As WNBA loyalists, season openers spark sprinting out of the gates focused on the finish line. The last few years have unveiled that by coming to appreciate, embrace & thus enjoying the process, everything else becomes that much simpler. & the reality?
Not much that happens within the first two weeks of the WNBA calendar matters in the scheme of things simply due to inevitable roster turnover, the unfortunate reality that is injuries & quite simply, ever-expanding basketball acumen. In the meantime, while there hasn’t been much content from our end until now, you can rest assured this analysis has been born of watching each & every game at least twice.
Thus, the WNBA Bucket Scale.
Your resident hoops junkie Smoove votes twice daily, once before the sun rises & again after, ranking teams 1-12 based on the eye test, film study, statistical analysis & just natural instincts.
Let’s take our first peek
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, continuity, elite coaching, rebounding,
- Focus: Free throw shooting, consistency, leadership.
- MVP: Teammates Thomas
- X-Factor: Jonquel Jones
- Pulse: Chiney Ogwumike
The Sun have shone since the lights came on & there doesn’t seem to be much anyone else can do about it. Curt finally got through a preseason undefeated, beat his mentor Brian Agler & former employer Los Angeles Sparks, all the while doing what Minnesota has done the last five seasons: impose their will & wait for someone to make them uncomfortable. Free throw shooting hasn’t mattered (yet) but it will & has been shaky to start. Morgan Tuck has also yet to be fully unleashed which leaves to beg whether there’s still another gear for this potent pack of powerhouse hoopers.
II. Los Angeles Sparks
- Flexes: Continuity, decision making, post play.
- Focus: Perimeter shooting, rebounding.
- MVP: Chelsea Gray/Nneka Ogwumike
- X-Factor: Odyssey Sims
- Pulse: Candace Parker
Weathering the storm of a single post player has to have the Sparks riding high & Brian Agler still has yet to meet rookie Masha Vadeeva, Cappie Pondexteris trying to find her way & Karlie Samuelson has proven more useful than Sydney Wiese yet is out of the league. Again. Everybody Loves Brian.
III. Seattle Storm
- Flexes: Youth, athleticism, three-point shooting
- Focus: Consistency, rebounding, turnovers, focus
- MVP: Breanna Stewart/Jewell Loyd
- X-Factor: Alysha Clark
- Pulse: Natasha Howard
The defense hasn’t been elite but it hasn’t needed to be. Dan Hughes claims to have focused on getting the team to perform offensively but that never truly was the case with Sue Bird on the floor. The biggest difference to this juncture has been the presence of Natasha Howard. Her addition has not only soothed the injury to Crystal Langhorne that would’ve been devastating in years past but also frees Stewie up to not have to cover everyone else’s defensive deficiencies then also grab the board. Dope to see Stewie getting more time on the wing as well. Just because a player can play the post doesn’t mean stick them there. Great coaching means making teams adjust to you. Not the other way around.
IV. Washington Mystics
- Flexes: Three-point shooting, elite coaching, defending the three
- Focus: Health
- MVP: Elena Delle Donne/Ariel Atkins
- X-Factor: Lara Sanders/Tianna Hawkins
- Pulse: Kristi Toliver
Mike Thibault went against the grain to create a roster he thought would be ready to contend & also welcome Emma back with open arms next season & all signs pointed towards the pieces being in place to make a confident run. But injuries are part of the game & quite frankly, shit happens. Natasha Cloud was playing out of her mind in her bench Swiss Army Knife role before coming down with kidney stones & word on the tweet is that Elena Delle Donne could miss another week. Staying afloat in this 2018 season could prove Thibault’s most difficult assignment yet.
V. Phoenix Mercury
- Flexes: Size, weapons, continuity, free throw shooting
- Focus: Defense, defense, defense.
- MVP: DeWanna Bonner
- X-Factor: Briann January
- Pulse: Brittney Griner
An entire starting lineup of players for Phoenix is now entrenched in bench roles. [Lei Mitchell (7), Vonnie Turner (4), Steph Talbot (24), Camillierock Little (34) & Angel Robinson (8) started for stretches last season & thus the Mercury were expected to sprint out of the gates. Being the second oldest team in the league & incorporating essentially three completely new pieces to a potent starting lineup, the best is yet to come with this time. Having just beaten Minnesota & Atlanta, that might be tough on the rest of the league.
VI. New York Liberty
- Flexes: Tina Charles, guard play
- Focus: Three point shooting, efficiency on offense.
- MVP: Connecticut Connection (Charles, Nurse, Hartley)
- X-Factor: Marissa Coleman
- Pulse: Shavonte Zellous
Katie Smith was very likely either Zellous’ vet in her rookie season in Detroit & even if she wasn’t, being the point guard of a team with championship aspiration, Smith likely had an intimate relationship with the kid who now is the most veteran player on her roster in her first season as a head coach & you can see their influence on each other. As this league continues to grow, situations as such breed confidence & opportunity. Something the Liberty are chasing now finally having their entire roster in the fold & the most impactful, pro-ready rookie. Marissa Coleman’s addition could prove vital to this team’s success as neither Kia nor Kiah seems ready to do what it takes to hold down the five spot on a consistent basis. That 6’2 frame, playing similarly to how she & Alyssa Thomas played at Maryland could prove problematic for Lib opponents.
