Power Rankings: Top teams separate themselves from the pack

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Welcome to the new look power rankings! We changed things around a bit. The Rankings are obviously paramount, but we hope you like the new parts. Let us know what you think in the comments. As always, our writers ranked all of the 12 teams and this is how things turned out. Here is a link to the last power rankings if you want to catch up. Enjoy!

The Rankings

  1. Las Vegas Aces: 11-5 (4-0 with one game suspended since last rankings), Previous ranking: 2nd
  2. Washington Mystics: 9-6 (0-3 with one game suspended), Previous: 1st
  3. Connecticut Sun: 11-6 (2-2), Previous: 2nd
  4. Los Angeles Sparks: 9-7 (3-1), Previous: 5th
  5. Minnesota Lynx: 10-7 (4-1), Previous: 6th
  6. Seattle Storm: 10-8 (2-2), Previous: 3rd
  7. Phoenix Mercury: 7-8 (2-3), Previous: 8th
  8. Chicago Sky: 9-8 (3-2), Previous: 7th
  9. New York Liberty: 7-10 (2-3), Previous: 9th
  10. Indiana Fever: 6-12 (1-3), Previous: 10th
  11. Dallas Wings: 5-11 (1-4), Previous: 11th
  12. Atlanta Dream: 5-11 (3-3), Previous: 12th

We finally have some separation between teams in our power rankings voting!! Even though the standings remain tight, it seems our writers have found meaningful differences between the teams in the power rankings. Based on the voting results, the teams can be broken into four different groups or tiers.

Tier 1: Aces and Mystics

Both these teams came into 2019 with championship expectations but with very different paths to get there. DC relies on continuity and a deep roster while Vegas relies on talent and sheer force of will. They took the court against each other twice in this power ranking period (“PRP”). But one of the games got interrupted by an earthquake and remains suspended at halftime with DC up 51-36. Vegas beat the Mystics by four in DC on Saturday, which likely gave them the upper hand in this power rankings. However, DC lacked Elena Delle Donne[i] for all but one minute in this PRP. There is very little separating these two from each other, but they have clearly put themselves above everyone else so far in 2019 both on the court and the dance floor.[ii]

Tier 2: Sun, Sparks, and Lynx

All three of these squads could compete for a title, but it’s unclear if they will. For Connecticut, their start to the season in which they set the W on fire was balanced out by a five-game losing streak. After bouncing back with two straight wins, the Sun are the team most likely to get into the top tier by next power rankings if I had to guess.

The Sparks improved over this PRP with three wins, but all of them came against bottom teams and an EDD-less Mystics. LA got beat soundly in Dallas and looked shaky in the wins. We still need to see a fully healthy Candace Parker to get an idea of how far they can go. However, the Sparks should still win emphatically most nights with their other four all-stars so I’m cautious on their chances. The Lynx just keep improving. Their offense got much better in this PRP while their defense faltered slightly, as our Erik Beck detailed. If/when they put that together, Minnesota has the tenacity, coaching, and experience to go deep in the playoffs.

Tier 3: Storm, Mercury, and Sky

I’m calling this the “get your shit together” tier. All three of these teams have the talent to make noise, but face a major problem that needs a solution. Most seriously, the Storm must deal with the domestic violence allegations against Natasha Howard. You can read about that here. Plain and simple, the league has to step up and do the right thing in this investigation.[iii] Howard has played amazing basketball to keep the Storm alive this season and a prolonged absence for her likely spells doom for Seattle.

Diana Taurasi will help the Mercury get it together. The GOAT finally returned this week and, while she is on a minutes limit, she should stabilize the offense. However, Taurasi won’t magically fix Phoenix’s awful rebounding.[iv] Similarly, the Sky need to be more consistent on defense to springboard their offense. I think both teams aren’t far away reaching their potential. Yet, as we reach the all-star break, I’m getting concerned that they won’t reach that potential.

Tier 4: Liberty, Fever, Wings, and Dream

While they are all in the bottom tier, I think all four of these teams still have playoffs hopes. New York sits just one game back of the last playoff spot and the other three are just 2.5 games back. The Dream stood out among this group with three straight wins over Phoenix, Connecticut, and Minnesota. They also played a thriller against LA before falling in overtime. We all know Atlanta has the potential to surprise as they did last year. They just need to capitalize on the opportunities in front of them and they did that in this PRP. Hopefully, none of these teams fall too far out of it so we can get a great playoff race top-to-bottom.

