WSOU

WNBA week three power rankings

Date: June 10, 2019

By: Heaven Hill

After week two of the WNBA season, the upper echelon of the league is beginning to reveal itself. On June 2, a matchup between the Connecticut Sun and the Las Vegas Aces, two championship contenders, went down to the wire before the Sun were able to pull away in the fourth quarter, winning 80-74.

On June 4, in a battle between two Western Conference playoff incumbents, the Seattle Storm defeated the Minnesota Lynx by a score of 84-77, knocking the Lynx from the ranks of the undefeated and pushing the Storm’s record over .500.

 Finally, on June 7, the Washington Mystics defeated the New York Liberty 94-85, potentially solidifying their position as the team to beat in the East and extending the Liberty’s losing streak to 17 games. The favorites are continuing to reveal themselves every game, while the frauds show their true colors with bad losses. Who is going to top the rankings this week?

1. Connecticut Sun, up one spot (5-1)

The Connecticut Sun claim the top spot in the power rankings this week. After a solid 2-1 start to the year, the Sun were able to string together three more wins in a row, defeated the Las Vegas Aces 80-74, crushed the Los Angeles Sparks 89-77 and managed to hold off the Atlanta Dream 65-59.

In the Aces game, their victory was spurred by great performances from star Jonquel Jones and Courtney Williams. Jones continued her excellent start to the season with another double-double, dropping 16 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks.

Williams led the Sun’s offense, with an efficient 19 points and five assists. In the Sparks game, the Sun got their revenge from their earlier loss to LA, showing their adjustments by holding them to 11 points in the first quarter and eventually winning by 12.

The full offensive and defensive potential of this Sun team was on display, with all starters scoring in double figures and the team combining for 13 steals and 11 blocks. Finally, the Sun had their lowest scoring output of the season against Atlanta, but great team defense and two double-doubles from Jones and Alyssa Thomas was enough to continue Atlanta’s skid this season. After their early season win against the Washington Mystics, the Sun hold the tiebreaker over them, but those two teams have been the cream of the crop this season for sure.

2. Washington Mystics, up one spot (4-1)

Speaking of the Mystics, an argument can be made that they deserve the top spot over the Sun in the rankings. For starters, although the Mystics’ one loss was to the Connecticut Sun, the Mystics were missing their hands-down best player, former MVP Elena Delle Donne. The team also had to integrate returning player Emma Meesseman back into the lineup after a season off.

In addition to this, Washington hasn’t lost since that game on May 25. The Mystics currently own the longest winnning streak in the league, defeating the Chicago Sky 103-85, the New York Liberty 94-85, and the Dallas Wings 86-62 since last week’s rankings. The potent Mystics offense took over the game against the Sky and it was over through three quarters, with Kristi Toliver dropping 19 points and Meesseman continuing her solid start off the bench, with 12 points and four rebounds.

In the game against Dallas, Washington was on cruise control the entire way with role players Tianna Hawkins and Aerial Powers combining for 39 points in a game that was never close. This Mystics team has scored the most points on average in the association, lighting up the scoreboard with 89.6 points per game.

As a result, Washington now has the best point differential in the league at plus 11.4. It is clear the ‘Stics want revenge for their Finals loss last season, and they have become a wrecking ball that the rest of the league must try to slow down.

3. Minnesota Lynx, down two spots (4-2)

So last week, the Lynx were then undefeated and looking like they still belonged in the top tier of the WNBA. It was amazing how they were able to overcome so many changes and departures from last season, as they had a great coach and a deep team of veterans and young talent.

A new player would go off every night and it showed with the league’s best point differential at the time. Now, a week later, it appears we may have crowned the Lynx as the cream of the crop a little too soon. Due to their undefeated start, I couldn’t place another team over them in last week’s rankings, but three games later, some slight holes in the team’s makeup have now become glaring.

They have gone 1-2 over their last three games, losing to the Seattle Storm 84-77 and the Los Angeles Sparks 89-85. The Lynx have had an astonishing 20 or more turnovers in three out of their six games played, showing how difficult it has been adjusting from backcourt veterans like Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus to newer players like Odyssey Sims and Lexie Brown.

In addition to this, the Lynx just lost rookie Jessica Shepard for the season after a torn ACL suffered in the game against the Sparks. The team has a few weaknesses but are still comfortable in the standings. However, they need to clean up the ball security and their offense needs to be adjusted, as in their only win since last week, they mustered a season-low 58 points against the Mercury.

4. Los Angeles Sparks, up one spot (3-2)

After last week’s 1-1 start, the Sparks went 2-1 over this week, picking up wins against the struggling New York Liberty and their bitter rivals the Minnesota Lynx, on the day of Whalen’s jersey retirement ceremony. In their first win of last week, the Liberty put up a great fight against Los Angeles, but it was hero Chelsea Gray with a career high 29 points that led the Sparks to pull away for the close victory.

