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.

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WNBA Week in Review: June 29, 2015

So we are three weeks in and there was a ton of great action across the league this past week. The Mystics sit at 6-3 after starting the week with a close win against the still win-less Sparks on Tuesday, and the Sky started off an up and down week with a close win as well against the Dream. On Thursday we saw San Antonio finally get their first win this season against Phoenix, and the Lynx came back to beat the Storm on the road. Friday’s group of games had Chicago beating the Fever, the Sun winning their only game this past week, just holding on to win against Los Angeles, the Mystics falling to Atlanta in a close game as well, and the Shock beating the Liberty at home 71-62. Saturday the Stars picked up their second win of the season beating Seattle 73-71, and the Lynx found a bit of revenge as they beat the Mercury despite Brittney Griner’s strong return as she 14 points and 11 rebounds. Sunday had the Liberty with a good showing against LA, winning 79-70, the Mystics with a very big win against Chicago, and the Shock with a thrilling overtime win against Seattle.

What do all these results mean? Well, it means the Connecticut Sun still stand atop a slightly shifting Eastern Conference, as they have the second best record in the league at 7-1 and are ranked first in points allowed per game and 3rd in points per game. The Washington Mystics faltered a bit going 2-1 on the week and 6-3 overall. They still look very strong however, as they are first in assists in the league and 4th on points allowed. They need to get their rebounding up, but they still look like playoff contenders who could eventually pass up the Sun in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Chicago Sky are easily the most potent offense in the league by a wide margin, but are 11th in defense and 10th in assists. They will continue to struggle defensively without Sylvia Fowles. After this week, the New York Liberty look like a team that is just middle of the road at 5-4, as they are 9th in points per game, 2nd in rebounds, 4th in assists, and 3rd in points allowed. If they can improve the offensive scoring they can move up the standings. Atlanta is the most up and down team in the Conference if not the league. Their record looks like roller coaster, as they have gone L L W W L L W L L W to start the season. They have to find more consistent execution if they expect to move up in the Conference. They also get a nice break this week as they don’t play until this Sunday against Seattle Indiana fared no better as they lost their only game of the week and now sit at 3-6 and are dead last in points allowed per game, second to last at 11th in rebounds and 9th in assists.

The Western Conference has been sadly, far less competitive, as it is simply a two horse race so far between the Tulsa Shock and the Minnesota Lynx. The Shock won both of their games this week and are now 8-1 and yet to lose since posting the loss against who else, the Lynx in the season opener. Tulsa’s offense is hot and is 2nd in the league in points per game, 1st in rebounds, 4th in assists and 5th in per allowed. They are getting great offense from guard Skylar Diggins, whose averaging 17.8 points and 5 assists per game, and they are getting it done on the boards, especially with Courtney Paris, as she is averaging a league leading 11.2 rebounds per game. Plenette Pierson and Riquna Williams are also contributing big while averaging 15 and 12.8 points per game respectively.

The Lynx still look like the 2nd or third best team in the league, as they are 5th in points per game, 5th in rebounds, 3rd in assists, and most importantly, 1st in points allowed. They are getting double digit point averages from 4 starters, and getting a ton of rebounds from Rebekkah Brunson. If they can keep up the defense, and keep improving on offense, they will be one of few teams to beat in the playoffs.

Phoenix continues to struggle without Diana Taurasi, despite the All-Star caliber play of DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree. Losing to the Stars hurt, but what especially stung for the Mercury was losing to Minnesota in Griner’s return. With Griner back though, they have real hope of becoming more competitive as the season continues, and could still certainly do well come playoff time. The Stars finally have shown some life as they got their only two wins of the season this week, and their young team looks to have some fight and some real potential in guard Kayla McBride. Seattle looks lost offensively, as they are just 2-7 and are 2nd to last in points per game and dead last in rebounds per. Only Crystal Langhorne and Sue Bird are averaging at least 10 points a game, and everyone else is so far inconsistent.

The saddest story of the season so far however is the Los Angeles Sparks. They are 0-7, dead last in points per game, and 8th in points allowed. They are middle of the road however in assists and rebounds, ranked 6th in both categories. They do have some life left in them though as they have seen the return of Kristi Toliver and Alana Beard, as well as Nneka Ogwumike, who should give them a real boost offensively. The Western Conference however, despite being the weaker of the two so far, still has what I think will end up being the two juggernauts of the league in Tulsa and Minnesota. The Eastern Conference will continue to be competitive, but the Western Conference as a whole could get more interesting if we see improvement in Phoenix and Seattle.

