WNBA Bucket Scale: Connecticut unquestionably leads the pack
Flexes: Qualities the team has shown it can consistently showcase nightly.
Focus: Opportunities for growth
MVP: Most Valuable Player (at time of publication)
X-Factor: Player currently projecting potential to push team to the next level.
Pulse: Player you can look to during any crucial moments of the game to determine whether the team will sink or swim
I. Connecticut Sun
- Flexes: Depth, frontcourt talent, competitiveness.
- Focus: FT %
- MVP: Chiney Ogwumike
- X-Factor: Shekinna Stricklen
- Pulse: Jasmine Thomas
This is likely the only place you’ll find them at an unquestioned number one, but the 2017 season is over. Minnesota may be the defending champions, but Connecticut is the class of the league. Curt has finally embraced starting his bigger lineup & as Chiney Ogwumike chooses to finally embrace shooting the three, this Sun team feels like a vision from dreams of my own. Developing layers & depth throughout the course of what turns out to be a championship season simply because you’re going about things authentically & organically. Curt Miller has long been one of the best basketball minds there is & the world is getting to see that. The only negative in this equation is that this success has seemingly come at the expense of Morgan Tuck’s minutes.
II. Phoenix Mercury
- Flexes: Three-headed monster, point guard pairing, GOAT.
- Focus: Consistency
- MVP: Brittney Griner
- X-Factor: Briann January
- Pulse: DeWanna Bonner
Old habits die hard. Some complacency crept into the mindsets of Sandy Brondello’s group after making significant strides from preseason into the first game on the schedule this season. Nevertheless, a few minor tweaks to involve the greatest player of all time more in the offense has proven to be a significant difference. The only team with 3 scorers in the WNBA’s top 15 also carries the best FT% in the league, the best 3-point percentage shooter in the league (January: 62.1%) & the league’s best shot blocker still has plenty of room to grow as they currently rank last in the league in attempts per game. Shoot the ball Merc reserves!!
III. Los Angeles Sparks (tied-3)
- Flexes: A full roster (finally!) Front court continuity & talent, guard play, efficiency
- Focus: Integrating Vadeeva, balancing rotation
- MVP: Chelsea Gray
- X-Factor: Masha Vadeeva
- Pulse: Nneka Ogwumike
At last! The Sparks have their entire roster in tow & it only took 7 games. 5-2 feels solid as the only blowout loss came at the hands of a ticked off Seattle Storm team that has since stumbled itself. Nevertheless, Brian Agler’s crew bounced back nicely for a blowout of its own on Sunday as they welcomed the Chicago Sky to town. Masha Vadeeva may not have been in uniform, but she was wholly present in the building for what seems like annual circus visits when Candace Parker matches up against her hometown Chicago Sky. If only she hadn’t been drafted & won championships in the glitz & glamour of Hollywood, she’d consider coming home. As for now? The Sparks should be confidently yet intentionally focused on themselves at this point.
IV. Seattle Storm (tied-3)
- Flexes: Youth, scoring ability, defensive activity, 3-pt defense
- Focus: Consistency
- MVP: Jewell Loyd/Natasha Howard
- X-Factor: Alysha Clark
- Pulse: Breanna Stewart
The Storm have an exquisitely ideal balance of youth & experience. Dan Hughes seems to be 100% dialed in but this team has to find a way to bring it every night. The Seattle Storm championships of old dominated the league for stretches. It's not hard to envision Jewell, Stewie & Natasha Howard doing the same as they spend more time together. However, what can't wane is effort and attention to detail. At this level, you can't make any mistakes. In addition to that, don't you want to get better? If Seattle continues to leave it all on the floor & remain authentic to their brand, this team could shake up the entirety of the WNBA standings for the duration of the season. As opposed to just the first few weeks as we saw consistently under Jenny Boucek.
V. Atlanta Dream
- Flexes:Defense, turnover margin.
- Focus: Putting the ball in the hole,Elizabeth Williams offense?
- MVP: Tiffany Hayes
- X-Factor: Damiris Dantas
- Pulse: Angel McCoughtry
Shifting integral parts while bringing in new brass was going to be a challenge regardless. Two matchups with an angry Dallas Wings team didn’t help at all. Then, after five games –including preseason—where they broke 80 points once, Nicki Collen’s crew was able to knock off the defending champs while scoring 76 points in a game they didn’t even play that well in. Save the matchup with the hottest team in the league, the Dream HAVE BEEN the league’s hottest team. & Nicki Collen is proving to the world why our panel of one believes she’s the next great name that will push this generation of basketball to the next level. Convincing Angel McCoughtry to play second fiddle & moving All-Star Layshia Clarendon to the bench is a much easier sell when there’s winning involved.
VI. Washington Mystics
- Flexes: Three-point shooting, pushing the pace.
- Focus: Finishing defensive possessions with a stop
- MVP: Elena Delle Donne
- X-Factor: Natasha Cloud
- Pulse: Ariel Atkins
The Mystics have continued to rely on the three-point & it seems they’re going to ride it until the wheels fall off. For the first time in almost three seasons, Mike Thibault is tinkering with his lineup & realistically started his most balanced crew against Minnesota. The outcome was not as desired, but you also don’t expect Elena Delle Donne to only score 8 points every night in addition to Lara Sanders picking up a couple questionable foul calls. Meesseman may not be coming back but Tayler Hill would balance this lineup nicely with her ability to create for herself & others.