Chiney Ogwumike dropped a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Alexis Jones joined them in double figures off the bench. In the Lynx’s game, with a lot of emotions swirling due to the long running rivalry, it was Gray yet again who scored eight straight points in the fourth quarter, as well as veteran role player Riquna Williams with a career-high 25 points off the bench to get the Sparks a clutch win, which might be important later in the season with tiebreakers and such.

All in all, a solid week for the Sparks, despite dropping a game to the Sun in between the two wins. Also, we can’t forget that the Sparks have a top-5 player in the league waiting in the wings in Candace Parker, as well as two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard, so the cavalry is on the way for Los Angeles.

5. Seattle Storm, up one spot (3-3)

The Storm came into last week’s ranking having already played four games, so their ranking last week was a little tough to judge. They hadn’t lost any bad games, but they weren’t stringing any wins together either. That trend has unfortunately continued after this week’s 1-1 performance, with a great win over the Minnesota Lynx, followed by a tough loss to the Chicago Sky.

Despite an alarming 20 turnovers in the game, Jewell Loyd and Jordin Canada combined for 36 points and 10 assists, and star forward Natasha Howard chipped in 12 points as well. It was a great team effort, as the Storm shut down the Lynx offense, holding Sims to five points and only allowing 15 points from Minnesota in the fourth quarter.

In the game against Chicago, Howard and Lloyd combined for 40, but the other starters couldn’t pick up the slack. Seattle moves up the rankings this week, despite not building any momentum, due to an unforeseen result in the league.

This team is talented, and this would definitely be a different situation with a healthy Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart. To sum up, the Storm are managing to keep their head afloat, but they need to begin building steam if they want to be a force in the playoffs.

6. Phoenix Mercury, up one spot (2-2)

7. Indiana Fever, up two spots (3-2)

A quote from last week:

After this week, the Fever went 1-1 defeating the Dallas Wings 79-64, before losing to the Mercury 94-87 in a game that was never really that close. I am proud that I have finally been vindicated for my projections on the future of the Fever. I am fervently a non-believer in the Indiana Fever’s solid start to the season.

Yes, on the surface you see that the Fever have a 3-2 record which has them as the third best team in the Eastern Conference. You can also see the Fever’s plus 2.6-point differential, which is in the top half of the league. In addition to this, you might look at the teams the Fever have beaten, and say, “They’re supposed to beat the bad teams.”

However, I continuously point to their only games against good teams, the Connecticut Sun and the Phoenix Mercury, where the Fever were demolished. In the game against Phoenix, the Fever were down 20 at one point before going on a late flurry in the fourth quarter to make the score look presentable. Simply put, this is a bad team that has racked up a few early season wins due to the schedule makers putting them against other bad teams.

While there are a few talented players on the Fever’s roster, their record means almost nothing at this point in the year. I’ll move them up in the rankings for now, but I fully expect a long losing streak around mid-season.

As for the Mercury, they went 1-1 this week, losing to the Lynx before beating the Fever. In the game against Minnesota, Phoenix lost 58-56, in a really rough game for both sides. I suppose I could credit the defenses of both teams, but that low of an offensive output is simply unacceptable for teams at the professional level.

DeWanna Bonner was the only bright spot, dropping 25 points and eight rebounds for the Mercury. No one else scored in double figures for the Mercury, and this along with the 16 turnovers showcased how much the offense struggled.

They were able to bounce back against Indiana, leading 53-28 at halftime before taking their foot of the gas pedal in the fourth quarter. Bonner and Brittney Griner combined for 51 points in a solid win for the Mercury, exposing the Fever and their solid early season start.

8. Chicago Sky, no movement yet again (2-2)

The Chicago Sky’s season has been an interesting one, as it has followed a pattern to this point. First, they suffered a blowout loss, like they did to the Lynx, then Chicago came home and defeated the Seattle Storm in a nail biter. The Sky decided to follow that same plan this week, suffering a blowout loss to the Mystics, losing 103-85.

Then, they came home and defeated the Seattle Storm again, 78-71 this time. I’m almost positive the schedule makers didn’t see this coming when they made the schedules so long ago but noticing that early season trend was entertaining to say the least.

Because of this, the Chicago Sky again have yet to move in the rankings, as they’ve held this eighth spot since the tipoff rankings. However, I believe that the trio of Allie Quigley, Diamond DeShields and Courtney Vandersloot will lead this team to the playoffs with some great performances.

9. Las Vegas Aces, down FIVE spots (2-3)

Since last week’s ranking, the Aces have gone 1-2, which doesn’t seem too bad until you look at their most recent result. We will get into that in a minute. In their first game of the week against the Connecticut Sun, it was a great measuring stick to see how Las Vegas matches up against Eastern Conference favorites.

