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Week 4 Power Rankings: Digging Into The Numbers

Note: WNBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Tuesday during the season, are the opinion of this writer and do not reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.

Now that we’re nearly a month into the 2017 WNBA season, we have a decent amount of statistical data to analyze the current state of the league.

When teams have only played three or four games, its really too small of a sample size to really draw any conclusions. One big win or loss can really skew the numbers.

But at this point every team – with the exception of the Sparks – has played at least six games this season, with two-thirds of the league having played seven games, which is close to a quarter of the regular season.

So for this week’s rankings, lets look at one key number for each team as week four gets set to tip off with a triple-header on Tuesday, headlined by the Wings and Mystics squaring off in Dallas (8 ET, ESPN 2), followed by the Sparks and Sky (10:30 ET NBA TV).

1. Minnesota Lynx
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
2017 Record: 7-0; This Week: 1-0
OffRtg: 106.1 (4); DefRtg: 91.5 (1); NetRtg: 14.6 (1)
Key Stat: 14.6 Net Rating (point differential per 100 possessions)

Since 2011, the Lynx have led the WNBA in Net Rating every season with the exception of 2014, when they finished second to the eventual champion Mercury. In four of those seasons, their Net Rating was in double digits, but never as high as it is currently at 14.6. The key to a strong net rating is balance on both sides of the court as the undefeated Lynx own the league’s top-rated defense and fourth-rated offense.

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2. Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
2017 Record: 3-2; This Week: 1-0
OffRtg: 113.8 (1); DefRtg: 105.3 (11); NetRtg: 8.5 (3)
Key Stat: 105.3 Def Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions)

The Sparks currently have the second-lowest ranked defense in the league, allowing 105.3 points per 100 possessions. In their run to the championship a year ago, they finished second with a 97.3 defensive rating. A successful title defense will require an improved defense. The Sparks’ top-ranked offense and shooting (league-best 53.3 eFG%) is powering the team early in the season, but it will be important to find the balance they had last season (3rd in offense, 2nd in defense) if they hope to repeat.

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3. Washington Mystics
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
2017 Record: 5-2; This Week: 2-0
OffRtg: 106.7 (3); DefRtg: 101.5 (6); NetRtg: 5.2 (4)
Key Stat: 26.1% Of Points On 3-Pointers

The Mystics lead the WNBA in percentage of points scored on 3-pointerss (26.1%) as the make (7.1) and attempt (22.6) the most shots from beyond the arc in the league. Couple that with 25.2% of their points coming from the free throw line (2nd highest rate in the league) and the Mystics are the only team in the WNBA to score more than half of their points on either 3-pointers or free throws.

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4. Phoenix Mercury
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
2017 Record: 4-3; This Week: 1-1
OffRtg: 102.0 (5); DefRtg: 92.0 (2); NetRtg: 10.0 (2)
Key Stat: 72 Points From All-Time Lead

After averaging just 12.75 points through her first four games, Diana Taurasi had a breakout performance in Chicago last Thursday as she drained eight 3-pointers en route to a 37-point night – her highest scoring performance since 2010. As she drained those eight treys, Taurasi broke a tie with Katie Smith for the most 3-pointers in WNBA history (at 918 and counting). Taurasi now sits just 72 points behind Tina Thompson as the all-time leading scorer in league history.

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5. Seattle Storm
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
2017 Record: 4-2; This Week: 0-1
OffRtg: 107.2 (2); DefRtg: 104.6 (10); NetRtg: 2.6 (6)
Key Stat: 60.8 True Shooting Percentage (adjusted for value of 3-pointers and free throws)

The Storm enter this week with the second-best offensive efficiency rating in the league thanks in large part to their tremendous shooting percentages from all over the court – they rank second in standard field goal percentage (49.2%), third in 3-point percentage (39.0%) and first in free throw percentage (88.2%). It also doesn’t hurt to have veteran point guard Sue Bird running the point with ridiculous efficiency. Bird is tied for the league lead in assists (8.3 per game) and leads the league by a wide margin in assist-to-turnover ration (6.6).

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6. Atlanta Dream
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
2017 Record: 4-2; This Week: 1-1
OffRtg: 95.9 (10); DefRtg: 93.2 (3); NetRtg: 2.7 (5)
Key Stat: +5.5 Points Per Game Increase For Tiffany Hayes

After averaging 11.3 points in her first four WNBA seasons, Tiffany Hayes increased that mark to a career-best 15.0 last season as she became Atlanta’s secondary scoring threat next to Angel McCoughtry. With McCoughtry out for the 2017 season, Hayes has assumed a larger role in the Dream offense and her scoring average has leaped to 20.5 points per game – currently ranked fifth in the WNBA. In addition to Hayes’ breakout season, the Dream have also taken advantage of transition opportunities (111 points in transition ranks second in the league, per Synergy) and done a great job of limiting turnovers (league-best 14.4 turnover percentage) so far this season.

