Winsidr Power Rankings: Volume 6

Welcome back to the latest edition of the Winsidr Power Rankings! After taking a month off for the midseason Olympics break—hard to believe it’s already been a month!—we’re back for the stretch run. As a refresher, we poll our staff to aggregate where we think each team currently stands, and we compare it to how we feel they’ve performed since our last pre-break check-in. At this point, only four teams—the Seattle Storm, Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut Sun, and Minnesota Lynx—have more wins than losses on their ledger. After that, it gets tight, with just 1.5 games separating the fifth-place Chicago Sky from the ninth-place Dallas Wings. This season, we have beat writers repping the W’s dozen franchises, and each of those reporters have given their brief updates on their respective squads below. Make sure you’re following the writer that covers your beat. Better yet, follow us all! With teams coming back healthier and more rested than when we last checked in, let’s see where they all stand at this point in the race.

 

12. Indiana Fever (No. 12 last rankings, 4-16)

Tristan Tucker, @TristanRTucker: The Indiana Fever picked up significant momentum in the last week before the Olympic break, winning three straight games. With wins over the Connecticut Sun, New York Liberty, and Atlanta Dream, the Fever finally began to click. Then, the month-long break happened. For most teams, that would be cause for disruption in play. However, the Fever showed enough to warrant some hope for a continuation of the win streak, which came as a culmination of several weeks of close play. Though it wasn’t indicated by their then-poor 1-16 record, the Fever played several close games leading up to the win streak. They haven’t been as bad as their record, and the streak is proof of that. One key component of the run should continue after the break: the play of Teiara McCowan. During the win streak, McCowan averaged 16.3 points and 11.7 boards per game, and will look to continue and build upon that impressive play.

On the flip side, Indiana suffered several injuries over the break, with Jantel Lavender, Kysre Gondrezick, Bernadette Határ, and Chelsey Perry among those away from the team. In the end, the Fever won’t make the postseason but, pending the duration of these injuries, there is a glimmer of hope for the future.

 

11. Atlanta Dream (No. 10 last rankings, 6-13)

B. Terrell, @itsBTerrell: The Dream resume the season currently in 11th place with a record of 6-13. 

Led by Tiffany Hayes and Courtney Williams, the Dream ranked in the top five in both points and blocks per game, and led the league in steals per game. However, they’re 11th in rebounds, ninth in both overall field goal percentage and from behind the arc, and they’re last in the league in free throw percentage. 

Hayes hasn’t played since June 17th after suffering a right knee injury but is expected to be healthy and ready to go when the season resumes. 

The Dream will be without Cheyenne Parker, as she announced she’s expecting her first child and will miss the final stretch of the season. 

Interim Head Coach Mike Petersen resigned over the break citing health reasons, so Darius Taylor takes over for the remainder of the season to lead this team. 

There’s also a new addition to the roster—welcome to Candice Dupree. The sixth overall pick back in the 2006 WNBA Draft out of Temple University, Dupree reunites with her former college assistant coach in Taylor.

After parting ways with the Seattle Storm, Dupree, who’s a seven-time WNBA All-Star and fourth all-time in scoring, comes to Atlanta with career averages of 14.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, and just under 50 percent from the field. She’s started 96 percent of the WNBA games she’s played in. Winning the 2014 WNBA Finals as a member of the Phoenix Mercury, Dupree provides championship experience and veteran leadership for a Dream team looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2018. 

The Dream take on the Mercury on August 15th at 6 PM eastern.

 

10. Los Angeles Sparks (No. 11 last rankings, 6-13)

John W. Davis, @johnwdavis: The first three games for the Los Angeles Sparks are make-or-break. At 6-13, the Sparks will host the Indiana Fever, then continue their homestand against the Atlanta Dream in back-to-back games. All three of those games are must wins if the Sparks want a legitimate chance at making the playoffs. The good news—2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike is back, and she’s ready to go, along with All-Star Kristi Toliver. With no active players participating in the Tokyo Olympics, the Sparks have had ample time to rest, recover, gel, and improve. However, basketball is about wins and losses—if the Sparks can begin the second half of the season on a three-game winning streak, they will move closer to their goal: playoffs or bust. 

 

9. Dallas Wings (No. 6 last rankings, 9-12)

Jasmine Harper, @harperxxwrites: After falling to ninth overall and losing three consecutive games going into the Olympic break, the Dallas Wings have work to do. A few of their star players went cold, the team’s shot selections were inconsistent, and the chemistry on the floor was off. The rhythm they worked hard to forge midway through the season was unraveling quickly, and Dallas’ frustration began to translate onto the court. 

In lieu of this, two Wings players made it to the WNBA All-Star roster— rightfully so— along with another player becoming an Olympian. Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally were named to the 2021 All-Star roster, where Ogunbowale clinched the MVP trophy. She recorded 26 points, the fourth-highest individual score in All-Star history, and made another record by live tweeting throughout the game. Meanwhile, Allisha Gray claimed a gold medal in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics after a stellar performance in the 3×3 Basketball tournament. Gray—a key hustle player for Team USA—was praised for her physicality and overall grit. 

