Saturday 25 May 2019

Want to know what to be watching out for in the WNBA this year? Which players are going to have breakout seasons and really shine? Who’s going to take up the MVP mantle? Which rookie will meet or exceed expectations? Which younger veteran will have a career year? Which veterans will surprise the heck out of everyone and lead their team to a deep playoff run? Which team is going to take home a championship trophy? The answer to all these questions is the same: Everyone and anyone!

You cannot predict what is going to happen this year, at all. NOBODY has a clue as to whether or not the Phoenix Mercury or the Las Vegas Aces or the Seattle Storm or the Washington Mystics or the Connecticut Sun or the Atlanta Dream or any else is going to win it all this year.

No one has a clue as to whether or not Brittney Griner, Liz Cambage, DeWanna Bonner, Tiffany Mitchell, Courtney Vandersloot, Elena Delle Donne, Nneka Ogwunike, A’ja Wilson, Jonquel Jones, Jewell Loyd, Sylvia Fowles, Tina Charles or any number of players will win the MVP award. If they knew they’d have already placed their bets.

Who’s going to be the best defender this year? Will Alana Beard win ANOTHER DPOY? What about Griner? Well heck, don’t forget Fowles or Meesseman or Elizabeth Williams or Jonquel Jones or Natasha Howard or A’ja Wilson or about 10 other players that could come out of nowhere to take the award. I HAVE NO IDEA, but neither does anyone else if we are all being honest.

Who’s going be Coach of the Year? Brian Agler could really take a Wings team that people have been writing off in the off-season and get to the playoffs, but so could Cheryl Reeve and the Lynx, so could James Wade and the Sky, but they might just as soon give it to Curt Miller or first year coach Derek Fisher. Heck the Liberty could get their stuff together and have Katie Smith winning the thing. But so could Pokey Chatman, Nikki Collen, and basically any coach in the league at this point.

And that is ALL exactly why this season is going to be amazing and completely unexpected and unpredictable. Because everything that has happened this off-season has been unexpected and unpredictable. Oh, Breanna Stewart’s out for the season, but wait, so is Sue Bird?? Anyone see that coming? How about the Sparks getting rid of Brian Agler and hiring Derek Fisher of all people? Anyone predict that before it happened? How about Chiney Ogwunike working a deal to leave Connecticut and join her sister on the Sparks? Wouldn’t have dared dream that one up. How about Liz Cambage actually getting traded to the LAS VEGAS ACES?? After everything else that was happening, you called that trade, eh? That was a surefire bet right? How about the league hiring an actual commissioner and getting advanced stats on THEIR WEBSITE FINALLY? Wouldn’t have put money on that if my life depended on it. But guess what? It all happened and now the season is starting this weekend and we all should be jumping for joy and just how wild and crazy and unpredictable and insane and fun this season is going to be! I can’t wait to see who the most improved player is, or who 6th woman of the year, or LOOK AT THIS ROOKIE CLASS?! WHO IN THE WORLD is going to be Rookie of the Year??? IT COULD BE SO MANY DIFFERENT PLAYERS!

So please, buy the dang WNBA League Pass, it costs as much as you were going to spend on breakfast this morning. Please buy tickets and go to games if you live near teams. Buy merchandise from the WNBA team stores. Shout out and retweet you favorite people, teams, and players on Twitter and Instagram every game. Watch all the teams. Watch every award race. Read the stats. Support the WNBA because it’s going to be more fun and crazy than you can even imagine this year!

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.

The Top 20 WNBA Players in 2018

Who are the best players in the WNBA at the moment? Who, based on last season’s statistics and the outlook towards the beginning of the 2018 season, are the top individuals in the league? I looked at the top ten players in each of the following categories: points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, blocks per game, 3 point %, true shooting %, offensive rating, defensive rating, and PERs. I made a spreadsheet of all the categories, then determined how many total categories each player had been in the top ten last year. I didn’t give a weighted bias towards any category, but I did do side by side comparison when two players were in multiple different categories, and tried to judge fairly based on overall importance. There were certainly surprises, while other players obviously did well in many categories. With that said, there are a couple of players who did not play at all last season, but merit mention and consideration: Angel McCoughtry and Chiney Ogwumike. Do they make the list? Scroll down to find out!

