Halfway through the WNBA season – Observations and Thoughts so far

*NOTE: This post was supposed to be out last week, but I got busy with social events. As I am aware, teams have now played up to more than 19 games, so it’s a bit more than half way. Yet, we now have a clearer picture on all 12 teams, so right before All Star break, read my thoughts on the 2017 season below.

Half way through the 2017 season, we now have some answers and clarity as to which teams are playoff teams, which are championship teams and which teams are headed to the lottery. We also have some updates on the front runners for MVP, ROY, COY, MIP, DPOY, etc. *WARNING: Extremely long post ahead, so make sure you have some coffee and get caught up on all your WNBA action so far.

First up are the front runners for each major individual award:sylviafowles

MVP: Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx. Yes, the Lynx are the #1 team in the WNBA right now, and have a ton of weapons, but Fowles stands out this season. This may sound a bit crazy, but at age 30, she’s improved her game to where she is unstoppable down low. She was always an All Star type of player, but this season, she’s raised it up a notch and the league is taking notice. Hence why she is my pick for MVP so far.

ROY: Tie between Allisha Gray, Dallas Wings and Brittney Sykes, Atlanta Dream. This one was tough. Allisha Gray has been consistent since Day 1 and deservedly won ROM in the months of May and June. But Gray has competition now. Brittney Sykes is heating up and she’s becoming an impact player for the Atlanta Dream. Gray has the slight edge since she started since her first game but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it came down to a tie. I couldn’t decide so it’s a tie (for now)

COY: This is an interesting award. Do you hand this award to Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve whose team is even better than last year? Or do you reward the Sun coach Curt Miller for a rising Connecticut team? In my opinion, it could go either way, but for now I chose Curt Miller because the Sun were not expected to be this competitive and their players to have career best seasons. It speaks volumes, especially with such a young team who is still learning to grow and get better. Therefore, my COY pick for now is Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller.

MIP: Another intriguing award. First of all, there are two names that come to my mind when we are talking about Most Improved Player. Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun and Chelsea Gray of the Los Angeles Sparks. Both have improved pretty dramatically from a year ago and now are one of the top stars on their respective teams. The Sun depend on Jonquel Jones every night and she delivers with double doubles almost every night. The Sparks rely on Chelsea Gray to help out Candace Parker and Nneka Oguwmike and she does just that. Both teams have improved thanks to these two players. So who is the front runner for this award so far? I have to go with Connecticut Sun center Jonquel Jones. I think her improvement is just a tad bit more than Chelsea Gray at this point. But it is pretty close at this point.

DPOY: There are two to possibly three names that come to my mind when discussing Defensive Player of the Year candidates. Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx, Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury and Alana Beard of the Los Angeles Sparks. Both Fowles and Griner have been tough on the defensive end of the floor by altering shots of their opponents, providing timely stops and taking care of their respective match up. (Of the games that Fowles has played Griner, Fowles has had the upper hand.) Alana Beard of the Los Angeles Sparks also comes to mind because, she’s been a key part as to why LA is currently in second place. Her ability to lock down top guards in this league has helped LA tremendously. Her ability to pay attention to little details is what helps the other players on her team also step up defensively. Her stats don’t look as appealing compared to Sylvia Fowles or Brittney Griner, but when Alana Beard is locked in, that spells trouble for the opponent. This is a tough choice, but I would have to give Sylvia Fowles the slight edge over Brittney Griner so far, just because head to head Fowles has won and the Lynx are better defensively than the Mercury right now.

6th WOY: I’m not sure I have any candidates that stick out to me right now. Renee Montgomery of the Minnesota Lynx, Jantel Lavender of the Los Angeles Sparks, etc probably are two names that stick out to me right now but I don’t think either one of them are the 6th Woman of the Year. I’m just not as sure as previous years, so maybe someone else comes along, but for now, I just don’t know about this award yet.

Now that all of the major awards are done, it’s time to take a closer look at all 12 teams. I am going to start in reverse order, so the worst team to the best team.

12. San Antonio Stars

At the half way point, I am going to say I am a bit disappointed. I wasn’t expecting the Stars to make the playoffs nor be in every game, but their current record and team play is just not up to par. I’m not going to delve deeper into the Ruth Riley/Vickie Johnson/Kelsey Plum mess, but I will say that I thought it was going to be better. The only current player who has been a bright spot for the Stars is PF/C Isabelle Harrison. She’s been fantastic and will continue to get better. The coach’s decisions have been baffling, and I always thought Vickie Johnson was a fantastic associate head coach. So, to see her decisions now, it is mind boggling. It’s a mess this season and for me personally, I want to see how this team does next year with a top 4 pick and improvements from their key players. At this point, the Stars are playing for pride.

11. Chicago Sky

There’s two parts of the Sky that are happening. The very ugly beginning part of the season where it looked like the Sky were also getting ready to tank and then the second part of the season where they look like a playoff team reminiscent to what they did last season when Elena Delle Donne was out late last season. So which team is it? I’m not sure. I don’t think they were as bad as they originally started, yet I don’t think they’re a playoff team either compared to all the other playoff teams. Yes, they have solid wins (win against Minnesota sticks out) but they also have some ugly losses (lost to San Antonio.) I think this team is in flux. They may be fighting right now for a playoff spot but that’s tough to do when you have so much ground to cover and few games left to do it in. The Sky are who I think majority of people thought they would be. Not terrible, but not a playoff team yet. The Sky are still a fun team to watch, and it will be interesting to see what happens after All Star break.

