In a league long driven by standout scorers, the WNBA is seeing more big games from its biggest stars.
Through 106 games in 2016, there have been 21 instances where an individual scored at least 30 points in a game. The number is unprecedented at this point in any of the league’s previous 19 seasons.
It’s also a figure that caught Angel McCoughtry by surprise.
“We have some scorers, but you had some scorers (in the league’s past),” McCoughtry said. “I honestly don’t know why. If you look back, you had Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper-Dyke. That’s weird.”
The surge in 30-point nights is not the only offensive statistics that are going up. Comparing this point in 2016 to 2015, there is a higher number of points per game, field goals made per game, free throws made and possessions. The rise in scoring league-wide is significant, as it has jumped from 75.1 points per contest up to 82.7.
One element that may have led to the jumps is the WNBA’s rule change regarding the shot clock. Starting with this season, the shot clock resets to 14 seconds on an offensive rebound rather than 24 seconds.
The shot clock has been tweaked with similar results before, as the league’s move to a 24-second shot clock instead of a 30-second shot clock in 2006 saw scoring shoot up by nearly eight points per game.
Dream coach Michael Cooper offered an explanation that goes further than a recent rule change. He said the growing athleticism of players rising through the ranks has created a league with much higher scoring figures.
“The women’s game now being 20 years old, it’s only going to get better,” Cooper said. “That starts a kid when she’s 3 or 4 years old. Now they know they can go to college then go to the pros. You’re only going to see players get better and more athletic.”
The subsequent challenge for Cooper and coaches across the league is slowing opposing offenses down. Now in his 11th season as a WNBA coach, Cooper’s strategy is to totally eliminate an opponent’s go-to players.
“Every team we play, we try to take one or two of their best scorers out of it and hopefully make other people shoot the ball,” Cooper said. “It’s getting to where you don’t have to just adjust for individuals; You have to adjust to that team.”
Cooper pointed toward the Dream’s recent matchup with Phoenix as an example of that strategy. Atlanta successfully limited Diana Taurasi, who leads the WNBA with three 30-point games, to 17 points and DeWanna Bonner to only 15 points. The only problem was the Mercury also had Brittney Griner, who erupted with a season-high 27 points to hand Atlanta an eight-point loss.
Cooper doesn’t see the rise in scoring and top scorers as an exception to the rule. According to him, it’s something that has been in the making and will be a characteristic of WNBA basketball going forward.
“Our league is only going to get better as our teams get better, and our teams get better as our individual players get better,” Cooper said.
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