Anyone could have guessed that the Seattle Storm would be “worse” this year than last year – it’s hard to imagine any team improving on what they did in 2010.
Repeating the dominant run they had en route to the WNBA championship would arguably have been more difficult than pulling it off the first time: every team is going to be gunning for them, every team in their conference got better, and, for whatever it’s worth, they’re a veteran team that just got a year older.
Quite simply, it’s rare for any sports team to maintain such dominant play for an extended period of time (which is, in large part, what made the UConn Huskies’ 90-game winning streak so impressive).
However, it’s probably fair to say that the ways in which the team has declined this season are mildly surprising. First, center Lauren Jackson was having a sub-par season even before suffering a hip injury that will keep her out 8-12 weeks. Second, the Storm have fallen from the second most efficient offensive team in 2010 (105.46 points per 100 possessions) to the 11th this season (92.05/ppp). Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com has previously written about the Storm’s offensive struggles, with a particular focus on their three point shooting.
In their 75-70 road loss to the Connecticut Sun, the problem was magnified by the fact that they took so many threes as they were trying to mount a comeback: they shot 1-for-11 in the fourth quarter and just 3-for-21 for the game. The strange thing is that it’s not necessarily a matter of them settling for a whole lot more threes than they did last season – they’re averaging 17.85 per game right now, less than last season’s 19.61 per game.
They’re simply not making shots. And you figure that at least one of those five players shooting below their career average will have to eventually find their touch.
But in the meantime, perhaps what’s most alarming is that if the Storm were to continue shooting 25.6% from the three point line after shooting 36.9% last season, it would be the largest three point shooting decline of any team that shot 35% or higher in the history of the WNBA.
Key statistic: Storm’s shooting efficiency hampered by three point shooting struggles
The 35% threshold is not exactly arbitrary – not only has it been above average in every WNBA season to date except one (2004), but every single champion since 2000 has shot over 35% except one (2006 Detroit Shock). So in plain terms, we can generally consider teams shooting 35% from three point range “above average”.
The following is the list of the top five three point shooting declines (and another significant one) by above average three point shooting teams in WNBA history (through 2010):
Yr1 3p rate
Yr2 3p rate
1. 2002 Sacramento Monarchs *
2. 1998 Cleveland Rockers *
3. 2004 Detroit Shock **
4. 2000 Detroit Shock
5. 2003 San Antonio Silver Stars
2005 Seattle Storm **
* = Led league in previous year; ** = Led league and won title in previous year
Two quick notes:
- “3p rate” is the percentage of a team’s total field goal attempts that come from three point land or, similar to free throw rate, a proxy for a team’s three point shooting frequency. Three pointers per possession would be more accurate, but for now let’s just go with this.
- The 2011 Seattle Storm’s three point rate differential is -1.72%.
- The Silver Stars were the Utah Starzz in 2002 and losing Natalie Williams did not help them get off to a good start in Texas.
- The 2010 Chicago Sky were the last team to experience a significant decline going from a league-leading 39.5% in 2009 to 34.1% in 2010 (-5.4). I added the 2005 Storm for what should be obvious reasons although there are a few teams between them and the 2003 Silver Stars.
- It’s also worth noting that three point shooting efficiency has steadily improved from the league’s first season to now, even with the advent of the shot clock and moving the line back 9 inches.
A few observations:
- Every one of these teams lost both a starter or top three point shooter. In most cases, the team lost both. The Storm, obviously, lost neither: they returned all their starters and Svetlana Abrosimova was only third on the team in attempts and sixth in percentage. They also added Katie Smith, who has been a rather prolific three point shooter over the course of her career and shot well last season, as Pelton noted.
- Only two of these teams increased their three point rate as their shooting declined. If you exclude the 2003 Silver Stars as a relocation outlier, all but the 1999 Rockers shot less and even that team didn’t shoot a whole lot more.
- Most of these teams got worse at the same time as their three point shooting declined. That makes sense if all of these teams lost a starter. The exception, of course, is the 2005 Storm who finished with the exact same record. The 2005 Shock’s record was similar.
So why does any of this matter?
The following is the same table above for this season’s Storm.
Yr1 3p rate
Yr2 3p rate
2011 Seattle Storm