10. Indiana Fever

The Indiana Fever are a rebuilding team. They have some solid veterans but they also have some very young players. They struggle to score consistently and other than Candice Dupree, they do not have a second player who they can rely on scoring every night. They’re a mediocre team at best who is still trying to figure out their new identity post Catchings. They are in desperate need of a talent upgrade and their plan should be to continue to develop players such as Tiffany Mitchell, Natalie Achonwa, Erica McCall rather than make an attempt at the 8th and final playoff seed. The Fever have been a very good franchise, but so far, it looks like they will miss the playoffs.

9. Seattle Storm

The Seattle Storm have been disappointing. The Storm should be better than in ninth place right now. They’ve been inconsistent and have not yet managed to win consistently. Jewell Loyd who started off hot during the early part of the season has cooled down and is inconsistent still from game to game. Breanna Stewart has been her steady self and Sue Bird has provided help, but they need more. Their bench hasn’t helped much and their defense hasn’t been great either. They need to figure out a new strategy because this team should be in the playoffs or at least in the playoff hunt but if they continue to play like this, they will be out of the playoffs after making them a year before.

8. Atlanta Dream

The Atlanta Dream have been surprising. I don’t think many people thought when Angel McCoughtry was out because she was resting, that the Dream would still be very much in the playoff hunt. But McCoughtry’s decision to rest may be a blessing in disguise. It allowed Tiffany Hayes to become the star player and the main focus, which led her to become an All Star starter. It allowed Layshia Clarendon to grow into her point guard role and become a better distributor as well as a scorer and it has also left room for rookie guard Brittney Sykes to bloom. The Dream have some great wins and for the most part, look like a playoff team. Angel McCoughtry could be on the way back for Atlanta however, so it shall be interesting to see what happens to the Dream.

7. Dallas Wings

The Dallas Wings are a hit or miss team. When they are on, they are one of the top playoff teams. When they are off, they are one of the lottery teams. They do have the talent to be a playoff team and make the playoffs, but their lack of defense is holding them back. Not to mention several times, they’ve had to fight back in the fourth quarters of games only to lose in the end. Their lack of size also hurts them and is allowing other teams to get to the rim very easily. The Wings could make the playoffs but they only have a few games left and can not afford any more losses.

6. New York Liberty

The New York Liberty like the Seattle Storm have also been very inconsistent. They have some great wins, but they also have some bad losses. After being the third best team a year ago, they are now towards the bottom of the standings. Tina Charles is still consistent and putting up great numbers but she needs help. Sometimes Shavonte Zellous is reliable, other times it is Sugar Rodgers or Epiphanny Prince. Just like the Storm, the Liberty’s bench has not been great so far. Bottom line, so far the Liberty have been disappointing and more was expected at this point of the season.

5. Phoenix Mercury

The Phoenix Mercury have been one of the surprising teams thanks in large part due to their MVP candidate Brittney Griner and star Diana Taurasi. Those two have led the charge for the Mercury and not much was expected from the Mercury this year but those two have put Phoenix in the playoff picture. Leilani Mitchell and Danielle Robinson have also contributed, as well as Stephanie Talbot alongside Griner and Taurasi. Unfortunately, due to an injury to Brittney Griner, the Mercury have lost a key piece and now will probably fight to stay in the playoff picture until she is healthy enough to return.

4. Washington Mystics

The Washington Mystics had a lot of expectations placed on them due to off season acquisitions. Half way through, I think they are right where they are supposed to be. I think most thought they would be a top 3 team behind the likes of the Lynx and Sparks, but as of right now they are the fourth team in the league. Their team took a major hit when one of their top players in Tayler Hill suffered an ACL injury and now the team has to regroup. However, they still have Elena Delle Donne, who although is currently out with injury, it is not as severe compared to Hill’s. They also have Kristi Toliver and Emma Messeman. I would say the Mystics are right on target halfway through.

3. Connecticut Sun

The Connecticut Sun have been another surprise team and played better than expected half way through the season. They’ve had some really great wins and their players have played better than expected. They have three WNBA All Stars which is something considering their star player Chiney Oguwmike is out with an ACL injury. The Sun have also been very competitive and are looking like a second round playoff team who could potentially surprise teams. The Sun haven’t made the playoffs in a while and they are in good position to end the playoff drought half way through.

2. Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks, like the Mystics are right where many people expected them to be. The defending champion has been winning games, and is clearly the second best team in the league. Reigning MVP Nneka Oguwmike has continued her dominance from the 2016 season and Chelsea Gray has been tremendous as well. Candace Parker, who is now more of a facilitator rather than a scorer has been a steady presence. Alana Beard, has been a steady defensive presence. This is a different Sparks team with new weapons in Odyssey Sims and Riquna Williams, but there’s no question about it. The Sparks are still a very good team half way through the season.

