12 Things: Ariel and Azura lock up, Gabby and Jackie get downhill

ARLINGTON, TX - JUNE 15: Imani McGee-Stafford #34 and Azura Stevens #30 of the Dallas Wings react to a play during the game against the Atlanta Dream on June 15, 2019 at College Park Center in Arlington, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - JUNE 15: Imani McGee-Stafford #34 and Azura Stevens #30 of the Dallas Wings react to a play during the game against the Atlanta Dream on June 15, 2019 at College Park Center in Arlington, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Your weekly look around the WNBA

The WNBA was not short on good news this past week. Candace Parker and Alana Beard are back on the floor. Diana Taurasi and Jordin Canada aren’t far behind them.

The standings won’t be congested much longer. As we prepare for the playoff picture to begin taking form, here’s a look back at the past week in the WNBA, jumping from team to team.

Dreaming of some offense 

You be the judge: Is there any silver lining in Jessica Breland, Nia Coffey and Brittney Sykes hitting some of these shots over the weekend?

Breland made her lone 3-pointer of the season on Friday at Connecticut and shot 6-of-10 on midrange jump shots. That performance boosted her up to 38.6 percent from midrange per WNBA.com. She also started a bit slow last season and connected on 39.3 percent of 145 midrange attempts.

Sykes shot 4-of-5 from the restricted area and 2-of-6 from deep against the Sun. Not only is the three-ball not falling for Sykes this season, but she’s also a mere 13-of-52 on shots outside the restricted area to date.

Coffey shot 2-of-5 from deep against the Sun and 3-of-7 on Sunday against the Mystics. She’s been starting in place of Sykes on the wing more for what she can do on the other end. But somebody needs to occasionally put the ball in the basket from outside the paint for this team. A sustained surge from Coffey would be a welcome sight, though she made just two 3-pointers in nearly 600 minutes in her first two WNBA seasons.

Gabby wins the race

Define the position Gabby Williams is playing with Chicago’s second unit however you’d like. The important part is that she’s spending more time on the perimeter. When she revs it up, the ‘See ya on the other side; I’m ducking under this screen’ approach won’t be very effective for smaller or even like-sized players. She’ll shrug ’em off en route to a layup.

Sun lost in the Sky 

The Sky were able to separate in the second quarter on Sunday. The teams were tied at the end of the first. But stop me in you’ve heard this before: Connecticut’s bench-heavy unit struggled to scrap quality looks together.

The Sun still have some work to do in those stretches without four or five starters on the floor. Sunday, they simply couldn’t stop the avalanche.

Cheyenne Parker delivered a bold statement after the game. I do think there’s a kernel of truth in the outcome and Chicago’s matchup with the current No. 1 in the standings.

Jasmine Thomas’ finishing waxes and wanes. Courtney Williams lives on a very tough diet of shot attempts without making many plays to collapse the defense and set others up for easy looks. Alyssa Thomas can’t methodically overpower Chicago’s bigs with her back to the basket. Keep track of Shekinna Stricklen, then, and you’re waiting on Jonquel Jones to prove that she can truly take over a game offensively.

The Sky create just as many problems on the other end. Lavender flipped the script, putting a shoulder into Alyssa Thomas and scoring right over her several times at the basket. Who guards Courtney Vandersloot and Diamond DeShields? Jasmine Thomas can only take one of them. Bria Holmes checked in earlier than normal for Stricklen to guard the latter. The offense suffers with that tradeoff. And can Williams stay in enough plays to contest Quigley darting around screens?

This matchup will be very fun to observe next time. What will Connecticut do differently, and will Chicago sustain this level of play until then?

Z gets up

A core point in my case for the Wings as a potential surprise playoff team amounted to Kayla Thornton and Azura Stevens doing stuff that a lot of other players won’t—or can’t—on a regular basis. The latter blocking this trio of players in this fashion certainly qualifies.

For those keeping score: Stevens got Liz Cambage once, as promised. Cambage returned the favor in the fourth. Till next time?

You, T and Dupree

I noted previously in this space that the Candice Dupree-to-Teaira McCowan connection will be fascinating to track throughout the season. Dupree will become an even bigger threat as she finds ways to set the 6-foot-7 center up right under the rim, a nice threat to pair with her spot-up shooting and face-up driving.

