2019 Finals Preview: Sun vs Mystics

How would I revise what I already said in my playoff preview a couple of weeks ago? What new insights can we glean from the series these two teams have been through to get to the Finals? Well, the Mystics look at least somewhat beatable sometimes. If they are choosing good shots, or get lazy on defense, they can be beat. If Delle Donne or Meesseman have a bad night, they need more than one player to step up big offensively, because Delle Donne and Meesseman’s combined points usually far outweigh the rest of the team. But the Aces series showed that the Mystics can dig deep and battle back to win games. They’ve done their part in keeping everyone healthy, and Meesseman has proved she’s the ultimate x-factor on a team where anyone could be the x-factor, whether it’s Natasha Cloud, Kristi Toliver, or Aerial Powers. Everyone is going to have to be playing their best, and everyone is going to have continue to pass well and rebound hard. If the Mystics don’t stick to what they’ve done well all season long, they could find themselves in serious trouble.

As far as insights from their playoff run so far, more could be said for Connecticut. This team, in particular it’s Twitter account, feels very slighted and disrespected. I get it. They aren’t Los Angeles, the flashy Hollywood team with the big stars on and off the court and the bad Knicks coach. They aren’t New York, and they aren’t D.C. Heck they aren’t even Boston, even though they want the rest of New England to cheer for them like the Patriots. But they do have a really great coach in Curt Miller, who proved that he could outcoach, well, another coach, and his players proved they were more than just “role-players”. But now they have the real test, against their former coach Mike Thibault, and it’s time to prove they can be more than just more than role-players. They now have to prove they are champions. The Sun dominated the Sparks, but face a much, much more difficult test with Washington. Can their transition game lead to enough turnovers and fast break points to slow the Mystics down by speeding them up? Can they simply outrun the Mystics and wear them out over a five game series to win? My mind says no, but my heart says anything can happen in the postseason. The only thing I know for certain is that a new WNBA champion will be crowned no later than October 10th. What happens between now and then is anyone’s guess.

2019 WNBA Pre-Season Power Rankings

The 2019 WNBA Season is underway this week with our first group of preseason games featuring the Liberty taking on China, the Mystics taking on the Lynx, and the Sparks taking on the Mercury. Now that the draft is over and moves and roster cuts continue to happen, let’s rank each team as they head into what looks to be a very interesting and uncertain WNBA season. This is a tough list because almost every team should be ranked in a tie for 4th place given all the talent and potential each roster has going into the season.

1. Washington Mystics

The Mystics are looking to make back to back trips to the WNBA Finals in 2019 after being swept last year by Seattle. With Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver, LaToya Sanders, Emma Meesseman, Natasha Cloud, and plenty of other young talent, I expect them to get there. Delle Donne has to stay healthy, and Meesseman has to contribute off the bench immediately. The team needs to rebound better and get more assists, and they have to continue to be the best free throw shooting team in the league. If they can do everything they were doing at the end of the last year, they will be a strong contender to make the Finals once again.

2. Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks got Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike on the same team. They traded Odyssey Sims for Alexis Jones. They got Tierra Ruffin-Pratt in free agency. They lost Essence Carson to Phoenix. They probably won’t get Liz Cambage. But this roster is still one of the most talented in the league. Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray, who they just re-signed, Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike, the newly drafted Kalani Brown, Alana Beard, and Jantel Lavender look to bounce back from a somewhat disappointing season in 2018 and get back to the WNBA Finals. They have a new head coach in long time NBA star Derek Fisher. They made have some ups and downs as they adjust to a new coach, but I believe with this roster, they have a great chance this year at another title run.

3. Connecticut Sun

Still young and full of talent with a great coaching staff, the Sun are also looking to bounce back from a frustrating 2018 season. Jonquel Jones has to return to form, and the team will need to continue to be the fastest offense in the league. If they can continue where they left off in 2017, they will be back in the playoff hunt, hopeful to get over their past playoff disappointment.

4. Seattle Storm

The Seattle Storm surprised everyone by jumping leaps and bounds forward in the play of their young stars Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart. They won the off-season by trading for Natasha Howard who turned into the Most Improved player of the year along side Stewart. Key players like Alysha Clark and rookie Jordin Canada played important roles starting and coming off the bench. And leading the Storm was the always amazing, ageless wonder Sue Bird. Her play during the regular season and heroics and leadership in playoffs were some of the most important factors in bringing Seattle it’s third WNBA title. Unfortunately Breanna Stewart got hurt overseas and will miss all of 2019. Without her, the Storm will really need to conjure up something special to repeat what they did last year.

5. Phoenix Mercury

No Taurasi? No problem. DeWanna Bonner, Yvonne Turner, Briann January, and rookie Sophie Cunningham can step up with Griner in the post to continue to be a force in the Western Conference. Taurasi will be back just in time to continue to push the Mercury into yet another playoff run. Maybe….

