WNBA

“Other Four” Capable of Creating Championship Chaos

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Most WNBA fans had the Aces, Storm or Sky as their favorites to win the championship before the season started. At the break, those teams are looking great. The Storm enter the break with the best record in the league at 16-5. The Aces are right behind them at 15-6. The Connecticut Sun have shocked fans once again, holding onto the third seed at 14-6. The Sky struggled in the absence of Candace Parker, but are trending in the right direction. Meanwhile, the “other four” are the Lynx, Liberty, Wings and Mercury. 

Minnesota on the Mend

The Lynx had pretty high expectations coming off being swept in the semifinals by the Storm. They got off to a rough start. Napheesa Collier was still playing overseas, and Kayla McBride returned just before their first game. They started 0-4, with Collier returning in the fourth game. Minnesota has struggled with injuries, losing key players Aerial Powers and rookie Rennia Davis. Even with all of that, they are 9-3 in the last 12 games, and are currently on a seven-game winning streak.

Sylvia Fowles is having one of her best regular seasons of her career, averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds while leading the league in steals, field goal percentage and being top three in blocks. McBride is hitting her stride, averaging 16 points during their winning streak. Layshia Clarendon has emerged as the key signing after they were released by the Liberty early in the season. Damiris Dantas and Bridget Carleton have been shooting  well. Collier is having another stellar season, averaging a career high 17 points, 6 rebounds, and a block and a steal per game. She nearly had a triple double June 25th against the Aces, posting 23 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. Fowles and Collier are both Olympians for the US, while Carleton and Natalie Achonwa are for their Canadian team. The Lynx found their stride going into the break, and are the team to watch when play resumes.

Limping Liberty

The Liberty started out on fire. They were the talk of the league after a buzzer beating three and a triple double from Sabrina Ionescu. Betnijah Laney, who signed with New York in the offseason, scored 20+ points in her first eight games. Sami Whitcomb and Natasha Howard came over from the Storm. Howard came in late, and then injured her knee after playing just two games. Whitcomb has been important to the team, with her shooting, spacing and high energy. Sabrina had a slump for almost a month with not scoring in double figures in seven straight games and she missed two in between those. No matter what your thoughts are about Ionescu there is no debating how important her playing well is to this team. Laney, Whitcomb and Jazmine Jones have been fantastic for most of this season, but they won’t be able to get where they want without Ionescu playing at the level she’s expected to.

A recent game against the Wings proved that point. The two teams shared the same 9-9 record heading in. Whitcomb had 26 points and hit 6 threes. Laney had 18 points and 7 assists. Jones had 16 points and Ionescu added 13 points and 12 assists. That is the best version of the Liberty, and they are still missing a great player in Howard. Rookie of the Year frontrunner Michaela Onyenwere has also had some really good games. Unfortunately, the Liberty sputtered a bit in their following games, losing to Indiana and Connecticut. There may not be a team that needs this break more than New York. 

Weird Wings

The Wings are one of the more interesting and confusing teams in the league. Before the season, there weren’t many expectations despite their talent level. The youth of the team was expected to give them troubles, but that hasn’t always been the case. Defensive struggles and rotational issues have been the reason for many of their losses. Allisha Gray played the first game, then missed the next five games qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic 3×3 team. Satou Sabally also left to participate in the event, and both players returned at the same time. Arike Ogunbowale has been herself, and will be playing in the all star game along with teammate Sabally. Marina Mabrey has been a revelation for Dallas, averaging a career high in multiple categories and scoring 20+ points in five out of six games in that stretch of Gray being out.

Rotations have been hard to gauge because there is so much young talent on the team. Coach Vickie Johnson has been trying to determine who to play and when. If she can get that figured out the Wings could be ahead of schedule in terms of where everyone thought they would be. They are a young team with a ton of offensive talent, but the thing that they need to focus on to propel them forward is the defense. They go into the break on a three-game losing streak. Hopefully they come back with more structure.

Phoenix Rising

The Mercury always have high expectations because they have arguably the greatest WNBA player of all time in Diana Taurasi. When you take into account that they have two more Olympians in Britney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith, the expectations grow even more. It hasn’t been a great start in Phoenix, with with Taurasi getting injured and missing nine games. Diggins-Smith, Brianna Turner and Griner elevated their play, but they haven’t gotten consistent help from the other players often enough. Griner looks re-energized after leaving the Wubble last season for personal reasons. She is top five in rebounds, field goal percentage and blocks. Diggins-Smith is averaging 19 points and five assists.

The Mercury were hoping for leaps from Kia Nurse and Megan Walker and that just hasn’t been the case thus far. It’s reasonable to believe they can perform better. Nurse, a former All Star, is a key piece to Phoenix getting where they want to go. After back to back losses to the Lynx, things have started to look a little bleak in terms of outlook, but don’t count them out just yet. Teams with the talent they have can always turn it around, and the potential return of Bria Hartley only helps them. They took two of the three games against the Aces and Storm before going into the break.

Chaos Creators

Come the playoffs, these four teams could cause some chaos. The way the playoffs are set up, anything can happen. The two top seeds get byes to the semifinals and the first two rounds are one game elimination rounds. All four of these teams have enough talent to cause an issue for any opponent and throw a wrench into their plans of winning a championship. Will they? We will see in September. 

About Tariq McDowell

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