VII. Atlanta Dream
- Flexes: Pace, defense, offensive rebounding,
- Focus: Putting the ball in the hole
- MVP: Angel McCoughtry
- X-Factor: Layshia Clarendon
Pulse: Tiffany Hayes
Layshia Clarendon was a WNBA all star this past season. Brittney Sykes could've stolen rookie of the year. Imani McGee-Stafford is the most talented 6'7" big is only allowed 5 minutes of court time I've ever seen in my life. Yet somehow, Atlanta has shown us that this team is its own biggest threat as the identity is stil developing. Nicki Collen is going to be an absolutely amazing head coach & game manager. Darius Taylor is one of the brightest stars in the game. But one has to begin to wonder what's in the water in Atlanta. Consistency alludes every coach they've had thus far.
VIII. Dallas Wings
- Flexes: Potent offense, youth, rebounding
- Focus: Efficiency, taking care of the ball, fouls
- MVP: Liz Cambage
- X-Factor: Kaela Davis
- Pulse: Skylar Diggins-Smith
Always wondered what the Wings would’ve looked like had they played more through Courtney Paris in the post & now, having Cambage back in the fold, even though Aerial Powers, Theresa Plaisance, & Glory Johnson have yet to play a game in its entirety, Fred Williams squad has shown it can get it done in stretches on both ends of the floor. The question will be consistency. Replacing two of last season’s beloved rookies with WNBA caliber players with proven international experience speaks voumes.
IX. Minnesota Lynx
- Flexes: DEFENDING CHAMPIONS, FOUR OLYMPIANS & THE GREATEST WINNER THE WNBA HAS EVER SEEN. Continuity, experience.
- Focus: Defense, bench, taking care of the ball
- MVP: Sylvia Fowles
- X-Factor: Danielle Robinson
- Pulse: Seimone Augustus
What exactly is wrong with the Lynx? It amounts to the changes in the offseason. Will take an in-depth dive later but it boils down to having to figure out a brand new bench on the fly. The only players not starters returning did not play. Rotational players have to learn the Minnesota way, including one player who wasn’t even in the league last year. Still, the Lynx are defending the ball well & while not blocking immaculate block or steal numbers, they don’t foul often. If Reeve’s crew can stop throwing the ball away & get some shots on goal as opposed to turnovers going the other way, they’ll be fine. Hard to lose on a buzzer beater (twice already this season) when the game isn’t close late. 2-7 still looms.
X. Chicago Sky
- Flexes: Not fouling, getting to the line, equal opportunity offense, sharing the ball, rebounding.
- Focus: Taking care of the ball, efficiency
- MVP: Allie Quigley
- X-Factor: Stefanie Dolson/Cheyenne Parker
- Pulse: Courtney Vandersloot
The Sky have proven to the most volatile team in the league & from here down, the team’s struggles mostly lie in the fact that their roster lacks the presence of a proven WNBA winner or generational talent that guarantees a nightly advantage. That is exacerbated by the fact that Stefanie Dolson has been slowed & subsequently missed games due to injury then Allie Quigley, the closest thing to a proven W winner you have goes down. All the while still waiting on two of your most important players. Nevertheless, Stocks has this team playing basketball the right way & believing in each other. All is well. The job is to get better & nothing comes fast but a crash.
XI. Las Vegas Aces
- Flexes: Size, speed, fastest pace in the league.
- Focus: Scoring efficiently, three-point shooting, defending the three, free throw shooting, taking care of the ball.
- MVP: Nia Coffey/A'ja Wilson
- X-Factor: Kayla McBride
- Pulse: Kelsey Bone/Dearica Hamby
Halftime breaks have either made or broken the game for the Aces. The journey to contention is a steep one but Bill Laimbeer’s crew has shown much more effective, competent & competitive than anything we saw in San Antonio last year. The best part of it all is that Vickie Johnson gets to see what it’s like up close & personal. That first seat isn’t for everyone but VJ seemed out of her element last year. Imagine Nia Coffey if she’d been moved to the wing last year, as she should’ve. OH! & Moriah Jefferson still hasn’t played a game yet.
XII. Indiana Fever
- Flexes: Youth, taking care of the ball,
- Focus: Efficient offense, defense, getting out in transition.
- MVP: Candice Dupree/Kelsey Mitchell
- X-Factor: Natalie Achonwa
- Pulse: Tiffany Mitchell
Another team that could use an infusion of talent that’s currently sitting on the sidelines. Candice Dupree is a player who absolutely should’ve been on an Olympic roster to this point & has won at the highest level but all required less of her than she’s used to. Having to show up nightly emotionally, physically & statistically to show the rookies the way likely isn’t where she saw her career at this juncture but that’s why we’re not in control. Moe Johnson’s return gives this unit another weapon to match their impressive rookie class. Pokey’s crew will be fine but as last season showed, patience will be crucial.
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