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.