Archive for May, 2016
It’s only week 2 and some teams are starting to come into form or at least putting the pieces together. This week has seen the Phoenix Mercury secure their first win. The flux of the Indiana Fever continues to malinger that franchise. And the Atlanta Dream are tinkering away, silently climbing the ranks.
Game of the Week: Washington Mystics (77) vs. Phoenix Mercury (93)
After a nasty spat of loses, the Mercury finally found success. Starting guard Diana Taurasi dropped an impressive 28 points (58%), followed but Griner and Bonner both putting up double digits respectively. The key difference that jumped out to me in this game was the spouts of great defense and better shooting, not to mention the Mystics are a bit of a soft target compared to their earlier opponents. As I mentioned before, this is a talent heavy team, but they can’t seem to locked down any sort of team dynamic. They’ll keep floundering until their chemistry issue is resolved. Next up, the Mercury will take on the Connecticut Suns. There is no reason they should lose this game but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns sour. I believe in this team and really hope they find a way to course correct soon.
Player of the Week: Angel McCoughtry
The Atlanta Dream present are a team I just haven’t figured out. At first, looking at past game logs and these spurt of games, they give me the impression of the Phoenix Suns / Utah Jazz. One of those middle tier teams that’ll make a playoff run here and there but can never get over the hump to be dominant. Their games haven’t terrible impressed me, but I keep hearing the Angel McCoughtry and had to pay attention. She works well in the paint, is a great rebounder and defender from what I can tell. It’s not a surprise that she made the cut for the US team.
This will be a short week as I need to catch up on some of the weekend games. Plus, I’d rather not recycle even more material about how unstoppable Minnesota’s been or my over-analytical rants of the Seattle Storm. Though I gotta say; the Seattle Strom should be brought up on criminal charges for the lack of exposure regarding Jewell Loyd. And lastly, I will be in attendance for the Storm game vs the Phoenix Mercury, so definitely excited about that. So I’ll close with my top five power rankings (based on my view of team dynamic, record, and strength of schedule).
WNBA Week 2 Rankings:
1. Minnesota Lynx – No need to explain this one
2. LA Sparks – See above
3. Atlanta Dream – See my player of the week above
4. Chicago Sky – Aside from Della Donna, I’m really liking what I see in Pondexter and Faulkner
5. Seattle Storm – If they keep up the dynamic play as they did against the Sun, they can easily jump to the three spot.
Week one of the WNBA 2016 is in the books and it’s been pretty amazing already. The slow start from opening day has turned into some pretty intense match-ups by week’s end. There s no denying that these women love this game and lay it out on the floor. I’m having an awesome time taking my WNBA engagement to a slightly deeper level. My familiarity with certain players and team dynamics is expanding rapidly. Here are the broad strokes from opening week.
Minnesota Lynx Are Rolling!
The 2015 WNBA champions don’t appear to have lost a step with three wins in the books against fairly strong teams. Then again, when a team has four Olympic players on the roster, there’s a forgone expectation of greatness. Of all the teams I’ve seen, the Lynx are the most cohesive unit with the best chemistry. There’s some great ball movement on the floor, so no one is particularly greedy. Moore is a great slasher and spot up shooter who drop daggers effortlessly. But watching Whalen run point is captivating. Fowles and Augustus work well off each other in the post. Even their bench has solid contributors. They’re easily the best team in the league at the moment. They’re starting 4 put up double digits in scoring….EACH! Part of me just wants to see how far they can take this run without the distraction of the Rio games.
And then we come to the Phoenix Mercury sitting at a surprising 0-3. This is a team that won the 2014 title and run to the conference finals (without Diana Taurasi) last year. But with Taurasi’s return, the team dynamic seems off kilter kicking off this season. The build up miscues in transition play is costing them, in particular, late in games. Tossing out the game against the Lynx; they should’ve won at least one, if not both, of their other games. This is especially true considering the Mercury held the lead for most of those games. Yet, through a series of mistakes, they lose in the end. The Seattle game was essentially their’s until the Storm rallied back leading up to Jewell Loyd’s buzzer-beater. This is a good a team but they have some bad juju working against them.
A Strom’s Brewin’…….At Some Point……Maybe
The Storm have had a pretty rough start to the season. As I expected, Breanna Stewart has been carrying this team on her back. Even with the loses, she’s been truly exceptional in how she’s fitting her way with the Storm. Looking at her splits, she’s clocking a solid 30 minutes a game, averaging close to a double-double (17 PPG / 8 RB’s) and shooting over 50% outside the paint. All this is great, but still amounts to her putting up nearly half of all the Storm’s positive stats. Not to be undone by Stewart’s dominance is the criminally under-rated Jewell Loyd. This 2014 rookie really seems to be off everyone’s radar given how well she stretches the floor. And Sue Bird continue to defy time continuing to put up 90% of career numbers, just flawless.
