Posts Tagged WNBA
The Seattle Storm continue to be their own worst enemy. All their positive efforts are the very thing that comes back to bite their hand. In fact, I’m certain if you read any Storm recap, it’ll have the same beats: strong opening from Seattle courtesy of the big 3 dominance (Bird, Loyd, Stewart) but also their two longest recurring criticisms: Lack of bench production (offensively and defensively) and lack of rebounding. And last night’s battle with the Dallas Wings was no different.
Just a few days earlier, the Storm scraped by a slightly depleted Atlanta Dream (no Sancho Lyttle or Tiffany Hayes). As such, there was a little concern regarding how the Storm would fair against a full strength Dallas Wings. Surprisingly, Seattle did a great job of controlling the floor for the entire first half working off nice roll off screens. Alysha Clark and Jewell Loyd took the charge this period shooting at 50% from the field, mostly from within the paint. But Dallas stuck to their usual plan of attack, raining down shots from the perimeter. Skylar Diggins had a particular off night shooting only 1-8 (12.5%) and even more shocking had 5 turnover, mostly coming off the dribble. Although the Storm closed the first half leading by 5, that all changed at the start of the third.
Seattle entered the second half flat allowing the Wings to grab their first lead of the game late into the 3rd. The tide of the game shifted to the Wings’ favor. The Wings bench put up 45% of the total points for the Wings, with Aerial Powers (19 points, 70% FG and 6 rebounds) with Glory Johnson (short of a double double with 11 points & 9 rebounds) and Odyssey Sims in the rear. But a special kudos to Aerial Powers, I’m sure she’s fueled on nothing but hell-fire and sass. Powers’ sharpshooting ability was the largest factor in the Wings’ win, most notably her critical 3 pointer at late in the 4th (0:54) which placed Dallas in the lead. But it was the two ensuing fouls by the Storm that dashed any chance of a Storm win.
And this also highlights the flaws facing the Storm, namely their bench. 8 points, that’s the amount of points yielded. Furthermore, Seattle was yet again out-rebounded, 28-38 (only 4 from Seattle’s bench against 17 from the Wings’ bench). I realize the addition of Krystal Thomas and Noelle Quinn would miraculously fix all the Storm’s shortcomings; but the Storm can’t keep playing in this fashion. The starting five are burning themselves out game after game and it’s starting to take a toll. Case in point, the Storms FG % has the tendency to drop in the second half of their games. Shots are prone to not dropping or poor finishes in the lane. And I’m certain some of this due to how worn down the big 3 are. The Storm have the tools to be a good team, and quite frankly, they are given their flaws. But these late game breakdowns are not helping their chances for the playoffs.
This games closed off another home series for the Storm. Starting next Tuesday (July 5th), Seattle kicks off another stretch on the road with a rematch against the Atlanta Dream.
If I were a betting man, my money would’ve been on the Atlanta Dream to win handily over the Storm. As of late, the Storm have been fairly up and down regarding their offensive prowess. This is mostly due in part to the lack of production coming of then bench. And while that narrative didn’t change going against the Dream, the Storm did find a way to prevail and secure a win.
The Storm did a pretty impressive job of controlling the pace of the game coming out the gate. Surprising a majority of the Storm scoring came from the interior, taking advantage of Atlanta with quick high-low post play and drawing fouls after the shot. This was a big credit to the Crystal Langhourne’s big night who went for 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 assist. It is worth noting that Atlanta were without Tiffany Hayes and Sancho Lyttle (due to injury). And based on the past few weeks, the Dream struggle on the defensive side when Lyttle is not in the mix. On a smaller note, Markeisha Gatling (former center for the Seattle Storm) was also inactive. But based on her recent track record, I doubt she would’ve been as effective.
Going into the half, the Storm had a comfortable 10 point lead. But that slightly change at the start of the third quarter. The Storm were a bit flat, not displaying the same spark from earlier. And the Dream finally made defensive adjustments by closing out driving lanes. Furthermore, Angel McCougthry suddenly went into heat-check mode nailing 60% of her shots from the field at 9/15 (along with 7 rebounds and 3 assists). Elizabeth Williams (21/8/0) and Bria Holmes (15/3/2) were also key figures in the Dream’s effort to rally back. Williams, in particular, really displayed impressive finesse working in the paint taking advantage of the rookie Stewart. It was Williams who clinched the shot well into the fourth that gave Atlanta it’s first lead by 1, and eventually by 4 with less than a minute and a half left in the game. Enter the inscrutable Sue Bird. With the final 9 seconds on the clock, Bird hit the game winning dagger clinching the victory for the Storm, 84-81. Even in her 15th year, Sue Bird continue to demonstrate when she is one of the best to play the game.
