes from the Charity Stripe
Inside the Dream rookie’s mind-boggling performances last week and other interesting tidbits from the first full week of WNBA action
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It’s that special time of year in the WNBA where there are more questions than answers and hot takes abound. Can the Minnesota Lynx repeat their 2021 success and finish the season 22-6, or the 36-game equivalent, like it did last year after an 0-4 start? Are the 3-1 Atlanta Dream for real? Is Rhyne Howard for real? The answers to those questions are: no (unlike last year, it’s not mostly a case of players finishing up their overseas commitments), leaning no (20 turnovers per game is concerning), and a resounding yes.
Let’s agree to come back to this newsletter in a couple of months, and we can all appreciate just how wrong I was. Though, I am feeling pretty good about the Rhyne Howard question. Speaking of which, let’s review and appreciate her exploits so far this season.
Player of the Week: Rhyne Howard
Remember when WNBA observers were concerned about Rhyne Howard’s motor? There were concerns that she seemed disinterested at times during her senior year at Kentucky and how that might carry over into the W. The No. 1 draft pick put those fears to rest (at least temporarily) with a week for the record books. Howard averaged 22.3 points and 5.0 rebounds across her team’s three games last week, during which the Dream went 2-1. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Howard’s 83 points through her first four games are tied with Diana Taurasi for the fifth-most in league history. According to Across the Timeline, her 33-point effort in Atlanta’s 85-79 win over Indiana on Sunday, which included a whopping 17 first-quarter points, made her the seventh player in WNBA history to record a 30-point performance in one of her first four games. Let’s just say the Atlanta front office looks like Nostradamus right now after trading up to get the No. 1 pick in April’s draft.
Stat of the Week: Minnesota’s woes from the charity stripe
In last week’s WNBA Dissected, Richard Cohen documented how and why the Minnesota Lynx has stumbled out of the gates this season. Whether it be injuries, overseas commitments, pregnancy, or head-scratching roster moves, Minnesota has been the epitome of Murphy’s Law. Not to add fuel to the proverbial fire, but this week’s stat of the week focuses on another aspect of the Lynx’s season that has contributed to their 0-4 start: free-throw shooting.
The Minnesota Lynx are currently hitting just 64.3% of their attempts from the charity stripe, which, if the season ended today, would be the worst in league history. In fact, no team has finished a season shooting below 70% from the free-throw line in over a decade (the 2011 Atlanta Dream shot 69.4%).
There are two things that should be noted. First, it’s a testament to the WNBA’s improved free-throw shooting that no team has failed to hit the 70% free-throw percentage threshold since 2011. That’s something that happened 26 times in 2011 and prior. Second, this could be an anomaly and a function of a small sample size. After all, the Lynx have played just four games and attempted 70 free throws (compared to 558 during the regular season last year).
Based on each player’s career free-throw percentage, the good news for Minnesota fans is that things should turn around. Aerial Powers, Odyssey Sims, and Sylvia Fowles have career free-throw percentages of 84.5%, 82.6%, and 73.1%, respectively, a far cry from their 53.3% (8-for-15), 44.4% (4-for-9), and 58.3% (7-for-12) starts to the 2022 campaign. Again, these are small sample sizes, but the cold truth is it has already cost the Lynx games. In six and four-point losses to Indiana and Chicago, respectively, the Lynx shot a combined 22-for-37 (59.5%). It’s a reality that Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve described after Saturday’s loss to the Sky.
“Make some free throws; maybe we win the game,” Reeve acknowledged.
Why the WNBA is more fun to watch now than ever
Ok, let’s pivot to something a bit more positive, shall we? Her Hoop Stats’ league trends page, which displays how various statistics have changed over time, led me to the following truth: WNBA fans are witnessing a golden age of offensive efficiency.
The improvement in offensive efficiency, as measured by offensive rating (points per 100 possessions), is clear. In fact, the last six full seasons have produced five of the highest league-wide offensive ratings in WNBA history. What’s the reason for such outstanding offensive production? Factors that jump out are the proliferation of the three-point shot and decreased turnover rates.
Despite the three-point line distance being increased twice (2004 and 2013), players have hit shots from behind the arc at roughly the same clip, in the neighborhood of 33%-35%. Combine that with teams taking a significantly higher percentage of their shots from long distance - the four highest league-wide three-point rates occurred in each of the past four seasons - and you have a recipe for record offensive ratings.
Also, teams are finishing a higher percentage of their possessions with a scoring attempt (either from the field or at the free-throw line). Simply put, turnover rates are down. The last six full seasons have seen four of the lowest league-wide turnover rates.
Improved offensive efficiency combined with faster-paced games - the five fastest-paced seasons happened in each of the last five years - have resulted in increased scoring. With all due respect to the league’s past greats, it’s an aesthetic that has made the WNBA more fun to watch now than ever.
WNBA schedule this week (All times Eastern)
Here is a full listing of this week’s games, start times, and where you can catch the action.
Her Hoop Stats content in case you missed it
The Her Hoop Stats team released the following podcast content:
On Dice it Up, Dano Mataya and Isis “Ice” Young recapped the past week of WNBA action and spoke with sports journalist Pepper Persley.
Christy Winters Scott and Gabe Ibrahim discussed Washington’s fast start, Minnesota’s struggles, and much more in the latest episode of Courtside.
Which players currently on the outside looking in would benefit from WNBA expansion (rosters or number of teams)? Robert Mummery offered his thoughts on this hypothetical.
Richard Cohen touched on Minnesota’s early-season woes, issues with the League Pass, and more from week 1 in the return of WNBA Dissected.
Alford Corriette broke down the three-year contract extension Napheesa Collier signed with Minnesota earlier this month.
Basketball Chess and Carolyn Smalls analyzed how discussion in the Seattle huddle about running the Horns set out of a late-game timeout translated into an Ezi Magbegor layup.
It’s been a solid start for Spread the Floor, the home for all the work the people on our team do to make picks above and beyond automated predictions on Her Hoop Stats. In addition to providing the latest injury information, bets made by our Spread the Floor team have thus far collectively produced a return on investment of 10.6%! Be sure to follow Spread the Floor on Twitter and YouTube.
Other recommended content
Can Climate Pledge Arena, home of the Seattle Storm (and the NHL’s Seattle Kraken), become the most progressive, responsible, and sustainable venue in the world? That’s the stated goal of Tim Leiweke, the CEO of developer Oak View Group. For Global Sports Matters, Neil deMause explored how Oak View Group, Amazon (owner of the arena’s naming rights), and other stakeholders plan to achieve this ambitious goal.
Over 1,200 Division I players have entered their names into the transfer portal. The Athletic’s Chantel Jennings analyzed which teams benefitted the most and which teams suffered as a result of all this movement.
Trivia question of the week
Who is the last winner of the WNBA Most Valuable Player award to finish outside of the top five in points per game?