Part 1 of our WNBA statistical decade in review
Just days remain in 2019, so what better time to take a look back at another decade in the WNBA? As the 2010s draw to a close, let’s break down the past ten years by the numbers.
It’s an interesting span to look back on overall: we are in the longest stretch of consistency in the WNBA in terms of its size. Though the San Antonio Stars have moved to Las Vegas over the past ten years and the Shock — who started the period newly in Tulsa from Detroit — relocated to Dallas, the total number of franchises hasn’t changed.
In the midst of that consistency, it has been an era of parity. Three franchises won their first titles over the past ten years, and as we’ll dive further in to, some of the most consistently dominant players in the 2010s weren’t from a title-winning team.
Before I start, let me say: this is not meant to be a ranking of players, teams, or coaches. The numbers will help tell some stories as we go, but the point is not to make any decisions on who had the best decade but simply to reflect on the 2010s through the statistics that amassed over the years.
Today we start with team-level numbers, and it’s time to dive in!
I have to start at the top. The 2010s saw the Minnesota Lynx go from first pick to first overall. After a 13-21 season in 2010, the Lynx added 2011 No. 1 pick Maya Moore to a roster replete with the likes of Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, and Rebekkah Brunson, forming a dynasty in a franchise that has yet to miss the Playoffs since.
From 2011 to 2017, the Lynx appeared in six of the seven Finals and came away champions four times, matching the Houston Comets as the only franchises to win four WNBA titles. Brunson, who brought her championship ring from the 2005 Sacramento Monarchs, became the first (and still only) WNBA player to win five championships.
The 2010s saw as many first-time winners as it did repeaters, with the Lynx, Indiana Fever (2012), and Washington Mystics (2019) winning their firsts in the decade, while the Seattle Storm (2010, 2018), Phoenix Mercury (2014), and Los Angeles Sparks (2016) had won before 2010.
Besides the Lynx, only the Storm won multiple titles in the 2010s, grabbing their second championship overall in 2010 with the legendary lineup of Sue Bird, MVP Lauren Jackson, Swin Cash, Camille Little, and Tanisha Wright, and then after a rebuilding period, they ran away with the title in 2018 behind the efforts of Bird, MVP Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, Natasha Howard, and Alysha Clark.
The decade opened hot for the Atlanta Dream, who finished runners-up in three out of four years from 2010 to 2013, and the middle was characterized by classic five-game series between the Lynx and Fever and then the decade-defining Lynx-Sparks rivalry which saw both franchises win a title. By decade’s end, the dynasties had started to fall away to player and coach retirement and movement, but the numbers tell us just how dominant the teams at the top were.
Look, you’re going to see the Lynx a lot here. From 2010 to 2019, they had 231 regular season wins and just 109 losses, good for a 67.9% win rate, all bests across the league.
Not too surprising, the Sparks were the next-closest behind the Lynx in terms of wins, and the San Antonio Stars / Las Vegas Aces lost the most games (200), though the end of the decade saw what looks like an upswing for the franchise in Sin City.
Not only did the Lynx win the most games, they posted the best winning margins across the league in the 2010s. Their average win margin of 12.76 points per game leads all teams, with the Mystics’ 12.4 point-per-game win margin close behind, their record-breaking 2019 season boosting that considerably.
The Lynx added league highs in 10-point wins (138) and 20-point wins (39) with the Sparks trailing and actually owning the decade’s mark for 30-point wins (12). The Lynx dynasty was perhaps at its best when it posted the largest margin of victory not just in the decade but in league history, when they beat the rebuilding Fever by 59 back in 2017.
Minnesota finished the decade with seven 20-win seasons, nine winning seasons, nine winning seasons at home, and eight winning seasons on the road, all league highs. The Mercury and Dream tied with nine home winning seasons of their own.
And the reason for those four rings and six Finals appearances, of course, is their postseason success. They won more games than anyone else (40) in the Playoffs in the 2010s (17 better than the Mercury, next-closest at 23), finishing victorious in a league-leading 70.2% of their postseason games. The Storm were second at 59.3%, which helps explain their two rings.