But after Sue Bird, there’s a significant talent drop. And I don’t mean that as a slight, but the proof is in the numbers. Seattle just doesn’t have the horses to be competitive right now. I’m pretty sure the expectation that the seasoned talents of Monica Wright and Alysha Clark would be a help. Unfortunately, they’ve been pretty non-existent for the most part (not counting Clark’s roaring outing against the Lynx). And the younger guns, Tokashiki, Lewis, Gatling and so on are not solid contributors and struggle in their respective roles. Case in point, the Storm gets killed on defensive rebounds which account for many of the points against them. Just fixing that aspect of their game would be huge. Bottom line, no one is stepping up to fill the void and it’s costing them.
Game of the Week: LA Sparks (93) vs. Chicago Sky (80)
Given the amount of star power on both these teams, it was definitely a one-sided affair with the Sparks running the floor the whole game up until the fourth quarter. The Candace Parker warpath blazes on dropping an impressive 26 points and 9 rebounds. On the flip side, the Sky’s Elena Delle Donne was strangely ineffective most of the game with Faulkner and Beland doing most of the heavy lifting. While this wasn’t the most exciting game on record, it was the game that demonstrated how well tuned the Sparks are. Their ball movement in transition is a work of perfection. The Sparks are on par with Minnesota for that one seed.
Player of the week: Maya Moore
My words can’t do justice to demonstrate how dominating she’s been this season, just an overall threat anywhere. She’s been a scoring leader (averaging 15 PPG), made short work of all her matchups, and a lockdown defender. I’m already eyeing the matchup between the Lynx and Sparks, Moore vs. Parker. Yes please!
- Quick Takes
The Mystics are a mess of a team. In spite of this, I like what I’m seeing out of Meesseman. Her numbers are improving year over year leading to her becoming not only a starter but also a 2015 All-Star. Keep her on your radar.
- Whistle Happy Refs:
One aspect of the game that’s caught my attention is the insane amount violations called by refs. They’ll blow a whistle for almost anything short of a sneeze. I’ve probably seen more traveling calls in one week of the WNBA than over 5 years of the NBA! Come on people, rein back on the ticky-tacky nonsense and let these players play ball.
- DraftKings Marketing:
The juggernaut that id daily fantasy sports (DFS) has spread its tentacles to the WNBA. Over the summer, Draft Kings has entered a marketing partnership with the New York Liberty as their marque partner with the DraftKings logo on Liberty uniforms and shirts. In many other sports, this relationship naturally goes hand-in-hand with one another. In this case however, this seems to be a one-sided affair that’ll benefit DraftKings more the the WNBA. In DraftKings’s favor, it gives them even more brand exposure and market reach. For the WNBA, it’s a generous influx of cash in the short term. But in terms of growing the league and reaching new audiences? Not so much. Adding further insult to this deal, DraftKings doesn’t even offer a WNBA platform for DFS or any game promotions. If there was one caveat to this partnership that could have made some inroads, it would have been the introduction of a trial run of 1-day game contests. This is a squandered opportunity that’s potentially leaving lots of money of the table for both sides.
From the eyeball test, the Sparks and Lynx look like they’re in mid-season form while the rest are trying to figure it out. I got my eye on a few dark-horses, so let’s not over-react about league dominance just yet. Even giants can stumble and fall, the 73 win’s Golden State Warriors can attest to that.
Let’s start with a very prominent disclaimer: I am not a professional sports critic or analyst in any sense. I’m just a guy who loves sports and giving my impressions every now and then. The same can be said for a millions of others who have a passion for sports. So why bother reading this when you can get the same content from better established and renowned places? Well, that question is similar to the one the WNBA has been trying to figure out for the past 20 years.
I’ve been a passive supporter of the WNBA (and other women’s sports). I’ve tried to defend their ‘legitimacy’ and call-out any of the ignorant criticisms (poorly, mind you). I even attend games occasionally. Some would say, that alone, would align me somewhat as a “supporter” or “fan”. But that’s not really moving the needle in terms of growing the league. And that presents a contradiction that doesn’t sit right with me. In an effort to get on a deeper level with the WNBA, I signed up for WNBA league pass and secured tickets to a few more games this season. And I’m blogging and podcasting about this endeavor. And on that note, let’s dive into the opening weekend of games.
Before signing up, I was skeptical of League Pass would work given how inexpensive cost ($16 for the entire season). But that skepticism quickly turned to frustration when NONE of the opening day games were available on League Pass, only ESPN3. You’d think that with opening day, 20th anniversary fanfare, new league president, new rule changes, and so; the league would want to make these games as widely available as possible. Nope, many other league pass subscribers found themselves in the same predicament: no live game footage due to blackout restrictions. And yet, there was absolutely zero response from the WNBA support regarding the matter. But that wasn’t the most egregious part of the affair, the Twitter-verse detective discovered the games were available, but only on the Watch ESPN app which is FREE! Now, I’ve worked in social media before; you can’t respond to everyone obviously. But if you’re in a space where you’re struggling to generate interest and keep people engaged; you have to come back with some response to something that was clearly more than an isolated incident. Instead of being profusely apologetic or a generic canned response (an explanation to clear up the confusion or redirect people to the Watch ESPN app), there was nothing but silence. Message to WNBA: This is NOT the way to engage people when you’re coming from behind. Setting that issue aside, I was able to catch up on the other games thanks to the feature allowing subscribers to watch any past game that season.
