Winsidr Power Rankings: Volume 3

You blinked and we’re a month into the WNBA season! Sure, some of that frenetic pacing might be because off-days were sandwiched around all twelve teams playing within four hours of one another, but scheduling aside, it’s been a fun start to the season. Every night shuffles the standings: at this writing, teams three through seven are each separated by just a half-game. The Commissioner’s Cup has not been quite as competitive: the Las Vegas Aces (6-0) and the Chicago Sky (5-0) remain unbeaten as they seek to represent their conferences (and secure some bonus money in the process). 

If this is your first time reading our rankings, welcome; if it’s not, welcome back! As a refresher for how this works—you’re not just reading my takes, but the averages of where the entire Winsidr staff believe the teams shake out. Throughout the season, we will periodically poll our staff to aggregate where we think each team currently stands in comparison to how they’ve performed since our last check-in.

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 the first month in the books, let’s make a subjective check-in on where everyone stands. 

12. Indiana Fever (3-10, No. 10 last rankings)

 Tristan Tucker, @TristanRTucker: A new day begins for the Indiana Fever after parting ways with head coach Marianne Stanley, who has been replaced by interim head coach Carlos Knox. The Fever are only 1-3 under Knox—and Indiana has slipped to last place as a result—but reasons for optimism surrounding this team still persist.

Most notably, the young core and veterans alike are playing well, with Indiana ranking in the top half of several league metrics such as pace and three-point percentage. Further, Bria Hartley made her first appearance of the season on June 1, scoring 10 points in 15 minutes off the bench.

However, the inexperience on the roster leaves room for one troubling trend: closing out games. Under Knox, the Fever have done well to pace or outscore opponents in the first half. Using the last three games—all losses—as an example, Indiana has outscored its opponents by a combined 12 points in first halves. However, in the second half, the Fever have been outscored in total by a whopping 46 points over that stretch. Even in Knox’s first game—a win—the Sparks had a 25-19 advantage in the fourth quarter. If Indiana wants to string together wins and rise up the power rankings, it will need to play second halves like it does the first 20 minutes.

 

T-10. New York Liberty (3-8, No. 12 last rankings)

 Myles Ehrlich, @mylesehrlich: When we last checked in on the Liberty in Power Rankings: Volume 2, they were sitting at 1-4 and occupying the bottom spot on our rankings. While they haven’t fared much better—they went 2-4 over this stretch—they’ve shown glimpses of a team growing through (and in spite of) adversity. 

Yes, yes, every team will tell you they’ve had it worst, but the Liberty have a strong case: Betnijah Laney, their lone 2021 All-Star, is out for eight weeks following knee surgery; DiDi Richards, slated to be their backup point guard, has played just four minutes this season due to a lingering hamstring injury; and Jocelyn Willoughby, who started the first four games this season and impressed with her perimeter defense, is out for approximately another month after partially tearing her hamstring.

Following a seven-game losing streak, New York notched back-to-back wins, which coincided with the addition of Crystal Dangerfield to the starting lineup. While Dangerfield’s shooting has not been pretty since arriving in New York (22.6/5.9/66.7 splits), her ability to initiate the offense has allowed Sabrina Ionescu to play more freely.

 

It’s also telling that these last three games, in which Dangerfield has drawn the start, have produced the three lowest turnover outputs of the season for the Liberty: 12, 12, and 11 (for context, the Aces lead the league committing just 12.1 turnovers per game [TPG]). On the season, New York’s average is down to 17.2 TPG, and they’ve leapfrogged the Dream (18.8 TPG) in the category.

As for Ionescu, she has looked strong at the 2. In the three games playing alongside Dangerfield in the backcourt, Ionescu is averaging 26.0 points per game (PPG) on 50 percent shooting, to go along with 4.7 rebounds per game (RPG) and 4.0 assists per game (APG). On the season, she ranks 10th in scoring, 24th in rebounding, and 9th in assists. If New York’s injuries force them short of win-loss expectations this season, a sustained year-three leap from the 2020 first overall pick would be a terrific consolation prize.

 

T-10. Phoenix Mercury (3-8, No. 6 last rankings)

 Kevin Forch, @kevinforch: Phoenix finally found its way into the win column with a victory over the Sparks on Sunday, breaking a seven-game losing streak; now sitting at 3-8, the Mercury are still searching for an identity as we enter month two of the season.

Player absences continue to be the story for this team, with Tina Charles unavailable with a shoulder injury for the past two games. This after Skylar Diggins-Smith and Shey Peddy missed time in the previous week. 

Diggins-Smith is one of the bright spots this season, putting up an impressive 18.4 PPG, to go along with 4.6 APG and 1.6 steals per game (SPG). She leads the team in those categories and continues to be the driving force on both offense and defense for the squad. 

