Nationals

Leonsis holds analytic scrimmage as way to increase WNBA popularity

leonsis.png

Leonsis holds analytic scrimmage as way to increase WNBA popularity

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."

Quick Links

A quick recap of Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game, including how your Nats did

segura-asg.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

A quick recap of Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game, including how your Nats did

Tuesday evening's All-Star game was fairly uneventful until its later innings. The American League triumphed over the National League, 8 - 6, for their sixth straight All-Star game victory.

Despite fears of potential rain and inclement weather delaying the game, there were no unexpected stops in play. 

The AL started very strong offensively, with runs from Aaron Judge and Mike Trout in the top of the second and third innings, respectively. Jean Segura's three-run homer in the top of the eighth made victory look inevitable for the AL by the fifth. 

Max Scherzer, unsurprisingly, was well received among fans at Nationals Park. The Nats starter pitched the first two innings, giving up four hits. One was Judge's second-inning homer, but Scherzer remained unfazed and lighthearted. Four strikeouts made his performance commendable.

Bryce Harper did not get on as well, striking out in both of his at-bats. After Harper's Home Run Derby Win last night, there was chatter of him going for the MVP title as well. 

It didn't work out, but given Harper's consistent presence at the All-Star game, there's always another chance.

Elsewhere in the dugout for the NL, who rallied back from the three-run deficit, the kids were all right. Willson Contreras of the Cubs had a solo homer at the bottom of the third, the Rockies' Trevor Story had one in the seventh, and Christian Yelich added another in the eighth. A two-run homer by Scooter Gennett in the bottom of the ninth brought the game back to a 5-5 tie.

Jesus Aguilar struck out for the NL, and extra innings began.

In the top of the tenth, Alex Bregman and George Springer, both of the Astros, hit home runs almost immediately off of Dodgers pitcher Ross Stipling. Stop us if you've heard that one before.

With no outs, Michael Brantley took a sacrifice flyout to right field, and Jean Segura got in one more run to put the score at 8-5.

Though Joey Votto (Reds) hit one last home run in the bottom of the tenth, the NL couldn't quite make up the deficit.

After a late night, the American League will be going home happy.

MORE ALL-STAR GAME NEWS:

Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver named 2018 WNBA All-Stars

Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver named 2018 WNBA All-Stars

On Tuesday, the WNBA revealed the list of 22 players selected by fans, WNBA players and head coaches and media for Verizon WNBA All-Star 2018. 

Two Washington Mystics will be featured in the July 28 showcase at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Elena Delle Donne is making her fifth All-Star appearance and serving as one of two team captains, while Kristi Toliver earns the honor for her second time, and first since 2013. 

Delle Donne recorded her 3,000th career point Sunday night becoming the fastest player in WNBA history to reach the milestone with a 23-point performance in a loss to the Atlanta Dream. It was just the 148th game of her career. 

The 28-year-old is averaging 20.6 points, good for fourth in the league. 

Toliver is averaging 14 points and 4.2 assists. The former Maryland Terrapin is also just a week removed from making her debut as part of the Wizards coaching staff during Las Vegas Summer League. 

The Mystics are 13-9 and atop the eastern conference by 0.5 games. The last time the team had two all-stars was in 2015, when Stefanie Dolson and Emma Meesseman played together.

For ticket information about Verizon WNBA All-Star 2018, fans may visit lynx.wnba.com/allstar/.