WNBA Power Rankings: Sun, Sparks and Mercury Catch Fire

Jackie PowellJuly 26, 2022

WNBA Power Rankings: Sun, Sparks and Mercury Catch Fire

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    Brionna Jones, Jonquel Jones, Courtney Williams Natisha Hiedeman and DeWanna Bonner of the Connecticut Sun huddle up during the game against the Minnesota Lynx on July 24, 2022 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by: Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images.

    The Commissioner's Cup championship is Tuesday, so this is a short week in the WNBA, but let's take a look at what went on before the second annual finale takes place. The two teams competing, the Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces, clinched spots in the 2022 playoffs over the last week.

    Now the pressure is on the three other teams in the top tier: the Connecticut Sun, Washington Mystics and Seattle Storm. Of those five clubs, the Sun made major headway, winning their three games.

    In the second tier, the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury showed the most improvement. The Minnesota Lynx and Atlanta Dream fell, the New York Liberty finally showed signs of life. While the Dallas Wings and Liberty remained in the same spots as they were last week, positioning in these power rankings could change in the coming weeks.

    Lastly, the Indiana Fever, in a tier of their own, were eliminated from postseason contention.

12. Indiana Fever (5-25) (No Change)

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    Arike Ogunbowale #24 of the Dallas Wings and Kelsey Mitchell #0 of the Indiana Fever talk after the game on July 24, 2022 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Photo by: Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images.

    Record This Week

    0-3


    Health Outlook

    Lexie Hull returned for Carlos Knox's squad after being out for six games with a right wrist injury. She played 14 minutes against the Aces on Thursday followed by seven minutes against the Wings on Sunday.


    Stat of the Week

    Kelsey Mitchell, who should have been an All-Star, continued adding to her best season in the W. She stuffed the stat sheet against Dallas with 34 points (her most this season) on 13-of-23 shooting, including 3-of-6 from three, five rebounds, six assists, two blocks and three steals in a 96-86 loss.


    Was Their 12th Straight Loss a Win?

    That loss has tremendous upside. Why? The Fever challenged the Wings in the final minutes, cutting what was a 19-point deficit to five. This team needs losses so it has the best chance to get Aliyah Boston in April. But that Indiana did not just roll over showed interim general manager Lin Dunn that there are pieces in place who can fuel the rebuild.

11. Minnesota Lynx (10-19) (↓2 Spots)

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    Rachel Banham #15 of the Minnesota Lynx looks on during the game against the Connecticut Sun on July 22, 2022 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by: Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images.

    Record This Week

    0-2


    Health Outlook

    The Lynx signed former Fever guard Lindsay Allen to a seven-day contract. What prompted this? Forward Damiris Dantas is on personal leave, and Minnesota also was without center Sylvia Fowles on Sunday against Connecticut. Fowles has a nagging right knee injury along with plantar fasciitis in her left foot.


    Stat of the Week

    In both losses to the Sun at home, the Lynx registered 17 turnovers. Seventeen turnovers. What's even creepier is they have turned the ball over exactly 17 times in each of the past five games. Must be Minnesota's unlucky number.


    Defensive Woes

    On Friday, the defense played without resistance or passion. It gave up 94 points in a 10-point loss. On Sunday, the Lynx gave up 86 points in a seven-point loss. Better but not great. Minnesota frustrated Connecticut in the third quarter, allowing only 17 points. According to guard Rachel Banham, execution is the issue. "We have a really good game plan; we just don't execute it," she said Sunday. "And then we decide that we're randomly gonna decide to execute it. So, we're just not consistent. I think that's been the story of our lives this whole season."

10. New York Liberty (10-17) (No Change)

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    Michaela Onyenwere #12 and Sabrina Ionescu #20 of the New York Liberty play defense on Kahleah Copper #2 of the Chicago Sky on July 23, 2022 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Photo by: Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images.

