Every Thursday this season, Sports activities Illustrated’s Ben Pickman is diving deep into the WNBA story traces you might want to know.
Summer time might have simply begun, but it surely’s not onerous to surprise what the autumn may appear to be within the WNBA. So far, three groups—the Storm, Aces and Sun—have performed in a tier amongst themselves, which, if it holds up, would bode poorly for the rest of the league.
The three juggernauts have misplaced solely eight mixed instances, with Seattle’s last-second loss to the Wings as the one defeat that didn’t come to a different group within the aforementioned group. The three have been stellar on each ends, with every at the moment rating No. 1 (Aces), 2 (Storm) and three (Sun) in web score. Not surprisingly, lately a group’s level differential per 100 possessions has been a superb indicator of who may make the Finals. And never for the reason that 2016 version, when the Lynx topped the Fever in 5 video games, has a group exterior of the top three in web score made the Finals.
The 11–2 Storm have quietly gotten off to an all-time-great begin. The reigning champions, who picked up their league-best eighth double-digit win on Tuesday in a 17-point rout of the Fever, would at the moment have the fourth-best win share in league historical past if the season ended at present, according to HerHoopsStats.com. Their Massive Three of Breanna Stewart, Sue Chook and Jewell Loyd has been deadly, putting up a +22 net rating in a league-leading 313 minutes. Loyd, who entered this season having already emerged as one of many W’s most dynamic offensive gamers, has elevated her recreation in 2021, averaging profession highs in factors, rebounds, assists and subject objective share.
Coming into the season, some puzzled whether or not the group’s peripheral roster adjustments would restrict the Storm’s potential. However to date, Seattle’s supporting forged has absolutely backed its stars. Whereas new coach Noelle Quinn continues to be determining a number of the group’s rotations, the Storm’s five-person lineup of Stewart, Chook, Loyd, heart Mercedes Russell and guard Stephanie Talbot is +35 in web score in 103 minutes collectively—just three lineups in the league to have already surpassed the century mark.
Talbot, specifically, has been a pleasing shock. After sitting out final 12 months’s season as a result of private causes, she made historical past in Australia’s WNBL, changing into the primary participant in league historical past to win MVP and Defensive Participant of the 12 months in the identical season. Whereas firmly a job participant within the W, Talbot, who was despatched to Seattle as a part of an understated offseason commerce with the Liberty, is averaging a career-high 6.8 factors per recreation on 48.4% taking pictures from three. Katie Lou Samuelson, whom Seattle acquired from Dallas in alternate for the No. 1 choose in final 12 months’s draft, has seen an analogous leap in manufacturing. The 24-year-old, who’s on her third group in as many seasons regardless of being the No. 4 selection in 2019, is taking pictures a career-best mark from each three and the sphere and averaging a career-high 6.4 factors.
Regardless of getting swept in final 12 months’s Finals, the Aces (9–3) stay absolutely able to competing with the Storm. Key offseason acquisition Chelsea Grey has discovered instantaneous chemistry taking part in alongside reigning league MVP A’ja Wilson as Las Vegas lineups featuring the two of them are +10.6 in net rating. Grey is a artful drive off the dribble, and her capability to get into the lane and discover Wilson irrespective of the place she is on the courtroom offers an added increase. Throw within the return of Liz Cambage, and the group’s Massive Three might go toe-to-toe with Seattle’s.
In some respects, the Aces even have what is likely to be the league’s greatest drawback: They’ve too many mouths to feed. Jackie Younger, the top choose of 2019, is within the midst of what might be her greatest season to this point, and he or she’s flourished alongside Wilson and Grey. Add veteran guard Riquna Williams to Cambage and the three aforementioned gamers, and Las Vegas has a starting five that is +16.6 in a league-high 143 minutes together.
Potential problems with getting everybody sufficient seems to be come as you look to the Aces’ bench. Kelsey Plum has flashed the potential that made her a top choose within the draft, most lately exhibiting off her scoring capability in a 32-point outing vs. New York on Tuesday, and appears deserving of a bigger function. Two-time Sixth Girl of the 12 months Dearica Hamby stays an integral a part of the franchise.
Whereas Las Vegas hasn’t struggled in lots of respects this season, coach Invoice Laimbeer continues to be determining tips on how to use Hamby, Wilson and Cambage collectively. That trio is -1.5 per 100 possessions in 65 minutes together, and the high-octane Aces have performed at a slower tempo with these three on the ground than the group is often accustomed to.
Of the three Tier 1 contenders, Connecticut (8–3) is in essentially the most precarious place. Largely as a result of MVP candidate Jonquel Jones’s absence, the Sun may slip a bit within the coming weeks. Their offense struggled Sunday towards the Storm, scoring 66 whole factors, and simply 29 within the first half. Nonetheless, the Sun are a veteran-laden group, and Jonquel Jones’s absence is barely momentary. How DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones reply going ahead will go a great distance towards figuring out whether or not Connecticut can keep away from a single-elimination playoff recreation.
