Nylon Calculus: Shekinna Stricklen is the revolution

Leaguewide accuracy is down to start the WNBA season but several players are on track for historic shooting marks.

The 3-point shot has become a bigger and bigger part of WNBA offenses over the past few seasons. Although accuracy is down as we see many teams look to develop a rhythm and survive key rotation holes because of injury and EuroBasket commitments, teams certainly haven’t been shy about taking them.

Last season, six teams attempted at least 20 3-pointers per game, a threshold that no WNBA team had crossed as recently as the 2015 season. Through the first few weeks of this season, nine teams are averaging at least 20 3s per game, and the Washington Mystics pacing everyone with a would-be-record average of 25.9.

As teams increase their volume from the outside, several players are off to extraordinarily hot 3-point shooting starts — perhaps none hotter than the Sun’s Shekinna Stricklen. The eight-year veteran is a career 37.7 3-point shooter and she’s been over 40 percent each of the last two seasons. Through the first 11 games of this season, she seems determined to set a new personal best — currently at 10.4 3-point attempts per 36 minutes, knocking down 42.1 percent.

Stricklen is on pace to become just the sixth player in WNBA history to play at least 200 minutes and average at least double-digit 3-point attempts per 36 minutes. If she keeps up this pace and avoids injury, she would become just the third player to do it over 500 minutes, joining Shanna Zolman, who did it for the Silver Stars in 2007, and Diana Taurasi, who has done it the past two seasons. It’s worth noting that Stricklen’s accuracy — 42.1 percent so far — is considerably higher than Taurasi or Zolman.

Stricklen is a versatile shooter and the Sun have made excellent use of her skills in their offense this season, finding her on relocations after offensive rebounds, running her off a maze of screens in the halfcourt or letting her sprint to the line in transition.

Stricklen is not the only shooter whose hot start stands out on the graph above. Sami Whitcomb has blossomed into a key contributor for the Storm as they weather injuries and Lexie Brown has gotten a restart on her career with the Minnesota Lynx. And then, there is Leilani Mitchell, who was waived by the Mercury before the season started and then re-signed on June 5.

The Mercury have gotten off to a rough start without Taurasi and, honestly, it would be much, much worse without Mitchell. The Mercury’s offense has been 20.6 points better per 100 possessions with her on the floor. She’s making a difference with her steady hand at point guard but her red-hot shooting — 47.2 percent on just over 8.0 attempts per 36 minutes — puts her on track to be just the second player in league history to shoot better than 45 percent on that many 3-point attempts per 36.

Next: Everything is working for the Washington Mystics

There may be some mean-regression coming for a few of these shooters but it’s clear that the league is evolving before our eyes, and it’s skill that’s driving that evolution.

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