1.  Minnesota Lynx

The Minnesota Lynx are even better than last year. They’ve improved and look focused on winning the WNBA championship later this year. MVP candidate Sylvia Fowles leads the charge with contributions from the likes of Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus. Their defense has always been elite, but this year it is been phenomenal. Their bench also is adequate and helps out the starters. The Lynx are hungry and are playing like it half way through the season.

 

One quarter of the way through WNBA season – Observations & Thoughts

With more than half of the league played roughly 8 to 10 games, we are officially done 1/4 of the WNBA season. We have seen some incredible play, some lackluster referees, quality and some very bad teams early. It’s time to break it down and offer my observations and thoughts on everything I have seen played out through the first 8 to 10 games.

First of all, the ROY race is now open. After so much hype regarding the #1 Draft pick Kelsey Plum, it turns out in the early part of the season she is not even in consideration for the award. The front runner of this award clearly belongs to Dallas Wings G/F Allisha Gray. She has been steady and reliant as well as a key component to the Wings offense. She is headed towards becoming a future WNBA All-Star one day.  As for Kelsey Plum? She’s in a tough spot in San Antonio. It’s hard to be a rookie point guard in the WNBA and it is the toughest position to master next to the center position. It takes time and clearly Plum is not there yet. It’s even tougher when a very good, young point guard in Moriah Jefferson is there and has played better to this point in the season. I won’t get into too much detail about it but even if Vickie Johnson (Stars head coach) played Plum, Jefferson and McBride together, Plum still has a long way to go to become a future WNBA star and starting point guard. I won’t write her off as a bust. That’s silly. She has a learning curve and in time, she will be a great guard we will talk about it. But the question remains, will it be in San Antonio?

Moving on, the MVP race is heating up. Before this season began, there was talk of Nneka Ogwumike maybe repeating or Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles, etc. I don’t think Sylvia Fowles was seriously considered just because of the depth the Lynx have. Well, 9 games into the Lynx season and Fowles has emerged as the front runner for the MVP award. Simply put, she has been amazing and has improved her game at the age of 30 years old. Remarkable. Fowles has always been an elite center in the WNBA and one of the top defenders in the league but her play this season is a notch above her All Star play. I don’t think being on the Lynx will hurt her MVP chances just like it didn’t hurt Ogwumike’s shot last year either. While Fowles is the front runner, don’t forget about the Mercury’s Brittney Griner. She’s been simply outstanding and for me personally, fun to watch her growth and development. There’s a reason why she was taken ahead of Elena Delle Donne because when Griner puts it all together, she’s unstoppable. She’s been able to avoid foul trouble for the most part and her level of play should make Mercury fans very happy. Their very hyped center is finally turning the corner and becoming one of the top three players to watch through a quarter of the WNBA season. Another player who has also emerged as one of the three contenders for the award is none other than Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne. If there is one thing Delle Donne is simply elite at, it is her ability to score. Being a versatile elite scorer has helped the Mystics off to a very great start through 10 games (7-3) and makes her a very serious candidate for the WNBA MVP award. Other names are also in the mix such as Sparks reigning MVP (Nneka Ogwumike), Liberty’s Tina Charles, etc. But these three (Fowles, Griner and Delle Donne) are simply a notch better through a quarter of the WNBA season right now.

Another key story is the quality of play of the top teams versus the bad teams. There is quite a remarkable difference between the Minnesota Lynx and the San Antonio Stars. One team is undefeated while the other is winless. Sure, the Lynx have more talent and have experienced veterans on this team, but the Stars do have talent regardless of what you have read about them. The Minnesota Lynx are 9-0 because they can close out teams, they have some very big blowout wins and are in cruise control right now. They get elite level production from Fowles (discussed above), steady production from Rebekkah Brunson, Seimone Augustus and a very good point guard in Lindsay Whalen to direct the team. Meanwhile the San Antonio Stars are winless because they cannot close out teams, they have had multiple chances to win games and their rotation is a mess because the coach has yet to figure out which line up combination works for her team. I did not expect the Stars to have a winning record at this point, but never did I think they would still be winless. It’s not fun to watch for anybody. The Lynx being 9-0 and the Stars being 0-9 are two stories to track through one quarter of the season. Both teams could set records (and in the Stars case, not a great record.)

REFEREES: Still not great, way too many games decided by their fate. Reviews are way too long and it takes the fun out of the WNBA game.

HOT SEAT? Two coaches right now are on the hot seat. Vickie Johnson of the San Antonio Stars and Amber Stocks, the coach/GM of the Chicago Sky. Of these two, I think Johnson will be let go after this season because she is only on a one year deal. Amber Stocks is on the hot seat because of some her rosters moves are puzzling. Not only that, but her team could have won more games, but haven’t due to the talent on the floor. It’s only a quarter of the way through the WNBA season, but keep an eye on these two coaches moving forward.

These are some of the top major stories around the league. When the majority of the WNBA has played half of their games (17 games), I shall do another post on what other stories have transpired in this 2017 WNBA season.