20. Alyssa Thomas – 6’2′ Forward, Connecticut Sun

AlyssaThomas

Alyssa Thomas was an important part of the young and talented Connecticut Sun that had a breakout season last year. She was in the top ten in assists and steals per game, but was also 9th and 10th respectively in defensive and total rebounds. She averaged a career high 14.8 ppg last season, but one thing she’ll have to work on is her turnovers. She more than anyone else in the league last year at 98.

19. Allie Quigley – 5’10” Guard, Chicago Sky

AllieQuigley

Allie Quigley is a sharpshooter. She was in the top ten of both true shooting percentage and 3 point shooting percentage, and she also won last year’s 3 point contest at her first All-Star Game appearance. A two-time 6th woman of the year, she continues to help lead a Chicago team that is looking to get back to the playoffs in 2018.

18. Elizabeth Williams – 6’3″ Center/Forward, Atlanta Dream

EWilliams

Elizabeth Williams was one of the Dream’s 3 All-Stars last season, and she was in the top ten in both rebounds per game and blocks per game. If she can continue to rebound and block well, she may not need to improve all that much in the scoring department because she will have plenty of other scoring options around her on a Dream team loaded with A LOT of talent this upcoming season.

17. Sue Bird – 5’9″ Guard, Seattle Storm

SueBird

Bird is a legend of the game, but even at the age of 37 she continues to play very well. She was in the top ten in both assists per game and 3 point percentage last season, and any team in the league would take her for skills at running the point, finding open players, shooting well, and overall leadership.

16. Diana Taurasi – 5′ 11′ Guard, Phoenix Mercury

DianaTaurasi

Taurasi, like Bird, is one of the best to ever play in the WNBA. Last season was not her best, but she was still in the top ten in points per game, and is capable of completely taking over any single game at any time. Has she lost a step with age, like Sue Bird? Yes, but not enough that Phoenix would ever think of trading her. The Mercury need her experience and her leadership every game, especially come playoff time.

15. Jewell Loyd – 5’10” Guard, Seattle Storm

JewellLoyd

Loyd was Rookie of the Year in 2014-15, and she continues to grow as one of the best guards and overall players in the league. She was in the top ten in points per game last year, and she had a PER of 19.1. She was also in the top ten in total points and total 3 point field goals. She has improved year by year in her early career, and looks to only get better this season as well.

14. Jasmine Thomas – 5’9″ Guard, Connecticut Sun

JasmineThomas

Another integral piece of the Connecticut Sun’s great season last year, she was top ten in assists per game, steals per game, and 3 point percentage. She was also 3rd in minutes played and 6th in minutes per game, and she averaged a good 14.1 points per game. Another young talented guard, she plays well on both ends of the floor for a young, uptempo team that is really looking forward to being one of the top teams in the league once again this season.

13. Stefanie Dolson – 6’5″ Center, Chicago Sky

StefanieDolson

Dolson was part of the blockbuster trade that sent Elena Delle Donne to the Mystics and moved Dolson and Kahleah Copper (and the 2nd pick which was Alaina Coates) to Chicago. Dolson is one of the best young centers in the game, and her top tens in blocks per game, true shooting percentage, and 3 point shooting percentage means she can play inside and out. She is quite a versatile big, and if she can continue to increase her scoring, as well as improve her rebounding, she will really be a force to be reckoned with not only this season, but in years to come.

12. Chelsea Gray – 5’11” Guard, Los Angeles Sparks

ChelseaGray

Runner-up for last year’s Most Improved Player award, Chelsea Gray is thriving in Los Angeles since her trade from Connecticut in 2016. She was top ten last year in assists, 3 point percentage (she ranked first at 48%), true shooting percentage, and offensive rating. She has come into her own as the new starting point guard on arguably the most individually talented team in the league. After Kristi Toliver left for Washington, Gray stepped into the role as the Sparks floor general, and has really improved, especially in her scoring, where she went from 5.9 off the bench in 2016, to 14.8 as a starter last season. She passes well, she shoots the 3 as well as anyone, and she has great court vision.

11. Angel McCoughtry – 6’1″ Forward, Atlanta Dream

AngelMcCoughtry

A former Rookie of the Year in 2009, McCoughtry will look to continue to lead the Atlanta Dream as a two way player who can score as well as very few others in the league can. She is a perennial MVP candidate, and she was top ten in points per game and steals per game in her most recent season in 2016. She sat out 2017 to rest, but the team made big strides last year and during this offseason. She will certainly come back to the Dream this season ready to get back to the Finals for a 4th time, and ready to battle anyone else in the league.

