Admit it, WNBA fan. You had reservations about Elena Della Donne’s decision not to play overseas on the heels of her Rookie of the Year showing last summer – especially when her Chicago Sky had been so unceremoniously upset in the opening round of the playoffs by the defending champs. You questioned her competitive nature or her love for the game. A smug “Aha!” was at the ready as play kicked off last month.
The Tulsa Shock’s Skylar Diggins, another of 2013’s touted “Three to See,” similarly raised eyebrows by making the same decision following a rookie season with more than its share of challenges, on both the personal and team front.
Perhaps it’s simply fresh legs, but each of the domestic D & D girls has started her sophomore pro season like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Both rank in the top ten not only in scoring, but also in free throw attempts. EDD squeezed 16 foul shots into 30 minutes of play the other night against the Sparks. Minnesota is the only team that has kept her off the stripe, yet she tops the league with seven attempts per game. Diggins’s 4.5-per-game pace rank her ninth.
The WNBA’s current top ten in free throw tries is actually an even generational split – five 2012 Olympians (Whalen, Taurasi, Parker, Moore and McCoughtry) and several likely candidates for the 2020 squad (Brittney Griner, Glory Johnson and this season’s top pick Chiney Ogwumike along with Della Donne and Diggins).
Successful basketball teams at any level seem to find their way to the foul line regularly while preventing their opponents from doing so. Let’s see who is best applying this old-school logic through the WNBA’s first 21 days of play:
FTA’s per game Opponents +/-
Indiana 25.33 Minnesota 15.0 Phoenix +9.3
Phoenix 25.25 Seattle 15.5 Minnesota +5.7
Minnesota 20.7 *Los Angeles 16.0 Indiana +4.1
Atlanta 19.7 *Phoenix 16.0 Seattle +2.5
Chicago 18.83 San Antonio 17.0 Chicago +1.8
Connecticut 18.75 New York 17.3 Los Angeles +0.8
Seattle 18.0 *Chicago 17.5 San Antonio -1.2
Tulsa 17.6 *Washington 17.5 Washington -1.8
Los Angeles 16.8 Indiana 21.2 New York -2.7
San Antonio 15.8 Connecticut 22.1 Connecticut -3.3
Washington 15.7 Tulsa 22.2 Atlanta -3.9New York 14.6 Atlanta 23.6 Tulsa -4.6
Michael Cooper’s Atlanta Dream offer an enticing array of talent that bears watching – and the early attendance numbers suggest more Atlantans are taking notice. First-round draft choice Shoni Schimmel’s clever play-making has jump-started the WNBA’s third-best field-goal shooting team and second-best offensive rebounding team. The primary beneficiary seems to be veteran center Erika de Souza, currently the league’s best-field goal shooter. She and the again healthy Sancho Lyttle form arguably the best front line in the circuit. They rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in overall rebounding.
For all their size and athleticism, though, the Dream are the league’s second worst team at preventing second chances. Even as Atlanta looked impressive to their home crowd and a national TV audience last week while repelling Los Angeles 93-85, they surrendered 15 offensive rebounds to the Sparks, their best output of the season. What say we examine these numbers: [OR% = OR/(OR + Opp. DR)]
Off. Reb. % Opponents +/-
Connecticut .328 Washington .236 Washington +48
Atlanta .312 New York .244 Connecticut +32
Indiana .291 Phoenix .248 Minnesota +22
Chicago .289 Minnesota .253 Phoenix +15
Tulsa .287 Seattle .258 Chicago +8
Washington .284 Chicago .281 New York +4
Los Angeles .276 San Antonio .282 Atlanta +2
Minnesota .275 Los Angeles .287 Tulsa -7
Phoenix .263 Tulsa .294 Los Angeles -11
New York .248 Connecticut .296 Seattle -34
San Antonio .245 Atlanta .310 San Antonio -37
Seattle .224 Indiana .353 Indiana -62
The Cream of the WNBA Crop continues to reside in the Twin Cities. No Brunson, No Wright, No Problem! This is a heady bunch that works to make difficult that which their opponent tends to do well. For instance, Della Donne shot zero free throws in her team’s loss to the Lynx last month, her lone 0-fer of the season. It took Griner three games before she got a hand on a Lynx shot last year, and she had one block in two playoff games against them.
Big Brittney gets her first 2014 chance, in front of the ESPN cameras, next Sunday at the appropriately named Target Center. Set your DVR.