Winsidr Power Rankings: Volume 4

Welcome back to another edition of the Winsidr Power Rankings. The Las Vegas Aces continue their dominant run through the regular season, dropping just two of their first 14 contests. With just five teams over .500 at this juncture, the last three playoff spots are in play for more than half the league. As of yesterday, both the Aces and Chicago Sky clinched spots in the 2022 Commissioner’s Cup, the last two teams standing for the exhibition worth approximately $500,000 in prize money ($30k+ to each player on the winning team, $10k to each player on the runner-up, and an additional $5k to the MVP). Today is the last off day between now and the All-Star Game on July 10, so it’s a perfect opportunity to take a pause and see where we’re at.

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

 

12. Minnesota Lynx (3-13, No. 9 last rankings)

Mitchell Hansen, @M_Hansen13: After rattling off a few wins, it appeared the Lynx were beginning to turn the tide of what was a disappointing start to the regular season. However, things have once again taken a turn for the worst, as Minnesota now finds itself firmly in the bottom spot of the WNBA standings. Following a 96-95 loss to Las Vegas on Sunday, the Lynx have lost a league-worst five straight games—the last three of which have been by fewer than five points—and are 2-8 over the last 10 games.

Although Minnesota has had the good news of Damiris Dantas and Moriah Jefferson returning from injuries and Nikolina Milić has stepped up in the starting lineup, the Lynx took another hit recently with Sylvia Fowles out for an unknown period of time with a knee injury. Minnesota can’t catch a break with injuries and they’ve yet to field a complete team, which is a large reason behind the surprisingly bad start to the year. Now, the Lynx need their star center to return as soon as possible if they’re to have any chance at climbing back up the league standings. 

 

T-10. Indiana Fever (5-13, No. 12 last rankings)

Tristan Tucker, @TristanRTucker: Coming off an exhilarating comeback win against the Chicago Sky, the Fever are settling into what their identity will look like for the rest of the season, giving bigger bench roles to their other rookies. To be specific, Lexie Hull is starting to get some run, putting up a career-high 10 points in that win over the Sky while playing 24 minutes off the bench.

Indiana is also bolstered by NaLyssa Smith, whose game evolves with each contest. Smith is averaging over 18 points per game (PPG) in five of the Fever’s last six, though her dominant 20-plus-point outings sandwich a four-point stinker against the Phoenix Mercury. Still, Smith is an outright menace on the court and is becoming the superstar the Fever imagined when selecting her second overall. Smith’s evolution isn’t just coming from scoring the ball, as she’s hit the double-digit rebounding mark in all three of the Fever’s games this past week.

Beyond that, this is just a fun team. Rookie Destanni Henderson is close to leading the league in three-point percentage among qualified players, Queen Egbo continues to be a pleasant surprise in the middle, and the team’s role players are buying in more and more. And of course, this wouldn’t be possible without the All-Star caliber play from Kelsey Mitchell, who tied her career-high in assists with nine against the Sky and is capable of running a two-woman show with Smith.

There are still areas the Fever need to improve in, but it isn’t like those issues are unexpected. Closing out games and taking advantage of battered opponents is still a huge area of concern, but those bumps in the road happen for a young team. The best habits the Fever exhibit are the high tempo in which they play and their tendency for offensive boards. This team is young and exciting, the best-possible scenario for a rebuilding franchise.

 

T-10. Los Angeles Sparks (5-9, No. 8 last rankings)

Adam Miller, @ajmil0: After a disappointing start to the season, the Sparks fired coach and general manager Derek Fisher on June 7. But since Fred Williams has taken over at the helm, not much has changed for Los Angeles. Following recent defeats to the Las Vegas Aces and Dallas Wings, the Sparks are looking for more consistent offense outside of Nneka Ogwumike and Katie Lou Samuelson.

The Sparks’ rotation has primarily stayed consistent, with the exception of Kristi Toliver taking the starting guard spot from Lexie Brown. However, the biggest difference in the post-Fisher era thus far has been a noticeable shift away from relying on Liz Cambage for buckets inside. In the past two games, Cambage has a combined 15 points on 14 attempts.