10. Tina Charles – 6’4″ Center, New York Liberty

TinaCharles

Tina Charles at age 29 has been one of the most consistent players during her 8 years in the WNBA. Rookie of the Year in 2010 and MVP in 2012, she continued her excellent play in 2017 as she was 3rd in points per game, and 4th in rebounds per game. Her blocking ability has steadily declined since she first arrived in the league. But her assists have improved over the years, which will need to continue as her usage percentage was 1st in the league. She scored more total points than anyone else last year, but in reality that means that the offence relies too heavily on her and her alone. She will need another star or two on her team before she breaks through to the Finals or a championship.

9. Skylar Diggins-Smith – 5’9″ Guard, Dallas Wings

SkylarDigginsSmith

Skylar Diggins-Smith is a player that continues to lead as a classic point guard, with top tens in points per game, assists per game, offensive rating, and PER last season. She heads a Dallas Wings full of young and veteran talent, and as a leader on this team, will look to get back to the playoffs as she got to play in her first playoff game just last year. She has overcome a tough rookie season to become Most Improved Player in 2014, and an ACL tear in 2015 that has seen her bounce back and grow into possibly the best point guard in the league.

8. Candace Parker – 6’4″ Forward, Los Angeles Sparks

CandaceParker

Rookie of the Year and 2 time MVP Candace Parker continued to prove why she is one of the best players in the league. She was 11th in points per game, and in the top ten in assists per game, steals per game, blocks per game, defensive rating, and PER. Like Tina Charles, she has been consistently excellent throughout her career. She has more talent around than probably anyone else in the league right now, but she works hard every game to be her best and make her teammates better. Much like the rest of the players on the list, any team would absolutely love to have Parker starting for them.

7. Breanna Stewart – 6’4 Forward, Seattle Storm

BreannaStewart

Breanna Stewart is easily one of the most exciting and exceptional players the league has had in some time. She unanimously won Rookie of the Year and was Defensive Player of the Year runner up in 2016. She continued to meet and exceed expectations in her sophomore season in 2017. She made the All-Star team and was 2nd in the league in points per game, and 6th in both blocks and rebounds per game. She has a real opportunity to continue her young partnership with Jewell Loyd, much like Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson did in Seattle before her, to create a title winning franchise in the Emerald City.

6. Jonquel Jones – 6’6″, Forward/Center, Connecticut Sun

JonquelJones

Jonquel Jones did some incredible things last season as a second year player. She won the Most Improved Player award, set three single season rebounding records, and was top ten in rebounds per game, blocks per game, 3 point shooting, true shooting percentage, offensive rating, defensive rating, and last but not least (or maybe least depending on your opinion of it) PER. Like Stewart, she is one of the best young talents in the league who has shown that she can really stack up against anyone else in the WNBA. She can shoot the 3, score in the paint, is probably already the best rebounder in the league. She has a ton of talent around her, has a great head coach in Curt Miller, and I hope she continues to play even better in 2018. I honestly debated whether or not to put her first on this list. Maybe next year!

5. Brittney Griner – 6’8″ Center, Phoenix Mercury

BrittneyGriner

Two time Defensive Player of the Year Brittney Griner is another really amazing talent. She was in the top ten in 6 categories last year: points per game, rebounds per game, blocks per game, true shooting percentage, offensive rating, and PER. She battle the injury bug last season, but I expect her to come back even hungrier than ever. She is, like the forwards and centers before and after her on this list, simply outstanding offensively and defensively in the paint. She commands respect, and she earns respect with every block and every post move that leads to an easy two points. Watch out for BG in 2018.

4. Elena Delle Donne – 6’5″ Guard/Forward, Washington Mystics

ElenaDelleDonne

Rookie of the Year in 2013 and MVP in 2015, Elena Delle Donne is the most versatile player in the league. At 6’5″, she can play any position on the court, and she can score from anywhere on the court as well. She was top ten last year in points per game, blocks per game, 3 point percentage, true shooting percentage, offensive rating, and PER. Her move to the Mystics got her closer to her home state of Delaware in a system that seems to fit well so far. And though she has battled Lyme disease, and a spell of other injuries, when she is healthy she is the biggest threat offensively in the league. She was also tied for 12th in rebounds with Alyssa Thomas, which goes to show that along with her other top ten finishes, she really is the complete package. Look to see her push this Mystics team harder and further in 2018.

