It’s hard to believe we are somehow nearly one-third of the way through the 2021 WNBA regular season, but that’s the reality nearing the middle of June as teams continue their 32-game seasons.
So far in the new year, there have been plenty of surprises and storylines that have popped up, including some unexpected teams starting the year off hot, some title favorites kicking off the year slow, injuries to many big-name players, and much more.
Although it’s been interesting to reflect on the season and what has transpired to this point, there is plenty of season remaining for all 12 teams in the league. As June rolls along and the first half of the regular season comes to a close in mid-July, there is also plenty to look forward to and watch for the rest of the summer.
Let’s look at a few things to keep an eye out for in the first half of the regular season schedule before the month-long Olympic Break set to begin in the middle of July.
Can Early Surprises Continue, Will Struggling Teams Improve?
As mentioned above, there have been some surprises among teams early on in the first third of the regular season, both good and bad.
When it comes to surprises, teams like the Connecticut Sun, New York Liberty, Atlanta Dream, and others have risen up the WNBA standings behind red-hot starts to their campaigns. The Liberty and Dream have cooled down a bit, but the Sun remains near the top of the league standings in the first week of June and could float around the top for the rest of the year.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Minnesota Lynx surprisingly started off winless in the first four games, although they have since gone on a bit of a winning streak to battle back to the .500 mark. The Chicago Sky have also struggled, and the injury to Candace Parker has certainly contributed to that, dropping to the bottom of the standings about 10 games into the year.
For the remainder of the first half of the schedule, it will be interesting to watch those teams in particular and how they perform before the mid-season break arrives. Will the early surprises continue to cool off and drop back down to expectations going into the year? Will the struggling teams heat up and get back into the top half of the standings? We are about to find out in the coming weeks.
Home Stretch of Commissioner’s Cup
In the coming month or so, to put a bow on the first half of the regular season, the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup will come to its completion in mid-July.
The Commissioner’s Cup, which is an in-season tournament between all 12 teams, began at the start of the season and contains a total of 60 regular-season contests, with the last Cup games being played July 11 before the Olympic Break begins. The Commissioner’s Cup title game will take place on Aug. 12, with the second half of the regular season beginning Aug. 15.
It will be interesting to see how the final month of this new in-season tournament will unfold and the type of attention it might get from players, coaches, and fans around the league. In the early stages of June, the Seattle Storm and Connecticut hold sizable leads in their respective conferences and could end up squaring off in the Cup Championship Game on Aug. 12 with a nice prize pool at stage for players.
Still on top 🏆
— WNBA (@WNBA) June 7, 2021
Olympic Break and How it Might Impact Teams
In July, the WNBA will go on pause for about four weeks when the Olympic Break takes place from July 15 to Aug. 11. Many players in the league will depart to join their national teams around the globe to battle on the global stage at the Summer Olympics.
The final games in the first-half of the regular season leading up to that near month-long break will take place on July 11, with players not playing a game with their teams for a full month.
Although some players will still be playing and will remain in game shape as they take part in the Olympics with their national team, it will be interesting to see how that break and that competition might impact WNBA teams once play resumes for the second half of the regular season.
On one side of things, the break might provide some teams valuable rest time to get some players suffering from or recovering from injuries to return to get the roster to full strength. On the flip side, it will be worth watching if players might be fatigued upon return from the Olympics and if that could result in even more injuries during the final stretch of the season before the WNBA Playoffs begin in September.
Players are used to the grind of playing around the clock, as most players head overseas in the offseason before returning to the WNBA for its season, but it’s still going to be worth keeping an eye on how teams attack playing time and manage fatigue, if at all, during the home stretch of the schedule.
Will Mid-Season Break Result in Return of Injured Players?
Already in the first few weeks of the regular season, the WNBA had seen a large amount of players miss time due to injuries, with a bulk of those players being some of the biggest names in the league currently missing extended periods of time.
Some of the names having suffered more major injuries include Chicago’s Parker (ankle) and Quigley (hamstring), Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas (Achilles), Los Angeles’ Jasmine Walker (knee), Las Vegas’ Angel McCoughtry (knee), Minnesota’s Powers (hamstring) and Rennia Davis (foot), New York’s Howard (MCL), Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi (sternum) and Bria Hartley (knee), and Washington’s Elena Delle Donne (back) and Alysha Clark (foot), among others.
As the weeks continue to progress in the year, some of those players will start to thankfully return to the court after recovering from their injuries, and the Olympic Break will only help in providing extra time if needed for players in their rehab.
As those key pieces return to their teams, it’s going to be important to follow how quickly they are able to get back to form and help boost their respective teams who might be trying to recover from slow starts or have treaded water during their absence.
Unfortunately, injuries have been a big storyline of the 2021 campaign, but we will begin to see some of those big-name players return to the court soon.
Upcoming Milestone Watch
Over the course of the next month or so, there are numerous career milestones throughout the league to keep an eye on. According to Across the Timeline, here are some notable milestones to watch for:
- Phoenix’s Taurasi (8,994) needs just six points to pass the 9,000 career point mark and further expand her lead for the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer. Taurasi is likely out for a few more weeks, recovering from a sternum injury, but should pass that mark in her first game back.
- Minnesota’s Kayla McBride (2,956) and Seattle’s Jewell Loyd (2,913) are less than 100 points away from surpassing the 3,000 career point milestone.
- Washington’s Delle Donne (3,853) is 147 points shy of the 4,000 career point mark. Delle Donne has yet to appear this season while recovering from back surgery but is hoping to return at some point this summer.
- Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot (1,976) is just 24 assists short of the 2,000 career assist total, which would make her the fourth player in WNBA history to surpass the milestone. Seattle’s Sue Bird (2,944), who is 56 assists shy of 3,000, holds the league record for most career assists.
- Phoenix’s Taurasi (1,968) trails Vandersloot on the all-time assist leaderboard, needing 32 assists to reach 2,000.
- Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles (3,464) is 36 rebounds short of surpassing 3,500 career rebounds. Fowles currently ranks as the all-time leading rebounder in WNBA history.
- Chicago’s Parker (2,910) needs just 90 rebounds to join the 3,000 rebound club. Parker has missed most of the regular season with an ankle injury.
- Washington head coach Mike Thibault (347) needs three victories to reach his legendary coaching career’s 350 career win mark. Thibault is already the all-time winningest coach in WNBA history.
- Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve (248) is two wins away from notching career win No. 250. Reeve is fifth in WNBA history in career coaching victories.
- Connecticut’s Curt Miller (97) needs just three wins to join the 100 career victory club. Miller would become the 16th head coach in league history to accomplish that feat.
*Numbers updated entering June 8