6. Atlanta Dream

Another team loaded with talent yet missing their best player, the Dream hope they can continue to improve and win games without Angel McCoughtry. With a roster of Elizabeth Williams, Brittney Sykes, Renee Montgomery, Tiffany Hayes, and Alex Bentley, the Dream should be able to continue to find ways to win with transition play and hard defense.

7. Chicago Sky

Like the rest of the league, the talent is there on the roster for the Sky. The question is whether or not it translates to wins in 2019. Cheyenne Parker is breaking out, as is Diamond DeShields. Recent addition Kahleah Copper, last year’s other rookie Gabby Williams, and veteran post Stefanie Dolson should all be ready to help their two backcourt leaders in always underrated Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley improve and get back into playoff contention. Alaina Coates could be another important young player to have a breakout season for Chicago, as could rookie Katie Lou Samuelson from Connecticut. Rookie Chloe Jackson could see minutes behind Vandersloot or Quigley, but only time will tell.

8. Las Vegas Aces

A’ja Wilson, Kayla McBride, Kelsey Plum, Moriah Jefferson, and new #1 draft pick Jackie Young. The Aces are another team with a really good looking young roster brimming with potential. But like the Sky, the Sun, and even the Dream, Las Vegas is a team that can really go either way this season. Veterans like Dearica Hamby, Tamera Young, and new trade addition Sugar Rodgers will look to provide leadership on and off the court for a team that missed the playoffs by just a few moments in the final game against the Wings last season.

9. Minnesota Lynx

Yet another team that will miss their star player with Maya Moore sitting out the season, the Lynx dynasty looks headed for a rebuild. Brunson may or may not be back, and Lindsey Whalen has retired. Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus are, as Kelsey Plum so succinctly put it “old”. But you can’t buy wisdom and experience, and youthful additions Lexie Brown from the Sun and Odyssey Sims from the Sparks are looking good in training camp. The Lynx Dynasty as we knew it may be close to over, but with this front office and coaching staff, you cannot count this team completely out.

10. Dallas Wings

New head coach Brian Agler has question marks staring at him in his first season in Dallas. The biggest one is will Liz Cambage ever play for the Wings again, and second when will Skylar Diggins-Smith be back after giving birth in the off-season? Beyond that, that still have the veteran strength of Glory Johnson and young stars like Allisha Gray and Azura Stevens to continue to make progress towards winning in the regular season and winning in the playoffs. Rookies Arike Ogunbowale and Megan Gustafson will also help to add depth to a team that needs help on both ends of the floor.

11. Indiana Fever

Ever since Tamika Catchings retired, the Fever have been in a continuing rebuild. With last year’s rookie standout Victoria Vivian’s out with an ACL injury, the Fever are going to need a boost of offense if they want to try to turn things around this season. Rookie Teaira McCowan from Mississippi State should be the answer for the size under the basket they have been desperately needing the past couple of years, while Kelsey Mitchell and Tiffany Mitchell will need to continue to develop and grow in the backcourt. The future is there for the Fever, but it is still in the future. Playoff hopes are dim at the start of this year.

12. New York Liberty

A new owner in Joseph Tsai certainly seems to brighten the future for the New York Liberty. After last season’s dismal performance however, any news seems like good news. The Liberty will continue to play home games at the unfit Westchester County Center , which drove down attendance and only made things worse for a team seemingly at the beginning of a real transition under new Coach Katie Smith. Last year’s rookie gem Kia Nurse will now team up with fellow guard Asia Durr, and Tina Charles will only hope that Durr can take some of the offensive load of of her back. No team in the league depends on a single player more than the Liberty do with Tina Charles. But it’s not just Durr she’ll be hoping to have contribute more; rookie Megan Huff and other young players Kiah Stokes, Bria Hartley, Amanda Zahui B, and Brittany Boyd will all need to step up their games if they want to start winning more games and get back to the top of the Eastern Conference.

WNBA Awards Season

With the regular season over yesterday, the WNBA moves into the playoffs, and with that, comes awards season. The Most Improved Player award is probably the one I had the most trouble with, and the most fun choosing. After crunching the numbers, I found myself with a real dilemma. Atlanta’s Elizabeth Williams improved her game averages from last season with the Sun in points, rebounds, assists, and steals (not including her vast improvement in blocks) by a whopping 228%.

The Mystics Tayler Hill improved in the same statistical categories by 112%, and the Liberty’s Sugar Rodgers, along with last year’s rookie of the year, Seattle’s Jewell Loyd, both improved by 72.5 and 73% respectively.

