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Around the WNBA - June 17, 2004

Sutton-Brown Rebound Not That Surprising


Sutton-Brown is returning to her All-Star form of 2002.
NBAE/Getty Images
The Charlotte Observer reported earlier this week that Sting center Tammy Sutton-Brown has regained her 2002 form. Sutton-Brown broke out in 2002, her sophomore season, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team by averaging 11.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game and ranking amongst the WNBA's leaders by shooting 53.1% from the field.

Last year, Sutton-Brown tanked to 42.1% shooting and 8.4 points per game, putting her long-term future with the Sting in doubt. Rightfully, Storm Coach Anne Donovan, who helped produce Sutton-Brown's breakout season before leaving to come to Seattle, got a lot of credit. At the same time, observers should have noticed that while Sutton-Brown's field-goal percentage was down - 53.1% to 42.1% is about as far as a player can reasonably fall - her non-shooting statistics were generally better on a per-minute basis.

A Hoopsworld.com study last summer found that, in the NBA, "two-point percentage is influenced by luck far more than similarly important statistics". That's probably only more true in the WNBA, where the shorter season means luck plays a bigger role.

Sometimes, it doesn't work that way. New York's Tari Phillips also saw a huge drop in her field-goal percentage last season, from 49.1% to 39.7%. Phillips, however, has been even worse this season, dropping to a dismal 38.4%. Phillips' age (35) probably has something to do with her inability to bounce back.

Who are some players this season whose poor starts are unlikely to continue? Sacramento's Tangela Smith (44.1% shooting last year, 34.0% this year) is a good candidate, as is Phoenix's Kayte Christensen (48.4% last year, 38.5% this year). On the other side of the coin, a player who is unlikely to continue her strong start is Sutton-Brown's Sting teammate Charlotte Smith-Taylor. Smith-Taylor had never shot better than 41.0% from the field entering this season, but is so far at a sizzling 58.2%.

What's the Difference?

The WNBA's PR department is fond of pointing out that point differential (points scored minus points allowed divided by games played) is "the only stat that has ever mattered during the regular season in the WNBA ", because every WNBA Champion has also led the league in scoring differential. A look at how teams rate so far this season has some interesting results:

Team          Diff
------------------
Seattle       +9.5
Detroit       +2.4
Indiana       +2.2
New York      +1.4
Houston       +0.9
Minnesota     +0.3
Los Angeles   -0.4
Connecticut   -0.8
Phoenix       -1.0
Charlotte     -2.0
Sacramento    -2.8
San Antonio   -3.2
Washington    -6.0

By virtue of its three wins by 20 points or more, the Storm has been simply dominant this season in terms of point differential. No other team even comes close. That's not really all that new for the Storm, who were second in the league last year in point differential behind the Shock despite failing to make the playoffs.

Though Detroit has gotten three of its wins during its current four-game winning streak by a combined nine points, the Shock is still doing fine in point differential. Indiana appears to be a strong candidate for the Eastern Conference crown by this measure, stronger than the Fever's 5-4 record would suggest.

The biggest surprise is how Los Angeles' point differential is. Despite a 6-4 record good for a tie for second in the West, the Sparks have been outscored this season. That's a weakness of looking at point differential this early, however; without their 27-point loss to the Storm at KeyArena, the Sparks are a much better +2.5 per game.