WNBA Power Rankings: Lynx Trending Up, Chicago Sky Remain on Top
Remember two weeks ago when I said that it was a long shot for the Chicago Sky to host the second annual Commissioner’s Cup? A lot changed in two weeks, and Chicago is now on the cusp of not only hosting the WNBA All-Star festivities but also the Commissioner's Cup on July 26. The Sky sit a half game ahead of the Aces in the standings and will need to either win both of their upcoming games against the Lynx and the Fever or win at least one along with the Aces falling to the Liberty, their only game left before the All-Star break.
If both teams finish with the same record at the end of games on July 7, the third tiebreaker is a cumulative point differential in Commissioner's Cup games. Home court would then go to the Aces, who have a 102-point differential in cup games to the Sky's 82.
Annie Costabile @AnnieCostabile
As stated a couple days ago, bc the Aces + Sky are tied in CC play & split their regular season matchups, the second tie breaker comes into play: team with highest win percentage in reg szn games through July 7 will host. <a href="https://t.co/7ve0Y94grM">https://t.co/7ve0Y94grM</a>
Speaking of the All-Star Game, it’s official: Team Wilson and Team Stewart are set. Some interesting trades took place on Saturday. One put Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird together as co-captains of Team Stewart as well as Sylvia Fowles and A’ja Wilson as co-captains of Team Wilson. Sabrina Ionescu also got traded for Nneka Ogwumike so that she’ll be playing with her Liberty teammate Natasha Howard on Team Wilson.
Who got snubbed from the All-Star Game was a popular discussion around the league this week. I wrote about the five who I believe had a fair case. Natasha Cloud was quite demonstrative about her own snub. And Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard believes that because Diana Taurasi wasn’t voted an All-Star, the game in Chicago shouldn’t be referred to as an All-Star Game. It was a very strange comment to make when two other players on the Mercury roster are either playing or are being honored in Chicago.
To be clear, the All-Star roster shouldn’t have included Taurasi and there was a reason she wasn’t included on my list of snubs. Statistically she hasn’t played like an All-Star all season, and the Mercury have a better net rating when she’s off the floor, per pbpstats.com. More on Nygaard’s gaffe later.
Now on to the rankings: How was Tina Charles’ first week in Storm green, white and yellow? And how did this week’s slate of games impact the playoff race? Let’s find out who’s trending upward heading into the All-Star break.
12. Indiana Fever (5-18) (No Change)
The Fever are in the midst of a four-game losing streak after falling once again to the Phoenix Mercury and then the Seattle Storm, both on the road.
On Wednesday night in Phoenix, Kelsey Mitchell played like she felt like she was snubbed from the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game. She led the Fever with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, five assists and three rebounds. The only other Indiana player scoring in double digits that night was Victoria Vivians with 13. Second overall pick NaLyssa Smith couldn’t get going, shooting 3-of-12 and scoring only eight in the Fever’s 99-78 loss.
A couple of days later in Seattle, the Fever couldn't get anything to work offensively as they shot 34.4 percent from the field, their lowest since playing the Liberty on June 1. One bright spot was rookie Queen Egbo, who scored most of her 14 points on offensive rebound putbacks and driving layups.
Back at home a few days later, the Fever didn't have enough firepower to counter the Storm as they fell 95-73. While Mitchell put up another All-Star-worthy performance (21 points, three assists and 3-of-6 from three) only Smith and Danielle Robinson joined her in double-digit scoring.
11. Phoenix Mercury (9-14) (no Change)
The most talked about story surrounding the Mercury this week once again had nothing to do with their performance on the court where they beat the worst defensive and second-worst offensive team in the Fever followed by getting crushed by the defending champion Sky and losing in the finals moments of regulation to the Sparks. So what happened this week? It all began on Thursday night when head coach Vanessa Nygaard was asked about the final WNBA All-Star rosters, which included Skylar Diggins-Smith and honorary All-Star Brittney Griner but didn’t include league all-time-leading scorer Diana Taurasi.
Nygaard went so far as to say that the game in Chicago “will not be an All-Star Game because Diana Taurasi is not playing” in it. Diggins-Smith took that comment quite personally and quote-tweeted the team’s tweet with that audio clip and added a clown emoji, communicating that what she said was an absolute joke. When the Mercury traveled to Wintrust Arena to play the Sky on the road, a place I am now deeming Taurasi’s kryptonite (she scored two points on 1-of-6 shooting in the Mercury’s 91-75 loss), a fan sitting behind the Mercury bench wore a clown wig seemingly in reference to Diggins-Smith’s tweet.