3. Maya Moore – 6’0″ Forward, Minnesota Lynx

MayaMoore

Maya Moore has been the best player in the league most of her career. Rookie of the Year in 2011 and MVP in 2014, she had bit of and down year, but in reality, that means she was still better than most everyone else in the league. And that’s why I also expect her to bounce back this season and as good or better than ever before. Maya Moore does it all on both ends of the floor, and like the rest of the top ten, knows how to lead a team, how to make her teammates better, and how to take over a game in a flash. Winning her 4th title with the Lynx last season, she was top ten in points per game, steals per game, 3 point percentage, offensive and defensive ratings, and PER. Crazy to think there was actually a better player on her own team last season…

2. Nneka Ogwumike, 6’2″ Forward, Los Angeles Sparks

NnekaOgwumike

What can I say about Nneka Ogwumike that hasn’t already been said? She is another player that truly excels on both ends of the floor, every single game. She was top ten in points per game, rebounds per game, steals per game, true shooting percentage, offensive and defensive rating, and PER. She had one of the most efficient shooting seasons in basketball history in her MVP and title winning season in 2016. At 27 she is in her prime, and she is playing along side some of the best talent in the league. She has been to back to back Finals the past two seasons, and no one will be surprised if they are back for a third time in 2018. Ogwumike has to be as motivated as ever to win more championships, and I believe she will continue to be one of the best, if not the best player in the league this next season.

1. Sylvia Fowles, 6’6″ Center, Minnesota Lynx

fowles

I really debated with myself for a long time on who to put first on this list. Nneka and Sylvia are both just about equals in mind. They have both absolutely dominated the league the past couple of seasons. But I put Sylvia first because I believe that as hungry and Nneka is for her 2nd championship, Sylvia Fowles is just as hungry for her 3rd. She was astounding last season, in the regular season and in the playoffs, winning MVP and Finals MVP. Not unlike many of the great centers the WNBA, Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie, and Yolanda Griffith, Fowles uses her size and ability inside to destroy opponents on both ends of the floor. She was top ten in points per game, rebounds per game, blocks per game, true shooting, offensive and defensive ratings, and had the best PER out of anyone else in the league. As far as her top tens go, she was 1st in blocks per, rebounds per, defensive rating, and of course PER. She was also 1st in offensive win shares, defensive win shares, overall win shares, win shares per 48 minutes, offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, effective field goal percentage, field goal percentage, 2 point field goal percentage, and total offensive rebounds. That is a lot of firsts in a lot of categories, and Sylvia Fowles proved that any way you look at it, she was the best player in the league, both offensively and defensively in 2017. And I am betting, even at age 32, she is ready to prove that once again in 2018.

Conclusion

So, Angel McCoughtry made the list, but Chiney, along with a host of other players, did not. Am I crazy? Was this list great, good, bad, or just plain wrong? Does Layshia Clarendon, Kayla McBride, Lindsay Whalen or anyone belong on this list instead? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know, and thanks for reading!

The Season So Far

With a little over a month of basketball already played including preseason, the league is starting to take shape, and there are certainly a few surprises that I doubt many folks saw coming. And of course a few not so surprising things to take into consideration as well. I want to look simply at teams as whole, rather than individual players.

First, most surprising of all is the Los Angeles Sparks. They are still tied with the other best team in the league, Minnesota at 8-0. The Sparks are team that looks like they are loving playing together, and have some of the best all around talent in the league. Despite their youth, I won’t be surprised if they keep up with the Lynx and contend for a Finals appearance, or at least battle in the Conference Finals. Another interesting surprise is that no other team in the West has a winning record. Maybe that is because of how well the Lynx and Sparks are playing, but we should also consider how inter-conference play, new this season, is affecting both conferences. Sure, the West has only two winning teams, but in the East only the Dream have a winning record, while the Sky, Liberty and Fever sit at 4-4. I would honestly venture to say that inter-conference play is separating the contenders from the non-contenders sooner than expected, but it is also still early in the season. Nevertheless, the fact that Minnesota is 8-0 does not surprise at all, while that fact that the Sun are 1-7 does. The Sun, with the talent they already had, as well as the talent they drafted, look like a team with a lot more growing and learning to do.

So, Connecticut is disappointing, but the Mercury and the Mystics are as well. If any of these three teams can really turn it around, I’d say it’s Phoenix, but it simply may not be their year. Their biggest rival Minnesota looks so good, and so does Los Angeles, that it appears to be another two-horse race in the West like last season, only it’s the Sparks instead of the Mercury. The rest of the West, although maybe unable to keep up with Lynx or Sparks, still look to provide some very entertaining moments this year. The Storm look promising with a VERY dynamic duo in Lloyd and Stewart, the Wings look like they could possibly do some damage if they can get Skylar Diggins healthy this season, but once again San Antonio looks destined for another single digit number of wins season.