Unfortunately, they lost 80-74, which led to their drop in the rankings. This year’s number one pick Jackie Young and the number one pick from the 2017 draft Kelsey Plum were both held to zero points, which is simply unacceptable from two very important pieces to this championship puzzle.

They also only got two points from Carolyn Swords, who started at center instead of Liz Cambage, so three starters combining for two points is a surefire way to lose a critical game. Cambage joined the starting lineup the next game against the despondent Atlanta Dream, and her and All Star A’ja Wilson combined for 26 points and 12 rebounds in the blowout victory.

Plum bounced back, scoring in double figures, and crucial bench pieces Tamera Young and Dearica Hamby also scored double digits, showing how powerful this team can be when firing on all cylinders. After such a great blowout victory against the Dream, you’d think that the Aces would easily be able to handle the New York Liberty, who were on a 17-game losing streak.

Unfortunately, you would be wrong, as the Liberty snapped their losing streak for their first win since last year, beating the Aces 88-78. Wilson had another clunker of a game, shooting two of 10 from the field and scoring only five measly points. Plum continued her usual disappearing act, shooting two of eight from the field and scoring only four points.

In addition to this, they received almost no production from their bench, only getting 16 total bench points. Simply put, this loss is unforgettable and unacceptable, when you’re in a conference as competitive as the West and every team is jockeying for position every night.

The media seemingly crowned the Aces too soon as the team to beat, with the offseason acquisitions and the perceived development of the existing young pieces, but these players are still young and are still prone to frequent bad games. Especially to a team that hadn’t won since 2018. There is a lot to improve on, but this week was one the Aces would like to forget for sure.

10. New York Liberty, up two spots (1-4)

The New York Liberty were embroiled in a franchise-worst 17-game losing streak dating back to last season, before surprisingly defeating the preseason favorite Las Vegas Aces at home, 88-78. The Liberty took over in the second quarter, outscoring the Aces by 11 in that period before closing the game out in the fourth in what was a jaw-dropping victory.

Franchise stalwart Tina Charles led the team with 21 points; center Amanda Zahui B. stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, nine rebounds, and five blocks; finally, exciting sophomore Kia Nurse added 15 points with three-threes.

All in all, this was a great win for the Liberty, as in previous games it would take an otherworldly performance from Charles for the game to even be close, and if Charles was off her game that night, it would have been a blowout like the second loss to the Indiana Fever. However, in this game, Charles had some help, and it finally resulted in a win, removing the monkey from the back of the New York Liberty.

11. Atlanta Dream, down one spot (1-4)

The Dream were one of the big movers in last week’s rankings, unfortunately moving in the wrong direction after a horrible start to the year. Unfortunately, their season has gone from bad to worse, going 0-2 this past week. The Dream suffered a blowout loss to the Aces 92-69, before dropping a close game to the Connecticut Sun 65-59.

The Dream’s first win of the season, against the team below them in the rankings, is the only reason why they aren’t at the bottom. They have not had a season-defining win like the Liberty, which justifies their placement. I am simply astonished that the Dream’s season has gone so poorly.

I predicted that due to the Dream being without All Star Angel McCoughtry for most of the season, they would potentially struggle, but this was a team with the returning WNBA Coach of the Year, as well as All-WNBA First team member in Tiffany Hayes and other solid players. I expected the Dream to build from their great year, but unfortunately with McCoughtry, their season has essentially gone down the gutter, with no end in sight.

12. Dallas Wings, down one spot (0-4)

With the New York Liberty’s victory over the Las Vegas Aces, the Dallas Wings are now unfortunately the last team without a win in the WNBA. During last week’s rankings, the Wings seemed like a plucky team adjusting to the departure of Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

They had only lost their games by four points and three points. However, this week the Wings have completely fallen apart, going 0-2 with decisive losses to the Fever and the Mystics. Their offense has been simply abysmal, scoring the fewest points per game in the league. Because of this, they have the worst point differential in the league.

I expected the Wings to keep it close against the Fever, and they responded by scoring only 12 points in the first quarter in a game that I figured they would win. Then of course, they ran into the unstoppable buzz saw that is the Washington Mystics and that game was not pretty. If I had to point out any glaring issues, I would say just overall team inefficiency.

The Wings have not determined their identity, post-Cambage era. I assumed that rookie Arike Ogunbowale would be given the ultimate green light, and that was the case against the Fever, but she unfortunately shot two for 14. Then, I suppose in response to this, she only played six minutes in the blowout loss to Washington.

Simply put, she has the tools and the talent to be Dallas’ most effective scorer. However, Ogunbowale must be given enough leash to succeed, despite a rough shooting performance. The Wings must put the ball in her hands if they want any steady source of scoring, as in the Washington game, there were barely any points across the rotation.

 I imagine it’s tough to find an identity, especially when you know Diggins-Smith will be ready to play any week now and she obviously needs her touches, but the Wings have a lot to improve on.

Heaven Hill can be reached at heaven.hill@student.shu.edu.

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