The 2019 WNBA season is still taking form. The standings are a giant blob. But EuroBasket is over and Diana Taurasi (back) is on the mend. As we wait on those players to trickle back in, here’s a team-by-team look at the past week.
The Liberty have been one of the most exciting early-season stories to follow. They’re 7-8 after gutting out three straight wins on the road, right on pace with a very crowded middle of the pack.
Katie Smith’s handling of the rotation will be fascinating with the returns of Bria Hartley, Marine Johannes and Amanda Zahui B from EuroBasket along with Rebecca Allen (hand).
That’s a whole lotta shooting to infuse into lineups built around Tina Charles. With Allen and the EuroBasket participants away, I had expected Han Xu to emerge, overlooking Reshanda Gray.
Gray can’t shoot like Han, but she admirably stepped into a larger doing just about everything else well—sprinting the floor; bodying up much bigger players, often centers, as best she could; and yes, using nearly all of the allotted six fouls per contest.
My favorite part of her game: the hard-nosed dribble drives, somehow shrugging people off and/or running right through them even without the chance to work up much of a head of steam.
Who knows what will happen to the frontcourt rotation now. Those minutes may completely evaporate if Allen gets serious time at the 4. Some minutes should still be there with the news that Kiah Stokes will miss the 2019 season due to personal reasons.
Regardless, Gray’s arduous path toward securing another roster spot after her second WNBA season with the Dream in 2016 made this stretch all the more enjoyable. The stories of players like Gray, Yvonne Turner, and Sami Whitcomb highlight what it truly means to be one of 144.
Gulich firing away
Okay, Marie Gulich! This is interesting!
She has only taken five 3-pointers through Sunday. But as we’ve seen and heard all season, somebody needs to knock down open shots for this team.
A fourteen-wins-in-fifteen-games winning streak isn’t walking through that door. (This line worked better on the 2018 Liberty.)
It’s all you can do. Friday’s crowd in Las Vegas potentially missed out on seeing Elena Delle Donne go bucket for bucket with A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage in the second half.
As fun as it can be to look for the next big thing, those effortless, contested Delle Donne jumpers will never get old.
Small around McCowan
Candice Dupree has played 35 minutes or more in seven of fifteen games this season, including 43 in Indiana’s overtime loss to the Aces.
We got a very brief look Friday at an interesting path for the Fever to pursue in surviving minutes with Dupree on the bench: Teaira McCowan, three wings and a point guard. The Fever proceded by scoring on two dribble drives. Kelsey Mitchell started another but was rejected at the rim by Theresa Plaisance. (Drop it off to McCowan! That’s what she’s there for!)
Kennedy Burke makes some sense at the 4 in spot minutes when Dupree isn’t on the floor. Throw another big wing like Betnijah Laney or Shenise Johnson—or Victoria Vivians (knee) next year—on the floor, and the Fever can even use two point guards at once.
A smaller lineup isn’t their best group right now, but if Mitchell can carry the offense for brief stretches and those wings knock down open shots, it could be a look worth rolling out there more often.
Alyssa Thomas and Asia Taylor added what I believe to be the second installment of the ‘Strong Player Gets Tied Up and Lifts a Much Smaller Player Off the Ground’ series.
The officials can’t ruin these moments with whistles. At least let Thomas get a full 135-degree angle first, lifting Taylor up like Simba. Then we can proceed with the jump ball.
Making it official
Welcome to the league, Alanna Smith.
Tiffany Hayes is gonna do it to everybody at least once. Better to get it out of the way early.
Starting with McBride
Good things happen for the Aces when Liz Cambage or A’ja Wilson find Kayla McBride on the move. Teams can’t guard that with two players. Either big can just keep it, take a dribble and settle right into a post up. It’s a simple way to get McBride going and could even open up more playmaking opportunities for their All-Star guard.
Another weekend matchup with the Mystics—then hopefully the completion of last week’s postponement—is right around the corner. The Aces got punched in the gut from the jump in the first two matchups. Will they be ready this time around to play some of their best basketball on the road?
What a game of runs that was on Friday between Atlanta and Seattle. The Storm got out to the 11-0 start and you expect them to roll. Then Atlanta just kept hammering away, rattling off 22 of the next 26 points.
Jordin Canada sparked a 4-0 spurt with a steal in the backcourt. Sami Whitcomb came away with two more steals of a similar nature, jumping on two soft return passes to the top of the key.
The Storm have been very eager to take away that return pass. Anything but a laser is in danger of getting picked off, and the skip pass over the top is made tougher when two defenders jump the ball handler.
BMW leaves two in the dust
This was a great bit of trickery by Brooke McCarty-Williams, completely fooling two Fever defenders with a fake dribble handoff before turning on the jets.
Diamond DeShields shot 3-of-14 with five turnovers in Chicago’s 90-82 loss in Las Vegas last week. Two of the Aces top one-on-one perimeter defenders, Jackie Young and Dearica Hamby, had some nice moments doing what few players can—keeping DeShields in front of them.
With some of the league’s top 3s (Maya Moore, Angel McCoughtry) out of commission for some of all of the season, DeShields is one of the stiffer tests for the Aces at the position as they toggle between the more traditional starting group and the bigger lineup with Hamby next to Wilson and Cambage.
The good news for the Aces doubling as bad news for their opponents: Neither has any significant defensive downside.
Collier seeing orange
Napheesa Collier pulled off a slick dribble handoff (twice!) of her own to get downhill but was met up top by Jonquel Jones. The rook may be seeing Jones in her nightmares until they meet again.
Joking aside, Collier battled hard on the other end in the matchup with Jones. The Lynx unlocked some switchy combinations with Sylvia Fowles on Alyssa Thomas and Steph Talbot on Jasmine Thomas.
Collier made a great verticality play in the third quarter—getting over and out in front of the rim enough for it to matter as Fowles recovered to swap assignments on the fly.
Decision time in L.A.
Now is when things truly get interesting for Derek Fisher and the Sparks. EuroBasket 2019 is in the books. How can he get all five of his bigs—Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike, Maria Vadeeva, Kalani Brown—some run?
Or, perhaps more appropriately: Will he? Is that ultimately going to be the best move?
Color me skeptical of the Chiney with Nneka and Parker trio doing much damage against a contender. Vadeeva—because of her shooting, passing and driving—in her place gives them the best chance for success with a big lineup.
If the Sparks don’t use three at once, even against opposing bench units, at least one of those players figures to get squeezed in a very big way. Slide Parker up for some of her minutes and somebody on the perimeter will lose out on playing time.
The Sparks have more than nine players that should be getting minutes for somebody. Having a bunch of intriguing players isn’t a bad thing.
Maybe the top and middle of the standings will stay this tight all season. But if a few teams build more of a cushion, it will be interesting to see what look the Sparks lean on as they continue to pursue a bye.
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