Tina Charles won the MVP award in 2012, but this season might very well be her best yet. The Liberty’s veteran forward is in the midst of a truly historic campaign as she attempts to lead New York back to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2002.
Charles currently leads the league in both scoring and rebounding, pouring in 22.3 points and hauling down 9.9 rebounds a night. Incidentally, one of the only two other players to ever lead the league in both categories went to the same high school as Charles: Christ The King Regional High School in Queens, New York. That player was Chamique Holdsclaw, and she accomplished the feat in 2002 while playing for the Washington Mystics. In 2007, the Seattle Storm’s Lauren Jackson became the second, and last, player to pull it off.
While it doesn’t make the potential accomplishment less impressive, everyone has always known Charles was a dominant force in the paint. What has set Charles’ performance this year apart from the rest of her career, is her passing. Never a passing maestro, Charles is suddenly sixth in the league in assists, dishing out a career-high 4.5 dimes per game. The mark nearly doubles her previous career high, of just 2.4 a night, which she set last season. And on June 22 against the Dream, Charles set her single-game career high with 10 assists.
Fine, it still isn’t clear just how much better Charles has been as a passer this year? Okay, well then consider this: Just 15 games into the season, Charles has handed out 68 assists. The most assists she’s ever had in a whole season, is 83. If she keeps up her average, she’ll set a new single season total in just 19 games!
In addition, Charles is just 0.1 assists per game behind Moriah Jefferson for fifth in the league. If Charles can make up the minuscule difference and finish in the top five in the league in assists, it would, along with her other numbers, move her season from merely historic to one of a kind.
No one in the history of the league has ever finished in the top five in scoring, rebounding, and assists in the same season.
No. One. It’s never happened.
Now that Charles’ passing renaissance has been well established from a stats perspective, let’s take a look at the tape to gain a better understanding of how Charles has had success.
Though she is more than capable of knocking down mid-range jumpers, Charles does most of her work on the block. Almost unguardable one-on-one down there, the defense is often forced to send a double team. Of course, that means someone on the Liberty will be left open, but because Charles is so lethal in the post, the defense is willing to make that sacrifice.
Plus, they believe that the pressure created by two defenders crowding Charles will force her into a bad shot or turnover. Such as what happened on these two examples.
First you can see the Mystics crowding Charles, actually with three different players, taking away her space and vision, eventually deflecting her pass.
Next you can see how the Fever did a great job pushing Charles out of the post with their double team, trapping her in the corner, and forcing the bad pass.
As you can see, teams have succeeded in forcing a turnover by doubling Charles in the post, but they’ve only done it on 13 occasions this year, or less than once a game. And considering that Indiana has forced four of these such turnovers, most teams are having very little success at all with this strategy.
More often this season, the result has looked something like this, as Charles recognizes the double team coming and hits a teammate for an easy bucket.
At 6-foot-4, and sporting lanky arms, Charles has the perfect physical tools to pass out of the double team, and this year has shown the decision making to match. Yet while Charles is the one actually making the pass, her ability to make successful plays when hounded by two or more defenders is not simply a one-woman operation.
Let’s talk about spacing. An underappreciated aspect of why spacing is important becomes very evident on the example above. With all four other Liberty players out along the three-point line, Stefanie Dolson has to cover a lot more ground when she decides to help. This gives Charles plenty of time to recognize the double team coming and plan her course of action.
In addition, it makes it much more difficult for the Mystics defenders to rotate and help after Dolson leaves to double Charles. If they cheat over too soon, Charles will have a simple pass to a wide open teammate. But if they try to wait until the perfect moment, it will often be too late, as the Mystics found out on this occasion. Stokes dives to the basket, and though the Mystics react pretty well, it’s too late. Charles zips the pass inside, and Stokes finishes through the scrambling defense.
Next, we see Charles playing a two-woman game with Sugar Rodgers. As Aerial Powers leaves Rodgers to dig down on the post, Charles quickly realizes what’s coming, kicks it back out, and Rodgers drains the open triple.
With the three other Liberty players off on the weak side of the floor, there is no one available to help Powers once she digs down on Charles in the post. Charles knows this of course, and it makes her decision making much easier. If Powers stays home, Charles goes one-on-one in the post. But if Powers doubles, as she did here, it’s an immediate kick out to Rodgers, who will be wide open. It still requires some good instincts and skill to deliver the pass on target with Powers’ arms flailing all over the place, but the decision making process is much easier when scaled down to just two options thanks in part to the great spacing.
For more examples of Charles defeating double teams in the post with passing, check out the video below.
Tina Charles’ Success Passing Out Of Double Teams
The low post isn’t the only place on the court in which Charles operates, however, and as such, it’s not the only place in which she dishes out assists from. In fact, this is where she’s thrown some of her most spectacular passes of the season. These two backdoor bounce passes are quite impressive, especially the latter.
From the success defeating double teams, to the brilliant looks above, Charles’ passing has elevated her game to a new level this season. And in the process, has helped create the best offense New York has had in her time with the club.
Their offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) sits at exactly 100, which is still only eighth in the league. But it’s 3.5 points better than the 96.5 (ninth in the league) mark they sported last year, and light years ahead of the league-worst 93.1 offensive rating they put up in Charles’ first year in town.
A few games away from the season’s halfway mark, Charles is on pace to make history, and the Liberty hold the third-best record in the league at 10-5. Things are once again looking bright in New York. Now, the only question that remains, is can they keep it up?