Stats Show Mercury Improving Defensively

By Ben York,
Posted: July 15, 2011

“There’s no reason we can’t be a good defensive team.” – Diana Taurasi, 7/14/11

She’s 100 percent right.

The good news? Phoenix has shown an increased commitment to the defensive end of the floor in 2011. In fact, it’s a major reason why they’ve won nine of their last ten games and find themselves first place in the Western Conference (9-4).

Ultimately, their offense and pace of play will likely get more attention, and rightfully so. But make no mistake about it; the Mercury has worked extraordinarily hard to beef up their defensive prowess in 2011.

Although the Mercury currently allows a league-worst 86.8 points per game (we’ll explain why this is a deceptive stat below), it’s vastly improved from the 93.8 ppg they gave up in 2010. The current league-leader in 2011 is the Seattle Storm giving up just 70.8 ppg. However, you have to factor in the Mercury’s fast pace of play which leads to more offensive possessions for both teams.

As you know, more offensive possessions mean an increased probability of scoring more points.

Also improved in 2011 is their opponent’s field-goal percentage. Phoenix currently forces opponents into 43 percent shooting from the floor (fifth best in the league) and just 33.6 percent from beyond the arc (also fifth in the league). In 2010, the Mercury allowed 45.5 percent shooting (tenth in the league in 2010) and 36.6 percent from the three-point line (also tenth in 2010).

Perhaps more significant is that these percentages in 2011 are noticeably low considering they allow a league-high 72.1 shot attempts per game (again, this will naturally happen due to their up-tempo style).

That’s an important stat to remember.

Phoenix allows the most shot attempts per game, but forces opponents into just 43 percent shooting. If their defense wasn’t improving, their opponent’s field-goal percentage would be much higher as it was in 2010 (45.5 percent on 76.6 shots).

Getting defensive stops doesn’t mean much if Phoenix isn’t serviceable on the boards; you can’t get out and run if you don’t rebound the ball. The Mercury’s frontcourt has collectively been highly functional in this regard and a major reason why the team has had so much success thus far.

Candice Dupree, DeWanna Bonner, Kara Braxton, and Penny Taylor currently combine to average just under 25 rebounds a night. As a team, the Mercury currently averages 35.8 rebounds per game (third in the league) and gives up 33.5 (seventh in the league). For comparisons sake, Phoenix gave up 37.7 rebounds per game in 2010 and their frontcourt combined for just over 18 rebounds per game. That’s forcing opponents into almost five fewer rebounds per game (which means more offensive possessions for Phoenix).

Obviously, allowing the most points in the league isn’t ideal but as I mentioned above, it’s a deceiving stat. Opponents score an average of 86.8 ppg against Phoenix while attempting 72.1 shots. The Mercury currently averages 93.4 ppg on just 68.8 attempts per night (shooting a blistering 48.1 percent from the floor).

Not only does this show how ridiculously effective the Mercury is offensively, it also exemplifies Phoenix’s defensive ability; opponents average about seven less points than the Mercury in spite of attempting over four more shots each game.

The Mercury’s offense will (and should) receive the bulk of the credit for their 9-4 start. After all, when you lead the league in points, assists, FG’s made, FG%, FT’s made, and FT% through nearly half the WNBA season, it’s never a bad thing.

But for a team that constantly gets maligned for their defense, it’s time to give them some credit.