    Record This Week

    1-2


    Health Outlook

    2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney was the only player on the Liberty injury report going into their 83-80 win against the Sky. While Laney hasn't been practicing, she has been doing individual workouts so she can join the team possibly at the beginning of August. Also, Michaela Onyenwere missed New York's road camp games with a left knee injury, but she returned Saturday against Chicago.


    Stat of the Week

    While the Liberty earned a must-win victory at home to keep their playoff chances alive against the defending champions, they still turned the ball over 20 times. New York allowed the Sky to score 27 points off those turnovers. If the Liberty are to build on this momentum, it has to begin with taking care of the basketball.


    Likely and Unlikely Heroics

    It shouldn't shock anyone that Sabrina Ionescu's and-1 pushed the Liberty ahead of the Sky for good. But what might come as a surprise was whose heroics mattered more. Onyenwere, who had been beaten all night by the Sky's taller and more muscular post players, successfully defended Candace Parker, making her miss a turnaround hook shot and then boxing her out well enough to grab the rebound and get fouled. She made her free throws and sealed the Liberty's first win since July 6.

9. Atlanta Dream (12-16) (↓3 Spots)

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    Rhyne Howard #10 of the Atlanta Dream handles the ball during the game against the Seattle Storm on July 24, 2022 at the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, Washington. Photo by: Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images.

    Record This Week

    1-2


    Health Outlook

    After sitting out for two games with a right shoulder injury, rookie Rhyne Howard returned to the starting lineup against the Aces in dramatic form. She scored 24 points on 53.3 percent shooting and added five rebounds, three assists, two steals and three blocks in a 92-76 win.

    But the Dream's injury report still contains Nia Coffey, who has been out with a right knee injury since July 12, and Monique Billings, who injured her right ankle in the Dream's July 15 game against the Sun. On Sunday, the Atlanta rotation got even shorter, as AD was ruled out with a right hip injury.


    Stat of the Week

    Howard notched her seventh 20-point game of the season. She took 30 shots in the Dream's 82-72 loss to the Storm. During Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart's postgame news conference, they were shocked by that number.

    Kevin Pelton @kpeltonWBB

    Reading the box score during their press conference, Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart were amazed to see that Rhyne Howard took 30 shots for Atlanta today. That's the most attempts for a WNBA player this season and the 12th time in league history it's happened.


    Struggling to Finish Comebacks

    The Dream had a statement win against the Aces, leading wire to wire. While that game might have revealed more about Las Vegas than Atlanta (which we will address later), the Dream have proved that when they have a lead, they are tough to defeat. The following two road games against the Sparks and Storm, however, showed Atlanta is still growing. The Dream never led the Sparks on Thursday and on Sunday only held an advantage of three points against the Storm. When Atlanta trails at halftime, it is 0-14.

8. Los Angeles Sparks (12-15) (↑3 Spots)

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    Chennedy Carter #7 of the Los Angeles Sparks drives to the basket during the game against the Atlanta Dream on July 21, 2022 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California. Photo by: Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images.

    Record This Week

    2-1


    Health Outlook

    The Sparks had one-third of their roster unavailable against the Aces on Saturday. Chiney Ogwumike was a late scratch with a non-COVID-19 illness, Lexie Brown was ruled out after tweaking her ankle against the Dream on Thursday, and Kristi Toliver was kept out for the third straight game with a calf injury. And don't forget about 2022 No. 9 pick Rae Burrell, who has played in only three games. She underwent right knee surgery May 27 and was to be reevaluated in six to eight weeks.

    It's worth noting that after a report late Monday night by Mike Robinson of the Ball Out that indicated that Liz Cambage was set to leave L.A., the Sparks on Tuesday confirmed the news. Cambage and the team agreed to a "contract divorce," which essentially means a buyout. This marks the fifth contract divorce in the W this season.


    Stat of the Week

    In both of the Sparks' wins, they were out-rebounded (32-27 by the Fever, and 36-25 by the Dream). L.A.'s rebounding effort was led by Ogwumike, who posted 10 against Indiana and seven against Atlanta.