Fly or Bye

In this section, we’ll look at a couple of interesting stories from the past two weeks of WNBA action. We’ll be saying “that’s fly” to something that is dope and interesting. Then, we’ll say bye to something that we need to see less of.

Fly: Odyssey Sims finding an unlikely home.

After two hard fought Finals series against her former team, the mention of Odyssey Sims would have provoked disgust from Minnesota fans two years ago. However, Lynx fans probably can’t help but smile when Sims comes up now. The 5th-year guard is leading the surprising Lynx offensively this year and filling in for the retired Whalen better than anyone expected.

Until 2019, Sims’s production decreased every year since her rookie year in Tulsa. She went from 16.1 points per game and 51% true shooting in 2014 to a nadir of 8.2 points on 46.2% TS last year in LA. Obviously playing in LA impeded her production and we figured she could do more. But still, many saw the pick-up of Sims as a helpful addition but not a major one.

I think it’s safe to say that we were wrong. She leads the team in scoring with 15.7 points per game and usage at 25.5%. While Odyssey plays a rather inefficient style[v], she still drives everything Minnesota does offensively. This becomes clear when you look at the on/off data. When Sims plays, the Lynx sport a 98.5 offensive rating and a 5.7 net rating. When she sits, the numbers plummet to 83.4 ORtg and -4.7 net. Sims accounts for a 15.1 differential in offensive rating, an absurd figure and one of the biggest differentials in the league.

Minnesota relies most heavily on Sims at the end of close games. The Lynx have played in 13 clutch situations[vi], the most in the league. Odyssey leads the team in field goal attempts and scoring in these situations. She also shoots slightly better in the clutch than she does overall. Moreover, she is the initiator at the end of games. It seems that Coach Cheryl Reeve trusts her in the clutch more than anyone else. And it’s paying off as last week’s game against Chicago shows. Sims lead the team in scoring, keep the offense going late in the 4th and hit the game winner. It’s pretty fly that Sims has come to thrill the place that once hated her and will represent the Land of a Thousand Lakes in the All-Star Game.

Bye: Connecticut’s turnaround pull-up jumpers

The Connecticut Sun pulled out their nosedive in the second half against Phoenix on Friday. En route to a 79-64 victory, the Sun seemingly got in the groove after falling behind by 6 points and looking listless in the first half. They reminded everyone how they earned a 9-1 record earlier in the season with two straight wins. Now, the challenge is keeping that success going and avoiding the issues led to the 5 straight losses.

During a “Wired” segment in the second quarter of the Mercury game, Curt Miller clued us in to what one of those issues was. He told his team to “keep getting to the next action . . .  we don’t need to shoot off-balance turnarounds, keep it moving.” It sounded like something that he had said before, or even over and over again. Frankly, he should be repeating that mantra because the ball got a bit sticky for Connecticut lately.

When the Sun dominated in June, they sported the league’s fourth-best assist percentage[vii] at 65%. In July’s drought, that number plummeted to 59.1% as the Sun fell to 11th in that category. While Connecticut’s offensive system doesn’t require the level of passing that say Washington’s does, they still need to keep the ball moving to open up lanes and shooters.

As the losses piled up, the Sun would often meander into the lane, waste the shotclock, and hoist up one of those turnarounds that Miller warned against. Some dribble jumpers in an offense is a good thing especially when Courtney Williams and Jasmine Thomas can get hot on them. However, only the Indiana Fever take more jumpers off the dribble than the Sun do. While the Fever score at a middling clip of 0.725 points per such possessions, the Sun are awful. They get just 0.576 ppp on dribble jumpers. Connecticut just doesn’t score well enough on dribble jumpers to warrant using them so much.

So, let’s say bye to those off-balance turnarounds and say hello to a more-flowing offense where jumpers come from spot-ups, the Sun’s most efficient play-type. Connecticut showed signs of implementing such changes in the past couple of games. Hopefully, they keep it up.

Catch-and-shoot

In this section, we will ruminate on something about each team with a series of quick hitters. No long drawn out explanations, just catching the idea and shooting an answer. Could be informative, could be silly, could be both!