Assuming this trend continues, Los Angeles will need more of its three-point shots to fall in. In the past two games, the Sparks have shot 12-for-42 from beyond the arc. That isn’t going to cut it as much of the league has improved its shooting and several rival teams fighting for a playoff spot have finally started to hit their stride. Los Angeles has more than enough talent to compete with the top shooting teams in the league. It’s just a matter of if the offense can regroup within its next 10-game stretch.

 

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

Kevin Forch, @kevinforch: Phoenix went 2-2 on their road trip that saw them play four games in six days. That kind of scheduling is a rough ask for a team that plays four players over 30 minutes per game, and as Skylar Diggins-Smith pointed out on Twitter, the WNBA traveling conditions don’t make things any easier on the players. 

Still, despite the travel, this team appears to have unlocked something offensively. They have scored over 80 points in six of their last seven games. In that time frame, they are third in the league in PPG at 86.3.

That offensive growth has been buoyed by Tina Charles, who finally looks comfortable in a Mercury uniform. In June she’s averaging 21.4 PPG and is developing a nice pick-and-roll chemistry with Phoenix’s guards, especially Diggins-Smith. 

The team remains hampered on the defensive side of the floor, where they are a bottom-half team in nearly all stat categories (including defensive rating, rebounding, and steals). Part of the issue comes from playing starters (especially the veterans) so many minutes, but too often the team appears to be lacking the requisite effort. Unless that changes, it’s that issue—more than scheduling—that will keep Phoenix on the playoff bubble.

 

8. Atlanta Dream (7-8, No. 5 last rankings)

Jon Bird, @jonbird333: After starting the season strong the Atlanta Dream are in the midst of a four-game losing skid. Following losses to Seattle (72-60), Phoenix (90-88), Connecticut (105-92), and an OT loss to Chicago (106-100), the positive momentum the team exuded at the season’s start is beginning to slip away. Riddled with injuries and absences, the Dream have been down Tiffany Hayes, Erica Wheeler, Kia Vaughn, and Nia Coffey during this stretch and brought on Destiny Slocum with a hardship contract. This cluster of games is a reminder that the Dream are in the midst of a rebuild, with a new coach, GM, and the first overall pick of the 2022 draft. 

While their team’s hot 4-1 record to start the season was (and still is!) exciting, this is still a young team working to find its identity. One of the biggest bright spots of late is the addition of AD, who provides depth at the guard spot. After seeing limited time to start the season with New York, AD has been a solid contributor for the Dream, tallying 21 points in back-to-back games (a 25-minute appearance against the Connecticut Sun and a 31-minute appearance against the Chicago Sky). Next up, the Dream face Dallas (Tuesday June 21st), New York (Friday, June 24th), and Connecticut (Sunday June 26th), with hopes of ending their losing streak.

 

7. New York Liberty (6-10, T-10 last rankings)

Myles Ehrlich, @mylesehrlich: The New York Liberty continue to improve, with each game providing a clearer picture of the team’s identity. And the brand of basketball this team plays? It’s fun. We talked last time about how Crystal Dangerfield’s addition to the starting five has helped to open up Sabrina Ionescu’s game. Now, they’ve leveled up again, with Marine Johannès arriving to bring three facilitating guards into the opening lineup. 

Oh, and Johannès’ throws passes like this:

And this:

And this:

After the early-season seven-game skid had them at 1-7 and scraping the bottom of the standings, New York has won five of eight. After averaging 19.3 turnovers a night in those first eight games (eleventh in the W), the addition of multiple ballhandlers has the Liberty coughing up just 12.9 turnovers per game in the last eight (tied for second over that span). 

For the Liberty to make a jump to being a contender, though, they’ll need to close out competitive games. This recent stretch would be even more impressive had they been able to steal one (or both) of the back-to-back home defeats in winnable games against the Chicago Sky and Seattle Storm.

“We just have to learn how to finish games,” Stef Dolson told Winsidr after Sunday’s tight loss to the Seattle Storm. “I think, with the newness of our team, that’s something that we’re growing at. Seattle has been there before, and they know how to close games out.” If the Liberty start to secure those Ws, look for them to continue to climb in our rankings.

