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By the Numbers: WNBA Offense At An All-Time High

The Olympic break is an ideal time to look back at the first two-thirds of the season and evaluate where things stand before play resumes on August 26.

Michelle Smith broke down the playoff picture if the season ended at the break. We’ve curated the top plays from the first 146 games of the season. Our team of writers has begun looking at how each team has performed up to the break.

But what about how the league has performed as a whole this season?

Well, when it comes to putting on high-scoring, entertaining games on a nightly basis, the league has never been better. The numbers truly speak for themselves.

Team Average Scoring: 81.9
Team Average Assists: 17.6
Team Average Field Goal Percentage: 0.442
Team Average Free Throw Percentage: 0.799
Team Average Offensive Rating: 104.8

Each of those stats represents an all-time best for the WNBA for a single season. Of course, this season is not complete, so we can’t be sure that all of those numbers will hold up over the final 58 games of the season. But the trend of improved offense is something the league has seen since its inception.

Below is a chart that shows the average offensive rating — points scored per 100 possessions — for every WNBA season. Using offensive rating is important because it takes into account that different teams play at different paces, and today’s game is played at a faster pace than we saw two decades ago when the WNBA began.

There has never been a year when the league’s average offensive rating has gone down. There have been multiple seasons where it has stayed the same (2006 and 2007, 2011 and 2012) or very close to the previous year (over six seasons from 2003 to 2008, the rating only improved by 0.8 points), but it has never declined.

So far this season, teams have eclipsed the 100-point plateau 11 times, which dwarfs last year’s total of seven games during the regular season and playoffs combined.

But it’s not just the amount of points that are being scored each night; it’s also how those points are being scored. Of all the shooting percentages tracked, three-point shooting is the only one that is not at an all-time high at this moment of the season. Overall field goal percentage is currently at 44.2 percent, leading the 2010 season by the smallest of margins (44.1%). Let’s give a nod to Nneka Ogwumike for putting the 2016 season on top as the MVP candidate is having a historically great shooting season for the Sparks.

While long-range shooting has become a major part of the game, the evolution hasn’t been as drastic as the NBA’s “pace-and-space” era. This season has seen teams average 16.0 3-pointers per game, which is the fourth-highest mark in the league’s history. Teams have made an average of 5.4 3-pointers per game, which is the sixth-highest mark ever.

2016 WNBA Shooting Percentages

Shot Type Percentage All-Time Rank
Overall FGs 0.442 1st
2-Point Shots 0.474 1st
3-Point Shots 0.338 T-8th
Free Throws 0.799 1st

 

The league also has a chance to average 80 percent from the free throw line for the first time ever. Consider this: The NBA’s league average from the free throw line last season was 75.7 percent, with only two teams (New York and San Antonio) eclipsing the 80 percent mark. Right now, more than half of the WNBA teams (seven to be exact) are shooting better than 80 percent from the line, led by the Indiana Fever at 85.2 percent.

Another key to the efficient offense has been the rise of assisted baskets. It should come as no surprise that the three most efficient offensive seasons (2014-2016) also represent the three highest assist averages (all over 17 per game, led by 2016’s 17.6 team assist average.

While there will always be outstanding one-on-one players that can create their own shot, in most cases the best shots come when teams move the ball, force the defense to scramble and pass on good shots for great shots. Not only are teams assisting at an all-time high, but they are also turning the ball over at nearly an all-time low with just 13.0 turnovers per game on average — just 0.1 behind the all-time best mark set last year.

The question that remains to be answered is whether the teams can keep up this historic offense when the season resumes later this month. Getting some rest, tending to nagging injuries and increased practice time should only help the players still with their teams during the break. As for the 22 players headed to Brazil to compete in the Olympics, hopefully they won’t leave their shooting touch overseas.