We are halfway through the season and thus far, it has been a pretty wild ride. Looking back on my preseason predictions, I am reminded as to why I don’t like predictions: because I am terrible at them. But we press on! We press on into the All-Star break and we have all sorts of questions in our minds. “Who will win MVP?”, “Who will win Rookie of the Year?”, “Who is the best team in the league?” and perhaps most troubling of all, “Will there be any players left to suit up for the playoffs uninjured?”
Seriously, if we are going to talk about anything, let’s talk about how players from across the league just seem to keep getting injured, week in and week out. Even when we knew players that were going to be out for much or all of the year before it started, we have continued to see players go down for significant amounts of time. Sancho Lyttle, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Jewell Loyd, Asia Durr, Elena Delle Donne, the list goes on with so many players out with injuries throughout this year. You cannot help but feel for players who get her and have to miss games for their teams. I hope the second half of the season is healthier for everyone across the league.
Now, besides injuries, there has been a fair amount of off the court drama, with players embroiled in domestic disputes, etc. I will only say that I hope the WNBA can come to some sort of consensus on dealing with these matters the right way. I would hope that when concerns are raised, that teams, management, and league leadership listen to those involved and that they take appropriate action. One of the very first articles I wrote for this site was how I felt that the WNBA could be at the forefront of dealing with off the court issues the right way, to lead by example and to show other sports leagues how to handle different issues on and off the court. I talked only briefly about how the league could try to really openly and honestly deal with off the court issues, and how they needed to be prompt in dealing with said issues. Some will say they have not done a very good job this season with the issues that have arisen, while others will say we shouldn’t speculate or give too many opinions on matters we don’t fully understand or have the whole story on. I would agree that as fans, we should wait for the whole story before forming opinions or commenting one way or the other. My only hope is that the league does it’s best, in a timely manner, in any and every situation to help ANYONE affected by any situation involving the league, its employees, its personnel, and its players.
So beyond injuries and off the court drama what has actually been happening on the court in the WNBA this year? Let’s break it down by category:
THE BEST TEAMS: Washington Mystics (9-6) and Las Vegas Aces (11-6)
The Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics look like the two best teams in the league.
For the Aces, Liz Cambage, A’ja Wilson, and Kayla McBride are averaging 15 points a game each and will all be All-Stars on their home court next week. The Aces are the #1 team in the league in rebounds and assists. They are the highest defensive rated team in the league. The Washington Mystics are the best shooting team, they score the most points per game, they are second in steals and blocks. They are first in turnover average, and third in assists. They also commit the least amount of fouls per game. The Mystics and the Aces have the best plus-minus ratings in the league. It will be interesting to see if both teams can stay healthy and continue to play well until the end of the season. The Mystics want another shot at the title, they want to return to the Finals. The Aces are a young, hungry team proving that they are ready to take on the entire league. They have 3 of the best players in the league right now, but ratings-wise the Mystics absolutely have a complete roster of some of the best offensive players in the league this year. Delle Donne, Toliver, Meesseman, Hawkins, Cloud, Sanders, Powers, Walker-Kimbrough all have an offensive rating of 104 or higher. That means 9 of the top 12 offensive ratings belong to Mystics players. That is tough beat, but maybe the Aces top-rated defense can do just that come playoff time.
THE BEST PLAYERS: Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Howard, DeWanna Bonner, Jonquel Jones
I’m not going to quote a bunch of stats in this section. I’m too tired. But you probably already know, Delle Donne is playing extremely well this season. Howard is breaking out into a bonafide MVP candidate, Bonner is the low key MVP because she is putting up nutso numbers on a team that had more or less struggled without their leader Diana Taurasi. Jonquel Jones is a standout on the boards and is currently the most efficient player in the WNBA. Someone like Tina Charles or Liz Cambage could go nuts the rest of the season and leapfrog everyone to take the award, but that seems unlikely.
However, I have no idea who will ultimately win the MVP award. Howard will be possibly embroiled in off the court issues, Delle Donne may not be healthy, Bonner may be overlooked because of the Mercury’s overall record, and Jonquel Jones may take a dip with her numbers. Like I said at the beginning of the season, we simply cannot predict what is going to happen in 2019. This is a season of incredible uncertainty that has made for a challenging if not exciting and very interesting MVP race.
THE MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS: Odyssey Sims, Mercedes Russell, Kia Nurse, Jordin Canada
This is one of the hardest categories to try to choose an overall winner of. My vote right now is Odyssey Sims, not only because of her stats but because of that fact that I was personally rooting for her to have some kind of career revival with her move to Minnesota. Mercedes Russell looks like a player who was not going to last in the league as a rookie in 2018. As LWPRODUCTIONS pointed out on Twitter, she has totally transformed her game this season and looks ready to be a solid player for the surprising Storm as the season goes on. Like Russell, Kia Nurse is another second-year player who looks like she is here to stay. She was one of my favorite rookies last year, but she, unsurprisingly had an up and down year stats wise. She looks more solid and more ready to take some of the offensive load that has been weighing down Tina Charles for several seasons. Jordin Canada is another player that has seen more minutes due to injuries in Seattle. She is having a breakout year but that comes as less of a surprise because was such a dynamic force for UCLA in college. All of these players are deserving of the Most Improved Player award, but we will have to wait to see how it all plays out at the end of the year.
THE BEST ROOKIES: Napheesa Collier, Arike Ogunbowale, Asia Durr
I think people are realizing that Collier was the steal of the draft. I think I’m realizing it just now typing it. I think the only person not realizing it is Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve because she knew all along and that’s why Minnesota drafted her. Ogunbowale has been pretty darn impressive at times in her rookie season, but I just don’t like her shooting percentages and would love her to pass first and shoot second. Asia Durr can be the 3rd or 2nd go-to scorer on a New York Liberty team that really needs a 2nd or 3rd go-to scorer behind Charles and Nurse. I like all three of these players. People must think I have some deep, strange bias against Arike, but I just like Collier’s all-around game in the first half of 2019. I would like to see other rookies like McCowan, Kalani Brown, and Jackie Young have a more lasting impact on their teams in the years to come, and I think like some of the Most Improved players we talked about earlier, they could certainly have breakout sophomore efforts and go on to have very good WNBA careers. I wish nothing but the best for this rookie class because it was so full of talent you couldn’t help but want to cheer for every single rookie that made a team in 2019.
I have enjoyed the season so far, and I hope you have as well. I haven’t been able to follow as closely as I have in years past, but it has been a very interesting year all around the league, and I hope the second half is as wild and fun as the first. Everyone make sure to tune in to the All-Star Game in Las Vegas on July 27th! As always, thank you for reading!