    'Hollywood' Is Beginning to Show Out

    There have been a lot of questions about how much the Sparks believe in one of their investments from the offseason: Chennedy Carter, the 2020 No. 4 pick whom they acquired via trade. There was concern in May about Carter after she was not paying attention during a team huddle. Last week, she returned after missing six games with a knee injury. She played 12 minutes off the bench Thursday and then played 25 minutes off the bench Saturday, scoring 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting. She got to the line four times, too, and hit five of eight free throws.

7. Dallas Wings (12-15) (No Change)

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    Dallas Wings center Teaira McCowan (7) and Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker (3) battle for position during a WNBA game between the Dallas Wings and the Chicago Sky on July 22, 2022, at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, IL. Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.

    Record This Week

    1-1


    Health Outlook

    2020 No. 2 pick Satou Sabally remained out this week. She has missed four games with an ankle injury she suffered July 12 against Seattle. Awak Kuier also did not play against the Fever on Sunday after she suffered an ankle injury Friday against the Sky.


    Stat of the Week

    The Wings attempted 15 threes, a season low, in their 89-83 loss at Chicago. But Dallas won the battle for points in the paint 58-46 thanks to Teaira McCowan, Isabelle Harrison and Arike Ogunbowale, who had more balanced shot selection at the rim and beyond the arc.


    McCowan Is Getting an Opportunity

    In Dallas' two games, McCowan showed why the Wings wanted to trade for her. She can be an imposing and efficient force inside who can demand double- and sometimes triple-teams. She scored 15 and then 17 points while shooting 15-of-20 combined.

    McCowan seems to be getting a ton of time to work in the paint since Isabelle Harrison called out head coach Vickie Johnson on social media. Since Harrison's July 2 tweet and subsequent TikTok in which she expressed frustration with the Wings' rotations, McCowan has gotten opportunities to shine. She has started four straight games and averaged 13.2 points on 60.3 percent shooting with 6.8 rebounds in the last six.

6. Phoenix Mercury (12-16) (↑2 Spots)

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    Skylar Diggins-Smith #4 of the Phoenix Mercury drives to the basket during the game against the Seattle Storm on July 22, 2022 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by: Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images.

    Record This Week

    1-0


    Health Outlook

    Excluding Brittney Griner, the Mercury were without three players in their lone game, at home against the Storm. Diamond DeShields remained out for the second game in a row with a left hip injury. Megan Gustafson was attending her sister's wedding. And Kia Nurse, who has been rehabbing her torn ACL all season, also wasn't available.


    Stat of the Week

    Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith scored and assisted on 81 of the Mercury's 94 points, or 86 percent. That's wild but also not really sustainable.


    Small Ball Is Working

    The Mercury have attempted the most threes per game in the league and have leaned in to playing small since Tina Charles left the team a month ago. Since the All-Star break, their offensive rating has jumped from 101.5 (sixth in the league) to 107.2 (third).

    Sophie Cunningham has found a way to absorb contact and challenge bigger and stronger 4s on the block by contesting without fouling. Cunningham has also shot over 40 percent from three on almost six attempts per game.

5. Seattle Storm (18-10) (↓2 Spots)

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    Tina Charles #31 of the Seattle Storm interviews after the game against the Atlanta Dream on July 24, 2022 at the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images.

    Record This Week

    1-2


    Health Outlook

    Prior to the Storm's Friday night matchup at the Mercury, the team announced that center Mercedes Russell had surgery to help treat the low-pressure headaches she has had all season. While she was ruled out for the rest of the regular season, head coach Noelle Quinn didn't rule her out for the playoffs, though she added that Russell's health comes first.


    Stat of the Week

    The Storm had blocked at least two shots in every single game this season before Friday, when Seattle didn't register a single block. Against the Dream on Sunday, Seattle got back to its rim-protecting ways, getting eight blocks, including four from Tina Charles, three from Breanna Stewart and one from Ezi Magbegor.


