The 2021 season is all about the number 25 in the WNBA as the league celebrates its silver anniversary.
There’s a new logo, plans to select the top 25 players and top 25 moments in league history in the weeks and months ahead.
But there is another 25 that must be discussed – well, 25.3 to be exact. That is the record set by Diana Taurasi in the 2006 season that has stood as the highest scoring average for a season in league history.
After putting up 34 points and 16 rebounds in Washington’s 87-83 win over Seattle on Tuesday, Tina Charles is now averaging 25.3 points through 13 games. If we get a bit more precise, Charles’ average of 25.33 currently sits just above Taurasi’s 25.29 from 15 seasons ago.
Top Scoring Averages, Single Season
|6||Elena Delle Donne||CHI||23.39||2015||3|
Note: All stats and records through games played on June 22, 2021
That list is representative of all of WNBA history – from the league’s pioneers that are now in the Naismith Hall of Fame like Cooper, Smith and Jackson; to veteran players like Taurasi and Charles that entered in the 2000s, to Moore, Delle Donne and Cambage that entered the W in the early 2010s and last year’s scoring champ Ogunbowale, who is only in her third season.
While we see Taurasi’s name on that top 10 list twice – as she has two of the top three, three of the top 11 scoring seasons of all-time – we only see Charles listed once. Prior to this season, Charles has averaged 20 points or more only once in her career – 21.5 ppg in 2016, her seventh season in the WNBA and third with the New York Liberty.
What Charles is doing now is unprecedented. Not only is she challenging Taurasi for the top mark ever, she’s having a top 10 scoring season in her 11th WNBA season. Look at that list again; only Lauren Jackson (7) had a top 10 scoring season after her fifth season in the league. And Charles is doing this in her first season with a new team – the Washington Mystics – who she signed with in 2020 but did not play in the bubble season due to a medical exemption.
So let’s dig into Tina’s first dozen games of the 2021 season to see why and how this scoring boom is happening.
1. Usage Rate
A key to putting up points is getting up shots and no player has attempted more field goals this season than Charles’ 20.8 per game – nearly four more than any other player (Ogunbowale is second at 16.9). Charles and Ogunbowale are the only two players to rank in the top 10 in field goal attempts, 3-point attempts and free throw attempts this season.
Charles leads all players in usage rate (32.8%), which means that nearly a third of all Mystics possessions end with a Charles field goal attempts, free throw attempt or turnover while she is on the court. Not only is that 4.7 percentage points higher than any of the other 129 players that have played at least five games this season, it is also a career high for Charles. The last time she logged a usage rate over 30% was in 2016 when she last averaged over 20 points per game.
2. 3-Point and Free Throw Shooting
It goes beyond just putting up more shots than other players – Charles is also making 3-pointers and free throws at a career-best rate. Her 34.8% shooting from beyond the arc matches her career high from 2017 and her 85.5% free throw percentage is 4.3 percentage points higher than her previous high from 2019 and 2016.
In her first 10 seasons, Charles never averaged three 3-point attempts or one 3-pointer made per game. This season, she’s averaging 5.5 3-point attempts and 1.9 3-pointers made per game. Her 4.4 free throws made and 5.2 free throw attempts also mark career highs and rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in the league.
3. Paint Dominance
While Charles has continued to extend her shooting range and become a reliable outside threat, she still does most of her damage inside as she leads the league in points in the paint with a career-best 12.8 points per game. How good is that mark? If we only counted the points Charles scored in the paint, she would still be a top 25 scorer in the league (tied for 23rd to be exact entering Wednesday’s games).
Of the 62 players with at least 20 shot attempts in the restricted area, Charles ranks sixth in field goal percentage (72.6%) and field goals made (45). Charles leads all players with 32 field goals made in the paint outside of the restricted area, but ranks 12th in FG% in that zone (45.1%). According to Synergy play type data, Charles ranks third in post-up points with 83 points in 85 post-up possessions over her first 11 games (not accounting for Tuesday’s 34-point game yet).
In that win over Seattle, Charles became the first player in WNBA history to record consecutive games with at least 30 points and 15 rebounds as she finished with 34 and 16 against the Storm three days after posting 30 and 15 against the Fever. Can she make it three in a row when the Mystics face the Sparks on Thursday in Los Angeles?
Charles accounts for six of the WNBA’s 15 30-point games so far this season, with no other player having more than one such game in 2021. That is already tied for the sixth-most 30-point games in a single season and halfway to Maya Moore’s record of 12 30-point games in 2014.
Listing all of these potential marks that Charles could chase this season brings this back to one key question: Is what she’s doing sustainable?
Based on what we’ve seen from Tina this season and throughout her career, there’s no doubt that she can put up these numbers when she has this many possessions to work with.
But if you’re the Mystics, you have to hope that Charles doesn’t need to continue this level of scoring and usage over the course of the full season. Getting Elena Delle Donne back to play alongside Charles raises this team’s ceiling to its greatest heights and will alleviate some of the scoring burden that is currently placed on Charles’ shoulders.
There are 19 more games to work with to see if Charles will continue to challenge Taurasi’s scoring mark, or if she’ll get to play alongside a fellow MVP and maybe give up a few points per game, but add some wins to Washington’s current 7-6 mark.