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The Numbers Game: Shot Distribution and Efficiency

We are nearly a third of the way through the 2019 WNBA season (30.4% to be exact following Wednesday’s games), which gives us a decent sample size of data to analyze how teams and players have performed thus far.

Today, we’ll look at how each team scores its points and break down the most efficient teams and players from all over the court.

Percentage of Points Scored (Sorted by win percentage)

TEAM WIN PCT %PTS 2PT %PTS 3PT %PTS FT
Connecticut Sun 0.750 55.3 (11) 29.2 (8) 17.1 (T-6)
Washington Mystics 0.727 55.1 (10) 35.0 (1) 14.9 (11)
Chicago Sky 0.600 59.8 (T-4) 29.7 (6) 13.4 (12)
Las Vegas Aces 0.600 59.8 (T-4) 22.0 (12) 19.8 (1)
Seattle Storm 0.583 60.0 (3) 28.2 (10) 17.0 (8)
Minnesota Lynx 0.545 57.0 (T-6) 30.8 (3) 17.5 (5)
Indiana Fever 0.417 62.1 (1) 23.7 (11) 16.2 (9)
Los Angeles Sparks 0.400 57.0 (T-6) 29.3 (7) 15.1 (10)
Phoenix Mercury 0.375 52.5 (12) 31.4 (2) 18.2 (T-2)
Dallas Wings 0.333 60.1 (2) 22.0 (9) 17.1 (T-6)
New York Liberty 0.3oo 56.5 (8) 30.0 (4) 17.8 (4)
Atlanta Dream 0.222 55.7 (9) 29.9 (5) 18.2 (T-2)

 

It’s always interesting to see how much variance there is between teams when it comes to offensive execution. There is Connecticut and Washington sitting at the top of the standings and relying on the 3-point shot – the Mystics are first at 35% of their points coming from beyond the arc while the Sun aren’t far behind in third at 29.2%.

Just below them you have Chicago and Las Vegas tied in the standings and in their percentage of points from 2-point shots at just below 60%. The differences between these teams comes at the free-throw line with the Aces leading the league with 19.8% of their points coming from the charity stripe (thanks to a league-high 20.5 FTA per game) and the Sky ranked last at just 13.4% on eight fewer FTA per game (12.5). An interesting note about the Aces, they rank last in percentage of points coming from 3-point shots (22.0%), but rank second in 3-point efficiency (35.9%).

Across all levels of basketball we have seen a steady rise in 3-point shots as teams continue to hunt the most efficient shots in the game – corner threes, layups and free throws all produce more points per shot than medium and long range 2-pointers. But is there an ideal balance between twos, threes and free throws that results in greater success? It’s hard to say as each team has to play to the strengths of their roster and find their own most efficient ways to score. But it should be noted that last year’s Finals featured the top two teams in percentage of points scored on 3-pointers (Seattle at 31.1%, Washington at 29.8%). There were five teams that finished last season with at least 20 wins; four of them finished in the top four in percentage of points scored on 3-pointers with Atlanta being the only exception as they ranked 10th.


Team Leaders By Shot Zone

Here’s a look at the team shot chart for the Washington Mystics, which breaks down the team’s efficiency and distribution over seven different shot zones: the restricted area near the basket, in the paint but outside the restricted area, mid-range, left corner three, right corner three, above the break three and the rarely used backcourt shots.

The chart shows us that the Mystics shoot much higher than league average from every zone inside the 3-point line as well as the right corner three, and that they shoot on par with league average on 3-pointers from the left corner and above the break.

But let’s dig a little deeper and look at which teams have made the most field goals from each zone so far this season.

Restricted Area: Minnesota Lynx: 159-263 (60.5%)

Minnesota leads the way with 159 buckets at the rim, thanks in large part to Sylvia Fowles (more on her later). Washington leads the league in restricted area efficiency (69.0%) but their 174 attempts ranks 10th in the league.

In The Paint (Non-RA): Las Vegas Aces: 69-194 (35.6%)

Las Vegas has 30 more attempts from this zone than any other team in the league (Connecticut is second at 164 FGA).

Mid-Range: Indiana Fever: 105-295 (35.6%)

Indiana has attempted 103 more mid-range shots than any other team (Washington is second at 192 FGA). The average of the other 11 teams is 157 mid-range shots this season, which Indiana nearly doubles.

Left Corner 3: Phoenix Mercury: 9-15 (60.0%) / Washington Mystics: 9-25 (36.0%)

Phoenix is tied with Washington with the same number of left corner 3-pointers made, but have done so on 10 fewer attempts. The Mercury and Sun are tied for the highest 3P% from the left corner at 60%.

Right Corner 3: Washington Mystics: 6-9 (66.7%) / Chicago Sky: 6-16 (37.5%) / New York Liberty: 6-11 (54.5%)

Washington is second in accuracy in this zone to Phoenix , who shot 71.4% from the right corner on fewer attempts.

Above Break 3: Washington Mystics: 79-238 (33.2%)

Las Vegas leads the league in 3P% from above the break (36.5%), but their 50 3PM from the zone is tied for 10th in the league. This will be interesting to watch over the remainder of the season. With A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage commanding so much defensive attention inside, can the Vegas bigs find open shooters on the perimeter to exploit double teams and increase the Aces’ league-low 15.3 3PA per game?


Player Leaders By Shot Zone

Finally, here’s a look at which players have made the most field goals from each zone of the court. A hat tip must be paid to ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry for the inspiration for this chart as he created similar ones over the course of the NBA season.