In the East, the Dream are the pleasant surprise that many in Atlanta have been hoping for. Like Los Angeles, Atlanta looks like a team with chemistry and a real desire to win now rather than hope for a success later.  Angel McCoughtry continues to lead her team and has a good group of players around her that are contributing well and having fun doing so. The other team of note is the Liberty. They have shown flashes of last year’s regular season toughness and ability, but are going to have to find answers fast if they want to stick around come playoff time. The same could be said for Chicago and Indiana, but it will be interesting if anyone will really compete with the Lynx the rest of the season. They are so talented, so deep, and have so much experience these past several seasons, I think only major injuries are going to stop them from winning another title this year. As for the rest of the East, the Mystics and Sun look like almost wrecked ships even well before the All-Star Game. But can Atlanta, New York, or the Sparks get  close to an upset like Indiana last year, or even do the Fever one better and topple the league’s best team? My advice is to simply stay tuned and above all else, enjoy some great basketball.

 

Week/Month in Review: August 3, 2015

We are now into the second half of the season in the WNBA, and as the standings have shifted, things are really starting to look interesting in the playoff races for both conferences. In the West, the Minnesota Lynx have continued to improve on both ends of the floor, and have seen their fortunes turn around not only by their own play, but with the season ending injury of Skylar Diggins for the Tulsa Shock. The Lynx are now 15-4 overall, and 11-2 in the Western Conference. They are getting MVP numbers yet again from Maya Moore, and scored big with a trade that brought former Sky center Sylvia Fowles to the team. Seimone Augustus had knee surgery in mid July and is out indefinitely, but the Lynx have still gone 3-1 since her absence, and still look like the best team in the league. They are 2nd in points per game, 4th in rebounds, 2nd in assists, and 1st in points allowed. As of right now, the addition of Fowles has been great, with her averaging 14 points and 6 rebounds a game.

2nd place in the West are the Phoenix Mercury. This is a team that struggled early on in the season without Griner and Taurasi, but had the talent in players DeWanna Bonner, a first time all star this year, and Candice Dupree to step up and lead in their absence. Since Griner returned, the Mercury have continued to improve, and sit at 12-7 after nail biting win yesterday on the road against Atlanta. They are 4th in points per game, 8th in rebounds, 8th in assists, and 4th in points allowed. They are going to have to improving their defense and their passing if they want to compete come playoff time against Minnesota.

The only other real contenders in the west other than Phoenix and Minnesota are the Tulsa Shock, but even then, I still believe it’s a two horse race. Tulsa had everything going for them at the beginning of the season, after losing the season opener to the Lynx, they went on an 8 game win streak and looked like the best team in the league, until tragedy struck and their leader Skylar Diggins went down in Seattle June 28th with a ACL knee injury that will keep her out the rest of the season. Since then the Shock went on a 3 game losing streak, a two game win streak, and are now mired in a dismal 6 game losing streak. Looking at their record at 10-10, they will actually probably still make the playoffs, thanks to the three teams they are in front of, the Stars who sit at 6-14, Los Angeles who sit at 5-14, and the Storm who sit at 5-16. All three of these teams are slowly improving, and have young talent for the future, but none at the moment stand any real chance come late September.

The Eastern Conference has been a bit more competitive, and we’ve seen a real shift in the standings as well as what you might call the power rankings of the conference. The Liberty currently sit at the top of the Eastern Conference at 13-6, and have gone 7-2 since the start of July. Tina Charles is leading the team with 17 points a game, but on the defensive end, rookie Kiah Stokes is second in total blocks and 3rd in the blocks per game but also 1st in blocks per 40 minutes, something to watch out for as she gets more playing time in the games and seasons to come. One of the Liberty’s biggest weaknesses is their 3 point shooting. They are attempting and making the least amount of 3 pointers in the league, and will need outside shooting to improve as the season gets into crunch time.

