Do not underestimate Storm-Mystics; winner might be primed for deep WNBA playoff run


May the winner of the 2022 WNBA playoff‘s most intriguing first-round series between the Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics be extra of a menace than its document signifies?

The Storm and Mystics, who completed tied for fourth within the WNBA standings at 22-14 — with Seattle incomes the best to host the sequence by successful two of three head-to-head matchups in the course of the common season — have not performed on the identical degree over the course of the season as they did whereas successful championships in 2018 (Storm), 2019 (Washington) and 2020 (Storm once more).

But a more in-depth have a look at the 2 groups’ seasons suggests motive to consider each of them might be higher within the postseason. Seattle has quietly leveled up since including former MVP Tina Charles, who led the WNBA in scoring final season whereas taking part in for the Mystics. And Washington has naturally been much better with 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne within the lineup, one thing we are able to count on all through the playoffs after the group fastidiously managed her schedule within the common season.

Let’s break down the numbers for Seattle and Washington forward of Thursday’s Recreation 1 (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Storm offense clicking at proper time

Protection has been a continuing for each of those groups, who completed first (Mystics) and third (Storm), respectively, in defensive score. Through the first half of the season, nonetheless, Seattle was counting on protection to beat a struggling offense.

When the Storm added Charles on June 28 following a contract divorce with the Phoenix Mercury, Seattle ranked ninth within the WNBA in offensive score at 98.3 factors per 100 possessions, according to WNBA Advanced Stats. Each different playoff group apart from the slow-starting New York Liberty had an offensive score of 100 or higher at that time.

Partially, Seattle had been affected extra by the WNBA’s well being & security protocols than every other group. MVP candidate Breanna Stewart and reserve Epiphanny Prince missed a pair of video games early within the season, each losses to Phoenix. Shortly thereafter, Sue Bird and Ezi Magbegor had been sidelined for 3 video games as a consequence of well being & security protocols, and Stephanie Talbot the primary two of these, throughout which the Storm went 2-1 however scored simply 51 factors in a house loss to the Dallas Wings.

Even at full energy, Seattle was relying too closely on the duo of Stewart and All-Star guard Jewell Loyd for scoring. When Charles joined the Storm, Magbegor (12.6) and Chook (8.6) had been the opposite two Seattle gamers averaging greater than seven factors per recreation. Though it took some time to combine Charles, starting together with her in a reserve position and persevering with as a starter forward of Magbegor within the season’s closing 10 video games, she lifted Seattle offensively.

In 18 video games with Charles, the Storm’s 107.0 offensive score ranks fourth within the WNBA whereas the group has nonetheless ranked third in defensive score. And 6 Seattle gamers — all 5 starters plus Magbegor off the bench — have averaged at the very least 7 PPG in that span.

Seattle’s 11-7 document with Charles is an identical to the group’s mark with out her, however these wins got here very otherwise. Simply 4 of the Storm’s 11 wins with out Charles had been by double digits, as in comparison with eight of the 11 together with her. Because of this, the Storm’s level differential has jumped from plus-1.8 PPG earlier than signing Charles to plus-6.4 since — a mark solely the Connecticut Sun (plus-8.0) bettered over the complete season.

It is also flown below the radar simply how dominant Seattle’s beginning 5 with Charles has been. That unit has outscored opponents by 20.9 factors per 100 possessions, according to WNBA Advanced Stats, simply tops amongst lineups that performed greater than 100 minutes this season. No different lineup with that many minutes had a internet score higher than plus-15.8.

Storm coach Noelle Quinn stated she might “completely” prolong the taking part in time for her beginning 5 in the course of the playoffs. We thought when Charles signed with Phoenix earlier than the season, her arrival would create a “superteam.” It is attainable her midseason transfer to Seattle did that as a substitute. But when the Storm are going to succeed in the semifinals after falling quick as defending champs final season, that can require beating a harmful Washington group.

Mystics efficiently managed Delle Donne’s well being

One other fascinating parallel between these two groups: They’ve each been tough to beat with their stars wholesome. Seattle’s playoff losses in 2019 and 2021 each got here with Stewart sidelined by accidents, that means her final wholesome elimination was 2017. For Washington, it was the 2018 Finals loss to the Storm — and even then, Delle Donne was battling a bone bruise suffered within the semifinal spherical.

The distinction, after all, is how lengthy these accidents stored Delle Donne off the court docket. Getting into this season, she’d performed simply three video games since successful the 2019 Finals after opting out of the 2020 “Wubble” season in Bradenton, Florida, and being sidelined by a again harm practically all of 2021.

To get Delle Donne to the playoffs wholesome, the Mystics utilized scheduled relaxation video games all through the season, a call that finally value them home-court benefit. Washington went 18-7 (.720) within the video games Delle Donne performed, an identical successful proportion to what the Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces used to tie for the highest spot within the standings (26-10, .722). Within the 11 video games Delle Donne missed, the Mystics went simply 4-7, dropping them to the fifth seed.

Partially as a result of Delle Donne practically all the time rested on the street (she performed in 17 of 18 residence video games however simply seven on the street), Washington performed higher with out her than that document disparity would point out. However together with her within the lineup, the Mystics carried out 5.2 factors higher than a mean group could be anticipated to in opposition to the identical opposition. With out her, Washington was barely higher than league common (0.7 PPG).

Though pricey within the standings, the Mystics’ plan for Delle Donne labored as they hoped by way of getting her by the season. Delle Donne was capable of ramp up her exercise late within the schedule, taking part in 11 of the group’s closing 13 video games — together with a back-to-back at residence in opposition to Seattle on the finish of July. Delle Donne’s minutes additionally elevated from 27.0 earlier than the All-Star break to twenty-eight.9 thereafter, which is essential as a result of Washington’s internet score was 12.2 factors per 100 possessions higher with Delle Donne on the court.

Each the Storm and Mystics can level towards current WNBA historical past as a motive for optimism a couple of deep playoff run. A 12 months in the past, Phoenix and Chicago had been seeded fifth and sixth, respectively, getting into the playoffs earlier than advancing to the Finals. Chicago, at 16-16 in the course of the common season, turned probably the most shocking champion in league historical past. If Seattle and Washington pull off an identical run this 12 months, it will not be practically as surprising.

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