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7. New York Liberty
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
2017 Record: 4-3; This Week: 2-1
OffRtg: 99.6 (9); DefRtg: 101.3 (5); NetRtg: -1.6 (9)

Key Stat: 30.2 Usage Rate For Tina Charles
After finishing second in usage rate last season (30.7%) as she became just the third player in league history to lead the league in points and rebounds in the same season, Liberty center Tina Charles is at it again, leading the league with a 30.2% usage rate through New York’s first seven games. Charles ranks fourth in the league in scoring (20.7 ppg), but is the only Liberty player ranked in the top 30. With the loss of Brittany Boyd (13.0 ppg), the Liberty have just two other players averaging in double figures – Sugar Rodgers (11.3) and Shavonte Zellous (10.0).

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8. Dallas Wings
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
2017 Record: 3-4; This Week: 1-2
OffRtg: 101.4 (6); DefRtg: 102.8 (7); NetRtg: -1.4 (8)
Key Stat: 0.407 Free Throw Rate

No WNBA team gets to the line more frequently than the Dallas Wings. They average the most free throws made (21.7) and attempted (26.7) and connect at an 81.3% rate (fifth in the WNBA). The Wings have three players ranked in the top 15 of free throw attempts – Skylar Diggins-Smith (5.7), Karima Christmas-Kelly (5.4) and rookie Allisha Gray (4.1). With over a quarter of their points (league-high 26.3%) coming from the free throw line, the Wings are not reliant on the 3-point shot (17.2% of points) to have an offensive efficiency in the top half of the league.

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9. Connecticut Sun
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
2017 Record: 2-5; This Week: 1-1
OffRtg: 100.2 (7); DefRtg: 100.9 (4); NetRtg: -0.7 (7)
Key Stat: 73.6 Field Goal Attempts Per Game

The Sun average the most shot attempts in the WNBA so far this season (73.6 per game) despite playing at just the seventh-fastest pace (79.2 possessions per 40 minutes). Connecticut does this by limiting its turnovers (16.0% is the third-lowest rate in the league) and crashing the offensive glass for extra opportunities (29.2% offensive rebound rate ranks third in the league). Jonquel Jones leads the Sun’s effort on the glass as the second-year center owns the top offensive (18.9%) and defensive (32.0%) rebound rates in the league. Overall, Jones grabs a league-best 25.6% of all available rebounds when she’s on the court.

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10. Indiana Fever
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
2017 Record: 3-4; This Week: 1-1
OffRtg: 100.2 (8); DefRtg: 112.2 (12); NetRtg: -12.0 (11)
Key Stat: 112.2 Defensive Rating

One place you don’t expect to see the Indiana Fever ranked is at the bottom of the defensive efficiency charts. In the last 12 years of Tamika Catchings’ career – in which she won a WNBA record five Defensive Player of the Year awards – the Fever ranked (from most recent): 6th, 5th, 7th (Catchings only played half the season), 5th, 3rd, 6th, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 3rd. Another place you don’t expect to see the Fever is on the outside of the playoff picture, as they hold a WNBA record 12-year streak of making the postseason, which also dates back to that 2005 season when Catchings won her first DPOY. If the Fever are going to keep that streak alive in the first year post-Catchings, it has to start with improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

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11. Chicago Sky
Last Week’s Ranking: 11
2017 Record: 1-6; This Week: 0-1
OffRtg: 93.4 (11); DefRtg: 104.4 (9); NetRtg: -11.0 (10)
Key Stat: 81.9 Pace (Possessions Per 40 Minutes)

The Sky are playing at the league’s fastest pace (81.9), but those extra possessions have yet to bear fruit for their 11th ranked offense. Chicago is averaging the second-fewest points per game (76.4), while allowing the second-most points (85.4) to their opponents. The Sky are just seven games into a new era without Elena Delle Donne and with a new coach calling the shots, so it is still too early to make many assessments about Chicago’s future. Two quick positive notes on the Sky: Cappie Pondexter is tied with Sue Bird for the league lead in assists with a career-best 8.3 per game in her 12th season; and the Sky lead the league in blocks per game (7.1) with Jessica Breland (2.1 per game) and Stefanie Dolson (1.7 per game) both ranked in the top five.

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12. San Antonio Stars
Last Week’s Ranking: 12
2017 Record: 0-7; This Week: 0-2
OffRtg: 90.7 (12); DefRtg: 103.8 (8); NetRtg: -13.1 (12)
Key Stat: 14.4 Minutes Per Game For Kelsey Plum

In the first start of her WNBA career on Saturday, No. 1 overall pick Kelsey Plum had eight points and seven assists in 28 minutes of San Antonio’s loss to Connecticut. This comes after Plum averaged just 10 minutes per game in her first three appearances after missing the first three games of the season with an ankle injury suffered in training camp. For the Stars (0-7), this season is about the continued development of their young core under new head coach Vickie Johnson. Part of that task is finding the right combinations of guard play between Plum, last year’s No. 2 overall pick Moriah Jefferson (who came off the bench in Plum’s start) and fourth-year shooting guard Kayla McBride, who leads the Stars in scoring at 16.6 points per game (9th in WNBA).

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