 

9. Minnesota Lynx (3-8, No. 11 last rankings)

 Mitchell Hansen, @M_Hansen13: After a slow start, Minnesota has been able to rattle off a few wins, though it’s still struggling at the bottom of the standings (and is one of the four teams outside the much-too-early playoff picture). The Lynx ended a two-game losing streak with a much-needed win over the Liberty on Sunday, but they’re set for tough matchups against Washington, Seattle, Las Vegas, and Chicago over the next few weeks.

Injuries to key players has been a big part of Minnesota’s struggles, causing a constantly changing rotation and pushing the Lynx to the bottom in multiple statistical categories—they rank in the bottom five in offensive rating, defensive rating, three-point percentage, free-throw percentage, turnovers, opponents points off turnovers, and opponents second-chance points, to name a few. The Lynx have work to do, but they can (hopefully) only go up from here.

 

8. Los Angeles Sparks (5-7, No. 9 last rankings)

 Adam Miller, @ajmil0: Nearly a third of the way into the season, the Los Angeles Sparks find themselves in a familiar spot to last year: flirting with a playoff spot. But with back-to-back wins against the Lynx and Wings, LA looks to be moving in the right direction. The latest positive sign for the Sparks is the development of Chennedy Carter. In the last four games, she’s made a significant difference, showing signs of the promise head coach and GM Derek Fisher hoped for in acquiring her. The most recent example of Carter’s promise came in LA’s May 29 win over Minnesota, when she started in place of the injured Jordin Canada and finished with 20 points, six rebounds, and four assists.

 

As a point guard, Carter brings an explosive, slashing scoring option for the Sparks and will need to continue doing so down the stretch in order to help LA compete. Despite a tough rematch against the Aces on the docket for next week, the Sparks play just three games between June 6 and June 21. That should provide ample time for LA to bring Kristi Toliver back into the fold while continuing to build chemistry in practice.

 

7. Dallas Wings (6-5, No. 8 last rankings)

 Jasmine Harper, @harperxxwrites: The Wings have been a wild card early this season, giving top teams a run for their money but tripping up against leveled competition. Dallas sits just above the .500 mark at 6-5, flourishing in away games but having trouble at home. Marina Mabrey and Allisha Gray have kept the Take Flight crew above the clouds by logging career numbers and doing the little things on-court. Opponents are targeting Arike Ogunbowale early to stunt her rhythm, but she still finds ways to keep her team afloat. After joining her new W team after time spent overseas, Teaira McCowan has needed a little more floor time and practice to make an impact during games. 

On the other hand, Satou Sabally found her flow, weathering the Seattle Storm and logging her first double-double of the season. After an up-and-down five-game road trip (2-3), the Wings return home and have to protect their turf over a stretch of games that’s sure to test the team’s cohesion and scoring abilities.

 

6. Seattle Storm (5-5, No. 7 last rankings)

 Hunter Hames, @hunter9h: On paper, Seattle feels like a title contender, especially with Stewie leading the league in scoring (20.4 PPG). However, the Storm are sporting a 5-5 record following rough back-to-back home losses. After suffering a 17-point loss to Dallas, the Storm let a 13-point lead slip to Connecticut and were outscored 32-19 in the fourth quarter. Seattle is third in defensive rating, but so far, it hasn’t been enough to offset their inconsistency on offense. 

Coach Quinn noted that it has been difficult to get cohesive as a unit with so many players missing time due to injuries (or entering health and safety protocols), as almost every player has missed multiple games. With a healthy roster for the first time all season, the Storm are hoping they can begin playing the rotations and roles they had envisioned before this topsy-turvy start.

 

5. Atlanta Dream (7-4, No. 5 last rankings)

 Jon Bird, @jonbird333: The Atlanta Dream have continued their hot start to the 2022 season, going 3-1 over the past week, besting the Mercury, Lynx, and Fever while falling to the defending champions the Chicago Sky. A pleasant surprise for this team has been the contributions from the shooting guard role. In the absence of veteran Tiffany Hayes, who is sitting with a knee injury, the Dream have seen steady performances from rookie Kristy Wallace (17 points against Phoenix; 18 points against Minnesota, including a five-of-six showing from deep) and second-year player Aari McDonald (13 points and seven steals against Minnesota). 

Even without the on-court contributions of a vet like Hayes, the Dream’s youth have proven they are ready to make an impact in the league. The next two weeks will be interesting, as they prepare to face several league leaders (the Storm on June 7, the Connecticut Sun on June 15, and the Sky on June 17), but the young guard trio of Wallace, McDonald, and Rhyne Howard might just have it in them to pull off some upsets.

 

4. Washington Mystics 7-5, (No. 2 last rankings)

 Matt Cohen, @mccohen5: The good news? This team is 7-5, fifth in the standings, and still a defensive force that’s keeping them near the top of the league. The bad? This team is far too inconsistent offensively to be considered a serious title contender right now. The team has talked about needing to simplify and find their game offensively for awhile now, and, to this point, nothing seems to be working. They lack off-ball offensive movement, too often watching the play and leaving the ball handler to work in isolation on their defender, leading to bad shots. This team has also struggled with their fast break defensive coverage, not dropping back all the way and leaving the paint open for quick points.