VII. Dallas Wings
- Flexes: Talent pool, depth, rebounding
- Focus: Three-point shooting, chemistry & taking care of the ball
- MVP: Skylar Diggins-Smith
- X-Factor: Glory Johnson
- Pulse: Liz Cambage
With only one game this week, Skylar Diggins refused to let her team lose while welcoming back Glory Johnson. Aerial Powers also made her first appearance in what seems like ages. As this team rounds back into health, this is a scary unit. So many athletes with high basketball IQs looking for an opportunity to make their mark. Cambage puts them over the top as a true contender but who will be that consistent number three?
VIII. New York Liberty
- Flexes: Tina Charles, competitive edge.
- Focus: Reincorporating the guards, defend the three-point line.
- MVP: Tina Charles
- X-Factor: Brittany Boyd
- Pulse: Bria Hartley
Katie Smith & crew have to remain encouraged as they’ve had opportunities to win every single game they’ve played in this season, but you have to finish them off. A first-year head coach with young point guards was bound to have a learning curve but the biggest problem for the Liberty remains the same: consistent scoring threats around TC. Bria Hartley came out blazing hot against Phoenix & simply stopped shooting the ball. That can’t happen with championship aspirations.
IX. Minnesota Lynx
- Flexes: Defending champs, four Olympians, experience.
- Focus: Developing rotation, taking care of the ball, efficiency on offense.
- MVP: Sylvia Fowles
- X-Factor: Danielle Robinson
- Pulse: Maya Moore
Endy Miyem’s addition could prove crucial. Without Renee Montgomery, Jia Perkins & Plenette Pierson in the fold, Cheryl Reeve no longer has a bench she can just throw out there to, ad nauseam, maintain. The best thing for all parties involved was for the Lynx to encounter some adversity. It’s tough to imagine it taking four championships for players to start taking playing the Lynx personal but the growth of the league is also pivotal here. The next generation of athletes & coaches have already made their mark in the WNBA & Cheryl Reeve is either going to have to grow this bunch quickly or their plans to ride this crew into retirement might have to adjust soon. Whalen’s game also seems primed for full-time sideline stalking. Nevertheless, the schedule evens out just in time. The Lynx may not be able to recover to home court advantage but the defending champs will have something to say regarding the outcome of the 2018 season.
X. Las Vegas Aces
- Flexes: Rebounding, free throw rate, defensive principles & rotations.
- Focus: Putting the ball in the hole, taking care of the ball
- MVP: A’ja Wilson
- X-Factor: Kayla McBride
- Pulse: Kelsey Plum
The Aces continue plugging along, finding ways to be competitive as the team finds their way. Based on the hardship allowance signing of Sequoia Holmes, Moriah Jefferson won’t be back any time soon. That’s unfortunate for all parties involved not named Kelsey Plum. Which is exactly why the rest of her WNBA career depending on how she responds to this stretch. As coaches, we have to stop crippling kids & coach everyone the same. There’s an adjustment period for everyone but it doesn’t look kosher when the alleged all-time leading scorer in women’s college basketball is overmatched in the W for two years.
XI. Chicago Sky
- Flexes: Sharing the ball, spacing
- Focus: Rebounding, be disruptive not just present.
- MVP: Stefanie Dolson
- X-Factor: Cheyenne Parker
- Pulse: Jameirra Faulkner
Most of the Sky’s issues come down to personnel. Stefanie Dolson is an integral piece to everything this franchise is working to accomplish & now, so is Allie Quigley. Dolson didn’t seem like herself to start the season & got worse with each game before going into the boot. Allie tried to shoot her way out of a bad shooting night & that never works. The biggest issue for the Sky right now simply is talent. Astou Ndour & Courtney Vandersloot are impact players except when coming in late directly from playing an entire season with another team. Gotta love the sacrifice & commitment of these most talented women in the world.
XII. Indiana Fever
- Flexes: Youth, effort, game-to-game growth.
- Focus: MAKING SHOTS, defensive principles & rotations.
- MVP: Candice Dupree
- X-Factor: Tiffany Mitchell
- Pulse: Natalie Achonwa
There are no moral victories in professional sports but the Fever are trending in the right direction. Stephanie Mavunga has finally been freed. The sooner the Fever embraces the youth movement, the better. Wheeler, Achonwa, & Alexander have to make an impact at some point. Or why is you here?
Smoove’s Dishes of the Week
Point Guard: Skylar Diggins-Smith Dallas Wings
2-Guard: Tiffany Hayes Atlanta Dream
Wing: Angel McCoughtry Atlanta Dream
Pivot: Chiney Ogwumike Connecticut Sun
Post: Brittney Griner Phoenix Mercury
6th Woman: Damiris Dantas Atlanta Dream
Rookie: A’ja Wilson Las Vegas Aces
Coach: Nicki Collen Atlanta Dream