 

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

Jasmine Harper, @harperxxwrites: To follow up on the previous power rankings, the Dallas Wings cohesion and scoring was tested in a five-game stretch at home. During this time, Marina Mabrey missed the first two games due to Health and Safety Protocols, while Satou Sabally injured her knee and was absent for the final three games. The team won two-of-five, claiming two big victories against the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks. With core members missing, the Wings clearly struggled and missed their facilitator (Mabrey) and X-factor (Sabally). However, players like Teaira McCowan rose to the occasion off the bench. McCowan logged two double-digit games with one being a double-double. And to add to that, the majority of Dallas’ bench produced quality minutes on the floor, giving vets support when the offense was stalled. 

The Wings still need to hone in on maintaining their game from tip-off to the final whistle, but for now they seem to be trending in the right direction. Overall, once we receive an update on Sabally’s injury and see how disciplined the team stays in scoring, we’ll have a full picture view of what’s next for Dallas. The remaining schedule doesn’t list any back-to-back games, and if at full strength and consistent, the Wings could find a rhythm in the season’s second half. 

 

5. Seattle Storm (10-6, No. 6 last rankings)

Hunter Hames, @hunter9h: When the Storm packed their bags for their longest road trip of the season, a schedule that would feature five away games in the span of 10 days, they were 6-5 and searching for consistency after an up and down start. Now at 10-6, the Storm proved themselves road warriors and climbed up to fourth in league standings. However, it’s their off-court happenings that garnered the most attention this week.

Sue Bird officially announced that she will end her illustrious career at the conclusion of the 2022 season. The timing of Bird’s announcement came days before she was to play her last game in her home state of New York, and the legendary point guard said that, while not perfect, it was the fairy tale ending she had hoped for. Versus the Liberty, Seattle held the lead the majority of the game before New York crept back in to take the lead in the fourth quarter, providing ample opportunity for one more of Bird’s heroic shots. Bird, after running down the clock to its final seconds, hit what will be her final shot playing in the Big Apple, a three from the top of the key that saw her hold the follow through for some extra time, cementing the 81-72 victory. A fitting ending for the 21-year veteran who had a plethora of family and friends in attendance.

Overall, the Storm have to be happy with how they closed out several close games on this road trip, despite still not being back to full health. The status around Mercedes Russell remains a mystery, as she was flown back to Seattle to undergo further evaluations for lingering migraines. Gabby Williams showed flashes of brilliance in their game against New York, dropping 23 points in a stellar performance that Seattle hopes will become more of the norm. Moving Williams over to point, Seattle played with more movement through the paint and got quality cuts for open looks, especially with Sue as an off ball shooter or secondary passer. With one of the worst field goal percentages from inside the arc this season, Coach Quinn noted that Gabby’s ability to drive and get into the lane can be the difference maker in jump starting the Storm’s offense. Seattle is hoping to continue their winning ways when they return home this week to face the Mystics, the team currently right behind them in league standings.

 

4. Washington Mystics 11-7, (No. 4 last rankings)

Matt Cohen, @mccohen5: The offensive Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde routine continues, as the Washington Mystics can’t find a rhythm on that side of the ball so far this season. The key seems to be that no matter which disjointed offensive schemes they try to run, if the turnovers are 10 or less, they seem to win. 

Since the last power rankings, the Mystics have beaten the Minnesota Lynx, Phoenix Mercury, and the Connecticut Sun, with losses to those same Mercury (which, if not for a late collapse in OT, might have been back-to-back wins) and the New York Liberty. In those wins, they had nine, nine, and 10 turnovers, respectively; they coughed it up 18 and 13 times in the losses. The recipe seems to be to take care of the ball on offense and let the defense feast, because that’s exactly how this team has been winning all season long.

The Mystics’ defense has been the positive story of the season thus far, as they have edged out the Atlanta Dream for the best defensive rating in the league while also giving up the fewest PPG (74.6) to opponents. This has the Mystics out to a respectable, if somewhat misleading, 11-7 record. You never really seem to know what you are going to get from this team offensively game-to-game, but they’re built and rely heavily on the defensive front to hopefully open up offense.