This year has been full of interesting games, nail biters, and a lot of great individual performances from players like Elena Delle Donne, DeWanna Bonner, Angel McCoughtry, and Skylar Diggins. It will be interesting to see if the return of players like Kristi Toliver and Brittney Griner can change their teams’ fortunes around and into playoff shape, if not at least into a few winning games.

WNBA Week in Review: June 22, 2015

Well, the WNBA continued to roll on this week, and the cream is starting to rise to the top. The Tulsa Shock and the Connecticut Sun are now both unbeaten after losing their season openers and stand atop their respective conferences at 6-1. Both these teams look great on both ends of the floor, but the Shock are statistically the better looking team overall. The Shock are 2nd in the league in points per game, 1st in rebounds per game, 2nd in assists per game, and 5th in points allowed per game. Meanwhile, the Sun are 5th in points, 8th in rebounds, 10th in assists, but are 1st in points allowed. I do have to say I think it is their defensive effort that is getting it done as only one team has scored more than 70 points against them all season, and that was the Phoenix Mercury who they still beat in a two overtime game.

The third best team right now, and most everyone’s pick to win the title, is the Minnesota Lynx. Not only are the Lynx the third best team according to the standings, but they are the third best statistically as well, as they are third in points, assists, and points allowed per game. The four starters for Minnesota are all averaging at least 11 points per game, so if they can continue to click offensively while maintaining their defense, which is above the league average, they will eventually be one of the top two teams in the league at season’s end.

The Chicago Sky are the offensive juggernaut of the league right now, led by Elena Delle Donne’s league best 29.3 points per game, which is almost 10 points better than second place DeWanna Bonner. Where the Sky are going to have to improve of course is on the defensive end, where they currently rank 10th in the league, just two spots from last place.

The team that has the best chance to keep improving and go far in the playoffs, in my mind, are the Washington Mystics. They are currently 2nd in points per game and are 1st in assists per game. They sit at 4-2 and second in the Eastern Conference. If their defensive effort holds, and their offense improves as the season goes on, they will make some noise in the playoffs.

As far as the rest of the Eastern Conference, it’s a toss up right now for the Sky, the Fever, and the Dream. They all sit at 3 wins, with the Sky at 3-3, and the Fever and Dream both at 3-5. The Liberty, despite their record of 4-3, still look like a team that could get hot, and move on from what has been an up and down start to the season.

The Western Conference is a two horse race between the Lynx and Shock, one of which I believe will be the team to win the Finals this year. The Mercury sit at 3-3, but should improve with the return of Brittney Griner this Saturday, albeit with a tough matchup on the road at Minnesota. Seattle, L.A., and San Antonio are a combined 2-14, with Seattle the only team with any wins at all. L.A. could improve with the return of Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, Alana Beard sometime in the future, but face a daunting upcoming road trip against the Mystics, Sun, and Liberty.

The San Antonio Stars have had a very rocky start and are dead last in the standings, and almost dead last statistically as well. They rank as the worst rebounding team in the league, the third worst assisting team in the league, and the 2nd worst team in the league for points allowed. They also have the third least points per game. One thing that should be mentioned however, is that they have faced Tulsa back to back, Minnesota, Phoenix, Chicago, and Atlanta, all teams that either are some of the best in the league, or who look to have potential to turn it around. As we’ve previously mentioned Chicago and Phoenix in particular are the teams that are looking to improve as the season goes on. But even with the tough schedule to start the season, it’s not looking good for the Stars as they will probably miss the playoffs this year. Yes, they made the playoffs last year, but they did so with a losing 16-18 record, and I don’t see them bettering or equaling that this season.

Overall, things are starting to settle a bit across the league, and if the top teams in each conference can stay healthy, I see surprising Tulsa, dominant Minnesota, and the Mystics and Sun maintaining the top two spots in each conference. As I mentioned last week though, the season is still relatively young, and a lot can happen between now and August. It’s been a very interesting season so far, and I want everyone to get out there on Twitter, Facebook, and WNBA.com and vote for the best players for the All Star Game! See you all next week!