As the summer reaches its peak, NBA free agency made a lot of headlines over the last couple of weeks. A lot of superstars moved and the balance of the league shifted. Unfortunately, WNBA stars largely lack the control that their counterparts enjoy over where they work or who they work with. An issue that will hopefully be alleviated (at least somewhat) in the next collective bargaining agreement. Between player designations and such small contracts, the WNBA’s strict regulation on player movement means that kind of bonanza is out of reach for now. However, players still move in the W. To celebrate player movement, remember how we got here, and look forward to more interesting WNBA offseasons in the future, I’m listing the most important offseason (non-draft) acquisition of a player still with the team:

  • Atlanta Dream: 2018—Signed Renee Montgomery to a three-year, near-max ($107k this year and $109K next year left according to High Post Hoops)
  • Chicago Sky: 2013—Giving Allie Quigley a roster spot in 2013 after she didn’t play in the W in 2012.
  • Connecticut Sun: 2015—Traded the rights to Brittany Hrynko (#19 pick in 2015) to Atlanta for Jasmine Thomas.[viii]
  • Dallas Wings: 2017—Signed Kayla Thornton to a training camp contract after she got cut by San Antonio in 2016 and last played for DC in 2015.[ix]
  • Las Vegas Aces: 2019—Traded Moriah Jefferson, Isabelle Harrison, their first and second round picks in the 2020 draft to Dallas for Liz Cambage.
  • Los Angeles Sparks: 2017—Traded the rights to Jonquel Jones and the 17th pick in the 2016 draft to Connecticut for Chelsea Gray, the 15th and 27th picks in the 2016 draft, and a 2017 first round pick (which was eventually traded for Odyssey Sims.)[x]
  • Minnesota Lynx: 2019—Traded Alexis Jones to Los Angeles for Odyssey Sims.[xi]
  • New York Liberty: 2014—Traded the draft rights to Alyssa Thomas along with Kelsey Bone and their first-round pick in the 2015 Draft (Elizabeth Williams) to Connecticut for Tina Charles.
  • Phoenix Mercury: 2018—Traded the 8th overall pick in the 2018 (Victoria Vivians) to Indiana for Briann January.
  • Seattle Storm: 2018—Traded a 2018 second rounder (Park Ji-Su) and 1st swap rights in 2018 (not exercised) to Minnesota for Natasha Howard.
  • Washington Mystics: 2017—In a sign-and-trade, sent Stefanie Dolson, Kahleah Cooper, and their 2017 first-round pick (#2, Alaina Coates) to Chicago for Elena Delle Donne.
Endnotes:

[i] While it was unclear whether EDD has a broken nose or a concussion, Winsidr has confirmed that she does have a concussion despite the team reporting it as a “nasal injury.”

[ii] Here is another clip of the Aces dancing: https://twitter.com/wslam/status/1150251222257078272. I went to this game as a fan and it was one of the most fun basketball games I’ve ever been to.

[iii] For the record, I believe the right thing is to investigate to see if the claims have any merit right now while allowing Howard to play. If they could be true, the Storm need to suspend Howard pending the full investigation. Furthermore, the new CBA needs a clear domestic violence protocol.

[iv] They rank dead last in both rebounds per game with 32 and rebounding rate at 45.9%.

[v] This is an understatement. Sims needs a lot of shots and a lot of dribbles to produce the numbers she has. However, a team can stomach inefficiency if that player produces enough and knows when to give it up. In my opinion, Sims does that.

[vi] Clutch situation=a game in which the point differential is less than 5 with 5 minutes or less remaining

[vii] Assist percentage=an estimate of the percentage of a team’s field goals that are assisted

[viii] Hyrnko was released just two days into training camp that season; Thomas has started 150 of 153 regular-season games for the Sun since then. *extreme yikes face*

[ix] The Wings don’t do a lot of interesting transactions that benefit them….

[x] This is by far the most interesting transaction on this list. Jonquel is a superstar and could win MVP this year, but the Sun still gave up Gray who many consider the best point guard in the league. Further, the Sparks used one of those picks to get Odyssey Sims, a key contributor on a championship team. I wonder if either team would change what they did here. Regardless, this trade changed the league for the next 5-10 years without involving any stars at the time. That’s wild.

[xi] Sylvia Fowles was traded during the season and did not qualify for this list.

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