I can only assume that McCowan cleared the biggest runway of Dupree’s career Sunday afternoon as she literally backed Natasha Howard into the stanchion.

That’ll do!

Jackie involved early 

The Aces didn’t run many plays for Jackie Young to start the season. ‘For’ is a bit of a loaded word. All plays don’t need to be built around one option. Vegas started Saturday’s game against the Wings with options to get Young going downhill.

Using screens from Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson, she had an easy read to pitch it back to Wilson the first time for a face-up opportunity with a defender running hard to get back into the play. Amid some confusion the second time they appeared to set up the same action, nobody was home to meet Young on the other side.

And she did knock down the two early spot-up looks that came her way, one near the elbow as Wilson was doubled in the post and another from beyond the arc in transition.

But her most impressive play of the weekend came later in that Dallas game. In front of your own bench and a coach who’s been on you to take the open jumpers that come your way, how many rookies would catch it all alone on the wing, see this pass right away and deliver right on the money?

Early start for Nneka 

Nneka Ogwumike was built to feast on these head-start drives, getting your momentum going toward the basket before the ball even arrives. If you don’t get run over trying to contain the drive, good luck staying down on the pump fake that’ll set up the up-and-under finish.

Collier picks her spot 

Napheesa Collier drew the matchup with Brittany Boyd against the Liberty. A big question facing New York this season is whether they can get by offensively with Boyd off the ball. Opponents have been willing to let her fire away from deep in order to put somebody else in the path of Tina Charles, Asia Durr, Kia Nurse & Co. elsewhere.

Damiris Dantas got hit with an off-ball screen leading into this Durr pick and roll. All signs pointed to Durr having a nice window to pull up for a two-point jumper unless Dantas really sold out and opened herself up to getting blown by. Collier made the most of the opportunity to sneak away from Boyd. The result:

Tina’s office hours 

Watch Tina Charles handle this double team in the post.

Draw it out, wait for the second player to retreat, keep your dribble alive, go right back to work against a physically overmatched defender and dime up your shooter on the weak side.

Arranging the floor with optimal spacing for Charles got much tougher with Amanda Zahui B’s departure for EuroBasket and Rebecca Allen’s hand injury. The Liberty won’t be able to put two shooters on the floor unless Durr and Nurse each play all 40 minutes. The hope: Bank a few wins while you wait on Zahui B and Bria Hartley to return with Marine Johannes in tow to make her WNBA debut.

DB pops for three

Mark this down as one argument for DeWanna Bonner to continue to play all of her minutes at the 4. These shots are much harder to come by in more traditional alignments.

Opponents will be in better positions to switch, and you’d be taking another shooter off the floor, crowding the lane and stationing another helper close by. Using Bonner as a screener can open up seams for some of the team’s more limited guards and even set Bonner up to attack a defender on the move versus attacking off the bounce against a defense that has already had the chance to load up for her.

The surprise Seattle PG 

Who says Seattle doesn’t have a point guard without the services of Sue Bird (knee) or Jordin Canada (also knee)?

I wasn’t sure which team to file this under. It starts with an impressive skip pass from Shavonte Zellous but ends with an equally impressive recovery by Kennedy Burke to block the shot. Cue the groans from Dallas…

While we’re on the topic: Who were the Wings supposed to cut to make room for Burke? There’s room for healthy debate (which I haven’t seen much of). Regardless of your stance on their second-round pick(s), it’d be dishonest to pretend they had an easy, universally lovable decision to make on Burke.

The All-Defense rookie continues to shine 

Ariel Atkins helped get her team out to strong starts on the road in Los Angeles and Las Vegas with some of the All-Defense kind of efforts we’ve already grown accustomed to seeing.

She and Elena Delle Donne managed to contain this Chelsea Gray pick and roll without a third defender having to come into the picture. Atkins pursued Gray into the lane but just as Gray anticipated a window to hit the roller with a bounce pass, Atkins veered back for the steal.

Atkins started the Vegas game matched up with Jackie Young and managed to meet the explosive rookie at the rim as she started a drive out of the corner—one of Young’s early staples that has caught opponents off guard at times.

LAST WEEK'S 12 THINGS. Zahui, KD, DRob, Mercedes. light

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