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The Numbers Game: Scoring Distribution

In our first Numbers Game feature, we looked at the league leaders in usage rate to see which players have the biggest impact on the game by utilizing the most possessions. Today, we’re shifting to a group of team stats that can provide a quick snapshot as to the strength and weaknesses of each team.

At the far right of the advanced team stats page, there are three columns that break down the percentage of points scored on two-point shots, three-point shots and free throws. Not only do these percentages provide insight into each specific team, but they also allow us to compare teams’ scoring tendencies very quickly.

Not only do we have the breakdown of each team’s offense, but we also show the same scoring breakdown for each team’s opponents, which gives us a look at where they are most vulnerable on defense.

To put these numbers to work, let’s preview the four games this weekend by comparing each team’s scoring breakdown.

(All stats through games played on June 30)

San Antonio Stars at Minnesota Lynx (Saturday, July 2, 8 p.m. ET)

The defending champs will try to snap their three-game losing streak as they host the 4-12 Stars, who are coming off a win over Indiana thanks to Moriah Jefferson’s buzzer-beaters on Friday night. The Stars have a back-to-back on the road against the two teams in last year’s Finals – not an easy task.

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This is a matchup between Minnesota’s fourth-ranked offense (105.0 points per 100 possessions) and San Antonio’s last-place offense (94.9 OffRtg). But let’s take a closer look at how each team gets their points.

The Lynx rank second in the league in making two-point shots and are far less reliant on the three and free throws – they rank ninth in each – to fuel their offense. As for the Stars, they don’t stand out in any of the three categories as they rank in the bottom third in all three. And remember, this isn’t about how many points they score (a league-low 74.6 per game), but a distribution of where those points come from.

Excelling in at least one category or ranking in the top half of the league in multiple categories correlates to a more efficient offense. An interesting note about the Stars is that their percentage of points breakdown is nearly identical to the league average of 59.1% 2-pointers, 19.5% 3-pointers and 21.4% free throws. However, the Stars are not close to matching the league average in offensive efficiency of 102.1 points per 100 possessions.

Connecticut Sun at Dallas Wings (Saturday, July 2, 8:30 p.m. ET)

The Wings snapped a two-game skid with a win over Seattle on Thursday and will look to maintain their third-place standing in the West when they take on a 3-13 Sun squad that sits at the bottom of the East and is looking to snap a three-game losing streak.

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The disparity between these two teams is not limited to their ranking in the league standings, they also score their points in vastly different ways. No team is as dependent on the 3-point shot as the Wings, as the Dallas squad ranks first in percentage of points scored on threes and dead-last in points scored off 2-pointers. The Wings lead the league in 3-pointers made (7.9 per game) and shoot the ball at a 35.0 percent clip (4th in the league).

This could be problematic for the Sun as they allow the third-most 3-pointers made (5.8 per game) on 36.8 percent shooting from beyond the arc. The Sun also allow the third-most attempts from the free throw line, which is another area that the Dallas offense excels with nearly a quarter of their points coming from the charity stripe.

While the Wings are the only team in the WNBA to score less than half of their points on 2-point shots, the Sun rank third with 62.2 percent of its points coming off 2-point shots. The Sun do not ignore the 3-ball as they rank in the middle of the pack, but they are dead last when it comes to scoring at the free throw line, with only 17.1 percent of its offense coming from the stripe. The Sun rank last in free throws made (13.7 per game) and in free throw percentage (70.2 percent). The Sun make four fewer free throws per game than the league average of 17.7, which is a contributing factor to their 11th-ranked offensive rating.

New York Liberty at Los Angeles Sparks (Sunday, July 3, 5 p.m. ET)

The Liberty and Sparks enter their third meeting of the season as the leaders in their respective conferences with the first two meetings going to the 15-1 squad from Los Angeles, which is also the location of this clash.

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The Sparks enter the game with the league’s top-ranked offense at 108.5 points per 100 possessions, while the Liberty rank eighth at nearly exactly one point per possession. When looking for separation between these two teams, the balance of their offenses really doesn’t tell the story. Sure, the Sparks rely on the 3-point shot more and make nearly one-and-a-half more per game, but the Liberty make up most of that by making more than two more free throws per game than the Sparks.

Where we find the separation between these two offenses is the shooting percentages, specifically on 2-point shots. The Sparks and Liberty are nearly identical from both the free throw line (LA 77.7%, NY 77.3%) and 3-point line (LA 38.9%, NY 38.3%), but the Sparks hold a large edge in overall field goal percentage with a league-best 48.9 percent compared to a league-average 44.3 for the Liberty.

When we look only at 2-point shots, the Sparks are shooting 52.0 percent (417-802) compared to 45.5 percent (446-980) for the Liberty. What saves the Liberty is their ability to grab offensive rebounds – they rank second in the league with a 29.4 percent offensive rebound rate – and convert them to second chance points. The Sparks allow the third-highest offensive rebound rate (28.9 percent) so keep an eye on Tina Charles and Co. crashing the offensive glass for putbacks.

Phoenix Mercury at Atlanta Dream (Sunday, July 3, 6 p.m. ET)

The final game of the weekend features two teams headed in opposite directions. While the Dream have the superior overall record at 8-8, they have lost five straight games as they get set to host the 7-9 Mercury, who are riding a three-game win streak.

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The Dream and Mercury are the only two teams in the league to score over a quarter of their total points from the free throw line. The Dream attempt a league-high 28.9 free throws per game with the Mercury second at 26.6 attempts.

However, the Mercury hold the edge in free throws made (22.4 to 21.5 per game) thanks to their 83.9 percent conversion rate, which ranks second in the league. The Dream are leaving plenty of points off the scoreboard as they are only making 74.3 percent of their free throws, the second-worst percentage in the league. Improved free throw shooting (even up to the league average of 80 percent) would do wonders for Atlanta’s 10th-ranked offensive efficiency rating.

The free throw line isn’t the only line that the Dream have struggled with this year. They rank dead-last in 3-point percentage at 24.9 percent with no other team shooting under 28.5 percent this season). Only the Sky scores a lower percentage of its point from three than Atlanta, while the Mercury rank fifth with 21.1 percent of its points coming from beyond the arc.

The Mercury’s ability to knock down threes (6.1 per game) and free throws (22.4 per game) has helped them to the second-best offensive efficiency rating in the league at 107 points per 100 possessions.