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12 takeaways from this week in the WNBA

Just in time for the WNBA playoff push, 12 takeaways will be a weekly column highlighting everything from X’s and O’s, individual performances, analysis, off-the-court stories and other miscellaneous tidbits that stood out each week, for better or for worse. Each piece will end with Power Rankings.

July 31st-Aug. 6th- This week saw encouraging play from the San Antonio Stars, two big injuries and a blockbuster trade:

1. The Big Deal: Chicago Sky trade Imani Boyette and Tamera Young to the Atlanta Dream for Jordan Hooper and a first-round pick. 

Just minutes before Monday night’s trade deadline, the AP’s Doug Feinberg reported that the Sky sent Boyette and Young to the Dream for Hooper and a first-round pick. Giving both teams the benefit of the doubt, this trade is ok for both sides. Atlanta is in a playoff race and needs help now. They were able to secure a veteran wing player in Young who can help on both ends of the court, and a young center in Boyette who can help now defensively and on the glass and who still has major upside in the future.

For the Sky, they likely felt they weren’t going to make the playoffs and are rebuilding in their first year without Elena Delle Donne and with new head coach and GM Amber Stocks. Getting another first-round pick in a loaded 2018 class could give them two new players to pair with All-Stars Stephanie Dolson, Allie Quigley and steady point guard Courtney Vandersloot. Additionally, with Dolson becoming a star and with 2017 second overall pick Alaina Coates in the mix, the Sky had a logjam at center and were able to address that.

Who won the trade

Most likely Atlanta. The Dream were able to get two players that will help them this year and moving forward. While they gave up a first-round pick, they’re hoping a push for the 7th seed would mean the pick won’t be in the lottery anyway. In Boyette, they acquired a 2016 first-round pick which somewhat offsets losing theirs in 2018. With or without Angel McCoughtry moving forward, Atlanta has a deep roster that is ready to win in the next 2-3 years, so they did well to add two rotation pieces. After a promising rookie year, Boyette hasn’t been as good this year as Chicago has juggled their rotations, but she should do well playing for a defensive-minded coach in Michael Cooper.

Chicago is betting on Dolson and Coates over Boyette. If that gamble wins out, history could show Chicago to win this trade. Boyette has the potential to be a shot-blocking, rim protecting big that arguably should have netted a higher return than a middle first-rounder. Additionally, for a team trying to reset, you hate to give up youth. It might have made more sense for Chicago to trade Cappie Pondexter, a veteran that could help a team trying to win now without sacrificing their future. However, now that the dust has settled, this trade doesn’t look as bad as initial reactions indicated. Having Dolson, Coates and Boyette long-term was not going to work on the court, and moving one for a first is a reasonable return. The lingering question is would have holding off until closer to the draft have netted a better package in return for Boyette.

2. Elena Delle Donne injury

The Washington Mystics announced on August 1st that Delle Donne will undergo surgery on her left thumb and will be out for at least two weeks. Although she’s expected to return before the end of the regular season, Washington is 15-10, and her absence could have a large impact on seeding. Washington, Connecticut and Phoenix are the three most likely candidates to upset a team like the Lynx or Sparks, and now Washington will have to play without their star, just as Phoenix is playing without Brittney Griner. In such a short season, any missed time is a lost opportunity to improve as a team, especially given that Delle Donne is in her first year with Washington. She missed last year’s playoff run with the Sky and hopefully she is able to participate in this year’s postseason.

3. The Stars finally gelling on the court

The Stars went 3-o this week on their home court, beating the Liberty 93-81, the Delle Donne-less Mystics 76-74 and the Seattle Storm 87-80 in overtime Saturday. They got a 32-point performance from Kayla McBride against New York and a 23-point performance from Kelsey Plum against Seattle. But more important was their passing as they generated 24, 23 and 19 assists respectively to move into fourth in the league in assists. The ball movement was contagious with pocket passes like this:

The Stars are still last in offensive rating, but with Plum improving every game, they should be optimistic about their future. They went 3-0 this week with Moriah Jefferson missing a game and largely a non-factor in the other two. They will likely add South Carolina center A’ja Wilson with this first pick in next year’s draft, which will give them three potential stars in Plum, McBride and Wilson. This will take pressure of center Kayla Alexander and Jefferson and allow them to settle into roles. If nothing else, this week showed that Plum and McBride can definitely play together, and Jefferson’s ideal role might be a spark plug off the bench.

4. The San Antonio Stars choreographed cheering on the bench

Heading into this week, the Stars were 3-21, firmly entrenched in the cellar of the WNBA standings. With no shot at the postseason and with Howard Megdal of Summitt Hoops reporting rumors of Kelsey Plum trades up to last Monday’s trade deadline, it would be easy for the Stars to look disconnected. Instead, all week the team’s bench was active, getting up after each made basket. There were even some choreographed moves spotted during Tuesday’s win over the New York Liberty. This is a good sign for a young team trying to rebuild while simultaneously accruing chemistry. It helps when you’re winning games.

