Setting the Scene: Canberra Capitals

(Image sourced from the ABC & Basketball Australia)

(All statistics accurate as of Tuesday 2nd December, 2020).

The Canberra Capitals will once again feature at the pointy-end of the WNBL season, as the reigning back-to-back champions continue to prove their worth on both ends of the court.

With reigning WNBL MVP Kia Nurse unable to suit up for the Capitals in North Queensland, Canberra have enjoyed improvements from the likes of star guard Maddi Rocci, and the arrival for Arizona-State bound Jade Melbourne.

Following on from yesterday’s piece on the Adelaide Lightning, the second part of our WNBL series Setting the Scene looks to make sense of Canberra’s strong start to the 2020 WNBL season.

Champions on the defensive end

On the defensive end, Canberra comfortably rank as the competition’s top defensive side, with a defensive rating of 86.9 (allowing 86.9 points per 100 possessions). Utilising a relentless defensive mentality, Canberra are second in the WNBL for generating opposition turnovers. Canberra are also the competition’s best defensive rebounding team, denying their opposition easy 2nd-chance points.

These factors contribute to a consistent, multi-faceted team defense that denies opposition teams the opportunity to put big scores on the board against the Capitals, especially through denying their opposition shots from behind the arc. The Capitals suffocate their opposition’s shooters, allowing just 29.2% of their FG attempts to come from behind the arc. In their big 23-point win over Southside, Canberra managed to hold the Flyers to a 3-pt attempt rate of just 30%, well below their season average of 35%.

Canberra’s lively young guards in Rocci, Melbourne and Abby Cubillo are all strong perimeter defenders, capable of funnelling their match-ups off the three-point line toward Marianna Tolo inside.

Rocci and her backcourt teammates are also vital in slowing their opposition in transition. As it stands, Canberra also rank second-last in pace per game. Canberra’s slower style of play contrasts their previous two championship-winning seasons where the Capitals featured at the top of competition for pace.

Scoring inside

Given their tendency to shy away from shots from deep, Canberra lead the competition for % of total points scored inside the paint (52.6%), opting to force the ball inside for high-percentage looks.

Bigs Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo are two of the competition’s best inside players, while the Capital’s guards such as Rocci, Cubillo and Melbourne are not shy when it comes to attacking the rim. The clip below is just one example of Melbourne’s aggression to find shots inside. A truly great finish.

Despite their tendency to score from inside, the Melbourne Boomers’ ranking as the competition’s best interior defensive side (allowing just 38.5% of scores inside) rung true in their win over Canberra at the start of Round Four. In their first match-up of the season, Canberra managed to score a dominant 60% of their shots inside, beating the Boomers by a comfortable 17 points. However, last night, at the beginning of Round Four, Melbourne held Canberra to their smallest percentage of points scored inside for the season (36%), on their way to a gritty 6-point win.

The inside presence of Ezi Magbegor and Cayla George forced Canberra to shoot from behind the arc, where Canberra averages a 3pt% of just 28%. Could the key to challenging Canberra be as simple as forcing them to beat you from the outside? Unlikely, but it’ll definitely help.

The clip above sees Melbourne implement a pack style defence, going under screens and utilising late switches to tempt Canberra into shooting from behind the arc. Despite Melbourne’s presence inside, the Capitals attempt to penetrate the defense, with Keely Froling turning the ball over in the process.

Is Tupaea 6th woman of the year?

Having moved from Sydney Uni to Canberra in the offseason, Tahlia Tupaea has provided Canberra with plenty of value off the bench this season.

Averaging 22.2 minutes per game, Tupaea is ranked second in the WNBL for assists per 32 minutes with 6.8, second only to Opals star and former teammate Leilani Mitchell (8.3).

On top of her quantity of assists, Tupaea is the WNBL’s safest distributor with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.9. Such an outlier performance, combined with a small sample size, will likely see Tupaea’s efforts regress over time, but her impact on the Capitals has been nothing short of outstanding. Combining her strong distribution with ability to limit turnovers while doing so, it’s clear Tupaea is on her way back to the form that saw her part of the Opals squad previously.

Tupaea leads a bench unit that currently ranks equal first in the WNBL for % of total points scored from bench players (33.6%). This is a far cry from Canberra last season, when the Capitals’ bench units contributed just 13.3% of total points, good enough for second-last in the WNBL. Tupaea is the undoubted leader of this unit, orchestrating a number of passes to unlock the scoring potential of her teammates. In the example below, Tupaea cuts, catching the Perth defense on the back-foot before finding the cutting Rocci for an easy lay-up.

On the defensive end, Tupaea is capable of switching onto a vast array of different players. Without breaking a sweat, Tupaea looks at home guarding much taller opposition, thanks to her strength and ability to switch and defend in the pick and roll.

Overall, there’s no doubt Canberra are one of the best three sides in the WNBL this season. Wins over Southside and Melbourne in the early rounds of the season, combined with the continued impact of local stars Tolo, Griffin and now Rocci, will see Canberra cement a finals berth early into the final round.

Whether Canberra’s offense is able to begin leaning on outside shots to help diversify its offering is one question we’ll be keeping a close eye on.

If you’ve enjoyed this piece, be sure to read our analysis of the Adelaide Lightning in part one of the Setting the Scene series covering the WNBL season.


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

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

Pace – how many combined possessions a team has per game

% of total points scored from bench players – the percentage of a team’s total points scored by players off the bench

Defensive rating – the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions.

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