A lot of the remainder of the league finds itself combating to maintain tempo with the W’s top three groups. Eight squads have received at the least 4 video games, however of that group, not one has received greater than six. Maybe Chicago, which is 4–0 in video games that Candace Parker has appeared in, can leap into the league’s top group. Regardless of their 5–7 report, the Sky sport the league’s greatest protection and an offense that, with Parker and guard Allie Quigley now each again from damage, has shone in its final three video games (albeit towards Indiana and Minnesota). The Mercury have the star energy to rival the league’s greatest, however Diana Taurasi’s damage has hampered its early-season play. Whereas Dallas, No. 4 in web score, has proven it could actually compete with the league’s top groups and might’t be missed, it nonetheless appears a bit too early to place it within the top group.
Don’t get it twisted: A lot can clearly change within the coming months. However for now, the Storm, Aces and Sun run the WNBA.
Notes from across the WNBA:
For final week’s WNBA column, I dived into why there are many causes for optimism throughout the Wings group. The franchise, which is overflowing with younger expertise, is poised to be a menace not solely sooner or later but in addition within the current. Among the many most spectacular statistical markers of the group—and one I didn’t contact on final week in a lot depth—is its leap in rebounding.
Final season the Wings had been one of many league’s worst groups on the boards, hauling within the third-fewest rebounds per recreation (32.7) and a league-worst 23.7 defensive rebounds per recreation. This 12 months, nevertheless, the distinction below coach Vickie Johnson is staggering.
Dallas enters Thursday night time’s recreation towards the Lynx No. 1 in whole rebounds per recreation, gathering practically 40 misses per contests. Whereas they don’t have one rebounder within the top 10 of the league, they have four players— Satou Sabally, Isabelle Harrison, Kayla Thornton and Marina Mabrey—who average at least 5.5 boards per contest.
“Going into final offseason our No. 1 precedence was rebounding the basketball,” group president Greg Bibb advised me of the group’s enchancment. “It’s nonetheless early, but it surely’s not prefer it’s a recreation or two anomaly. … That’s an enormous transfer, and it’s a credit score to the teaching employees to give attention to that. It’s a credit score to the gamers to do the work to supply these numbers.”
As I detailed, a lot of the WNBA could be damaged down into three tiers simply over a 3rd of the way in which into the season. There are the three groups we targeted on above—Seattle, Las Vegas and Connecticut—then a deep tier of the eight groups who all have between 4 and 6 wins—after which there’s the Fever.
Not a lot has gone proper for Indiana this 12 months. It’s No. 12 in defensive score, permitting 111 factors per 100 possessions and No. 11 in offensive score, scoring simply 93.1 factors per 100 possessions. The Fever, who’re tied with the Liberty for the longest energetic playoff drought within the league (at 4 seasons), have misplaced the final seven video games by double digits and infrequently face a expertise discrepancy when matching up with their opponents.
Teaira McCowan, the 2019 No. 3 choose, has 5 double doubles on the season and stays a tough cowl on the within, and fourth-year guard Kelsey Mitchell nonetheless seems to be on an All-Star-level trajectory. However the cabinet seems to be comparatively naked in any other case. The roster is fully completely different from the group that’s simply six seasons faraway from making the Finals. The group is on observe to complete with a shedding report for the fifth straight 12 months.
Considering extra broadly, the Fever have by no means held the No. 1 choose within the draft, however with Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard considered because the potential top prospect and a potential franchise star, maybe the group might regain its glory prior to many anticipate.
The league introduced Monday that it’ll maintain its All-Star Sport on July 14 in Las Vegas. The sport will pit the All-Stars voted in who’re members of the U.S. girls’s nationwide group towards different voted-on, non–Staff USA All-Stars. Voting will embrace a mixture of ballots from followers, present gamers and nationwide media.
The official announcement of the sport is a break from precedent, as there had not been an All-Star Sport in every of the previous 4 Olympic cycles. Whereas not technically an All-Star Sport, in 2004 there was a summer season exhibition wherein the U.S. Olympic group confronted off towards non-Olympic WNBA stars voted on by the media. The sport, which was performed at New York’s Radio Metropolis Music Corridor, was the ultimate send-off for the Olympic group earlier than it went on to win a gold medal in Athens. Much like what we might see this 12 months, it additionally featured an added little bit of motivation for individuals who weren’t headed abroad for the Video games.
“We’d wish to attempt to win; that’s what we’re going to attempt to do,” Invoice Laimbeer, then the coach of the Detroit Shock and the coach of the WNBA All-Stars within the 2004 exhibition, stated on the time. “We’re up towards a really gifted ball membership, clearly. I’m going to throw stuff at them defensively that they’ll in all probability see over in Athens. That’s one of the best ways to beat a group just like the U.S., to maintain them confused.”
This summer season, quite a few first-timers appear poised to participate within the recreation. Among the many presumed beginner locks are Wings star guard Arike Ogunbowale, who led the league in scoring final 12 months (when there was no showcase), and Betnijah Laney, who received the league’s Most Improved Participant Award final 12 months with the Dream and has upped her scoring to 21 factors per recreation with the Liberty this season.