Usually in these crunch time situation, the Storm typically lose composure and fall apart, but not tonight. Sue Bird aside, the real star of the night was Storm leading scorer and hands down rookie of the year, Breanna Stewart. This was a career night for Stewie putting up a season high of 38 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. that’s roughly 45% of all the Storm’s point! Not only that, Stewart also put in more work down low in the paint, which accounted for half of those point, which is a great improvement for Stewie. The Storm should thank their lucky stars to have such a generational talent. Other items of note: the newly acquire Noelle Quinn clocked in a handful of minutes but was largely ineffective. The same effect could also be said for the returning Krystal Thomas. I wouldn’t be too worried about this as both were acquired over the weekend. It’ll take time for them to find their footing in this Storm offense.
Quick side note: Monica Wright did not see any playing time. But honestly, bringing on Wright never sense in the beginning with her declining production. And she’s been pretty irrelevant to the Storm this seasons as well.
Both of these teams have become enigma of sorts. The Dream started out great but have eaten quite of few loses recently. And the Storm are starting to win games despite their glaring flaws. This was a fascinating game between two mid-tier teams. Going forward, I still believe have a better shot of securing a low seed in the playoffs. But the Storm could be right up there as well, especially if they can keep up this momentum and quality of play. Up next, the Storm take on a Dallas Wings team who are starting to find their groove with the newly improved Skylar Diggins and the 2-way terror that is Glory Johnson. But if last night’s game is any indication of where this Storm is head, the Wings are in for quite the clash.
Weeks 6 was host to quite a few shake-ups and shockers on and off the court. With the midpoint of the season approaching as well as the Rio Olympics, teams are having to face some hard truths. Truths such as: Do we really have a chance to compete this season? If so, what can we do to get there? If not, who do we want to be going forward?
The theme of this week is buyer’s beware. Don’t be deceived for there are a few impostors afoot. From a game perspective, there were many teams who clearly weren’t themselves. Either some were not engaged and, obviously, played poorly. While some others, played slightly better than the sum of their parts. And from an organizational perspective, there were a handful of trade moves highlighting some team’s sense of urgency or desperation. Whatever the case may be, changes are coming.
Grade the Trade
- Phoenix Mercury / Connecticut Sun / Grade: B+
Connecticut Sun trade Kelsey Bone (G) to the Phoenix Mercury for rookie Courtney Williams, Jillian Alleyne draft rights, and a 2017 second round pick.
This is quite the haul for Bone coming in at a commendable 10-5-1. But I like this move for the Mercury actually. Given my limited time watching Bone. She does seem to have the ability to be a good two way player helping out both Griner and Taurasi. Bone actually played a few minutes versus the Liberty with some soft results. While this helps the Mercury’s depth, I still believe they have some chemistry issues that need addressing.
The Sun are most likely going for the long game acquiring more young players, more talented young players. Morgan Tuck (averaging 8-1-3), Banham, & Jones have proven to be a solid contributors. And they’re starting to play at a click where they’re making some teams truly sweat it out.
- Seattle Storm / Grade: B-
On its surface, this looks as though the Storm are trimming the dead-weight off their roster. In my opinion, Gatling was always a liability given her lack size and moreover, lack of production. She wasn’t able to get rebounds or yield any sort of authority down low. Blake was an unfortunate given her lack of playing time. But when you’re in the same rookie class and team of the god-send that is Breanna Stewart. One can begin to understand how it’d be difficult to stand out.
Bringing Thomas back into the mix gives the Storm at least some semblance of size in the post. And Quinn should add some back court relief ideally so the big 3 don’t have to keep their current average of 33-36 minutes per game. Looking at Quinn’s and Thomas’ splits, both have traveled a fair amount and have terribly inconsistent. I’m not sold on either filling the gaps plaguing this Storm team. But it’s a start.
Atlanta Dream / Grade: C-
The Atlanta Dream claim center Markeisha Gatling off waivers and sign her to a contract. The Dream also waive forward Cierra Burdick to finalize the roster move.
I’ve put the screws to Gatling since week 1 due to her lack of production. I realize this isn’t completely fair since I’ve never seen her play in previous years. So I admit, I’m working with an information deficit. Another way to look at it is, maybe Gatling just wasn’t a good fit for the Storm style of play. I don’t necessarily buy that, but maybe. Having said that, I fail to see what value, if any, Gatling can bring the Dream. With Sancho Lyttle is back, her and Elizabeth Williams have that interior under control. But maybe this change of scenery is what Gatling needs to start producing. Only time will tell. As for Burdick, I swear I’ve watched every Dream game to date and honestly have no idea of seeing her ever touch the floor.
