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Setting the Scene: Adelaide Lightning

(Image sourced from Adelaide Lightning)

(All statistics accurate as of Round Three conclusion).

Adelaide’s turbulent start to hub life has proved challenging to gauge exactly where the Lightning sit amongst their opposition.

An opening night OT win over the reigning back-to-back champions Canberra was followed by a 5-point win over Perth. Adelaide then missed nine days of action when they were forced into quarantine following the COVID-19 scare in South Australia. Since returning to action in Round Three, Adelaide have split their fixtures with wins over Bendigo and Sydney Uni, and losses to Melbourne and Southside.

The Lightning now have six games under their belt, with another three scheduled for this week’s Round Four of the 2020 WNBL season. The end of this week should see Adelaide’s fate easier to pick, with the current consensus placing the Lightning 5th come season’s end.

Today’s piece exploring Adelaide’s start to the season features as the first of two pieces set to be released this week in our Setting the Scene series. The series aims to shed light on an entertaining WNBL season, worthy of more consideration in Australia’s current sporting landscape.

Adelaide are dangerous in transition

Undoubtedly, Adelaide play an up-tempo style of play, seeking to pull down rebounds and push the pace against their opposition. Adelaide rank second in the WNBL this season for pace, which calculates the number of possessions a team has, as well as their opposition.

Adelaide head coach Chris Lucas has clearly identified the skillsets of his roster this season, tailoring the Lightning’s offense to largely benefit the skillsets of their captain Stephanie Talbot and homegrown recruit Alex Wilson. So far this season, Adelaide comfortably rank first for total % of points scored from fast break opportunities.

As discussed in more depth below, Talbot, along with her teammates, have relished opportunities in transition this season. Talbot ranks second for rebounds per game, allowing her to pull down opposition misses, before jetting up the court to score or find her teammates for easy finishes. Here’s just one example we found where Talbot pulls down the contested rebound before beating the opposition back to their own basket.

Talbot becomes the undisputed leader

The Adelaide captain is an undisputed MVP candidate herself, currently ranking in the top ten for all the main statistical categories.

CategoryAverageRanking
Points per game19.82nd
Rebounds per game9.82nd
Assists per game4.08th
Steals per game2.0=2nd
Blocks per game1.24th

This sort of production is something we haven’t seen from the versatile forward since she returned to the WNBL in the 2018-19 season. Talbot played a supporting role to the likes Ezi Magbegor, Cayla George, Lindsey Allen and Sarah Boothe in her return season with the Melbourne Boomers, ranking fifth for usage with the Boomers (20.7%, 29th in WNBL). Talbot also played the supporting act to import Brianna Turner last season when she joined the Lightning, once again boasting a usage rate of just 22.7% (15th in WNBL).

This season, with no imports allowed to play in the WNBL, Talbot has relished the opportunity to lead the Lightning, increasing her usage rate to a league-leading 30.2%. With Turner now missing from Adelaide’s lineup, as well as the absence of Alanna Smith through injury, Talbot has taken it upon herself to initiate her’s team offence.

Along with pushing the ball up the court for fast-break scores, Talbot has seen her own shot selection drastically change in the early stages of this season. In the two previous WNBL seasons, Talbot boasted a 3-pt attempt rate of 41% and 51%, opting to shoot from behind the arc at a rate well above league average (roughly 32%). In the 2020 season so far, Talbot has shot just 17% of her FG attempts from behind the arc, instead opting to score inside, where she currently leads the WNBL in FT attempts (5.3).

Despite an increase in usage, Talbot has remained one of the competitions most efficient scorers, ranking third for true shooting % among players who average ten or more FG attempts per game. Talbot’s aggression to generate high-percentage looks inside for herself can be seen in the example below where she takes advantage of a Flames’ defensive breakdown, cutting to the basket for an easy finish.

Adelaide’s recruiting (tick)

With Adelaide missing the likes of Lauren Nicholson and Nicole Seekamp this season, a number of the Lightning’s recruits have provided great value since joining in the offseason.

Alex Wilson joined from Sydney Uni, and his since become the Lightning’s starting point guard, averaging 5.2 assists (fourth in the WNBL). Wilson’s distribution, paired with her 13.2 points per game have been a welcomed addition to Adelaide’s offense in an attempt to help fill the void left by Seekamp who has chosen to take time-away from basketball. In the example below, the threat of Wilson’s outside shot forces the long close-out, allowing Wilson to penetrate and find the open shooter.

In addition to Wilson, Abigail Wehrung joined from Bendigo, and now registers as Adelaide’s second-highest scorer (13.9 PPG), hitting an impressive 50% of her 26 shots from behind the arc. In the example below, Southside’s Rebecca Cole makes the mistake of going under the screen on Wehrung, who doesn’t hesitate to take the open 3-pt shot.

On top of her shooting, Wehrung is also considered one of the competition’s best perimeter defenders, which is another void Adelaide’s attempted to fill given the departure of Nicholson to Townsville.

Inside the paint, Louella Tomlinson joined from Southside and currently leads the competition for blocks per 32 minutes (4.2). Tomlinson’s presence inside has been a major contributing factor toward Adelaide conceding the equal-least % of total opposition points inside the paint this season (39.2%, =1st Melbourne).

Combined, Wilson and Wehrung’s contributions in the backcourt, paired with Tomlinson presence inside, has helped Adelaide build a strong assemble of supporting acts for Talbot. There’s no doubt however that head coach Chris Lucas would be thinking ‘what-if’, if he had Australian WNBA star Alanna Smith suiting up for the Lightning this season.

Questions surrounding Adelaide

Adelaide’s desire to push the ball has sometimes been the target of their opposition’s scouting reports. In Adelaide’s 31-point loss to Southside, the Flyers held Adelaide to zero points from fast-break opportunities, while in their fixture against Melbourne, the Lightning could only manage six points from transition. The example below highlights just one occasion where the Flyers were able to slow the Lightning in transition. Aimee Clydesdale picks up Adelaide guard Brooke Basham before the halfway line, denying her the opportunity to push the ball, and affording Southside time to set themselves on the defensive end.

With regard to Talbot, the increase in usage has seen her increase her turnover rate. Along with leading the competition in most statistical categories, Talbot also leads the WNBL in turnovers, averaging 3.7 per game. Among players who average two or more assists per game, Talbot has the lowest assist-to-turnover ratio (1.1 assists per turnover), highlighting a tendency to lose the ball in transition when attempting to be aggressive.

Finally, the question for Adelaide’s supporting cast will be whether one of the names mentioned above are capable of distinguishing themselves as a clear second option for the Lightning to lean on. In the absence of the injured Smith, Adelaide will be looking to Wilson and Wehrung to fill the scoring void, while Tomlinson’s strong interior presence will need to continue if the Lightning are any chance of reaching the final four.

If you’ve enjoyed this piece, tune in for our future WNBL pieces coming this week as part of the Setting the Scene series. We also have a number of similar articles on the 2020 AFL season if you’ve enjoyed the style and format of this piece (Saints/Power, Bulldogs/Blues, Lions/Power, GWS).

Finally, you can follow us on Twitter to get updates every time we upload something new. If you’re an existing reader, we appreciate your support given our irregularity.

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Glossary

3-pt attempt rate – % of total FG attempts from 3-pt range

FT-attempt rate – the ratio of FT attempted per FG attempted

Usage rate – an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while they were on the floor

Assist-to-turnover ratio – how many assists a player makes per turnover (i.e. 2.5 equals 2.5 assists for every turnover)

True shooting percentage – a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws

Pace – how many combined possessions a team has per game