This one’s for you, lovers of good post play
The first full week of the 2019 WNBA season is in the books. Are we having fun yet? Here’s our weekly look back at one thing that stood out from each team.
A’ja to Liz, 1/?
This is what’s so terrifying about the A’ja Wilson-Liz Cambage pairing. How can you stop that? Wilson will knock down those shots or attack off the bounce with ease when given the opportunity, and Cambage is too big and strong for most players at the position to completely deny her on that duck in.
You have to send some extra help. That gets tough with two of Kelsey Plum, Kayla McBride or Sugar Rodgers on the floor. Each is beyond the level where you’re willing to let them prove that they can hit open 3-pointers. As Cambage’s minutes ramp up, so will these chances for her and Wilson to play high-low.
Knowing the book on an old comrade
A very small thing that should be seen as a big thing: This was a nice job by Brionna Jones to close the air space betewen her and former teammate Chiney Ogwumike.
Ogwumike wants to get you off balance or even up in the air to set up a step-through finish. Jones made sure she was met with a wall. Good process deserves more credit here. Even though Ogwumike made a tough shot, Jones took away the bread and butter to force a tougher shot over the top.
Bench group sparks late push
The Dallas bench group that led Saturday’s second-half surge is going to be tough to guard. The opposing center has to guard either Azura Stevens or Theresa Plaisance. Both are comfortable spending time away from the basket.
While that group dialed up the pressure on the other end to really disrupt Minnesota’s offense, Brooke McCarty-Williams and Allisha Gray reaped some of the awards of that spacing on the other end. Gray ducked in for a few buckets in an empty lane and McCarty-Williams drove in for one of the plays of the game without having to worry about Sylvia Fowles lurking at the front of the rim.
A fun wrinkle for Collier and Dallas’ counter that almost paid off
The Lynx love to disguise back screens for Sylvia Fowles to get her a head start into a quick post-up. A dribble weave set Napheesa Collier up to catch one of those screens from Fowles.
Later in the game, the Wings had Kayla Thornton and Azura Stevens defending those two players. They almost erased the advantages that action can create by switching and switching back. Fowles just did a nice job to get inside position. (Stevens was whistled for a foul as some help arrived on the pass.)
Lavender gets the start
We’ll see how many different starting lineups James Wade rolls out in the early stages of this season. Jantel Lavender drew the start next to Stef Dolson up front against Seattle.
All things considered, I like Lavender’s fit with their starting unit. The Sky have plenty of options that can initiate offense for that group. Lavender is a play finisher. Teams are going to respect her as a threat from the midrange, which also makes her an intriguing fit with Cheyenne Parker. Lavender will have plenty of room to make high-low reads because her defender will have to press up.
New York helps Kelsey Mitchell out of mini-slump
The Liberty were a mess on both ends in Indiana. With a good second half, I may have just written some of it off to a bad start. They cut the Fever lead to 12 before this happened.
I really like Betnijah Laney’s game. But what is going on here? You might have a chance to crawl back within single digits and are going to treat a Laney post up like an emergency situation and leave the door open for Kelsey Mitchell to step into a wide-open spot-up 3-pointer? That has to be the one non-negotiable for every Fever opponent to prevent at all costs.
Another building block for Achonwa?
As mentioned, the Liberty just didn’t come ready to defend at all on Saturday. But this was fun to see from Natalie Achonwa.
Is she going to start taking more of those shots? And is this a product of her demonstrated improvement from the midrange? Candice Dupree feasts on drives like that when people run too hard at her. Achonwa finishing more of these plays would be one more step in the right direction in making the Fever tougher to guard this season.
Fun with big Mystics lineups
Emma Meesseman isn’t the only post or face-up threat you have to worry about with Washington’s second unit. Watch them empty out one side of the floor for Myisha Hines-Allen to go to work.
And that’s against Nia Coffey—a pretty big, rangy, long, athletic wing that can slide between either forward position. Hines-Allen and Elena Delle Donne make the jumbo Mystics lineups scary even to some of the more physically capable 3s that will inevitably have to spend some time guarding them.
Sykes turning the corner
This was a rough weekend for the Dream. Amid the two blowout losses, Brittney Sykes did manage to channel her explosiveness to get all the way to the rim.
Small win for Mercedes
Okay, Mercedes Russell! Where’d that come from?
That’s an encouraging, strong, decisive off-hand finish you want to see from a player that has a golden opportunity staring her in the face this season. The Storm will hope there was more to that than Russell wanting to go at Marie Gulich after her Oregon State team upset the Lady Vols in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
Clean reads for Chelsea Gray
This kind of stuff is what can make this Sparks team much different. L.A. needs to arrange the floor to be sure they can really twist the knife when people send extra bodies at Chelsea Gray. Look at the two players on the back side. If Gray has to give it up, you feel good about Alexis Jones or Sydney Wiese firing up an open 3-pointer.
Derek Fisher can really make a name for himself if this team finds ways amid some spacing concerns to get Gray more quick touches in the post.
Nneka Ogwumike set this same flare screen twice in crunch time. It’s something to occupy the nearest defenders. That’s all Gray might need in order to attack quickly. The player in Wiese’s position can step into that shot or Ogwumike can bolt to the rim if one of those defenders over-commits to Gray early. As we get deeper into the season, we’ll see just how effective those two players and the rest of the guard corps are in making opponents pay for leaving them open.
Pressure points within the Mercury-Aces matchup
The Mercury, even without Diana Taurasi, are an unusual matchup for the Aces. Know that line about how the postseason can be all about matchups? Moments from Friday’s game were good reminders of what that can really look like.
Phoenix has to keep leaning on DeWanna Bonner at the 4 even if Sancho Lyttle continues to work her way back and Alanna Smith finds her way to demand more minutes up front. Why? Bonner just makes them too tough to guard.
The Aces had A’ja Wilson on Essence Carson for much of the game in order to put a wing on Bonner. Wilson is going to want to help out in the paint and just doesn’t spend very much time defending spot-up players like Carson. Doing both—helping at the rim and recovering in time to contest open 3-pointers—is entirely possible, but it’s a tough ask.
And this configuration might be the only viable option. You want to have a pressure point like that to pick at. Yvonne Turner in Carson’s place some of the time might make things even tougher for Wilson once Taurasi gets back. That would give the Mercury four playmakers around Brittney Griner.
Turner also gave the Mercury a big scoring and playmaking lift in Friday’s game. She did have a few moments of hesitation when the ball found her as Griner kicked it out facing a double team, but Turner also reaped the unusual spacing benefits of playing with Griner—you can actually drive and kick to set her up for a jumper.
That’s just one of the many luxuries of playing with Griner. Even if you pass on an open 3-pointer when she kicks it out, stuff like this will be available if you at least attack before the defense can reset.
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