Lots of rust, but also a few Sparks
The season will kick off a change in the regular season / playoff format. Time will tell how that plays out. My main focus going into the weekend was to enjoy these games at face value. But for the most part, these games weren’t any different than many other season openers: disjointed and uncoordinated, some flailing limbs, and just plain sloppy. Players are coming off half-hearted, pre-season scrimmages. It’s just the start down the road to figuring out their key lineups and rotations. But there were definitely a few stand-out moments worth mentioning:
- Minnesota Lynx vs. Phoenix Mercury
The marque game of the day. The 2015 defending champs didn’t seem to lose a step during the off-season. This was the most sound performance of the weekend. Maya Moore ended the night with a solid double-double. The other stars of this game, Brittney Griner & Diana Taurasi, didn’t fair as well. Taurasi sat out last year to rest up and play overseas (which resulted in leading her team to its third championship), so I was taken back a bit that she was less than 0.500 shooting on some open shots. But the Mercury as a whole fell in with the rest of the league median for the weekend.
- Candace Parker #WATCHMEWORK
One of the most questionable moves leading into this season was Candace Parker being cut from the US team for the Olympic games in Rio. 2 time WNBA champion, 2 time Olympic gold medalist, 3 time WNBA all star , and the list goes on. The decision still makes no sense to this day. But that slight is clearly sitting with her. Watching her play was the highlight of the weekend (dropping the most points of the weekend, 34). The way she stretched the floor and even got physical with Bird and Stewart (both Olympic selectees) was incredible. This was definitely an “F** You” game leaving many wondering how or why she was ever cut. I’m calling it now, Parker will be out for blood this season. And I’m going to witness and savor ever second of it.
- The Stewart Storm
As a transplant who’s been living in Seattle, I’ve come to following their sports teams as well. Again, I’m not the most well-versed with this Storm team but looking over this roster and what I gathered from Wikipedia and other sources. This Storm team appears to be a roster of fresh faces, many of whom haven’t been on the team for more than two years. From the looks of it, this is a rebuild will take some time to get going, or if it’ll even work in the first. And after the waxing Parker and Sparks out on them, they’ll need it fast. Enter fout time UConn champion, 2016 WNBA number one draft pick, Breanna Stewart.The amount of pressure and expectations the Storm and the WNBA as a whole have riding on this young rookie is beyond extraordinary. But Stewart is no stranger to rising to the challenging occasions and the spoils of winning. It’s practically all she’s known since her freshman year of high school. And ins many ways, she’s nothing the NBA or WNBA have ever seen before. So far, she’s handled the whirlwind of fame and media scrutiny with a surprising amount of humility and focus. But for all of Stewart’s success, she’s had a strong cast of players working with her. Her Sunday debut, while impressive, was met with a sizable lose. Losing is not something Stewart is familiar with. And from the looks of it, the Storm could likely eat more “L’s” during this rebuilding period. So it’ll be interesting to see how this will affect her development in the league and with the Storm. Fellow UConn alum Sue Bird should prove to be a solid mentor in dealing with these kind of hardships. I can’t imagine how jarring it is to transition from a long, established culture of winning to an organization that’s in flux in a city that doesn’t turn out to support their team. All the endorsements and cash in the world usually can’t repair that kind of psychic trauma for atheletes wired like Stewart. Regardless, watching it all unfold will be great
As stated the earlier, these games were mostly just warm-ups. But the things will get in gear soon given the short season. Also worth considering is how things will pan out with key players taking off for the the Rio games, not to mention the playoff format adjustments, etc. For now, I’ll close with some minor predictions, questions, and quick takes:
- If the Storm keep shouldering her the majority of work, Breanna Stewart will be the unanimous Rookie of the Year without question. But will it actually help elevate the Storm to being a formidable threat again is the question.
- The LA Sparks will be a force to be reckoned with under Brian Agler. The fury of Candace Parker will at least take them to another conference final if not the finals.
- Shoni Schimmel: The general consensus is that Schimmel was traded after coming to training camp out of shape for the second year in a row. This isn’t uncommon for most athletes for any sports real. These type of players generally play themselves into shape over the course of the season. And that’s exactly what she did, becoming one of the league’s All-Stars for two seasons. Cutting bait with a key role player like her seems very suspect. Speaking of which…
- With so many key players leaving for Rio, how will teams make adjustments to competitive?
- And lastly, how will my hometown Chicago Sky fair? Looking at the past few seasons, the Sky have been a top tier team during the Pokey Chatman era and thanks to Elena Delle Donne (who was inactive this weekend due to ‘illness’). Hopefully they’ll overcome their demons escaping the playoff berth puling into either of the finals again.
The NBA is in full swing with now with some great match-ups with this historic Golden State team against the reinvigorated OKC Thunder with Cleveland just waiting in the wings for the final showdown. But do yourself a favor and squeeze in some time for these WNBA games. You may be surprised at how entertained and involved it is. If you don’t believe me; listen to the man himself, Draymond Green.