On Wednesday the Lynx will open their two-game preseason with a game at Washington.
But coach Cheryl Reeve thinks she might get more out of Tuesday’s scrimmage against the Mystics than she does from the game the following night.
Because Tuesday’s workout will be all about basketball analytics.
“I think of it as a study ground, if you will, of things to come,” Reeve said.
Advanced analytics have found their way into the mainstream of all the major sports, using numerical analysis to break down various facets of what happens on the court. An example: the mounting evidence that basketball games are won with three-point shooting and points in the paint, a belief that downplays the importance of midrange shots.
The two teams will hold what is being called an “analytic” scrimmage. It will have two 10-minute controlled scrimmages with new rules. In the first there will be a unique scoring system that essentially eliminates the midrange shot. In the scrimmage, those shots won’t count. Indeed, they will result in a loss of possession.
In the second period the shot clock will be set at 20 seconds. Also, free-throw rules will be tweaked to automatically award one point in a two-free-throw situation — and two awarded on a three-pointer foul — with an extra attempt given for the extra point. It is an attempt to speed up the game’s pace.
Reeve said this is coming at the suggestion of Ted Leonsis, who owns both the Mystics and the NBA’s Wizards. “He’s interesting in learning new ways we can improve the game,” Reeve said. “Increase eyes on the woman’s game, increase interest in it, from a style of play.”
And the Lynx were a good match, both because Reeve and Mystics coach Mike Thibault are longtime friends and because the Lynx are highly committed to the game’s analytics.
“We are probably one of the most analytics-focused staffs [in the league],” Reeve said. “Jim [assistant coach Jim Petersen,] in particular, really enjoys it.”
The team makes good use of the organization’s stats man, Paul Swanson, while preparing for games.
That said, Reeve uses some of an old-school approach, too.
Though the game is moving more toward the three-point shot — something the Lynx are trying to do more of — the fact remains that Reeve has perhaps the league’s best-ever midrange shooter in Seimone Augustus. Guard Lindsay Whalen uses the shot a lot, too. And the team has been very successful over the past few seasons.
“That’s my challenge,” she said. “We like to score in the paint, like to shoot more threes. At the same time I have two great midrange shooters. So, when I’m coaching our team, and I’m talking about trying to get layups or spread the floor and try to get threes, I always tell Seimone, ‘That’s not for you.’ Same with Whalen.”
But the pace-of-play issue is huge for Reeve, who feels teams have gone out of their way to slow the Lynx’s fast break the past two years. It started when Indiana did a good job in the 2012 league finals, using fouls to slow the break. Reeve has made it a priority to figure ways around that this year. It starts with better defense than the injury-plagued Lynx played last year, improved rebounding and designing a fast break that features ball movement to make it more difficult to foul.
“That’s why I like this analytics scrimmage for us,” Reeve said. “Because I think that’s how we want to play. We’re focused on that. It will be fun to put it to use.”
So the Lynx will leave a day early so they can be a part of the stats-based workouts, hoping both teams can learn something from the experience.