Game of the Week: Minnesota Lynx (76) vs L.A. Sparks (94) – The Rematch!
The first match up between these two titan was more of an appetizer. Jump a few days later and we finally got the main feast. This was a massively improvement over the first game, probably too good. In the case of the Lynx, there were too many situations where they tried to force the ball to the basket instead of opting for the bank shot. That would usually work against lesser teams, but the Sparks were happy to accept the ensuing turnover. Furthermore, the Sparks came out with a more patient approach. They weren’t as sporadic and really dictated the flow of the game by how much they passed the ball. Shout out to Nneka Ogwumike (just shy of hitting her normal double double at 20 -9-3) and Kristi Toliver who rained daggers non-stop (88% FG%, 15 of 17 from the field).
Even with these deadly sharpshooters, the Lynx kept themselves in the game within 2-4 points. But it wasn’t until the 5 minute mark of the 4th, the game started to pull away. The Lynx weren’t able to finish in the lane, shooting at 66%. And quite simply calls weren’t going their way. Maya Moore maintained her pace as being a solid contender for this year’s MVP entering an impressive 23-3-4.
The Box Score is a LIE!
If someone were to rank these teams solely based on the box score of the past few weeks. I’m certain the ranks would be all out of whack. Hell, it has already started with some of the wild statements I’m seeing on various social media platforms. Even with my wet-nose, rookie insight into the WNBA, I still feel a need to throw a little course correction to some of these platitudes. Mainly…
- Phoenix is back!
Stop it, people! The start of the week, Phoenix ate an overtime lose to the Dallas Wings. The game versus the Mystics was a good showing by the Mercury. Regardless, they still displayed the same signs of not being in sync in both game. But given their depth of talent, they easily prevailed over a slightly overachieving Mystics team. The follow-up game versus the Liberty was a pure mix of getting good calls. The Liberty had the Mercury dead to rights the entire game until Taurasi sold that 3 point flopper in the last 03 seconds of the fourth quarter going into overtime. Even overtime was dominated by the Liberty until a handful of bad calls ultimately leading to Kiah Stokes fouling out which gift-wrapped a win for Phoenix. Even with the new team assets, this is still a team that needs to establish some sort of baseline with each other before I buy into them being true contenders again.
- The Lynx are breaking down
Again, pipe down. The lose to the Washington Mystics stirred a bit of commotion. There were a few factors at play here. I do think Minnesota severely under-estimated the Mystics. And after being punched in the mouth by the Sparks, I’m sure their egos were a bit deflated as well. But kudos to Emma Meesseman & Tayler Hill, both came out like gangbusters and gave the Lynx the business. The Lynx are still arguably the best team in the league; I have no doubt about it. Sometimes, good teams just lose.
- Becky Hammon Jersey Retirement: I never how much of an accomplished player Becky Hammon was: 8th all-time in points scored, 4th all-time in assists, 3rd all-time in made 3 pointers, 89.7% from the line (best in Stars history). What am Quiet honestly, I only knew her in relation to being one of the assistant coaches for the San Antonio Spurs. But outpouring of love from the around the league was touching.
- WNBA Top 20 at 20: Recognizing the great one of this game. Surprisingly, this list skews more on the young side since most of the selection are active players. But this is still awesome none the less. Kudos to you all.
- Rebecca Allen: Coming back from a season-ending knee injury last year, Allen has demonstrated she’s going to be a capable role player in that Liberty lineup. I expect her playing time to increase slowly while monitoring her knee rehab. Keep an eye out for her.
- Pat Summit Passing: And sadly, Coach Pat Summit has passed away at 64. Coach Summit’s accomplishments and impact was recognized throughout the sports world as a whole. And she was a truly beloved figures for many players, fans, and countless others. Condolences and best thoughts go out to Coach Summit’s family and loved ones.