As the season resumes, the Wings will have a few things to focus on: improved shot selections, limiting in-game frustrations, and closing out. They have their eyes set on a postseason run, which is more than achievable if they can score more efficiently and remain in control. Dallas’ first game back is Sunday versus the No. 3 Connecticut Sun, who will pose a challenge for them. However, if the Wings can stick to their playing style and take control of the game, as we know they can, Dallas is sure to come out on top and secure a playoff spot.

 

8. Phoenix Mercury (No. 8 last rankings, 9-10)

Adam Miller, @ajmil0: The Mercury spent the first half of the season hovering around the .500 mark as they played without their starting point guard Diana Taurasi. Despite a 9-10 record, the Mercury had encouraging performances against both the Aces and the Storm going into the Olympic break. If Taurasi can stay healthy, and Bria Hartley returns from her ACL injury, Phoenix will be in a good position to make a second-half run.

The Mercury begin their stretch against teams with sub-.500 records and will only play their final three games against teams over .500, giving them one of the WNBA’s easier second-half schedules. In order to make the most of what’s ahead, Phoenix would like to see Brittney Griner continue the dominance she displayed during the first half of the season, in addition to the Olympics. It will also need continued contributions from Kia Nurse, who had 28 points in the last game of the first half against the Storm.

 

T-6. New York Liberty (No. 7 last rankings, 10-11)

 Geoff Magliocchetti, @GeoffJMags: The basketball goddesses continued to toy with New York in the first half of the year through travel woes, NBA playoff conflicts, and injuries. Yet, the Liberty were able to emerge with a respectable mark, and fans’ patience is finally starting to be rewarded. Betnijah Laney has been everything advertised and then some, while Michaela Onyenwere seems destined for Rookie of the Year honors. 

An early benefit of the “hybrid rebuild” instituted by Jonathan Kolb, Walt Hopkins, and Keia Clarke is that this season is one where the Liberty have relatively little to lose. Modest but impactful goals can help label this year a unanimous success. Asking them to enter the Seattle/Las Vegas/Connecticut penthouse (with Minnesota knocking) is a bit much, but attainable rewards are within reach. One big stepping stone for this team, for example, could be hosting its first playoff game since 2017. Topping a tier-one team or two over these final 11 games would also serve as an appropriate “ahem” moment to the rest of the league…and frankly it might be necessary to keep the playoff dream alive. Six of their coming contests come against the Storm, Sun, or Lynx, including a pair of consecutive home games against the defending champions next week. Getting Natasha Howard back from injury will be huge for the team moving forward. New York was 2-0 with Howard on the court in the early stages of the year. While Reshanda Gray and Kylee Shook have respectably filled in, there’s no denying the impact Howard can have on the floor.

 

T-6. Washington Mystics (No. 9 last rankings, 8-10)

 Jon Bird, @jonbird333: Coming off of a momentum building OT win over Chicago, and a successful Olympics run by Tina Charles and Ariel Atkins, the Mystics are poised for a successful second half of the season. After battling through injuries for the past few weeks, post players Myisha Hines-Allen, Elena Delle Donne, and Erica McCall are all practicing with the team again, with varying timelines for rejoining the team fully. And with a core group of players like Natasha Cloud, Sydney Wiese, Shavonte Zellous, and Theresa Plaisance practicing together during the Olympic break, the Mystics have taken the necessary steps to have a successful back half of the season. It’s exciting to imagine former MVP Delle Donne and 2020 All-WNBA player Hines-Allen rejoining a team that has desperately needed post depth.

 

5. Chicago Sky (No. 4 last rankings, 10-10) 

James Kay, @James_M_Kay: Currently occupying the fifth seed in the standings, the Sky have one of the hardest schedules in the league over the second half of the season. Six of their 12 games are against the top-ranked Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm. The Sky are also set to face the Lynx (with a healthy Natalie Achonwa back in the mix) and the Wings, who sneakily had the best offensive rating in the WNBA over the last nine games before the Olympic break.

Chicago will be a tough out when the playoffs come around (they have the second-most road wins in the W this season), but they have their eyes set on something bigger: the WNBA Finals. Even after a seven-game skid at the start of the season, the Sky have the third-best net rating in the WNBA since Candace Parker returned from her ankle injury. They have also scored the second-most points per game (87.3) in the league in that same span. 

The team has yet to fully unleash Azurá Stevens, who is still working her way back from her lower body injury last season, and James Wade has one of the deepest rosters in the W to tinker with. Chicago’s ceiling is, for lack of a better word, sky-high, but the margin for error is thin as they embark on a brutal stretch in the second half.  

 

4. Minnesota Lynx (No. 5 last rankings, 12-7)

Dani Bar-Lavi, @dblfluidity: The first half of the Minnesota Lynx’s season was a bit of a roller coaster for Lynx fans and players alike. The Lynx began the season underperforming, carrying a losing record through the first 13 games. Back then in May and June, the Lynx looked discombobulated—struggling to gel as a team, they lacked consistency on both ends of the floor. Looking at Minnesota now, however, it could not be more night and day. 

