’19 WNBA second half begins, playoff race heating up
The trade deadline has passed. Connecticut pushed some chips to the center of the table. We’re still waiting on Diana Taurasi’s return. And stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Sparks are playing like a title contender with their three stars healthy at the same time.
Here’s a look back at the first week of the second half of the season.
Aces run right through Dallas
More times than not, individual defense is extremely tough to pinpoint. The result of a defensive possession won’t always boil down to the efforts of just one player.
Here’s one from the Aces’ first game out of the break, pointing to one way Kayla McBride is able to leave her imprint on plays as a more impactful defender at this stage of her career while illustrating the level of intensity the Aces brought to kick off the second half of their season with a bang.
McBride blew up this dribble handoff for Arike Ogunbowale, attacking the space between Ogunbowale and the ball before the handoff could occur.
Gustafson posting Tina
It was fun to see Megan Gustafson rewarded for her hard work in this sequence.
Tina Charles is a brick wall. Gustafson had to earn this position and flashed great awareness in knowing exactly where she was the moment of the catch in relation to the backboard. She appeared to even surprise Charles with her timing and extended to finish up high to eliminate the risk of getting blocked.
Seimone Augustus made her season debut Tuesday. Any return is a plus in what’s been an injury-riddled season for the Lynx. But with foul calls coming at a premium around the basket this season, Money Mone’s presence becomes even more valuable because she’s their best entry passer.
The Lynx can probably swing some key games down the stretch if they can simply get Sylvia Fowles more shot attempts. Augustus’ familiarity with the All-WNBA center re-introduces a key secondary element to the offense. Watch them first cycle through the option of Napheesa Collier ducking in and when it’s not there, Augustus clears the corner, recognizes the switch and puts it up high where only Fowles can get to it.
No second try necessary this time
As we saw in the All-Star skills competition, Diamond DeShields has a great fastball. It’s a shame that a pass like this doesn’t add to her box score tally. The W’s 3-point revolution can take another big collective step forward as more players begin accurately firing these cross-court lasers.
Breland stepping out
Jessica Breland has clearly started the second half looking to ramp up her 3-point attempts. She got up eight attempts up in the first three games post-All-Star break and made one apiece in the two games prior.
Through 23 games, she’s three attempts away from setting a career-high (22) in 3-point attempts. Atlanta’s remaining games present an opportunity for Breland to be bold. She has fluttered around 41 percent from midrange the past three seasons after a few campaigns in the mid-to-high 40s.
Can she hit 35-ish percent on decent volume from deep this late in her career? It wouldn’t just open up more room for others. Some of those attempts would come with more room to rise and fire before a defender can get back into the picture.
Here’s where patience with and a bigger commitment to Kelsey Mitchell will pay off tenfold for the Fever.
Even as the minutes and role fluctuate, she’s already No. 2 behind Taurasi striking fear in defenses with her ability to drill 3-pointers off the bounce. Pair that with Mitchell’s burst, and you’ll see more of her making it easy getting right into the teeth of the defense.
Center of attention
New York has to go down trusting the skill level of their shooters at this point. Having a set-up guard is nice for their shooting sets, but they take time to cycle through and won’t always create a second option when the first gets cut off.
Is there a “traditional” point guard among Asia Durr, Kia Nurse, Marine Johannes, Bria Hartley and Rebecca Allen?
But traditional point guards don’t command this kind of attention.
Connecticut commits two defenders to Nurse. The first pass out immediately opens up the skip to Durr for a wide-open triple.
Durr’s turn. Similar result.
Fish mixing and matching
While the reasoning may not have been this laser-focused, Derek Fisher made the most of a chance to put more shooting around Chelsea Gray, finding more time for two of Sydney Wiese, Alexis Jones and Marina Mabrey.
There isn’t as pressing of a need for a stopper-type without Jewell Loyd at her best, and the Sparks actually ran stuff to make the most of what they had on the floor.
One step ahead
One takeaway from Sunday’s game in L.A.: The Sparks attacked Seattle with cross-court passes that led directly to open treys. Kalani Brown’s screen kept Sami Whitcomb from recovering to her own player, forcing a rotation and creating an open triple for Gray.
In the fourth, Kalani Brown drew two on the left block, turned baseline and fired it to Mabrey for another.
Looking ahead to next season, it will be fun to see how teams fare with Sue Bird’s anticipation and Breanna Stewart’s length and activity back on the floor to bring that unit back to full strength.
Vonnie, BG light ‘Stics up
Yvonne Turner went hard to the rim!
As seen in the Mercury’s big win over Washington, that alone makes a big difference. Griner going scorched earth (8-of-11) on two-pointers outside the restricted area probably helps, too.
Williams playing in flow
This Courtney Williams jumper on Sunday was an indicator of a healthy Connecticut attack playing with pace in the halfcourt.
The screen arrives right on time after a crisp reversal, freeing Williams to quickly step in and rise up from her comfort zone.
Shatori to Emma
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough has quietly piled up some very loud (and impressive) shoot-pass decisions this season. The most recent addition: Wrapping this bounce pass around Griner to a rolling Emma Meesseman for a bucket.
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