Sitting in second place in the East at 11-7 are the Mystics, who really struggled at the beginning of July losing 3 games in row, albeit against the three toughest opponents in the conference, the Sky, the Liberty, and the Fever. Starting July 17th however, they went on a 5 game winning streak until losing to the Sky yesterday in a tough to swallow 71-68 loss. One area where the Mystics have shined is in passing the ball, as they are first in assists per game, while they are just 8th in points per game and 6th in rebounds. Defensively, they are 2nd in points allowed, and they are led by their forward and center duo of first time All-Stars Emma Meeseman and Stefanie Dolson. Dolson and Meeseman are statistically mirror images of each other, with both averaging 13 and 12 points per game and 7 rebounds a game as well. The other leader on their team is Ivory Latta who is also pulling out 12 points per game and is 9th in 3 point shooting in the league. If the Mystics can improve their overall offensive output while improving their overall rebounding, I think they can take on anyone else in the East come playoff time.

The Chicago Sky sit 3rd in the East just behind the Mystics with win more win but also one more loss than Washington at 12-8. The Sky continue to dominate the league in offense, as they are the only team averaging more than 80 points a game. However, their struggles defensively have hampered them, as not only are the only team to average at least 80 points per game, they are also the only team to give up 80 or more points per game as well. They are the second best shooting team percentage wise, just barely behind Minnesota at 45.4% per game, as well as the best free throw shooting team in the league at 85.8% per game. They are 3rd in rebounds per game, but only 9th in assists. They are led by Elena Delle Donne, who is having a MVP worthy season thus far. Delle Donne is first in points per game, tied for 2nd in rebounds per game, 4th in blocks average while 2nd in total blocks, and is 1st in the league in free throw percentage at an amazing 95.3%, which is even more impressive when you realize she has also taken 16 more free throws than anyone else in the league. The Sky are 7-3 since the start of July, but it’s not all Delle Donne, they are getting great production from their other 2015 All-Star Cappie Pondexter and Courtney Vandersloot, who leads the league in assists, and Allie Quigley who is averaging 11 points a game. Where the Sky have to step it up of course is on the defensive end, and not having a true center is hurting them in the interior. If they want to stay competitive, especially in the playoffs, they are going to have to get someone like Jessica Breland or Shasha Goodlett playing better inside defensively.

Sitting 3rd in the East are the Indiana Fever, who are now 11-8 thanks to a 3 game win streak and only 2 losses since the start of July. The Fever are led as ever by Tamika Catchings, and are getting good numbers out rookie Natalie Achonwa, steadily improving since injury Erlana Larkins, Marissa Coleman, and Shenise Johnson. As a team overall, they are 11th in assists and rebounds, and 9th in points allowed, as well as 5th on points per game. They need to stay together and have someone different stand out every night to win in the playoffs.

After going 7-1 at the start of the season, to the surprise of pretty much everyone, the Connecticut Sun have cooled off mightily in the last month, and have only won 2 games since June 30th. They endured a 6 game losing streak from then until July 22 where they got a huge overtime win against Minnesota. They have lost two more games since however, only winning again at home 67-66 against Seattle. The rest of the season does not bode well for the Sun either, as they face a daunting schedule with only 5 games against teams with worse records. They need to get back on track on both ends of the floor and they have to improve in rebounding and passing the ball, as they sit 10th in the league in both categories. They are led by their young duo of Kelsey Bone and Alex Bentley, who both made the All-Star team for the first time this year. They are the only players on the team averaging double figures in points, and need more production from everyone else to get things back on track.

Last place in the Eastern Conference goes to the Atlanta Dream, who sit at 7-13 in the middle of a disappointing season thus far. They have been up and down all season, but now are in the middle of the 5 game losing streak, thanks in part to their weak defense and middle of the pack offense. Led by MVP candidate Angel McCoughtry, who is averaging 19 points a game, just behind Delle Donne and Maya Moore, the Dream aren’t getting enough from the rest of the roster to win games, who are second to last in field goal percentage at 40% and are giving up the second most points per game in the league at 79.7. Even if they get hot and make the playoffs, I don’t see the Dream having the depth to make it out of the first round, and that’s a big IF they get there.

When looking at the league as a whole, we have seen teams like the Sun and Shock start the season playing very, very well, and then suddenly having their season jump off a cliff in terms of wins and quality play. It will be interesting to see if any other teams start losing lots of games as the season goes on. Teams like the Mercury, the Liberty, Chicago, or the Mystics could suddenly go cold or get hit with a starting player’s injury. And as the season stands now, I have to say it’s Minnesota’s title to lose, because they have had big injuries, but have stayed strong and played extremely well all year. Maya Moore is an MVP candidate as usual, and has a very strong cast of supporting players behind her helping this team look like a very tough team to beat in the playoffs.