Power Rankings: A new consensus number 1 emerge

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Welcome to the Winisdr’s Second Power Rankings of the Year. Every two weeks, our team of writers rank each of the teams 1-12 and I talk about some of the teams here. Here’s last week’s power rankings if you want to catch up. Enjoy!

We have somehow plowed through a third of the WNBA season already. It felt like just yesterday we were watching the Dream and Wings open up the year on a Friday evening. Now, we only have about 20 games left and the playoff race is coming into view. The WNBA season sprints to its ending faster than any other professional league. So, we have to hustle up now and catch up on the last couple of weeks of WNBA basketball.

And there is so much to catch up on. The juggernaut of the last Power Rankings got blown out twice in the last two weeks, including a historic beatdown to the #2 team in those rankings.[1] Candace Parker came back for L.A., but the Sparks still struggled a bit. We thought another star would return in time for these rankings, but Diana Taurasi will remain out for another week. Jewell Loyd got hurt, the Sky showed flashes of their potential, and a bunch of players took off to galivant about Europe.[2] So let’s get right to it.

DISCLAIMER: I did not write something about every team because frankly, I only have so many good thoughts and time. I just didn’t feel that some teams needed to be remarked on and/or I had to cut some in the interest of time and space. I apologize for that, but remember we have coverage of all 12 teams all the time on Winsidr.com. Okay now, right to it!

1. Washington Mystics, 9-3 (5-0 since last Power Rankings); Previous ranking: 2nd

In the W, you only get to play each team three times every year. After dropping two games against Connecticut during the Sun’s blazing hot start, D.C. needed to win on Saturday to avoid a season sweep. The Mystics played like a team that didn’t ever want to get swept again. Not in a season series, not in a playoff series, not in the Finals, not in the World Series of Dice. They slammed Connecticut 102-59. I’m going to spell it out to see if it’s even more impressive: one-hundred-and-two to fifty-nine. Hmm, it’s about the same.

Nonetheless, the win against the Sun is just one reason that the Stics snagged the top spot. They won every game played in this power rankings span and none of those games were particularly close. D.C. won by an average of 23.6 points against four contenders and the Dream.[3] They have the third-best defensive rating[4] in the league behind Vegas and Seattle. More impressively, the Mystics’ offensive rating is 112.4 points per 100 possessions. That’s the best in the league with no one else over 103 points per 100 and would be the best mark in league history. *Lee Corso voice and pencil wag* YO!

Elena Delle Donne’s recent stretch really makes my EDD MVP pick look great. Here are her points and rebounds in the last four games: 29/11, 21/10, 22/71 19/10. That’s absurd. EDD drives this team, but the role players have created the gulf between the Mystics and everyone else right now.

While you could celebrate to any one of them, I want to spotlight Tianna Hawkins. She’s been on an absolute tear in the winning streak, scoring 13.8 points per game. She does all the little things that you want from a bench big (rebounding, tough d, energy, good free throw shooting). But Hawkins also shoots the lights out from 3 (48.5% from deep!) while also cutting well and attacking close-outs to get easy buckets. Her growth into her current role is emblematic of how D.C. got to this point so early in 2019. Now the question is whether they can keep it until the Finals.

2. Connecticut Sun, 9-2 (3-1), Previously: 1st

The Sun came crashing back to Earth in the last week. After beating Seattle and Atlanta, they have lost three straight, all in rather galling fashion. Most recently, they suffered the aforementioned blowout against DC. While the Mystics deserve a ton of credit for how they played, the Sun deserve a lot of criticism for their performance. The Sun scored on just 30.7% of their possessions and allowed DC to score on 50% of theirs. They got beat in every single statistical category on Saturday. The Sun’s superior rebounding squad[5] got out-boarded by the Mystics by 7. No one but Jonquel Jones shot over 50% for the game. Plain and simple, Washington played with more energy and more focus to demoralize the Sun.

You could copy and paste all of that to describe the Sun’s 75-93 loss in Chicago as well. They got outrebounded by the same exact margin (40-33), but shot better against the Sky to keep the final margin closer. The loss to Dallas added another aspect to the story. Connecticut got outplayed but still had a chance to win at the end of the game. But they failed at least three times to take the lead or tie the game in the last few minutes. It was all gross if you are a Connecticut fan.

While three road losses in a row isn’t the end of the world, there are couple of bad signs going forward. Like I mentioned, Connecticut got outrebounded in each game and that just shouldn’t happen. Not with Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas and the cast of rebounders they have. Also, Courtney Williams and Shekinna Stricklen both shot very poorly in the losses. Courtney is a streaky player who will go through slumps with her tough diet of shots. Stricklen lives by the 3, which means she also dies by the 3, so again slumps are expected. But when both happen at the same time, it can kill this team.

