Washington, the WNBA’s overwhelming title favorite since September, dominated the regular season with its highly efficient offense (a league-high 112.9 points per 100 possessions). That offense got even better during the postseason (114.2 points per 100 possessions), in part thanks to a system modeled after some of the most successful NBA offenses, especially in terms of three-point shooting.
The NBA’s love affair with the three-pointer is well documented. NBA franchises averaged 22.4 three-point attempts per game five years ago; that number ballooned to 32.0 in 2018-19. The Golden State Warriors have relied on the three-pointer during their five straight trips to the NBA Finals, averaging 30.6 per game from 2014-15 to 2018-19. Their foils in the NBA Finals for most of that span, LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers, launched more than 10,000 three-pointers (30.8 per game) during the regular season from 2014-15 to 2017-18, making them one of two teams to attempt 10,000 or more in that span. (The Houston Rockets at 11,989 are the other.)
The Mystics attempted a WNBA-leading 25.4 three-pointers per game during the 2019 regular season. (WNBA games are eight minutes shorter than NBA games, and the Mystics’ average equates to 30.5 attempts over 48 minutes.) They averaged 24.6 three-pointers during the playoffs — about five attempts more than the rest of the playoff field.
Despite making only four three-pointers in the deciding game of the Finals, three-point shooting accounted for 32.9 percent of the Mystics’ postseason points. The Sun tallied 24.8 percent of its points from long range. The Las Vegas Aces, Washington’s semifinal opponent, managed a league-low 19.5 percent of their postseason points from the three-point line.
Kristi Toliver led the three-point barrage for the Mystics during the playoffs with 48 attempts, followed by Natasha Cloud (45) and Delle Donne (33), with all three converting close to 40 percent. But Emma Meesseman took her three-point shooting to a new level: “Playoff Emma” shot 42.2 percent on three-pointers during the regular season but made 18 of 31 attempts (58.1 percent) in the postseason despite increasing her volume from 2.0 to 3.4 attempts per game.
Meesseman also led the Mystics with 27 shots around the basket (resulting in 40 points) during the championship run. Attacking the rim, like three-point shooting, is also highly efficient and is a staple of the modern NBA, and that approach made Meesseman Washington’s most efficient shooter in the playoffs. She averaged 1.3 points per attempt over nine games, a higher efficiency rate than Delle Donne (1.1), Toliver (1.0) and Cloud (1.0). The Mystics’ offensive rating during the postseason improved from 108.3 to 114.7 when Meesseman was on the court. No wonder she was named the WNBA Finals MVP.
“She was the difference,” Toliver said of Meesseman after Game 5. “ … She wanted the ball in the biggest moments, and a couple years ago she didn’t. And so that’s a huge credit to her and her growth as a player and a person. So she was enormous for us.”
So was Washington’s NBA-style offense.