12 Things: WNBA opening weekend observations

ATLANTA, GA MAY 24: Atlanta's Tiffany Hayes (15) reacts after Atlanta scored late in the game during the WNBA game between the Atlanta Dream and the Dallas Wings on May 24th, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA MAY 24: Atlanta's Tiffany Hayes (15) reacts after Atlanta scored late in the game during the WNBA game between the Atlanta Dream and the Dallas Wings on May 24th, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

What did we learn from opening weekend?

The games have begun! Here are some quick opening weekend takeaways from around the WNBA.

Wings fail to bank one in Atlanta

Yes, even without Skylar Diggins-Smith (maternity leave) and Azura Stevens (concussion), the Wings crumbled late on the road. Any playoff hopeful can’t afford to let potential wins slip away late.

Dallas led by three with less than 90 seconds to play when Arike Ogunbowale fouled Brittney Sykes on a 3-pointer. Sykes made the first two and missed the third. Jessica Breland pulled down the offensive rebound and converted an old-fashioned 3-point play. The Wings were held scoreless on their next two possessions as the Dream pulled out the win.

Hayes locks down late

A quiet offensive night overall for Tiffany Hayes was anything but that, highlighted by her work on Arike Ogunbowale in the possessions after the Dream took the lead late.

Hayes is tough enough to score on in isolation. Bringing Elizabeth Williams into the action made it even tougher. Ogunbowale and others in those crunch-time scenarios will have to find a passing angle to give it up early to allow their teammates to attack out of that 4-on-3 situation.

More Zahui to Tina, not the other way around

So here’s how the Liberty started Friday’s opener against the Fever.

They didn’t go back to it enough. If teams are going to stick to Amanda Zahui B and truly treat her as a dangerous spot-up option, the Liberty need to leverage that to create more one-on-one opportunities for Tina Charles—especially when matched up against smaller players.

Dupree and now Achonwa, the lifeblood of Indiana’s offense

Indiana scored a whopping two points in the first seven minutes of Friday’s game. The Fever found their legs once Candice Dupree and Natalie Achonwa got chances to knock down some shots.

Dupree knocked down two in the final three minutes of the first. Achonwa added two of her own in the first three minutes of the second.

The Fever lacked a physically imposing big and a true stretch option last season. They addressed the former need by drafting Teaira McCowan. The latter is much tougher to come by in the form of a true two-way player.

Dupree continues to be a money shooter from the midrange and eases the pressure on their guards as a release valve to make some plays late in the clock. Expect even more of that from Dupree this season. As seen in McCowan’s game-winner, Dupree now has a big target to feed right at the rim.

Seattle pulling your best helpers out

Why does good spacing matter so much? Take note of where Natasha Howard is standing and how it eliminates Brittney Griner as a viable help defender on this possession.

The same concept also took Bonner out of the picture on a key bucket in the fourth by Jordin Canada.

The Storm spread you out and will punish you for falling asleep. The Mercury will kick themselves re-watching Seattle’s third-quarter run. The Storm got several open looks from simple weakside movement. One Phoenix defender on that side would often gesture for a switch but the other didn’t react in time.

First look at Smith-Griner pairing

Sandy Brondello noted in the ‘Wired’ segment that she wanted her team to get into more drag or double drag actions—ball screens early in the clock before the defense gets completely set.

Smith didn’t always find somebody to screen out of those actions. Teams are going to be so worried about the ball handler turning a corner and Griner rolling to the rim that she should be able to step into wide open triples—the exact shots they drafted her to take—quite easily.

More of those shots early on for Smith will make life easier for Griner. If Smith knocks them down and holds up defensively, playing through Griner in the post will become easier. The Mercury need that to happen to squeeze as many wins as possible out of this early segment without Diana Taurasi.

Connecticut’s unique frontcourt

Oh, Shekinna Stricklen picked up two fouls and has to go take a seat? No problem. Curt Miller can put Morgan Tuck in the game to get even more size on the floor without sacrificing much shooting.

And because so many of Connecticut’s players are comfortable operating from the perimeter, you have to be ready to defend stuff like this.

The Sun don’t have that traditional star. Maybe Courtney Williams or Jonquel Jones have a big leap in them. But what they have on this roster to do stuff like this—a give and go with their 4 and 5—is special. If they can just get into a playoff series, keeping pace with other elite offenses will rank quite low on their list of concerns.

That’ll do

This double drag for the Mystics in the second quarter against the Sun isn’t notable because of the kind of shot it created. It’s notable because of who got the shot.

You can only take so much away from any opponent. Spot-up 3-pointers for Kristi Toliver will always be one of the most feared potential outcomes. This action forced Toliver’s defender to help into the lane, leaving that window open for Panda to fire away.

Collier’s big night and the fear it points to for the Sky

Can Napheesa Collier make enough open 3-pointers in the pros? It was a valid question all throughout the pre-draft process. The flip side of that coin that may not have garnered enough consideration: What might happen if she’s paired with a coach that will configure the floor to enable her to duck in for quick post-ups against those smaller players that will be guarding her?

Anytime Collier throws it in from a sideline, expect a guard to set a back screen to get her into the post. Even when Chicago switched it, they just weren’t able to bother her.

Save for Diamond DeShields, whose night was derailed by early foul trouble, the Sky’s guards are going to need to be able to compete with bigger guards/wings that try to muscle them up. Collier burned Allie Quigley and Katie Lou Samuelson on back cuts or duck-ins from a corner.

The Lynx inverted the floor nicely to open the door for Collier to go to work. If and when Jessica Shepard and Damiris Dantas knock down 3-pointers on a consistent basis, it will be even tougher to send help.

Diamond + Quigley = fun

This was a fun start to Chicago’s season.

Sign me up for any split-adjacent action involving DeShields and Quigley. This was more of a three-player cluster also involving Stefanie Dolson with Gabby Williams facilitating out of the post.

Quigley and DeShields can read their defenders and react accordingly. One can pop out for a jumper while the other bolts to the rim. Dolson getting involved makes it tougher for the other two defenders to execute a clean switch, especially if she connects with one of them on a screen, or she can pop out for a 3-pointer of her own.

McBride quick strikes for the Aces

At their best, the Aces are a two-action team. High pick and rolls or handoffs can grow stale without something else going on at the same time to tie up defenders on the other side of the floor. Kayla McBride is often the player to strike out of one of those actions with her ability to make any shot from any spot on the floor running off of a screen.

Teams might not pay much attention to Jackie Young at the 3-point line early in her career. No problem. They’ve stationed her in the strong-side corner as A’ja Wilson sets a dummy ball screen for Kelsey Plum. Just when you think you’ve loaded up for what’s coming, McBride zooms around a screen right into her comfort zone.

L.A. bigs staying in front

I don’t think the Sparks are going to be able to score enough starting the Alana Beard-Tierra Ruffin-Pratt tandem on the wing. The defensive prowess of those two won’t help much, either, if their bigs are going to consistently get burned on face-up drives.

That was one of the big themes of Sunday’s opener. Dearica Hamby almost got the Aces into the bonus single-handedly. A’ja Wilson, as expected, was too much for most of L.A.’s bigs with a live dribble. Even Carolyn Swords got to the front of the rim on a straight-line drive from the elbow.

Nneka Ogwumike’s defensive body of work speaks for itself. How the rest of their frontcourt holds up is to be determined.

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