Building a Winning Squad: Balanced scoring or a few elite scorers?
There are infinite ways to create a successful team. From building around one superstar to crafting a team full of solid contributors, there is no single formula for putting together a championship squad. Scoring is never done by just one member of a team, but some teams have scoring that is much more concentrated than others.
Using the Gini coefficient, an economic measure of equality often applied to income (it identifies whether a country’s wealth is held mainly by a few individuals or distributed more evenly among the population), we can take a look at whether a team’s scoring comes mainly from a few key players or is more evenly distributed.
Let’s break down the scoring concentration of a few of this year’s teams and see how they compare to teams from previous seasons. In the graphics below, concentration represents the Gini coefficient for each team. The closer the Gini coefficient is to 0, the more evenly distributed the scoring is (and thus, a number closer to 1 means more concentrated scoring). Also shown is each team’s net rating to give an idea of overall team success.
Phoenix Mercury: The most concentrated team in the past nine years
The 2018 Phoenix Mercury have the single highest scoring concentration of any team in the past nine years. Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and DeWanna Bonner each average over 17 points per game, making them the highest-scoring trio in the league. Together they account for 68% of Phoenix’s total scoring.
Phoenix’s next leading scorer, Sancho Lyttle, averages almost ten points less at 7.9 points per game. However, Lyttle has been out for the second half of the season with a torn ACL. This makes Briann January the Mercury’s next highest scorer, and she averages seven points per game. As Phoenix continues its playoff run, they’ll need their big three to keep up their incredible scoring.
Phoenix is making this concentrated scoring work for them. They’re clicking on all cylinders right now and are riding their big three (who are accounting for 77% of the Mercury’s total scoring in the postseason so far) on this playoff run. Similarly concentrated teams have made deep playoff runs in the past, such as the third most concentrated team in the past nine years, the 2012 WNBA runner-up Los Angeles Sparks.
The 2017 version of the Sparks were the fourth most concentrated team and they also made it to the WNBA Finals before being eliminated. This season, the Mercury will be looking to become the most concentrated champion instead of merely the most concentrated team.
The Mercury continue their playoff run this Sunday at 5pm ET against the Storm.
Seattle Storm: Seattle would be the most concentrated champion in the twelve-team era if they prevail
The Seattle Storm are the current favorite to be crowned WNBA champions. Heading into the semifinals, the Storm are riding a three-game winning streak. Breanna Stewart has been one of the league’s most consistent players, scoring in double figures in every game but one this season. Stewart is second in the league in points per game and is currently one of the frontrunners for MVP.
Seattle’s high scoring concentration comes largely from Stewart’s high-volume scoring. Stewart accounts for exactly one quarter of Seattle’s total scoring. If the Storm do end up as the 2018 champs, they would edge out the 2016 LA Sparks as the most concentrated champion in the twelve-team era. (As Phoenix is the most concentrated team ever in the twelve-team era, they would also become the most concentrated champion if they prevail.)
However, Seattle’s concentrated scoring does not mean that they are a one-woman show. Sue Bird is fourth on the team in scoring, but she’s their best passer and is second overall in the league in assists per game. Jewell Loyd has been an integral piece as well; she’s the team’s second leading scorer at 15.1 points per game and is also averaging 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Natasha Howard has been a presence on both the offensive and defensive ends, leading the team in blocks and putting up 13.2 points per game.
Having secured a double-bye into the semifinals, Seattle will play their first game of the 2018 WNBA playoffs this Sunday, August 26 against the Mercury.
Competing Philosophies: Even scoring distribution vs. highly concentrated scoring
The second round of this year’s WNBA playoffs saw the Connecticut Sun take on the Phoenix Mercury. The Sun are the ninth most evenly distributed team in the past nine years. They are the only team this season to have five players averaging double-digit scoring.
Their incredibly even scoring has allowed them to compensate if a key player has an off night. But it’s also true that, on any given night, a single player can take over if needed.
In the Sun’s final regular season game, Jasmine Thomas nailed four three-pointers and totaled 27 points. In their following game (their second-round matchup with the Mercury), Courtney Williams answered the call. Williams was the Sun’s third leading scorer during the regular season, averaging 12.6 points per game. In the Sun’s game against the Mercury in the second round, she dropped 27 points.
However, this even scoring couldn’t overcome Phoenix’s big three. DeWanna Bonner, Diana Taurasi, and Brittney Griner accounted for a whopping 77 of the Mercury’s 101 points. In this game, at least, concentrated scoring prevailed over balanced scoring.