So, the raw numbers tell us that Elizabeth Williams is by far the most improved player of 2016, right? Well, when I also calculated their individual increases in minutes per game, I saw that Williams increased her minutes by 192%, while Hill’s minutes increased by 72.3%, Rodgers increased by 66.8%, but Loyd’s minutes only increased by 23%. And all four players are playing pretty similar minutes this year, about 30, with Williams with the most at 34 per game.

So the question became, how do I reconcile a player’s improved stat line, when they’ve had a much greater increase in minutes to do it in, especially when you compare Williams with Loyd? I wondered, well, an increase in minutes could be because they steadily improved, and so they deserved more minutes, or they simply got more minutes because of a trade or injury to a starting player. A trade was the case with Williams, as she played a backup role in Connecticut last year, but got a starting role in Atlanta’s lineup this year. Either way, I never quite figured out how to compare the stats percentages with the minutes percentages. I figured someone else has already done this for me, say with Hollingers’s PER, but I’m still not certain if this kind of stat reflects the question I was asking myself. I am by no means a stats guru, and I was always terrible at math, but the older I have gotten the more I have enjoyed statistics and crunching simple numbers. So I just decided I would divide the average percentage of stats by the player’s percentage in increased minutes and make that a ratio. Again, perhaps I’m a simpleton when it comes to stats and this is something already in existence, but bear with me. The ratios that I came up when I did the division surprised me, as Loyd, despite the more modest increase in stats, seemingly improved at a better rate, or at least did so in less time than the other 3 players:

Stats% to Minutes Increased% Ratio:

Elizabeth Williams: 1.188

Tayler Hill: 1.556

Sugar Rodgers: 1.085

Jewell Loyd: 3.108

Is this kind of ratio absurd? Does it make any sense, or no sense at all? Is it already accounted for or dismissed by some Sports Stats Guru at ESPN? I honestly have no idea. But after looking at the players’ PER numbers from last year to this year, I am still not sure if there is a correlation of some kind, or if I simply have no idea what I am talking about. Obviously in this day and age of advanced stats, we can adjust the expectations we have for a player based on PACE, based on starting and bench roles, based on position, based on so many factors, so I still don’t know what to think of ratio I came up with.

Williams PER from last year to this year went from 17.9 to 15.6, Hill went from 13.5 to 17, Rodgers went from 14.1 to 15.3, while Loyd went from 14 to 18.3. ┬áSo, maybe there is a correlation, maybe there is none at all. But in trying to reconcile the idea of a player improving less, but seemingly more with the less increased time they had to do it in, I came to the conclusion, that ultimately, I can’t fault a player like Elizabeth Williams for getting more minutes, or getting traded into a starting role on a different team. I can’t really figure out if she got more minutes because she steadily put up better numbers, or if she put up better numbers simply because she had more minutes. I can only applaud her for her vast improvement in basically every major stat category, and on both ends of the floor. So in the end, I have to pick Elizabeth Williams as Most Improved Player of 2016.

Coach of the Year, for me, goes to Brian Agler and the part that he has played in turning the Sparks around this season. Everyone has stepped up this season on this roster, but the coaching staff has to be recognised for a job well done as well. This Sparks team has in my view played above and beyond, not perhaps their talent or potential, but certainly beyond the expectations I had for them at the beginning of the season. But do I think Coach Agler will win? No, I have no doubt it will go to Cheryl Reeve, who has done just as excellent a job as Agler, and who’s team is primed and ready to tie the Houston Comets for the record 4 WNBA titles.

Sixth Woman of the Year is without a doubt going to be Jantel Lavender. She had some pretty good competition in rookie Aerial Powers of the Dallas Wings, and Shavonte Zellous of the Liberty, but she was simply outstanding off the bench for the Sparks this season.

Rookie of the Year may well be a unanimous vote with Seattle’s #1 pick Breanna Stewart. Former UConn teammate Moriah Jefferson, now of San Antonio, Chicago’s Imani Boyette, Dallas’s Aerial Powers, and Indiana’s Tiffany Mitchell all had good rookie seasons, but they are all essentially in a race for second place.

Defensive Player of the Year is a category that is a tough choice, because I have to say the Breanna Stewart, along with the ROY award, probably also deserves this one as well. Who’s lead the league in defensive rebounds? Stewart. Who was third in block shots? Stewart. Who just set the record for most defensive rebounds in a season? Stewart. What’s more important than blocks, especially blocks that simply stop play, go out of bounds and keep the ball in the other team’s end of the floor? Defensive rebounds.

That brings us to the final award category: Most Valuable Player. Who’s my pick? Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks. Why? Because 6 Western Conference Player of the Week awards, 2 Western Conference Player of the Month awards, a season PER of 31.4, and an effective field goal percentage of .687, that’s why, Tina Charles. Sorry. I love you Tina, but Nneka is taking this one this year.

So those are my picks. I hope I haven’t disappointed or infuriated you too much. Stay tuned for a playoff preview!