This team is a playoff team, for sure, but how far they can go will depend on them making changes to get into their offensive flow more easily. Simplifying the game to where they know where to move and using ball reversals for open looks will help them get the looks they need. More off-ball screens to get shooters open will stretch the defense and give downhill players like point guard Natasha Cloud more room to operate, boosting their offensive game. When they’re clicking, they’re one of the best offenses in the league, and while some of this can be chalked up to rotating coaches/players out each night, recent losses to the Sun, Liberty, and Sky have proven their offensive rhythm is the real issue here, and it must be found for them to take their game to that next level.

 

3. Chicago Sky (7-3, No. 4 last rankings)

 Dani Bar-Lavi, @dblfluidity: The Sky have gone 5-2 since our last power rankings, with a busy two-week stretch that saw reigning Finals MVP Kahleah Copper return to the lineup. Now boasting the third-best record in the WNBA, Chicago has begun to see its roster gel, with both the returning Copper and Emma Meesseman, signed in the offseason, integrating themselves into the Sky’s schemes on both ends of the floor.

It’s no surprise that a roster with Meesseman, Courtney Vandersloot, and Candace Parker has looked its best when the team prioritizes moving the ball and creating opportunities. Chicago leads the league in team assists (22.5 per game) and is second in percentage of field goals made on assisted shots (73.3 percent). When the ball passes naturally from hand to hand, moving around until it finds the best shot, the Sky are extremely hard to defend.

 

See Also

Speaking of defense, the Sky have found a new defensive intensity in this season, forced to grind out wins in close games by getting stops and disrupting opposing offenses. Usually thought of as a team with a more offensively focused identity, Chicago is second only to Atlanta in defensive rating (94.8) and opponent field goal percentage (40.7 percent) thus far in this season. Meesseman, who is thought of more for her offense, has been extremely disruptive as a post defender in Chicago, averaging 2.2 SPG, third in the WNBA and first among centers. “We just have our basic rules, and we try to apply them every time. Be aggressive, use your hands…It’s a team effort for sure,” Meesseman told media after her five-steal performance against the Mystics. “We just try to be disruptive.”

 

2. Connecticut Sun (9-3, No. 3 last rankings)

 Colleen Couture, @Colleen18292381: With their most recent win over the Storm, the Sun are on a three-game winning streak, despite losing Jasmine Thomas—one of their key players—for the rest of the season after she tore her ACL. The Sun have faced major adversity in the last few weeks, with two of their coaching staff members out due to health and safety protocols, including head coach Curt Miller. Despite a change in coaching, the team has still been successful. The Sun recently signed former player Stephanie Jones to a hardship contract, bringing their roster back to 11. 

Key to recent success on this road trip: the re-emergence of Jonquel Jones. After back-to-back uncharacteristic single-digit scoring outputs, JJ has regained her MVP form, notching games of 20, 24, and 25 points during a West Coast trip that spanned three cities in four nights. Over that stretch, she’s made 67.6 percent of her shots, earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors.

With the Sun holding their opponents to 78 PPG, they have the second-best record in the league.

 

1.  Las Vegas Aces (10-2, No. 1 last rankings)

 Amaka Thistle, @amakaothistle (this entry penned alongside Myles Ehrlich, @mylesehrlich): The Las Vegas Aces have mostly breezed through the first third of the season without much adversity. They lead the league in pace (100.25 PPG) and three-pointers (9.3 per game, 112 total)—completely embodying the “Pace and Space” system that Becky Hammon wants the team to play.

As noted above, Kelsey Plum was named the Western Conference Player of the Week for this latest stretch of games, extending the Aces’ streak of winners to four (A’ja Wilson has won it twice, Jackie Young once). Plum has been a revelation this season, pacing the W with 40 made three-pointers. She’s on pace to become just the second player in league history to connect on 100 threes in a season.

 

Table courtesy of Across the Timeline

 

Las Vegas’ depth remains a question mark, however, and it’s about to be tested. Most improved contender (and, in my opinion, early MVP candidate) Jackie Young left Thursday’s loss to the Sun with an ankle sprain, then missed Sunday’s contest against the Wings. To this point, the Aces’ starting five has accounted for 950 of the team’s 1,092 points, 87 percent of their scoring output. The five starters average out to a +127 plus-minus, while the six bench players have combined to a -44 mark (or -7.3 apiece). Thus far, Becky Hammon has had the privilege to coach one of the most dynamic starting fives the WNBA has ever seen, and she has justifiably leaned heavily on them. If Young—or anyone else—is to miss extended time, Las Vegas will have to dig deeper into their deck. 

 

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Largest Climb: Minnesota Lynx, New York Liberty (+2 spots)

Largest Fall: Phoenix Mercury (-4 spots)

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

 

Unless otherwise noted, stats appear courtesy of WNBA Stats.

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