Drop Off: What’s new this year? 5 of 2017’s 6 top WNBA teams to meet Thursday

No WNBA teams were in action on Monday or Wednesday this week — a rare occurrence in a condensed season. Thursday will not disappoint though, as it features five of the six top seeds (Lynx, Sparks, Liberty, Sun, Mystics) from last season and the 5-2 Seattle Storm.

Each team is stocked with star talent…but what’s has been (or should be) different for them in 2018? Let’s take a quick look beyond the obvious — Elena Delle Donne missing time, the Lynx uncharacteristically dropping several close games, Jonquel Jones coming off the bench — as we rapidly approach the official first quarter mark of the season.

Lynx at Mystics (4 PM ET, League Pass)

Kristi Toliver and Tianna Hawkins have connected on over 40 percent of their 73 three-point attempts, and Natasha Cloud has been making some impressive reads to find open shooters running pick and roll with second units. Washington’s flexibility to put more shooting on the floor has freed Cloud up to get downhill and set people up for open catch and shoot threes.

One of the Washington guards will need to find a way to puncture Minnesota’s defense. Hawkins’ confidence in her face up/post up game has been impressive, but Rebekkah Brunson and Sylvia Fowles aren’t defenders you want to target one-on-one.

Forget about the new for the Lynx. This is the game for Fowles to relentlessly bury some people under the rim. Fowles had her way with starting Mystics center Krystal Thomas last season in the semifinals. LaToya Sanders can’t match her physicality; Hawkins and Myisha Hines-Allen aren’t long enough to contest her if she gets decent position on either block.

Sun at Liberty (7 PM ET, League Pass)

CHICAGO, IL – JUNE 01:Connecticut Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike (13) throws up the 3-pointer sign from the bench during the game against the Chicago Sky on June 1, 2018 at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This feels like another game for Liberty head coach Katie Smith to unleash Tina Charles at center. (Although, if she can close a game there against Liz Cambage, is there ever a bad time for it?)

Marissa Coleman falling right into New York’s lap cannot be stressed enough. She didn’t shoot it very well the past two years, but there is a finite number of big wings out there. A front line of Coleman, Shavonte Zellous and Charles gives the Liberty enough flexibility to switch anything involving Alyssa Thomas to take away her rolls and slips to the rim.

Stop Alyssa Thomas from getting downhill in the halfcourt, and you’ll take away a lot of the Sun’s shot opportunities at the rim (and some wide open threes). New York’s offense didn’t inspire a ton of confidence down the stretch on Tuesday against the Mercury. Specific to that game, I’m most comfortable saying they passed up at least four shots that they should have taken, all of which were better looks than what they got.

It may sound strange to already say this about a rookie, but New York possessions tend to result in better stuff when Nurse gets a touch or is involved in an action. Her aborted Iverson cuts have already become a staple:

Storm at Sparks (10:30 PM ET, ESPN2)

This specific matchup, perhaps more than any other, is why the Natasha Howard trade instantly made so much sense for Seattle. Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike both operate from all over the floor. Howard, paired with Breanna Stewart, gives the Storm the personnel up front to try to keep up with them to limit their easy scoring opportunities.

Bigs going up against the Sparks also need to be able to defend in space in the pick and roll. Chelsea Gray can score from anywhere. The only thing left for her to add to her arsenal at his point is a consistent pull up 28-footer. Odyssey Sims is a blur in the halfcourt and open floor with the ball in her hands. She’s listed at 5’8 but doesn’t blink twice on her attacks to the rim even when the meanest shot blockers stand in her way.

When Los Angeles set up in the halfcourt, look to see how many times Gray drags her defender down into the post. The Sparks can invert their offense as well as anybody. Alysha Clark will likely draw the primary assignment on Gray. Any other Storm guard will be too easy for LA’s All-WNBA guard to bury deep in the paint.

Links I like

Here’s Jeff Eisenberg on Edniesha Curry becoming a D1 men’s basketball coach.

Here’s Sloane Martin and Tyler Mason with a Lynx mailbag.

Here’s Lisa Borders on the Steve Harvey show on the future of the WNBA.

Be sure to catch up on the pictures and videos from the Lynx at their Samaritan’s Feet Shoes of Hope Distribution at Payne Elementary in Washington D.C. The smiles on the faces of those children and the players serving them say it all. Share this story with the people around you and mirror the example set forth by the defending champs on how to turn a disappointing situation into an opportunity to touch the lives of others.