Every two weeks, our staff ranks each of the 12 teams and I talk about the results here. The rankings are the staff’s, the words are mine, but the fun is ours! Here’s the last power rankings if you need to catch up!
- Las Vegas Aces: 13-6 (2-1 since last power rankings), Previous ranking: 1st
- Washington Mystics: 12-6 (3-0), Previous: 2nd
- Connecticut Sun: 13-6 (2-0), Previous: 3rd
- Seattle Storm: 12-9 (2-1), Previous: 6th
- Los Angeles Sparks: 11-8 (2-1), Previous: 4th
- Chicago Sky: 11-8 (3-0), Previous: 8th
- Phoenix Mercury: 10-8 (3-0), Previous: 7th
- Minnesota Lynx: 10-10 (0-3), Previous: 5th
- New York Liberty: 8-11 (1-1), Previous: 9th
- Indiana Fever: 6-15 (0-3), Previous: 10th
- Dallas Wings: 5-14 (0-3), Previous: 11th
- Atlanta Dream: 5-15 (0-3), Previous: 12th
The league is back to bunching up again in our power rankings. Last week, the voting stratified the teams into nice and neat tiers as some meaningful differences emerged. Alas, those tiers did not last long. So this week, I’m going to break down the teams into playoff positions if the season ended today based on these rankings. The second half of the year kicks off tonight, so it’s a good time to start visualizing how the playoff race might shake out.
Double-Bye: Vegas and Washington D.C.
The City of Las Vegas put on a show that only Vegas could for the WNBA All-Star Weekend. But the Aces have resembled casino security more than Cirque Du Soleil lately. While their offensive rating slipped by almost 5 points to 92.9 points per 100 possessions in this Power Ranking Period (PRP), the Aces’ defense stifled their opponents. Vegas’s defensive rating in July (87.2) ranks best in the league and their opponents shot a league-low 38.1% from the field this month. A’ja Wilson will rest her ankle sprain for the next three or four weeks before returning for the stretch run. If the defense can maintain its current form, the Aces will likely be sitting pretty when the captain returns. The question will then become whether Wilson can get to 100% before the playoffs.
All season, the Mystics have excelled offensively while most other teams have floundered. Their offensive rating is 107.8 overall, which is nine points better than the second-best team. In this PRP, DC exploded for an offensive rating of 111.3. Kristi Tolliver torched the Lynx for 32 points just before the break. Between her and EDD, the Mystics always have a star ready to bust out for a huge game. Oh, and they also have one of the league’s best benches.
Point is these two teams definitely deserve the double bye. They’ve been better than anyone else in the league over the last month or so and have the makeup of championship squads.
Single-Bye: Connecticut and Seattle
The Sun must be cringing at the idea of this seeding. In the last two seasons, Connecticut snagged the fourth seed and a bye to the second round. All well and good, except the second round is single-elimination and they faced Diana Taurasi’s Phoenix Mercury both years. Two soul crushing defeats later and the Sun are desperately trying to get the double bye (in the actual standings, the Sun are actually in second place by a half game over DC). In July, they got back to their early season form by leading the league in net rating (12.6) and in rebounding rate (53.1%). Their 98-69 win against Atlanta where they shot close to 50% was the crowning achievement in this PRP.
Seattle sneaks into a first-round bye on the back of some tremendous defense. They have the W’s second-best defensive rating at 93.6 and held Las Vegas, one of the league’s offenses, to just 66 points. The Storm create havoc on defense. They cause the most turnovers in the league and blitz ball handlers all over the floor. In July, they had 11.2 steals per game. No team in the past decade has averaged 11 steals in a season. It’s really fun to see Jordin Canada, Alysha Clark, and Natasha Howard get after offensive players at all times. If they keep it up, they may just snag the bye that our power rankings vote gave them.
“Wildcard” round: LA vs Minnesota, Chicago vs Phoenix
I really like the matchups in this round. The Sparks are the most likely (in my mind at least) to hop up into a bye. They just have so much talent, especially when Candace Parker returns and if Alana Beard does as well. Chelsea Gray is also the league’s best closer, no modifiers. But, who knows what would happen in another Minnesota playoff matchup?