Week 6 WNBA Power Ranking:
1. L.A. Sparks: I still feel the Lynx are a better team. But the Sparks record speaks for itself
2. Minnesota Lynx: back-to-back loses is no reason to hit the panic button just yet
3. New York Liberty: See Quick Takes
4. Washington Mystics: They’ve been punching above their weight. I get the feeling they’re on a bit of a hot streak right now. Let’s see how long they can ride it out. I hesitated moving them up this high
5. Chicago Sky: EDD and Cappie Pondexter continue to drive this team into competitive games. They just need to hold on to leads
6. Dallas Wings: This team is still finding its feet. If they keep winning, I can see them jumping into top 4-5 fairly soon
7. Atlanta Dream: This teams frustrates me on so many levels, mainly because I don’t know if they’re bad or just lucky
8. Indiana Fever: Much like their record, this team has one foot out the door. I’m not sure if this team knows who they want to be (or can be) post Stephanie White
9. Phoenix Mercury: See above points. They’re not back quite yet
10. Seattle Storm: Tough to say how this Storm team will complete coming off a win. Let’s see how it plays out these next weeks
11. San Antonio Stars: The trio of Hamby, K-Mac, and Currie are starting to yield some wins
12. Connecticut Sun: Too young for any sort of discussion right now
Week 3 brought us a lot of rematches with predictable outcomes. Minnesota and LA sit comfortably at the top of the heap while the rest of the league scrap at each other for scrapes. I don’t want to over-react but I’m gonna’ over react: Minnesota and LA will go head-to-head in the finals. The talent and dynamics those teams have developed has yet to be challenged. But again, it’s only week 3. And it’d be a shame to dismiss some of the impressive developments around the league. I won’t get to all the teams or recap all the games from last week, only the broad strokes of what stuck out.
The Seattle Breeze
There’s this stigma about Seattle called the Seattle Freeze. The notion is that it is extremely difficult to make friend with people there. Sure, the people are nice and share common pleasantries with you, but that’s the extent of the interaction. It’s a very superficial exchange, building relationships on a deeper level is a difficult task few care to take on. And this pretty much sums up this current Storm team. They look like a basketball team. They play like a basketball team. But a certain chemistry is missing and the flaws are glaring.
On the plus side, the big 3 of Loyd, Bird, and Stewart is solid. They play off each other seamlessly and have no problem sharing the ball (see below). But there’s a terrible streak of inconsistency everywhere else. They’re the second worst team in total turnovers. The perimeter defense is horrendous. And I’m pretty certain they’re allergic when it comes to playing in the post. When your centers are only averaging 1-2 rebounds a game, something is definitely needs to be fixed.
Which leads to another issue, the Storm want to play small ball. But they just don’t have the talent for it. This is also a huge reason for the glut of unforced turnovers. It’s just maddeningly confusing why they won’t play to their players strengths. Case in point, Tokashiki. Check the video below of Ramu’s highlights in the JP league. It’s clear as day that all of her offensive prowess comes from working in the post, not sitting out on the wing and setting weak screens. Yet, I have no doubt this mismanagement will continue to happen every game going forward. On this Storm offense, she looks like a fish out of water and completely lost. Furthermore, her teammates clearly don’t trust her. There’s more than a few occasions where they will not pass to her when she’s cutting into the lane. But the Storm knew what they were getting when they signed that bill of goods. Look, I realize players tend to develop other parts of their game. But that’s not the case here. This is clearly a situation of trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. I don’t intend fo this to sound like a ‘I hate Tokashiki’ rant, because I don’t. If anything, I think she’d be a huge help if she was utilized to what she is. On the positive side of things, she is decent defensively and great at creating turnover opportunities.
Also, shout out to Breanna Stewart’s ‘Welcome to the WNBA’ moment.
Not Perfect, but I Like It…A Lot!
Lately, I’ve really taken a shine to the New York Liberty. They’re not the deepest team in terms of talent. Their defense needs work, especially on the perimeter. But I absolutely LOVE their chemistry on the court. They gritty, and it shows. Clearly, this is the Tina Charles show, but the cast around her really plays up to their role. And that’s really what makes this team work. Every knows their role and performs accordingly. Even the newly acquired Shoni Schimmel (who’s essentially a relief player now) fits and catches fire at the right moment. Sugar Rodgers is now averaging double digits per game (16.3) with Zellous not too far behind at 8.7 PPG. Stokes and Swords are great in the paint on both ends of the court. They play with a passion and a physicality I don’t see in many other teams. It’s as though Bill Laimbeer has found a way to transfer that 90’s Pistons’ nastiness into the team. Again, they’re not the most sound team and have the tendency to play themselves into flow. To put it another way, they first half of the game is spent feeling a team out, then they’ll really turn it out in the second half. When they go uptempo, they’re damn impressive. But by that time, the game could almost be taken away from them against better teams (i.e. Minnesota and LA). Win or lose, this team will play you hard. I love it!
