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24: Analyzing the Shorter Shot Clock

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Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | May 16, 2006
All the debate about the number "24" and ticking clocks would make Kiefer Sutherland proud.

The story of the WNBA preseason thus far has been the league's move from a 30-second shot clock to the 24-second incarnation used by FIBA and the NBA. The change has inspired much debate amongst coaches, the media and fans. Count Seattle Storm Coach Anne Donovan, for example, as a non-believer. Donovan voted against the rule change despite the fact that the Storm is expected to be one of the teams that benefits most from the shorter clock because Sue Bird, Betty Lennox and Lauren Jackson all excel at creating their own shots.


"Mate, I've played with the 24-second clock since it was introduced with FIBA."
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Donovan takes a big-picture approach to the issue, fretting that the clock will produce a sloppier brand of basketball in the short term. In the long term, Donovan's concern is that the shorter clock will mean the motion-based offenses favored in the women's game will be traded for the isolation plays that have been a staple in the NBA.

I put myself in the camp that doesn't believe the change will ultimately have a huge impact on the WNBA. After all, ask Jackson about the 24-second clock, and she'll tell you, "Mate, I've played with the 24-second clock since it was introduced with FIBA. Only in America have we played with 30."

"When you go play on a club team, the Americans just go score," counters Donovan. "Here, there's more flow to the offense that we put in and we have a number of different options. Again, in Europe or internationally you see a bunch of bad shots. We're not looking for that, we're looking for a high-percentage shot, good ball movement to get the right shot."

However, the head coach of the U.S. Women's Senior National Team should know that is not the mentality in international play, and eight of the 12 players on the Storm's current roster have some international experience, either for the U.S. or for their native country. Since that group includes the only two Storm players who did not play overseas last winter (second-year guard Tanisha Wright and rookie Barbara Turner), that means every player on the roster has at least some 24-second experience.

With the preseason nearly complete (there is just one game remaining, the Detroit Shock playing at the Houston Comets this evening), we have the first little bit of evidence about how the 24-second clock will change the WNBA game this season. Comparing preseason-to-season is a dubious exercise because of the peculiarities of the preseason, including extensive playing time for deep reserves and teams building on-court chemistry. As a result, I've broken down the statistics for both this year's preseason and last year's preseason to make a more reasonable comparison.

(Technical note: I threw out last year's final preseason game, Houston at Charlotte, because it was the only overtime game in the two years and had no team turnovers reported, both of which would have slightly thrown off my calculations. Also, I did not include this year's Minnesota-Phoenix pseudo-scrimmage, which was not considered a preseason game by the WNBA)

Preseason Stats Comparison
Year
PPG
FG%
3P%
RPG
APG
SPG
BPG
TOPG
2005
71.8
.426
.297
31.4
16.2
9.0
3.6
17.2
2006
73.8
.425
.317
32.8
14.7
9.6
3.4
19.9

The WNBA's implicit hope in moving to a 24-second clock is to increase scoring. Looking strictly at the preseason, scoring is up, though not a tremendous amount - 2.0 points per game, a 2.8% increase. The general consensus is that scoring will likely go down on a per-possession basis, but this effect will be swamped by the faster pace of play. To analyze that theory, let's take a look at the geekier stats:

Preseason Stats Comparison - Advanced Stats
Year
Pace
ORating
eFG%
TS%
FTM/FGA
OReb%
TO%
2005
74.7
96.1
.456
.512
.297
.304
.197
2006
79.4
93.0
.459
.510
.260
.293
.216

Confused about what these numbers mean? Click here.

That's a lot to process. Let's look at the highlights. First, the pace of play is up substantially, though not as much as some have predicted we will eventually see (FoxSports scribe Clay Kallam postulated a 20% increase). The preseason difference, measured by possessions per game, is about 6.3%. More on that in a second.

The league-wide Offensive Rating is indeed down by 3.1 points per 100 possessions, a loss of 3.2% - about half of the increase in pace. By far, the most important difference between the two preseasons is the rate at which turnovers have been committed. It's always high in exhibition season, but has skyrocketed from 19.7% of all possessions a year ago to 21.6% this year.

That's not the largest change on the chart, however. That honor belongs to the rate of free throws made per field-goal attempt, and it illustrates a problem with making direct preseason comparisons. You may remember that last year's preseason was marked by repetitive whistling. The much-ballyhooed hand-check rule re-interpretation led to a preseason parade to the free-throw line; despite the faster pace, free-throw attempts are down by 2.2 per game this preseason.

As television commentators love to tell us, free throws mean scoring with the clock stopped and tend to artificially increase pace. So when the rule was no longer enforced as tightly during the regular season, the pace of play dropped to 68.2 possessions per 40 minutes. As compared to that mark, the pace during this year's preseason is up a whopping 16.4%. Presumably, pace slows down compared to the preseason every year because sloppy turnovers clear up and coaches tighten the reins on their players. My educated guess is that the pace of play will probably end up around 77 possessions per 40 minutes during the regular season.

Because free throws are the most efficient way to score, last year's foulfest also throws off how much efficiency has been lost during this year's preseason. If you compare only possessions which ended in a field-goal attempt or a turnover - i.e., ignore free throws - the difference between the two years is just 1.9 points per 100 possessions. Based on that, it seems reasonable to expect a fairly sizeable leap in scoring this year.

Shot-Clock Violations
Team
Vios
Vio%*
New York
9
4.1%
Sacramento
7
3.1%
Charlotte
8
2.6%
Seattle
5
2.2%
Indiana
3
1.9%
Chicago
2
1.3%
Houston
2
1.3%
Connecticut
2
0.8%
Detroit
1
0.6%
Los Angeles
1
0.6%
Phoenix
1
0.5%
San Antonio
1
0.4%
Minnesota
0
0.0%
Washington
0
0.0%
Shot-clock violations per 100 possessions
Turnovers are also up, which is only natural because a shot-clock violation is automatically a turnover. The number of shot-clock violations is not explicitly tracked, but you can tease it out of the statistics by comparing team turnovers with the sum of players' turnovers, because a shot-clock vio is not charged to any individual player (nor are eight-second backcourt violations and five-second inbound violations, but both are rare). Last year, there were nine such team turnovers during the preseason, about one every 264.8 possessions. This year, there were 42 team turnovers, one every 64.3 possessions and better than one per team per game. (See chart at right for the distribution of team turnovers by team.)

Individual turnovers are up too, from 19.4% of possessions to 20.4% of possessions, which indicates either that teams are having to take more risks with the basketball because of the clock or that defensively they are making more use of full-court pressure because this has the added benefit of taking precious time off the shot clock.

There is one more bit of important shot-clock related information lurking in the data, and it relates to assists. During the 2005 preseason, 63.9% of all field goals came off of an assist (this number was 61.0% during the regular season). This year, just 56.2% of all field goals were assisted. This is another piece of evidence that seems to suggest creating your own shot will be much more important in the 24-second shot-clock era.

Check back Wednesday as storm.wnba.com's 2006 season preview continues with a look at how Paul Ball will play in the WNBA as well as David Locke's look at the Storm posts.