Honestly, who know what would happen if they didn’t play each other in the playoffs at this point? It’s been four years in a row where the Sparks and Lynx meet in the postseason. Each team has won two of the games and each team won a title. This might be the best rivalry in sports currently and this game would continue its legacy. The scrappy, upstart Lynx without Moore, Whalen, Brunson, or Augustus (although hopefully Seimone returns) facing off against a glitzier version of the Sparks in 2019-20’s basketball capital. Can’t ask for much more from a first-round matchup.
Chicago and Phoenix represent teams in opposite ends of their franchise lives. Chicago is getting back to contention after losing Elena Delle Donne in 2017. Diamond DeShields, Allie Quigley, and Courtney Vandersloot made the All-Star game and are one of the best top 3s in the league. Phoenix has arguably the best top 3 players in the league with Diana Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner, and Brittney Griner. But they are trying to hang on to their success in 2019. Taurasi missed most of the year but hopes to get back to 100% by season’s end. Bonner and Griner have played well, but the team has yet to put it all together. It’d be fun to watch the Sky announce their arrival to the league’s top tier or see the Mercury knock off a challenger like they did in the last two years.
Watching from home: New York, Indiana, Dallas, and Atlanta
These are the same four teams from tier four last week. It’s a tad bit sad for me because I think all these teams have a lot of talent. The Liberty sit just a game and half back of eighth place. They could get into the playoffs if a couple of teams falter and really they’re just now becoming whole after Eurobasket raided the team. Returning Frenchwoman Marine Johannnes put up 17 points on a perfect shooting night (6-6 field, 4-4 three) in a huge win against LA. I think they could stick around in the playoff picture until the end of the year.
Indiana got a moment to shine as Erica Wheeler earned All-Star game MVP honors on Sunday. But they’ve lost six straight games and are 1-9 in their last 10 games, the worst in the league over that time. Dallas still has not won a road game all season in nine tries, tough stuff for my gals. And I need dig into the stats to process how far Atlanta has fallen this year without Angel McCoughtry. However, these teams are just 5 games back of a playoff spots so please talk yourselves into them making the playoffs and enjoy the parity.
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.
The first half of the season is in the books. After just about 20 games, we still don’t know where teams will end up in the standing (see above) but we did see some interesting trends/developments. We learned that the league’s tv ratings are trending upward. Earthquakes proved to be the only thing that can stop basketball (BUT ONLY TEMPORARILY!). We also found out that WNBA stars love Spongebob as much as we do.
In this week’s fly or bye, let’s talk about the trends we saw in the first half. We’re saying that’s fly to a trend we want to see continue and good-bye to one that hopefully disappears in the second half of the year.
Fly: New Stars filling the void
Before the season, the WNBA community faced a crisis. In arguably its most important year, the league would have to go without some of its biggest faces: Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Angel McCoughtry, Seimone Augustus, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Rebekkah Brunson, Lindsey Whalen, Cappie Pondexter, and… okay I’m going to stop now because I’m sad. The league needed new faces to emerge and do it in a hurry. The W’s future rested upon some players stepping up into stardom. And they have.
Through the first 20 or so games of the year, a new crop of superstars have taken their place among the game’s greats. Chelsea Gray cemented herself as the W’s Point Gawd and got a t-shirt to prove it. Jonquel Jones is the arguably leading the MVP race as the unquestioned leader of the Sun. Even rookie Naphessa Collier planted her flag by getting a ton of all-star votes.
All-Star Weekend in Vegas showed off all the new faces of the league. 11 players made the All-Star team for the first or second time in 2019: Jewell Loyd, Kia Nurse, Jonquel Jones, Courtney Vandersloot, Alyssa Thomas, Natasha Howard, A’ja Wilson, Diamond DeShields, Odyssey Sims, Erica Wheeler, and Naphessa Collier.
A’ja Wilson sat out with an ankle injury but essentially hosted the All-Star festivities. The All-Star team captain has become one of the faces of the league in just her second year, both on and off the court. Diamond DeShields announced her arrival to the superstardom. She won the Skills Competition and, then sang her heart out during the halftime show.