On top of all of it, Jasmine Thomas played unevenly throughout the losing streak, especially late in the Dallas game. She missed an easy layup to tie the game late then couldn’t guide the offense to a good shot on the last possession. Thomas’s play is the most concerning part of this to me. She’s the heart of this team and she needs to be poised for them to succeed. Despite all the negativity, I gotta believe the Sun will rise again next power rankings.

3. Seattle Storm, 8-6 (3-3), Previously: 4th

How are you not impressed by this Seattle team? Their preseason woes have been well-documented, no Breanna, no Sue, and Dan Hughes forced to miss time.[6] Then, the season came and the Storm watched Jordin Canada go down after an amazing start then Jewell Loyd twist her ankle very badly. And all they do is keep pushing and keep winning or getting close to it. They got beat pretty badly in Connecticut early last week 81-67, then bounced back with a big win against LA 84-62. Then, Seattle played a string of close games going 2-1 against Indiana, Vegas, and Chicago with all game decided by 4 or fewer points.

Natasha Howard drives this team’s success and they will go as far she takes them. As an MVP candidate, she will likely take them pretty far. While Howard drives the car, Alysha Clark is the motor of it.  Clark just does everything for this team that Howard doesn’t. She is third on the team in rebounds with 6.1 a game. Despite not being the biggest player, she really uses her body well to get into position and just being too stout to move. She also does a great job tracking down long rebounds and yanking them in with intensity. On defense, she usually takes the second-best offensive option and has locked them down, allowing just 0.58 points per possession this year.

Offensively, she leads the team in true shooting percentage[7] at 59.7% and creates a bunch of mismatches. If you put someone slow on her, she blows right past for a layup or puts them in the pick-and-roll blender. Put a smaller, quicker defender on Clark, she will go to the post where she’s scoring 1.2 points per possession. Also, you have to be locked in on her or she’ll spot up as the 5th best spot up shooter in the league according to Synergy. Howard will get a lot of the credit if Seattle can make it deep into the playoffs this year, but Clark deserves some of that shine too.

4. Las Vegas Aces, 7-4 (4-2), Previously: 5th

The Aces just look a bit off right? Obviously, the team has an abundance of talent that will take some time to mesh which contributes to their uneven performances so far. Liz Cambage is still learning her role alongside A’ja Wilson. The rest of the team is fitting in around them as well as knocking off rust. The emergence of Dearica Hamby and the resulting colossal lineup that Bill Laimbeer employs has also made it hard to get going. They kind of remind me of the previews for Godzilla: King of Monsters, which made you think “wow that doesn’t make sense, but the monsters look dope.”

But, the three-giant lineup actually looks pretty good. Liz is largely doing her thing with a stat line of 15/7/2. Vegas is second in net rating as well. So why does it seem that Las Vegas is still underperforming?

No doubt, the first couple of weeks weigh heavier here than they should. The Aces went 3-2 to open the season and looked listless in a lot of those games. They still have a tendency to not show up, such as when they got whipped by 12 against LA. They also turn the ball over a lot with 16.3 turnovers a game, which is second worst in the league.

But I think the real issue is Kelsey Plum. The former #1 overall needs to get going for Vegas to grow into the dominant force it can be. Since a 21-point outing against Minnesota, Plum has gone silent with 3 or less points in each game. She’s put up two goose-eggs in the team’s two losses in this period. Plum also coughed the ball up four times against LA.

With Cambage, Wilson, and Kayla McBride, the Aces don’t need Plum to play like a star. She can take a role player part on this team. However, one of the ideas driving much of our expectations for Vegas was that the bigs would be surrounded by great shooting. Therefore, Plum needs to shoot for the Aces to hit their ceiling. She’s currently shooting a career-low 33.7% from the field and 33.3 from deep. Vegas isn’t in trouble yet and has looked pretty good at times, but Kelsey Plum needs to step up for the team to go deep in the playoffs.

5. Los Angeles Sparks, 6-6 (2-4), Previously: 3rd

6. Minnesota Lynx, 6-6 (2-2), Previously: 7th

7. Chicago Sky, 6-6 (3-4), Previously: 6th

What a bizarre couple weeks for Chicago. They opened up this Power Rankings period with a 3-1 run. The Sky slapped Connecticut 93-75 at the Wintrust Area. At that point, I had Chicago third in my personal power rankings. Then, the last week happened and the Sky dropped three straight. They got run off the court by LA and DC and merely beat by Seattle.

Going forward, it seems like it will be hard to peg Chicago as a contender or a pretender. On one hand, the Sky have Diamond Deshields. I spent a whole section describing how great and cool she is in the last power rankings. They also have one of, if not, the best passing guards ever in Courtney Vandersloot and a great partner for her (on and off the court) in sharpshooter Allie Quigley. The supporting cast should contribute enough around them, especially considering how well Jantel Lavender has played.