The Lynx enter the second half of the season the hottest team in the WNBA, having won their last seven games, the longest active winning streak in the WNBA. Even more impressive, the Lynx had to beat the current top-ranked team in the league, the Las Vegas Aces, not once but twice during that streak. In just a few weeks, Minnesota went from an underperforming squad to a legitimate (if fringe) title contender. 

As the Lynx look to build on the pre-Olympic break run, they’ll be aided by the returns of Natalie Achonwa, who played full minutes as a starter for Team Canada in Tokyo after suffering a knee injury in June, and Aerial Powers, who should return some time in the coming weeks having had surgery on her thumb. Furthermore, the Lynx will, for the first time all season, have a rested Kayla McBride, who returns having taken a much needed break after playing 11 straight months of basketball. Add Sylvia Fowles, Napheesa Collier, and head coach Cheryl Reeve fresh off a gold medal, and I like the Lynx’s chances to finish strong.

It won’t be an easy path forward, though. In their first six games coming off the break, the Lynx will face the Seattle Storm, the Chicago Sky, and both the Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty twice—with the Liberty likely to have Natasha Howard back. It’s a tough schedule, but if there’s any team tough enough to face it, it’s the Minnesota Lynx. You betcha. 

 

See Also

3. Connecticut Sun (No. 3 last rankings, 14-6)

Myles Ehrlich, @mylesehrlich: To close out their first half, following a shocking loss to the Fever, the Sun rebounded with a pair of convincing wins—by a dozen over the Dream and by 17 over the Liberty. Connecticut did not look sharp in their 79-57 loss to Seattle in the Commissioner’s Cup Final last night, but lucky for them, the exhibition didn’t impact the standings (and they still left with heavier pockets than they arrived with).

Unlike Seattle (and most teams in the W), none of Connecticut’s players went to Tokyo, so for the first time, the entire roster was gathered together with extended practice time. “Huge compliment to our players on truly how hard they’ve worked,” Head Coach Curt Miller said. “Like a second training camp, or in our case, the first time. It’s been a pleasure to be able to get on the court and practice with these guys.”

Just because they’re not in that jumbled group fighting for a playoff spot doesn’t mean the stretch run will be stress-free for the Sun. A top-two seed is a strong leg up in the postseason, because it guarantees a double bye. If they’ve got Jonquel Jones in the lineup every night, the Sun should be well-positioned to make that push. With JJ, they’re 12-3; in the five games she missed for EuroBasket, they were 2-3. If Jones can maintain her 21 and 11, along with her absurd 54/43/82 splits, MVP hardware should not be out of the question.

 

2. Las Vegas Aces (No. 1 last rankings, 15-6)

 Owen Pence, @OwenPence: Las Vegas returns from the Olympic break in a fairly enviable position entering the homestretch of the regular season. Sure, the Aces trail Seattle by one game in the standings, but head coach Bill Laimbeer’s bunch hold the tiebreaker over the Storm while sporting the best Net Rating in the WNBA. Vegas sputtered a bit prior to the break, losing an overtime shootout to Phoenix and then scoring a measly 67 points against Minnesota two nights later. The Aces halted their skid with a win over Dallas to enter vacation on a positive note, but scoring the basketball against top-tier defenses remains a concern. 

Fatigue is a factor to monitor as play resumes. A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Ji-su Park, Jackie Young, and Kelsey Plum all participated in the Tokyo games and haven’t had the time off that other players enjoyed over the last month. Laimbeer is generally smart about monitoring minutes, and he’ll have to be especially cognizant of such decisions over Vegas’s final 12 games of the season. 

Three of those 12 games are against Chicago. The Aces and Sky have produced a handful of classic contests over the last few years, forming a sort of friendly cross-conference rivalry that makes for riveting television. If Las Vegas is able to handle the challenges Chicago presents, it will go a long way in securing home court advantage throughout the playoffs. 

 

1. Seattle Storm (No. 2 last rankings, 16-5)

Katie Babino, @katiebabs23: The first half of the season went well for Seattle, as they wrapped up a 16-5 record. Many fans (including myself) thought there may be some hiccups and a lack of rest coming back from the break; Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, Stephanie Talbot, and Ezi Magbegor all competed in the Tokyo Olympics. Another Storm starter, Katie Lou Samuelson, had to give up her spot on the Olympic 3×3 team, as she battled COVID-19. 

However, the Storm didn’t look like they were struggling with any jet lag as they took on the Connecticut Sun for the Commissioner’s Cup. The Storm played extremely well, rolling to a 20-point victory. 

The outlook isn’t all rosy for the Storm, though. During the break, many key players around the league had time to recover from injuries and rejuvenate their bodies. The Storm will have a tough road ahead of them if they want to complete a three-peat for the championship… but if Seattle’s Big Three can keep playing at this level, the Storm will continue towards the title game. 

 

—-

 

Largest Climb: Washington Mystics: +3 spots

Largest Fall: Dallas Wings: -3 spots

(First Ever) Tie (!): New York Liberty and Washington Mystics (T-6)

Hyped about where your team ranked? Disagree with the sum of our opinions? Sound off on Twitter and let us know! 

 

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