With 9.6 seconds left in regulation and down two during the Mercury’s final game of the week on the Fourth of July against the Sparks, Nygaard opted to run a play for Taurasi, who had shot 4-of-13 to that point, rather than for Diggins-Smith, who led the team in scoring with 22 while shooting 7-of-15. Phoenix lost the game on a rushed Taurasi three that was heavily contested by 6’8" center Liz Cambage.
10. Dallas Wings (10-12) (↓ 2 Spots)
Drama has also hit Dallas, but the theatrics that are among the Wings have a little bit more to do with what went on this week on the court. The Wings began their week in embarrassing fashion, getting mauled 92-64 by the Minnesota Lynx on the road. Should Dallas have known that former point guard Moriah Jefferson, who the team had cut on May 9, was going to show out? Yes. And Jefferson put up a 13-10-10 triple double against her former squad. It’s an understatement to say that she had juice.
Following the Wings' 97-89 loss to the Sparks loss at home was when some of the tension was revealed. Veteran forward Isabelle Harrison answered a question from a fan on Twitter in which he was asking why head coach Vickie Johnson kept pulling Harrison out of the game, especially against the Sparks when she played a total of 8:36. The response “when you find out, lemme know" was concerning, but it also reveals one of the Wings’ main roster construction issues: They don’t employ bigs that complement each other, which puts Johnson in a tenuous position when figuring out her rotation each game.
While the Wings got a win at home against the struggling Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night by playing with more energy and hustle, it's worth looking at the minute distribution for the bigs. Offseason acquisition Teaira McCowan played over 25 minutes while Harrison only played a bit over 13. How will Johnson regain the trust of this locker room? She'll have a full All-Star break to figure it out.
9. New York Liberty (8-12) (↓ 3 Spots)
The Liberty had a much less off-court drama than the Mercury and Wings combined, but they still lost both their games this week in slightly dramatic fashion. First, New York allowed the Dream’s Erica Wheeler to sink a buzzer-beating three that sent Thursday night’s game into overtime. The Liberty were out of gas in the five-minute overtime period and allowed Tiffany Hayes to make two straight treys to secure the 92-81 win.
In L.A. days later, New York was rocked hard when wing Rebecca Allen was elbowed in the face by Chiney Ogwumike late in the first quarter. Allen, who had just returned from concussion protocol, was slow to get up and had to be escorted off the floor. She didn’t return. The Sparks played the Liberty just as physically the rest of the game and imposed their will in the paint, scoring 42 points to New York’s 22.
A couple of trends can be extrapolated from both losses: 1) New York played both games with around eight available players. Crystal Dangerfield had to miss Thursday night’s game because the team needed to switch her contract from a hardship to a rest-of-the-season contract. To do so the Liberty needed to wait a few more days so they had enough money. and she returned to the roster for the Liberty’s game in L.A. And 2) Sabrina Ionescu has struggled to move the ball quickly, something that head coach Sandy Brondello preaches is integral for their success offensively.
How worried should we be about the Liberty? Before the All-Star break, they have a true back-to-back on Wednesday and then Thursday night against the struggling Aces and mercurial Mercury. Brondello will sure have the motivation to beat her former team on the road, but the question is will also the Liberty?
8. Los Angeles Sparks (10-11) (↑ 1 Spot)
I will give it to the Sparks, this week they’ve shown improvement. In three games played they finished with a net rating of plus-11, third-best in the league. Defensively, there’s been more of a buy-in as well.
Is the reason they’ve got it together because the franchise secured its 500th overall win? Probably not, but this resurgence instead might be because Liz Cambage has finally bought in and is playing like the dominant player she has the potential to be. This week she averaged 18.7 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 64.5 percent across three games.
The issue that lies ahead for the Sparks is how well their guard play can complement what they have in the post. With Cambage starting to return to form, Nneka Ogwumike playing like the All-Star she is and Chiney Ogwumike providing key minutes off the bench, which guards are going to step up? Chennedy Carter, Kristi Toliver and Brittney Sykes are all out with injury or illness, leaving Jordin Canada and Lexie Brown. While the Sparks are in a more favorable position now, how they respond to an opponent that can successfully pack the paint and execute defensively will be key going forward.