    Vintage Tina Charles

    Speaking of Charles, after a so-so performance in Chicago and a timid one in Phoenix during which she was booed often by her former team's fans and even ignored by the Mercury's play-by-play broadcaster, the real Charles emerged against the Dream on Sunday afternoon.

    While shots weren't falling in the first half for the rest of her teammates, including MVP candidate Stewart, it was Tina Time. Charles was hitting from everywhere: on the block, outside the arc and off one leg. She led the Storm with a 27-and-15 double-double, which included shooting 4-of-7 from deep. She also made it into the 7,000-point club alongside only Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings and Tina Thompson.

    Seattle Storm PR @SeattleStormPR

    In addition, Tina Charles' 3,571 career rebounds makes her the only player in WNBA history with 7,000+ points and 3,500+ rebounds. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TakeCover?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TakeCover</a>

4. Washington Mystics (17-11) (↑1 Spot)

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    The players of the Washington Mystics including Myisha Hines-Allen (#2), Elena Delle Donne (#11), Alysha Clark (#22), Natasha Cloud (#9) and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (#32) look on during the game against the New York Liberty on July 21, 2022 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. Photo by: Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images.

    Record This Week

    1-0


    Health Outlook

    The Mystics had all their players available during their Camp Day game against the Liberty, including two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne. But following Tuesday's Commissioner's Cup, don't expect Delle Donne to be available in Dallas on Thursday.

    Kareem Copeland @kareemcopeland

    Elena Delle Donne update from Thibault: Probably won’t travel to play Dallas. The hope is to have her play both games of the back-to-back against Seattle this weekend. <br>Thibault said she wants to play the rest of the regular season, but they may sit her 1 more. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WNBA?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WNBA</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/mystics25?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#mystics25</a>


    Stat of the Week

    Elizabeth Williams' contributions to the Mystics may be understated at times, but her defensive presence helped Washington erase a 13-point deficit in the first quarter Thursday. In 12 minutes, Williams had a defensive rating of 56, the best on the team.


    Zone Continues to Rattle Washington

    The Mystics only played one game, against the Liberty at home, but a pattern has emerged with Washington struggling against zone defense. It found it difficult to score against Phoenix on July 14, and the same thing happened against New York. The Liberty got back into the game by taking advantage of Washington's miscues on offense.

    Per Synergy Sports, the Mystics score 0.899 points per possession against man defense. That figure decreases to 0.802, or by 10.8 percent, when Washington faces a zone defense.

3. Connecticut Sun (19-9) (↑1 Spot)

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    Alyssa Thomas #25 of the Connecticut Sun handles the ball during the game against the Minnesota Lynx on July 24, 2022 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by: David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images.

    Record This Week

    3-0


    Health Outlook

    Still in health and safety protocols, 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones missed two of the Sun's three games. She returned Sunday against the Lynx and in 14 minutes scored eight points on 3-of-7 shooting and registered four rebounds.

    Jasmine Thomas has been out since tearing her ACL on May 22, and a similar outcome might be in store for recent signing Bria Hartley. She suffered what appeared to be a gruesome injury while running to claim a loose ball against the Lynx on Sunday.

    Sydney Wiese @swiesebaby24

    I am praying for Bria Hartley. I’m praying it’s not serious but I think it’s important to talk about everything leading up to this moment. She came off of an overseas season- had some aches and pains she was working through from that time. Traded to Indiana..


    Stat of the Week

    The Sun claim the best net rating in the league at 8.4, better than both the defending champion Sky (7.0) and Aces (6.9).


    First Triple-Double in Sun History

    The Sun offense functioned at a high level playing through point forward Alyssa Thomas.

