One last dance
The start of the 2019 WNBA playoffs is almost here. Next week’s column will focus solely on end-of-season awards. One last time, here’s your team-by-team look at the goings-on of the past week.
It was fun seeing members of both teams react throughout the game on Saturday to Washington starting its big lineup. Emma Meesseman is going to have her way inside against guards/wings, and it’s tough seeing this team losing to anybody if she shoots the ball this well from the perimeter in the playoffs.
When Washington does go big, where does that third opposing perimeter player go?
None of them stand a chance on Elena Delle Donne. It feels like a remote possibility if you’re sending help anyway. But tough shots with a hand up are her default. Smaller players can’t bother her.
We’ve seen possessions here and there with that player on LaToya Sanders. They still face an uphill climb on the offensive glass. And the Mystics can put them in unfamiliar positions in pick-and-roll defense.
That can become a really interesting counter for a team with size everywhere on the perimeter. For now, the Mystics can probably throw that look at themselves better than anybody else. Dallas (Kayla Thornton didn’t play on Saturday) can get there.
The time off leading into the semifinals may get Kristi Toliver and Aerial Powers back to full strength. The big lineup becomes more of a subplot with both players back. Without them, we’re in store for a fascinating series as the heavy favorite feels things out when forced to lean on that group for longer stretches.
Jas meets Johannes
Jasmine Thomas has more stretches than any guard in the league where she just decides that you aren’t going anywhere with the basketball.
The production crew and camera operators at YES owe us an apology for somehow missing all the action as Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas and Curt Miller got dinged with back-to-back-to-back technicals earlier in that quarter.
It’ll go down as one of the season’s truly underrated moments, and a screenshot of the play-by-play will be the only piece of evidence we have to show for it.
Welcome back, Piph
We might not see much of a shakeup in the standings this final week, but Prince stepping into a big role with the Aces would add that late-season twist that keeps us on our toes.
Nneka Ogwumike’s time (illness) was limited Saturday night. But the Sparks threw some very interesting looks at the Aces’ top-ranked defense.
The next layer: Parker flowing into a pick-and-pop with Riquna Williams. It becomes even tougher to cover up with two defenders when Williams’ player is on the smaller end. Flying in late contest won’t affect her high release very much.
They put the ball in Nneka’s hands at the top of the key on back-to-back possessions in the second as Chelsea Gray and Chiney Ogwumike were stationed at the elbows. A fake cut almost set up an open triple. The action flowed into a pick and roll with Gray, but Wilson came across the lane in time to erase the attempt at the rim.
Nneka went the other way on the next trip as Tierra Ruffin-Pratt cleared out. The inverted pick and roll created a quick post up for Nneka after the Aces switched it.
Moments later, a double screen for Gray set off a flurry of decisions for both teams to communicate and execute in a span of about six seconds.
Wilson stepped out on Gray. Parker tried to quickly drag Kelsey Plum into the post. Cambage scrammed Plum out of one mismatch, which created another behind her. Kayla McBride stepped in to scram Plum out to the corner. Nneka flashed toward the nail for a quick face-up opportunity.
Cambage arrived to help as Nneka made her move, forcing her into either a touch finish over length or a late-clock kick out to Parker.
This really sets Nneka up well with her ability to slip screens, catch on the move and score, especially when the two opposing bigs have to start the play at the level of the ball.
CP finishing around the trees
Cheyenne Parker should be a glowing example for all young low-block scorers to follow. Extending to finish consistently with either hand quickly on the catch or after one dribble is a baseline more players need to strive for.
She can score one-on-one against most 4s and 5s with simple drop steps. But the touch and feel for finishing, even with a 6’9” big in the area, pushes more of Chicago’s possessions toward likely scores.
Pass of the week
This was a wicked pass by Odyssey Sims.
Mid-air, she had to read what Erica Wheeler was going to do in a split-second. And once Sims knew where she was going with the ball, she had to fit that thing through the outstretched arms of Teaira McCowan and Kennedy Burke.
Sims really had that look in her eye in that second half. She wasn’t going to accept a loss. Napheesa Collier came through in the fourth, too, with two offensive rebounds in transition. She wasn’t in the picture either time once the camera panned but still got down the floor in time to create open jumpers for Sylvia Fowles and Lexie Brown.
This had to be the quickest anybody has split two defenders this season. Marie Gulich had no time to react. Alex Bentley didn’t even make the mistake of trying to chase Canada over the screen. It just happened.
Canada also made some really creative plays as a cutter, finding open space in the lane as her defender set up shop at the nail. Both had a similar structure: Canada getting a touch in the paint with a shooter and Natasha Howard camping out on the backside.
This is a fun change of pace. Teams get easier to guard when people on the other side of the floor are stationary all the time. It’s another way for Canada to attack seams in the defense while also putting the other four players on the floor in a good position to be scoring threats.
Big or small?
Sandy Brondello’s starting lineup in Chicago—against a likely first-round matchup—presented some interesting challenges. The question of who Diana Taurasi can guard feels even more pressing. How can we not flinch every time she bumps into a screen or goes for a loose ball or rebound in traffic? Could a play like that cause another flare-up?
And with January, Taurasi and Leilani Mitchell in the game, the Mercury will be dead to rights in the post and on the glass—already a huge issue when they put more size on the floor—whenever they get caught in a switch.
Chicago didn’t find Stefanie Dolson with the mismatch on that trip. But the Sky have been quick to use Dolson to drag smaller players into the post. Other teams will, too.
To state the obvious, Phoenix doesn’t stand a chance to outscore anybody in a playoff game without Taurasi making shots. Starting Brianna Turner at least gives them a better chance to win ugly. Right now they’re just playing ugly with a few days to regroup and use home dates with Minnesota and Las Vegas to hope Taurasi can get her legs back.
Setting T up inside
Sunday was the day of the wraparound pass for Indiana’s pesky slashers as Kennedy Burke and Tiffany Mitchell got creative in the lane to set Teaira McCowan up for some easy looks.
Can we just give Marine Johannes to one of the playoff teams?
Johannes is fun.
So is Amanda Zahui B. especially when she gets involved as a screener to leverage her shooting ability. You’ve got an option taking one step out for an open triple there if both defenders chase Johannes.
A sneaky-important question for next season: Have the Liberty done enough to entice Johannes into returning for next season and beyond? Maybe her criteria were never known in concrete terms. With how the season has gone, they’ll be kicking themselves if they didn’t do enough (role, more shots, etc.).
Outlets for Arike
The Wings can become an offensive juggernaut if they can find a high-volume stretch big. LaToya Sanders was just waiting for Arike Ogunbowale at the elbow.
That kind of player is the commodity everyone is after. It’d be even better if that same player can catch it on the move when Ogunbowale gets trapped and make the right read attacking in a 4-on-3 situation—either making the right pass or gliding in for an easy score.
Something about Seattle
There isn’t much you can do to dress up the past week for the Dream. Renee Montgomery had a few solid efforts from deep that can help inch her percentage closer to a league-average mark.
And after Marie Gulich knocked down the first 3-pointer of her career in Seattle earlier this season, Monique Billings got in on the action, too.
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