7. Minnesota Lynx (7-15) (↑ 3 Spots)
Have the Minnesota Lynx officially turned the corner? Is a playoff appearance for Sylvia Fowles’ final season in the W finally a possibility? The Lynx are 2.5 games out of the eighth seed, but with 14 games left to play for Minnesota, it’s still possible. The reason I move the Lynx three spots this week is because of the quality of their wins. They began their week blowing the struggling Dallas Wings out of the water 92-64 with a triple-double from point guard Moriah Jefferson. Following the blowout, the Lynx couldn’t quite finish against Vegas, falling 91-85.
But the real statement game came just two days later when the Lynx defeated the Aces 102-71 on Aerial Powers’ 32 points, a career high, along with six rebounds and four assists. The Lynx out-rebounded the Aces 53-25 on the same night the franchise retired the jersey of current assistant coach and former Lynx legend Rebekkah Brunson, who is third on the W’s all-time rebounding list.
Across the Timeline @WBBTimeline
After setting a regulation franchise record with 53 rebounds on Tuesday, the Lynx won with 53 rebounds again tonight.<br><br>They grabbed 67.9% of the rebounds tonight, the 2nd-best REB% in franchise history.<br><br>Their 97.4 DREB% is best in Lynx history and 5th-best in WNBA history.
According to head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve, the Lynx executed their defensive game plan and made it difficult for Las Vegas to get any scoring opportunities in the paint. She believes they’ve found their defensive identity. Playing at Target Center really helps the Lynx, as Kelsey Plum noted on Friday that it’s a hard place for opponents to play in.
Does this offensive firepower and execution of defensive principles continue when Chicago comes to town? The Lynx were a Courtney Vandersloot trey from playing the defending champions into overtime on June 26. Is Minnesota for real?
6. Atlanta Dream (10-11) (↑ 1 Spot)
Following a 92-74 blowout loss to the Mystics on the road, the Dream found their footing with the return of franchise stalwart Tiffany Hayes. Hayes showed out in her first two games of the 2022 season after sitting out due to a knee injury, averaging 15.5 points while shooting 56.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. Her offensive production has taken some of the pressure off rookie Rhyne Howard, who has been Atlanta’s top scoring threat all season.
Following the two wins the Dream racked up against the Liberty on the road and then their 90-76 blowout of the Storm at home, head coach Tanisha Wright said her team played with the necessary toughness to win. “For the second game in a row, we were the toughest team,” Wright said Sunday. “And I feel like any time we bring that to the table, we’re going to put ourselves in position to be able to win a basketball game.”
Next up for the Dream, they’ll have to play the team that’s been their Achilles' heel the entire season in the Mystics. Atlanta has lost to Washington three times this season and looks to prevent a season sweep on Wednesday.
5. Las Vegas Aces (15-6) (↓ 3 Spots)
The Aces have lost four of their last six games as the reasons for my concerns with Las Vegas continue to bubble to the surface. Let’s begin with the obvious: their bench. Usually when a team’s starters come out flat, a coach can rely upon a few players coming off the bench to provide a bit more energy to change the trajectory of the game.
On Sunday against the Lynx, this didn't happen, as Aces head coach Becky Hammon got only three points from Riquna Williams in that first quarter. The Lynx’s bench scored 34 points, while the Aces' backup unit scored 22 points. That differential speaks volumes. Against Seattle days earlier, the Storm got 25 bench points to the Aces' 17. That’s a little bit better, but the Storm used their newest acquisition Tina Charles to open the floor up for Stephanie Talbot, who shot 3-of-5 from three.
Besides the issues the Aces have with their bench, another issue that’s been slowly creeping up on Las Vegas has been their defensive execution. Its rotations have been slower and out of rhythm. In the past five games, the Aces have had the second-worst defensive rating in the league (104.3). Is it time to panic? No! But it’s time for the Aces to start playing a more focused and determined defense.