    How concerning is it that they might have looked more comfortable without their MVP in Jones? That line in itself sounds preposterous, but this might be a sign that Courtney Williams has stepped up in her absence. In the Sun's last four games, when Jones played only limited minutes in one game, Williams shot 48.8 percent from the floor and averaged 12.3 points.

    On Friday, Thomas registered the first triple-double in franchise history, scoring 13 points and racking up 10 rebounds and 12 assists in a 94-84 win at Minnesota.

2. Las Vegas Aces (20-8) (No Change)

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    Head Coach Becky Hammon of the Las Vegas Aces talks with the team on July 23, 2022 at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by: Richie Banks/NBAE via Getty Images.

    Record This Week

    2-1


    Health Outlook

    The Aces have been lucky of late. They haven't had a player on the injury report since Chelsea Gray was out for personal reasons June 29. They've been healthy for a month. With all the DNPs that are usually in their box scores, that wouldn't be one's first assumption.

    This week, the entire bench played in each of the team's three games. It's shocking, but expect to see more of that unit in Vegas' two-game set against Indiana following the Commissioner's Cup.


    Stat of the Week

    Against the Fever, Gray put on a show. She recorded a 14-point, 12-assist double-double, her first of the season, which included her first double-digit assist total during the season.


    Defense Remains Inconsistent

    On paper, the Aces should have won every game they played this week, but they did not. The Dream defeated the Aces 92-76 as Vegas registered its lowest field-goal percentage of the season (36.6).

    Shots didn't fall early, and instead of moving the ball and finding the most efficient attempt, the team anxiously launched treys to try to get back into the game.

    That frustration may have led to the lackluster defense the Aces played. They allowed both of the Dream's best shot-makers, Tiffany Hayes and Rhyne Howard, to shoot over 53 percent from the field. Atlanta holds the second-worst offensive rating to the Fever by only 0.1 points per 100 possessions.

    The Aces need to buy in defensively, which we have yet to see consistently.

    Jackie Powell (she/her) @ClassicJpow

    There are times when I feel like the Aces defense relies upon individuals rather than playing together. I was watching A’ja Wilson try to will her team defensively. <a href="https://t.co/tpFC44Cqk5">https://t.co/tpFC44Cqk5</a>

1. Chicago Sky (21-7) (No Change)

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    Rebekah Gardner #35 of the Chicago Sky drives to the basket during the game against the New York Liberty on July 23, 2022 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Photo by: Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images.

    Record This Week

    2-1


    Health Outlook

    The Sky played three more games this week without their starting point guard and pick-and-roll maestro Courtney Vandersloot. She's been in the concussion protocol since July 16. On Monday, however, Vandersloot practiced with the team in preparation for Tuesday's Commissioner's Cup, and the point guard will be available against the Aces.


    Stat of the Week

    Against the Liberty on Saturday night, the Sky shot 12.5 percent from three, the worst mark of the season for the defending champions. How did this happen? The Sky played Friday night at home against the Wings and then flew from Chicago to New York early the next morning for a 7 p.m. ET start. They lost an hour changing time zones and had a flight delay. Sky forward Emma Meesseman called Saturday the "longest day ever."


    Gardner Lifts Chicago

    WNBA @WNBA

    Gardner doing everything on the floor! ✅<br><br>Rebekah Gardner (<a href="https://twitter.com/rebekah_jasmine?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@rebekah_jasmine</a>) with a big block in the fourth quarter on League Pass <a href="https://t.co/LlBi5R4Qex">pic.twitter.com/LlBi5R4Qex</a>

    Amid Chicago's general lethargy and issues with knocking down shots, rookie Rebekah Gardner was the two-way force who helped the Sky to stay in the game. In 25 minutes off the bench, Gardner had 16 points, four rebounds, three assists, four steals and three blocks in an 83-80 loss to the Liberty.

    Gardner played masterful defense against All-Star Sabrina Ionescu. She forced Ionescu to her weaker left side for the majority of the game, though Ionescu got the last laugh.

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