The Tulsa Shock and Connecticut Sun are the league’s hottest teams. It may be surprising for some but the reason why they’re on a roll is simple: both teams are playing solid basketball.
The Connecticut Sun placed last in the Eastern Conference for two consecutive seasons prior to this year, while the Tulsa Shock have not made the post-season since their relocation from Detroit
10 games into the 2015 WNBA seasons, the two teams — quite surprisingly — have emerged as the top teams in the league. Tulsa posted an 8-1 record while Connecticut is 7-1.
Tulsa’s only setback came at the hands of the Minnesota Lynx (a game that they led most of the way), but has since won eight in a row. The streak includes victories over the Chicago Sky, Washington Mystics, and the Lynx.
The Shock have already won more than half of their 2014 total (12-22) — and with still a long way to go. They are doing it without Glory Johnson and with Odyssey Sims missing most of the games.
Connecticut has been tremendous as well, even with the absence of Chiney Ogwumike; after dropping their season opener to the Mystics, the Sun beat the Sky in a close affair and defeated the Atlanta Dream twice, en route to seven consecutive wins.
While some did not expect these teams to be on top of their respective conferences, the dream start has nothing to do with secrets nor is it a fluke. They are just playing good, solid basketball, and key figures prove it. Here are some takeaways explaining the success they had early this season.
Getting it done on both ends
With young weapons like Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims, who both have terrific upside, Tulsa finished as the third top offensive team last year. However, they were not able to complement it with good defense and placed last in DRTG (108.9) for a net rating of -2.6.
This season was a drastic improvement. The Shock’s net rating made a whopping leap to +13.7, and they are no. 3 in DRTG. Also, the Shock are shooting a league-best 39.2 percent from three-point range with Diggins, Plenette Pierson, and Riquna Williams all having a three-point clip of above 40 percent.
With such threats, Tulsa is able to change how the defense reacts, and they complement the immense talent with unselfishness. They have assisted 17.4 of 30.7 field goal makes so far in the season, leading the league in assists per game.
The Sun also made a remarkable turnaround from -2.4 in 2014 to a current net rating of +11.9. Most of the Sun’s offense starts with a conscious effort on the defensive end. The team is ranked no. 1 in DRTG, and have increased their average turnovers forced per game to 18.3 this year from 14.5 in the previous season.
This is an era in hoops where side-to-side movement on offense is never enough. There should be premium playmakers who are tasked not just to put the ball down on the floor and facilitate, but also read and use their athleticism to attack and create for their teams.
Fortunately for both Tulsa and Connecticut, they have two of the best in the WNBA right now.
Skylar Diggins (17.1 PPG, 3 RPG, 5 APG) leads the league in total assists and has an assist rate of 26.8. Aside from her ability to read, Diggins is deadly from the three-point area, shooting at 52.6 percent which makes Tulsa even harder to stop when she has the ball.
She can either drive strong to the basket, utilize pick and roll plays, or spot up for the long range shot.
Alex Bentley (15.7 PPG, 1.6 APG) is another creator whose significance has been huge for the Sun. Even if she is averaging only below two assists per outing, the attention she draws as one of the best two-way players in the league confuses defenses.
It may not be reflecting directly on the stat sheets, but the passes she makes on offense usually jumpstarts the scoring for the Sun. Bentley is also relentless in transition, forcing turnovers from opposing teams and turning them into easy baskets for the Sun.
Of course, these teams are competitive because the stars are backed by solid supporting casts.
Four Shock players average in double-digits in the season, with Courtney Paris and Karima Christmas adding 7 PPG each. Paris leads the WNBA in rebounding with 12.4 RPG, while the addition of Plenette Pierson from New York has given Tulsa an extra offensive weapon.
Pierson is Tulsa’s third top scorer with 15.3 PPG and is also making above 40 percent from the three-point line.
In Connecticut, three members are in double-figures with three others providing 8.1 PPG or more. Rookie Chelsey Gray is the Sun’s best scorer off the bench, averaging 9.6 PPG on 58.8 percent clip from beyond the arc. She also makes her impact felt on defense, accounting for 1.6 steals per match.
Tulsa and Connecticut are simply well-constructed teams with players having specific roles to lead the squads to greater heights. And more than talent-filled rosters, it’s how Fred Williams and Anne Donovan are leading their respective troops to play as one that’s leading to success.