4. Connecticut Sun (14-8) (↓ 1 Spot)
The Sun played an early morning camp game in Chicago on Wednesday and their weakness, inconsistent guard play, was immediately exposed. Courtney Williams and Natisha Hiedeman combined for 10 points in the Sun’s 91-83 loss at Wintrust. While the final score doesn't scream blow out, the Sky outscored the Sun 55- 33 in the first half and Connecticut allowed Chicago to shoot 83.3 percent from the field. The Sky only missed four shots in the first two quarters.
The Sky remain the Sun’s metaphorical kryptonite because of their inconsistent guard play. Both teams have a lot of post depth, but the Sky’s guard depth allows Chicago to move Connecticut's defense enough to be able to attack on the perimeter, a place where the Sun are also lacking defensively.
While the Sun turned on their defense in the second half against the Mystics on Sunday, what is with the Sun and these very slow starts? What was encouraging on Sunday, besides more defensive intensity, was the Connecticut guard play. This time Williams and Hiedeman combined for 29 of the Sun’s 74 points.
Two days later in Dallas, the Sun were outscored 42-34 in the paint and were out-rebounded 34-29. Despite 25 points from Williams, Connecticut was out-hustled by a Wings team desperate for a win, falling 82-71.
3. Washington Mystics (13-10) (↑ 1 Spot)
The Mystics split this week with a win and a loss. First they silenced the Atlanta Dream at home in a 92-74 victory that included five players scoring in double figures and 25 points coming off the bench. A few days later, Washington fell 74-72 to Connecticut in overtime and could only get double-digit scoring from three players. Fourteen of its 72 points came from the bench. Anyone want to take a guess as to which game Elena Delle Donne played in? The win of course.
Against the Sun, the Mystics led 49-34 at halftime and scored only 23 points in the second half and in the five-minute overtime period. The Mystics shot 56.3 percent from the field in the first half and then only made seven shots in the second half, shooting an ice-cold 25.9 percent. ESPN color commentator Andraya Carter remarked during the game that when the Mystics are without Delle Donne, they need to run actions for the players they do have rather than trying to fit Myisha Hines-Allen into the square peg that Delle Donne usually fits. They will continue to navigate who they are when their franchise player isn’t on the floor.
2. Seattle Storm (14-8) (↑3 Spots)
Integrating Tina Charles into a completely new system without a full training camp was always going to be a challenge for the Storm. How would Seattle’s Big Three in Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd in addition to head coach Noelle Quinn make sure Charles felt valued? How would they make sure she bought into a team that has the best defense in the league? While her first outing against the Aces didn’t look the most pretty on the box score, watching the game, Charles’ impact was purely in the fact that she drew a ton of attention from the Vegas defense, which opened up the floor for players like Stephanie Talbot.
A couple of days later, Charles almost put up a double-double, scoring nine points and recording eight rebounds. And on that same evening she moved up to fourth on the W’s all-time scoring list. When Charles was on the bench during both of those home games, she was engaged and celebrating her new teammates. She even danced on the sideline when Bird and Loyd hit treys.
On Sunday, Charles and the entire Storm roster looked out of sync. The best defense allowed the worst offense in the Atlanta Dream to put up 90 points? Stewart was the only Seattle player to hit double-digit scoring with 19, and the Storm shot 34.9 percent from the field, their third-worst of the season.
But on Tuesday night, Seattle bounced back, defeating the Fever once again 95-73 in a game that saw five Storm players scoring in double figures, including a 13-point, eight-rebound and two-assist game for Charles. While she's still grasping the Storm's defensive scheme, she looked the most comfortable offensively since joining Seattle.
1. Chicago Sky (15-5) (No Change)
The Sky won both their two games at home this week and now can flaunt a five-game winning streak dating back since June 21. What remains the key to the defending champions’ hot streak is their depth and ability to get scoring and defensive intensity from almost every single player on the roster. On Wednesday morning’s camp game, Azura Stevens and Rebekah Bardner scored 10 points apiece off the bench. In the Sky’s Saturday afternoon 91-75 win over the Mercury, Chicago’s bench scored 32 points—that’s over 35 percent.
The Sky are the polar opposite of the Aces in that Chicago has scored 469 total bench points, and that averages out to 23.5 per game, fourth in the league. The Sky’s biggest challenge before the All-Star break will be slowing down the red-hot offense of the Minnesota Lynx, a team that has a 116.6 offensive rating in the past five games.
Stats via WNBA.com unless otherwise noted.