5. Lindsay Whalen injury lessens the gap between the Lynx and Sparks

Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen is out indefinitely with a broken hand suffered during Wednesday’s win over the Atlanta Dream. The Lynx are still 20-3 and the favorites to earn the top seed. Nevertheless, losing a veteran starter undeniably makes the Lynx a worse team. With the Los Angeles Sparks winning four out of their last five, the gap between them and the Lynx just narrowed.

6. Jonquel Jones is a legitimate MVP candidate

I saw Jonquel Jones play in a preseason game at Columbia University. The Connecticut Sun beat the Liberty 79-57. Jones was all over the court swatting shots, grabbing rebounds and scoring inside. People were there to watch Tina Charles, but I turned to my colleagues and said ‘this player is going to be special.’ Fast forward just three months, and Jones is a legitimate MVP candidate. Her team is 15-5 since an 0-4 start and in good position to earn the three seed. She leads the league in offensive rebounds, total rebounds, and rebounding percentage. She’s fourth in player efficiency rating, third in win shares and top ten in several other categories. On top of that her leadership in just her second year is impressive:

7. Sylvia Fowles is the actual MVP

Jones might have a real shot at MVP if not for the season Sylvia Fowles is putting together, averaging 20.4 points per game and 9.9 rebounds. It’s the advance stats that are jaw-dropping. Fowles is first overall in both offensive and defensive rating, anchoring a 20-3 Lynx team that has the top offense and defense in the league. Her player efficiency rating is 32.7, the only player in the league above 30 (15 is considered neutral, the higher the better). Watch her highlights, especially protecting the basket in the Lynx win over the Dream this week:

 

8. New York Liberty overusing Horns

At 12-12, the Liberty are struggling. They’ve fallen to fifth in defensive rating and eighth in offensive rating. In their loss to the Stars, the Liberty spent the first quarter running the Horns offense on almost every halfcourt set. Horns brings two bigs up to the elbows (see the video below). Horns is best when you have a probing point guard and multiple bigs that can stretch the floor. New York’s advantage seems to be on the low block with Charles surrounded by shooters. They don’t have the ideal point guard for this offense and Charles is unstoppable at the mid-post, low-post and even high-post in isolation. The Stars seemed to get a reprieve with Charles crowded with another big at the high post.

 

9. Atlanta Dream score 2 points in fourth quarter of loss to Lynx

On paper, the Dream’s acquisition of Boyette and Young separated them from the pack of Seattle, Chicago and Indiana. They started out hot, taking a lead against the Lynx on the road. They went into the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game up 52-46, but were outscored 23-2 in the fourth quarter. Credit the Lynx defense, but Atlanta has to do better there. The Lynx were without an injured Whalen and Seimone Augustus, who was out for personal reasons. The Dream followed up Wednesday’s loss with a bad loss to the Sky and have now lost four in a row. At 10-15, they’re in real danger of missing the playoffs and could regret giving up a first-round pick.

10. Chicago Sky try to tank but are winning

On the other end of the trade is Chicago, who won both their games this week, beating Indiana 81-70 and the Dream 91-86. After trading two rotation players, presumably with the intention of improving their draft stock, Chicago is just half a game from the 8th seed. Ironically, if they keep winning, their draft pick will fall. At the same time, they are unlikely to fall below San Antonio and will pick somewhere between 2 and 5 regardless, but there’s a big difference between picking second and fifth. They are rooting for Atlanta to keep losing as they now own their pick.

11. Dallas Wings emerging from the pack

With Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana and Seattle all well below .500, the Dallas Wings scored a big victory against the Sparks Sunday to improve to 13-14. They seem to be locked in to make the playoffs and are in position to move up if New York and Phoenix continue to struggle. They are finding contributions all over their roster and are tough to beat with Aerial Powers healthy.

12. Seattle Storm in identity crisis

The Storm have lost three in a row. In what promised to be a breakout season following last year’s playoff appearance, they are now 10-15 and could miss the playoffs. They can’t seem to get consistent production from Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart, and hit a low point with a loss to the Stars Saturday. What’s becoming evident is Stewart is the best player on the team. She’s second in the entire WNBA in points per game and sixth in rebounding. She’s shooting 38 percent from three and 49 percent from the field. Their best chance might be running their offense through her.

Honorable Mention: The Fever beat the Lynx Sunday in a huge upset. They came into the game on a five game losing streak, but may have saved their playoff hopes with the win.

Power Rankings

  1. Minnesota Lynx (20-3)
  2. Los Angeles Sparks (18-7)
  3. Connecticut Sun (15-9)
  4. Washington Mystics (15-10)
  5. Phoenix Mercury (13-12)
  6. Dallas Wings (13-14)
  7. New York Liberty (12-12)
  8. Chicago Sky (10-16)
  9. Atlanta Dream (10-15)
  10. Seattle Storm (10-15)
  11. Indiana Fever (9-17)
  12. San Antonio Stars (6-21)

 

 

 

 

 

Jump To Comments
  • Vlad_451

    #9. The Lynx Dream game was something else. Held the Dream scoreless from the field in the fourth quarter. I’ve never seen a defensive performance like that in my life. The only 2 points the dream scored were a pair of free throws. It was amazing, especially considering two Lynx starters were out. That was the second lowest score by a team in a quarter in the history of the WNBA.