On the other hand, the backcourt pairing concerns me defensively. Vandersloot rates out as very good on defense according to Synergy, but she often gets sucked into the action and leaves her assignment. That’s how she let Riquana Williams get going in the Sparks game. Quigley is unequivocal negative on that side of the court. She has to improve her pick and roll decision-making because she’s giving up a point per possession in such situations. Even past those two, you can point to a glaring defensive weakness for each Sky player other than Gabby Williams and Diamond Deshields.[8]

It just seems that you can enforce your will on this Sky defense. One possible explanation is that they are still getting used to James Wade’s system and are thinking through what they have to do. I do expect some improvement from that perspective. However, this team has many defensive limitations on the floor at all times especially in their starting unit including Quigley, Vadersloot, and the throwback big Stefanie Dolson. They need to bring the focus on that end to become a contender, or else they will be a pretender in 2019.

8. Phoenix Mercury, 5-5 (3-1), Previously: 8th (tied)

9. New York Liberty, 5-7 (3-2), Previously: 11th

10. Indiana Fever, 5-9 (1-6), Previously: 8th (tied)

11. Dallas Wings, 4-7 (4-2), Previously: 12th

THE DALLAS WINGS HAVE INCREASED THEIR WINS BY AN INFINITE PERCENTAGE IN THE PAST TWO WEEKS![9] Dallas notched their first win against Atlanta (see below). But that win was just the appetizer. The main course came in a 15-point victory over the Mercury, one of the preseason favorites. Then, the Wings enjoyed a luxurious Instagramable dessert by beating former #1, the Connecticut Sun. Oh just when you thought it was time to leave, the delicious espresso was served up in the form of 89-86 win against Minnesota.

That’s some delicious home cooking for the Wings as all wins came at home. They did lose twice on the road to the Liberty and Aces. But still, Dallas has rapidly improved even before Skylar Diggins-Smith returns. Dallas rebounding has impressed me the most over this win streak. The Wings rank third in overall rebounding rate at 52%, second in overall rebounds per game with 37.4, and first in offensive rebounding rate at 37.3%. Hitting the glass that hard helps create offense, both via offensive rebounds and ending opponent possessions. And remember, the Wings have kept this up despite Glory Johnson’s absence.[10]

You can give a lot of credit to Theresa Plaisance for the recent Wings surge. She’s an efficient scorer both shooting spot up jumpers and posting up. She ranks as excellent in both categories according to Synergy’s data. She also just keeps the ball flowing better than Johnson does. This ability is especially important on an offense with Arike Ogunbowale, who is very good but can make the ball stick a bit. She sets good enough screens and has surpassed Johnson’s rebounding numbers since the latter left.[11] On defense, Plaisance seems to be a better option. The team has a defensive rating of 88.7 points when she’s on the court. That number balloons to 102.6 points given up per 100 possessions when she’s off. The former third-round pick may have been an odd savior for Dallas’s season, but she’s proven to be just that so far.

12. Atlanta Dream, 2-8 (1-4), Previously: 10th

[1] Spoiler: those rankings changed around in a big way this time around.

[2] They’re actually playing in Eurobasket and you should watch the tournament. It’s on ESPN+ (for which you can get a week-long free trial if you haven’t already) and almost every team has a WNBA player on it. I just like using the term “galivant” and you can only use it in relation to Europe.

[3] The contenders were LA (29 points), Las Vegas (23 points), Chicago (7 points), and the Sun (43 points).

[4] Defensive Rating is an estimate of points allowed by a defense over 100 possessions; Offensive rating is the same thing but with points scored.

[5] Connecticut ranks higher than Washington in both rebounds per game and rebounding rate.

[6] Coach Hughes came back during these power rankings. So amazing to see him back after having surgery to remove cancer in his intestines. We talk a lot about Seattle’s resiliency and it seems that a lot of it starts with him.

[7] True shooting percentage is a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws. Here is a very useful advanced stats guide from basketball reference: https://www.basketball-reference.com/about/glossary.html.

[8] To be clear, they can also step up and increase their focus but they don’t have a real Achilles heel defensively.

[9] Actually, I’m pretty sure this percentage would be “undefined” but I can express it as infinity and I will because it’s more fun.

[10] She is playing for Montengro in Eurobasket. Their next game is on Monday at 2 pm EST against Great Britain.

[11] Glory pulled down 7 boards a game whereas Plaisance has been averaging 7.2 rebounds over the last 6 games.

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3 Comments

  1. These rankings don’t seem to mesh with the text about the teams. If you only think Seattle might “sneak into the playoffs,” how can you rank them third? If Dallas has improved so much, why would they be next to last?

    • Gabe Ibrahim on

      You’re right on the Seattle thing. I meant to say if they could sneak deep into the playoffs, which is a weird way to put it. Thanks for pointing that out.

      As for Dallas, they look way better than they did the first two weeks of the season when they were dreadful. But that doesn’t mean they’re better than the other teams quite yet, just better than they were before. Although, some of our writers did put the Wings higher than 11th.

  2. Pingback: Power Rankings: Top teams separate themselves from the pack » W-Insidr

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