— Arielle (Ari) Chambers (@ariivory) July 27, 2019
Erica Wheeler shone the brightest of this group. She participated in the three-point contest, but her All-Star game performance is what we will remember. The Miami native, who earned her way to the league by playing in Puerto Rico, said she wanted to be unforgettable during the All Star game. She did just that with 25 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds, earning MVP honors. Wheeler came out on fire and buried her first six three-point attempts. Then, she hit a deep, stepback three to seal the game for Team Wilson.
While the result of the game didn’t matter, you can see how much the moment mattered to Wheeler in the post-game MVP trophy ceremony.
I’ve been on the Erica Wheeler train for a while as a fellow South Floridian. All year, she’s been trying to tell people that she is a star through her play. On Saturday, Wheeler earned the recognition for her come-up as the brightest star in a weekend full of them.
Bye: Offensive offense statistics
The trend we absolutely need to say bye to is the horrible offense we saw in the first half of the season. Teams are scoring at a record-low rate as Ben Rosof of High Post Hoops outlined a couple of weeks ago. He articulated a lot of the stats that I’m going to list now:
- “Average points per game scored across all 12 teams for the past 4 seasons: 81.9 in 2016, 81.5 in 2017, 82.4 in 2018, and 76.8 in 2019.”
- Only two teams (Vegas and DC) score over 80 points per game, while 8 teams did so in each of the past two years.
- “The league-wide average field goal percentage is 41.9%, which, if it holds for the remainder of the year, would be the lowest since the 2003 season.”
- Only three teams have an offensive rating over 100 points per 100 possessions after 11 teams did it in 2016, 9 in 2017, and 10 in 2018.
YIKES! It’s tough to get buckets this year. Rosof provided some potential explanations: teams are missing production from the list of stars that have missed time; Eurobasket, similarly, took players away from their teams and has led to a lack of chemistry; and that teams are growing increasingly familiar with one another leading to better defensive gameplans.
I’d like to add another theory to the list: teams are shooting less free throws. Team free throw attempts are at their lowest point on a per game basis since 2012. You can chalk that up to the “stars are missing” theory because stars in basketball get more calls than less established players, or you could blame it on the refs, who have been pretty bad this year. Regardless, more foul calls and free throws will help get offenses back on track (even if we complain).
Hopefully, more stars will return, teams will get cohesion down the stretch, and the refs will start calling some fouls. I love defense and there are some great ones (looking at you, Vegas and Seattle). But we need the offenses to pick it up a bit and hit some shots.
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 we head into the second half, let’s take a look back at each team’s best moment of the first half of the season.
- Atlanta Dream: Tiffany Hayes’s drive for the game-tying layup against the Sparks.
- Chicago Sky: Gabby Williams flying in for tip-in off a beautiful inbound play at the end of the half against New York Liberty and the ensuing bench reaction.
- Connecticut Sun: Shekinna Stricklen winning the 3-point contest at All-Star Weekend in Vegas.
- Dallas Wings: Arike Ogunbowale putting up 19 points to help Dallas pull away from Minnesota in the fourth quarter, including this ridiculous end-of-the-shot-clock heave.
- Indiana Fever: Tearia McCowan’s buzzer beater to beat New York on the first day of the season.
- Las Vegas Aces: Dancing to Poison (and other jams) during a delay against the Mystics.
- Los Angeles Sparks: Chelsea Gray’s 29 points and game-sealing shot against the Liberty (or really anything the point GAWD has done all season).
- Minnesota Lynx: Odyssey Sims’s game-winner against the Sky.
- New York Liberty: Amanda Zahui B.’s 37-point performance against the Sparks.
- Phoenix Mercury: Brittney Griner throwing down three dunks in the All-Star Game and basically twerking on Liz Cambage while hanging on the rim.
- Seattle Storm: Snatching 18 steals against the Aces and holding them to 66 points.
- Washington Mystics: Beating the absolute stuffing out of the Connecticut Sun 104-59.
 I’m very sorry for picking a play that happened during a loss but it was hype when it happened and it feels appropriate tbh.
 This may a bit off the board because the Sun have been great. But success for Connecticut is defined by winning in the playoffs more than other teams, so regular seasons moments matter less. Plus, Shekinna is a great player and deserved the moment.
 Again, a lot of great basketball things happening for the Aces. But this moment stood out because it showed the Aces’ personality. A’ja and Liz have owned this season. Stuff like dancing before a game is why (in addition to being two of the best basketball players on the planet.)