The Atlanta Dr………. huh? What?
For a team that’s ranked third in the standings, the Atlanta Dream is the one team I have the hardest time following. I enjoy watching McCoughtry play. She is easily one of the best two-way players I’ve seen in this league. It’s just a shame I find it so hard connecting with anyone else on this team. The Dream seem to be the complete antithesis of the New York Liberty in terms of how dynamic they are on the court. Ironically, the Dream are way more fundamentally sound than the Liberty: cleaner passing lanes, better FG% , and higher overall offensive rating. Despite all that, I’m practical unimpressed with any of that. It should be pointed out, that the Dream have taken on fairly softer targets early on and they were road wins, which accounts for creating better team synergy. Let’s see if this chemistry holds going into this stretch of home games.
Game of the week: New York Liberty (91) vs Indiana Fever (59)
When I saw this score, I immediately had to check the box score. I figured Catchings or Tiffany Mitchell must have been injured. Fortunately that wasn’t the case. While watching this game WNBA League Pass, both teams were pretty evenly matched for the entire game. Plus, I was confused how the Fever could lose in such bad fashion after playing such a dominate game against the Storm just a few days earlier. But it all started to click in the midway into the fourth quarter. The Liberty pulled ahead by double digits and the Fever started to play with more desperation. Bad shot selections and unforced turnovers in the last minutes allowed the Liberty to drive up the score for a comfortable win.
- Swin Cash Retiring: It’s not only Tamika Catchings that’ll be hanging it up this year. Swin Cash will retire after this season as well. With so many of this key legendary players retiring or getting close to retirement. It’s really up to this new generation to carry the torch.
- San Antonio Stars: Poor Kayla McBride and Dearica Hamby. The Stars are just a wreck of team right now. In a way, they remind me of the OKC Thunder. Where you have two superstars surround by a supporting cast of mediocrity. I think it’s safe to say this team won’t make the playoffs unfortunately. While we’re on the topic of being barely tolerable.
- Phoenix Mercury: I’ve talked about this team to death now and I’m just as confused now as I was then. What the hell is happening? Taurasi’s been great. Griner is finally back into it. Bonner’s consistently solid everywhere. Even Penny Taylor has been putting up great numbers from previous years. How are these games just slipping away from them? The Seattle game should’ve been sowed up comfortably. And they even gave the Lynx a close one. It’s something about the fourth quarter where things just go to shambles. It’s not desperation play entirely either. This is a better team than their record indicates.
- Indiana Fever: This another uptempo team that is sneakily good everywhere. Offensively, they’re great at spreading the ball around and creating outside shots as well as creating lanes to the rim. Defensively their perimeter defense needs work, but that’s something I see a lot of these teams need. But they’re great at cutting off passing lanes and sealing up the baseline. Catchings speaks to herself. Tiffany Mitchell is essentially Jewell Loyd #2 given how fiery she is and how well she stretches the floor. Throw in Lynetta Kizer and Erlana Larkins down low and you got something going. I especially like Larkins’ work in the post. The way she’s able to use the full range of her body and take advantage of her size is great. Not afraid to get physical and create space for herself. This another team that has to feel teams out but when they get going, watch out. With Stephanie White going on to Vanderbilt and losing Catchings next year, I hope they make a monster run this season.
- Dallas Wings: Shout out to Aerial Powers. Really like how the rookie is stepping up in the absence of Skylar Diggins. By extension this applies to Karima Christmas and Odyssey Sims as well.
WNBA Week 3 Power Rankings:
- Minnesota Lynx: There’s no need to keep going on about how great they are. They’re in their own echelon right now.
- LA Sparks: The Sparks are right up there but in my opinion they’ve faced some softer opponents than the Lynx. But make no mistake, Parker and crew are playing phenomenal.
- Atlanta Dream: Even though they don’t pass my dynamic flow radar. Game recognizes game and they have something going here.
- New York Liberty: As much as I like watching this team, they need to start coming out the gate ready and not playing themselves into game form.
- Indiana Fever: Once they stop playing desperate in the stretch of the fourth quarter, they may actually hold on to winning.
- Chicago Sky: My home town Sky, we’ll be talking more about them next week.
- Seattle Storm: See previous section above
- Washington Mystics: This is a team that started out somewhat decent but seems to be plagued by onset chemistry issues, especially on the offensive side of things.
- Dallas Wings: Let’s see what happens when (if) Diggins comes back
- Phoenix Mercury: See previous section above
- Connecticut Sun: Still figuring it out
- San Antonio Stars: See previous section above
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.