By BENJAMIN STANDIG, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Ted Leonsis has turned to analytics in his search for ways to broaden the appeal of the WNBA.
Analytics are a growing trend that has had an impact on the NBA, look no further than the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals.
So Leonsis, owner of the Washington Wizards, Mystics and the NHL's Capitals, figured a WNBA scrimmage would work as a good testing ground.
"There is a lot of theory that's talked about regarding analytics," Leonsis said, "but there really is not a lot of real-life labs where you can really see it. You can report and analyze what happened in the past, but it's difficult to see how some of these plans that you can implement only in a scrimmage format for now ... really mean."
In addition to a standard scrimmage, the Mystics and Minnesota Lynx participated in a controlled "analytic" version broken into 10-minute sections on Tuesday.
No fans attended, but members of the Wizards organization, including head coach Randy Wittman, team president Ernie Grunfeld and Leonsis, watched from the Verizon Center stands.
Sport VU cameras were used to record the scrimmage. NBA teams deploy these cameras during the season to gather possession-by-possession data used for game planning.
Leonsis said he came up with the initial scrimmage idea before discussing it further with WNBA officials and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
On the surface, all looked similar, but with subtle changes.
In one session, only shots from 3-point range, in the paint and extended low block counted. Mid-range shots resulted in turnovers.
When news of the scrimmage surfaced last week that no mid-range shots aspect drew the attention of Phil Jackson. The former NBA player and current New York Knicks president who coached the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers to 11 NBA championships isn't a huge fan of analytics that put more emphasis on 3-pointers.
As part of series of tweets Saturday, Jackson said, "the 3pt shot is not the be all end all of basketball. WNBA is taking their exhibition game to extremes-do not disvalue the 2pt shot."
Jackson's reaction was not lost on Leonsis.
"When I saw and read his tweets the other day, I said 'This worked. We've gotten people's attention," Leonsis said. "But we're not doing (this) to not pay respect to the game of basketball. We're trying to see for the women's game, are there things that we can do to make it more popular and are there lessons that can be learned from this scrimmage that can be applied" elsewhere.
Among the adjustments during the final 10 minutes, teams played with a 20-second shot clock that reset to 14 following offensive rebounds.
The players and coaches largely treated the scenario as they would when they practice running a specific play following a timeout or target a specific section of the offense. They just did so longer. Over the 20 minutes of controlled scrimmages, the Mystics outscored the Lynx 48-41.
"We scored 48 points in two quarters," said Washington guard Kara Lawson. "You can probably count on one hand the amount of halves that prolific in the last couple of years. Small sample size, but it did increase the scoring."
Analytics have become a big part of basketball and don't seem to be going away.
However, as Mystics coach Mike Thibault noted, numbers and analysis are one thing, talent is another.
"I had a reporter one time say you have a lot of shooters," Thibault recalled. "I said that's not the issue. I need a lot of makers."