The Most Extreme Teams in WNBA History

Using era-adjusted stats to look at some of the most unique teams in WNBA history.

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Last week we wrote about the most extreme offenses and defenses in WNBA history. To adjust for changes in scoring efficiency over time, we calculated the difference between each team’s offensive and defensive rating and the league average, which we will refer to as ORTG% and DRTG%. An ORTG% of +10% means a team’s offensive rating was 10% better (higher) than the league average, and a DRTG% of +10% means their defensive rating was 10% better (lower) than the league average.

Today we are going to look at both ORTG% and DRTG% in order to assess how extreme a team was on both sides of the ball compared to their era. We’ll dig deep into teams who combined excellence on both ends, how the league’s 24 championship teams performed, teams that struggled on offense and defense, as well as teams who were elite on one end but struggled on the other. The plot below shows how every WNBA team’s ORTG% and DRTG% stack up, highlighting championship and runner up teams as well as 2020 teams.

Graphic Courtesy of Morgan Reeder, Data From HerHoopStats.com

The Best of the Best

By totaling ORTG% and DRTG% to get Total%, these five were the most dominant teams in WNBA history, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that all five teams won championships. The Comets’ second and fourth championship seasons both place in the top five all-time, with some of the greatest offensive seasons complemented by above-average defenses. The 2019 Mystics’ record-breaking offense vaults them into third all-time despite having an average defense.

The 2017 Lynx were carried by one of the most dominant defenses in league history (fifth-highest DRTG% ever) en route to their fourth title in seven seasons. The 2014 Mercury round out the top five, a season where Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner led Phoenix to a WNBA-record 29 wins. Just barely on the outside looking in are the 2020 Storm (+8.6 ORTG%, +5.5 DRTG%), who secured a spot in the WNBA Finals by sweeping the Lynx, 3-0.

Postseason Success

Including the five teams above, 21 of the league’s 24 champions have finished above-average in ORTG% and DRTG%, which should not be a surprise to anyone. This year’s Storm would make it 22-of-25 if they can win the 2020 title, as would the Aces, but the Connecticut Sun have an opportunity to be the lowest-rated championship team in WNBA history. The Sun already have the sixth-lowest Total% of any team to make the semis, and a win in Game 5 over the Aces would make them the second-lowest team to make the Finals by Total%. At +3.6%, the 2009 Mercury were the worst championship team ever; the Sun would check in at exactly 0%.

Among the three title-winning teams who were below average either offensively or defensively, two struggled on defense and one on offense. The 2009 Mercury hold the record for the worst defense by a championship team (-4.8% DRTG%) and their 2007 championship team posted the only other below-average defense (-2.5% DRTG%). The 2006 Detroit Shock were the only champions with a below-average offense (-1.3% ORTG%).

The best team by Total% not to win the title is the 2012 Lynx squad (+12.6%) who got knocked off in the finals by Indiana. The 2000 Sparks had the second-highest rating (+11.6%) for teams who failed to win the title. In perhaps the best evidence that conferences are a bad idea, the Sparks fell 2-0 to the Comets in the conference finals. The 2016 Lynx also failed to win the title with a Total% of +11.4% after losing to the Sparks in the Finals. The worst team to make the finals was the 2014 Sky, who had a below-average offense and defense in the regular season, making them the only finals team to be below average in both.

The Worst of the Worst

If you saw our first piece on era-adjusted efficiencies, it should be no surprise that the 1998 Mystics top the list of worst teams of all time. The Mystics sported the worst defense of all-time and also had the fourth-worst offense. The 2011 Tulsa Shock had the fifth-worst ORTG% and the sixth-worst DRTG% in the league’s history. The 2000 Storm and 2020 Liberty both struggled mightily on offense but had close to average defenses, while the 1997 Starzz were similarly below average on offense and defense.

Mixed Reviews

Between their 2007 and 2009 championship seasons, the 2008 Mercury put together one of the weirdest seasons according to ORTG% and DRTG%. Their ORTG% of +6.9% was solid and about what you would expect from a balanced title contender. Their DRTG%, on the other hand, was the fifth-worst of all-time at -8.2. Two years later, it happened again. In 2010, the Mercury’s ORTG% was even higher, 8.0%, but their DRTG% was the seventh-worst ever at -8.0%.


Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram. All stats via HerHoopStats.com.