As we drill down in to the game statistics, let’s start on the offensive end. From here on out, I’m breaking individual teams apart from their overall franchises, so the Tulsa Shock and Dallas Wings are considered separately, as are the Las Vegas Aces and San Antonio Stars (or Silver Stars, which gives them the record for most names in the decade — 3!). I’m also focusing on regular season numbers, unless otherwise noted.
It shouldn’t be too surprising that the team who scored the most points in the 2010s features the all-time scoring leader as the face of the franchise. The Phoenix Mercury scored a total of 28,032 points in the regular season, led of course by Diana Taurasi, but we’ll get to her in a later installment. The Aces, in a much smaller sample size, led all teams with 83.3 points per game, but the Mercury are right there with them at 82.45 points per game over the entire ten years.
Interestingly, though, the Mercury didn’t lead the league in field goal makes or percentage, though they did post the largest number of free throws made (5,869) and a league-best 82.2% from the free throw line as a team. Only the Dream attempted more free throws (7,440), so the Mercury made the most of their 7,138 from the stripe in the 2010s.
Generally from the field, the Sparks were the most efficient, making 45.8% of their shots, followed by the Lynx close behind at 45.6%.
In fact, the Lynx led the league with 10,536 field goals made, followed by the Sparks at 10,279. The Connecticut Sun and Dream went more for volume, totaling 23,875 attempts and 23,758 attempts, respectively.
All that leaves is the three-point line, which was owned by the Storm. Though not the most efficient, they made the most threes (2,292) and had more attempts than any other team (6,528). They were followed by the Mercury — who I’ll admit I expected to see at the top — with 2,123 total makes on 6,274 attempts.
The most efficient team from three, though, was the Aces at 35.86%. Again, they’ve only had a couple of years to put up numbers, so it’s worth noting the Lynx were close behind at 35.16%, and the Storm (35.11%) and Fever (35.04%) weren’t too shabby either.
You get good shots by making good passes, right? So it’s no surprise that the Lynx also led the way with 6,567 total assists, and their 19.32 assists per game is second only to the Aces, who had 20.58 assists per contest in their two short years. The Aces similarly led in assist rate, assisting on 67.2% of their field goals in the decade, followed by the Storm (63.6%) and Lynx (62.3%).
On the other hand — well, the other team’s hand, really — two teams who have yet to really show up may owe that to their league-leading inability to hold on to the ball. The Dream led the decade with 4,865 turnovers, followed by the New York Liberty with 4,841 (and a league high 14.2 per game). Of course, that may be explained away in part based on tempo and the number of possessions each of those teams generated as a strategy, but I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader.
Here’s where the Dream get the ball back! In addition to leading the league in turnovers over the past ten years, they also led in steals (2,907). The Fever were next closest (2,806), and in a player breakdown still to come, we’ll get a better sense as to who was behind that. The Dream also led the league with 8.6 steals per game.
In terms of blocks, two of the all-time leaders in that category lifted their teams to the top of this statistic. (I’ll get to that later, but you can probably guess.) The Chicago Sky had 1,774 total blocks, followed by the Phoenix Mercury with 1,667. 5.22 blocks per game was good for first for the Sky, with the Mercury close behind at 4.9 per game.
I close with an important game statistic that often follows success, rather than necessarily leading to it. As I mentioned earlier, the Lynx and Sparks rivalry was probably the most talked about (and most heated) rivalry in the WNBA through the 2010s, and their crowds were a huge part of it.
Across all regular season and postseason games, the Lynx reported the most fans in attendance throughout the 2010s with 1,939,061 in Target Center (and a couple of other nearby arenas along the way. The Sparks were second with 1,847,982, and the Mercury rounded out the top three with 1,792,763. That trio was heads and shoulders (literally) above the rest of the league over the decade.
Because of their success, the Lynx hosted more postseason games than any other team, so it’s also important to take a look at average attendance over the years. The top three is the same, with the Sparks and Lynx swapping places. Los Angeles drew 9,830 fans on average throughout the 2010s, followed by 9,599 for Minnesota.
Now that we’ve broken down the teams, we can move on to their personnel. In the next part to come soon, we’ll take a quick look at the coaching numbers over the past ten years.
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