The team has a grueling west coast swing coming up this week before some time off, so now is a great time for them to find their offensive groove knowing the defense will help them win ballgames. 

 

See Also

3. Chicago Sky (10-5, No. 3 last rankings)

Dani Bar-Lavi, @dblfluidity: The Chicago Sky have gone 3-2 since we issued our last Power Rankings on June 6, with two frustrating losses coming against the Indiana Fever and the mostly Delle Donne-less Washington Mystics. The reigning champs have continued their tendency toward close games, with wins against the Sun, Liberty, and Dream all coming down to the wire, all finishing within just 6 points. What accounts for these close games? During this two-week stretch, the Sky’s defense has slipped a bit, ranking eighth overall in defensive rating; allowing 106.1 points per possession. The Sky have also struggled preventing second chance opportunities as of late, ranking ninth in opponent offensive rebounds (9.4) since June 6. All of this is statistically weighted by Candace Parker’s absence in Chicago’s last two games, but even regardless of that, the Sky have struggled to consistently look locked in on D for all of a 4- minute game. As the old adage goes: defense wins championships.

Bright spots for the Sky during recent play include upsetting the Sun on their home court, an offensive outburst from Emma Meesseman (back-to-back 26, 20, and 17 point games), a career-high 28 points for Kahleah Copper (albeit in the loss against Indiana), and having the second best offensive rating (108.5) in the league over this recent span of games.

 

2. Connecticut Sun (12-5, No. 2 last rankings)

Owen Pence, @OwenPence: Connecticut remains second in the league in Net Rating, trailing Las Vegas by one point per 100 possessions and firmly ahead of the remaining 10 teams. The Sun are second in offense and fourth in defense, having exceeded 90 points in half of their June games. Connecticut has maintained its strong play since Jasmine Thomas went down with a torn ACL. 

One area in which the Sun have gained an edge on their opponents is on the offensive glass. When Connecticut rolled to the No. 1 seed in 2021, it led the league in offensive rebounding percentage. The Sun have continued to pace the W in offensive rebounding this season, snaring more second-chance opportunities than anyone else. A major reason for Connecticut’s stellar offensive rebounding is Brionna Jones, who is having another excellent season and is first in individual offensive rebounds. With Jonquel Jones fourth and Alyssa Thomas seventh in the same stat, Connecticut boasts the most fearsome frontcourt in the WNBA, one that will demoralize you by stealing extra possessions. 

 

1. Las Vegas Aces (13-2, No. 1 last rankings)

Amaka Thistle, @amakaothistle: Las Vegas Aces are clear at the top of the WNBA. They’re off to a start that is both the franchise-best start and tied for the second-best in WNBA history, while also securing the Commissioner’s Cup title game with Chicago Sky on July 26.

Even with Jackie Young still trying to find her groove back after injury, A’ja Wilson (28.3 PPG, 8.0 rebounds per game [RPG], .611 field goal percentage) and Kelsey Plum (21.7 PPG, 5.7 assists per game [APG]) have been stellar and lead the team to a 3-0 record since the last rankings. Both should be in consideration until the end of the season for Most Valuable Player—and Wilson should be a strong contender for Defensive Player of the Year. 

The Aces have continued to lean heavily on their starters, and especially on Wilson and Plum. So far, the plan is working. Their current win streak may have come against middling Dallas Wings, faltering Los Angeles Sparks and bottom-of-the standings Minnesota Lynx, but wins are wins and the Aces continue to win.

The questions about how sustainable this plan is over a full season linger and so do the worries that they’ll burnout before the playoffs. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They have the best offense in the league (91.3 PPG, 109.0 Offensive Rating, 57.4 true shooting percentage), led by two top-five scoring leaders (Plum: #2, Wilson: #5) and a dominant starting unit.

Over to you, rest of the WNBA!

 

—-

 

Largest Climb: New York Liberty (+3 spots)

Largest Fall: Atlanta Dream, Minnesota Lynx (-3 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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