It’s hard to believe, but the first half of the 2022 WNBA season is officially in the books. All-Star Weekend in Chicago signified the midway point, as teams now prepare themselves for a strong finish to the regular season and, hopefully, a deep playoff run.
To this point, the opening half of the WNBA season has already been a fun one, filled with drama and historical performances, with even more to come in the second half.
Before teams gear up for the home stretch, let’s look back and note some key takeaways from a thrilling season so far.
Early Frontrunners Starting to Separate Themselves
Some teams have begun separating themselves from the rest of the league, eying a top seed in the postseason. After an up-and-down start to the first few weeks of the year, there are a handful of top-tier teams who have continued to progress and improve atop the league standings.
Leading into the All-Star break, the Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces look to be on a collision course for the WNBA Finals. Chicago has been one of the more complete teams, on a serious mission to defend its 2021 crown. Las Vegas is right behind Chicago, even though the Aces have cooled a bit of late after a red-hot start under first-year head coach Becky Hammon. It will be interesting to see if Las Vegas’ lack of depth and dependance on the starting lineup becomes a greater issue down the stretch.
Behind the Sky and Aces, other teams such as the Connecticut Sun, Seattle Storm, and Washington Mystics could put solid runs together heading into the postseason. Connecticut, coming off of a 2021 campaign where it held the best record in the WNBA, has remained a top team and look primed to improve as the season advances. Seattle is a team to watch, notably how the addition of Tina Charles helps the Storm, pairing her the rest of the year to go alongside potential MVP Breanna Stewart and legend Sue Bird, who is officially on her farewell tour. Washington has been up-and-down to start the season, and it’s hard to tell exactly how the Mystics will look the rest of the way. If now-healthy Elena Delle Donne is able to carry a heavier workload, and the team finds consistency, the Mystics could make a real push in the playoffs.
Some Early Surprises
The storylines early on have been full of surprises, both good and bad, leading to either an increased sense of optimism for some teams, or disappointment and lingering questions for others.
The Atlanta Dream started off the season red hot. Though they’ve cooled back down, moving back to the middle of the WNBA pack, for a team that has been regularly at the bottom of the league, this kind of start is a great sign for the Dream. They have been one of the most enjoyable teams to watch thus far.
Other teams have had surprise struggles during the first half. The Minnesota Lynx found themselves in a daunting hole, looking up from the bottom of the league; they have, however, started to turn things around of late, hoping to send Sylvia Fowles out on a positive note in her final season. Los Angeles is currently in a playoff spot, but the Sparks have been underwhelming—even making a head coaching change midseason—after coming into the year with high hopes, especially with the offseason addition of Liz Cambage. Phoenix, while missing its star center Brittney Griner, has dropped into the bottom four of the WNBA a season after reaching the Finals. Drama has also followed the Mercury under first-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard, putting another twist into what has been an interesting and disappointing season in Phoenix.
Rookies Showing Out in 2022
The last few seasons, we haven’t seen the new rookie class contribute quite like what has taken place already in 2022. We knew Atlanta’s Rhyne Howard, Indiana’s NaLyssa Smith, and Washington’s Shakira Austin would be key contributors right out of the gates, but perhaps not to this extent.
Those three players are not alone on the list of rookies improving their teams in year one, but they are certainly a trio of standouts thus far. Howard, who has claimed the two Rookie of the Month honors to begin the season, has been on a tear, earning an All-Star selection and looking like the clear favorite for Rookie of the Year.
Smith and Austin, however, aren’t far behind Howard and have done some impressive things for their teams as well. Coming out of the All-Star break Smith ranked second among rookies behind only Howard with 13 points led the league with 30.9 minutes per game, also averaging a rookie-leading 8.4 rebounds. Austin has been perhaps the biggest surprise thus far—among rookies, Austin entered the break in the top five in points (8.1), rebounds (6.1), field goal percentage (54.2 percent), and minutes played (21).
“I’m going to bring that young energy, that versatile player, whatever they need coming off the bench, starting, whatever, I’m just ready to work.”
‘I HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED YET’: THE RISE OF WASHINGTON MYSTICS ROOKIE SHAKIRA AUSTIN
— Winsidr (@Winsidr) July 3, 2022
There have been plenty of rookies who have contributed and impressed right away in the WNBA, but this 2022 class is setting a new bar.
WNBA Coaching Situations
Leading up to this season, and through the opening half, the head coaching carousel has been a wild ride.
Las Vegas hired Hammon to lead the Aces; Phoenix chose Nygaard; Atlanta added Tanisha Wright to guide the Dream; and New York named Sandy Brondello as the new voice of the Liberty, replacing Walt Hopkins.
Hammon has the Aces at the top of the league and looking like a strong candidate to claim a title. Wright has helped improve the Dream, who are looking to surprise everyone as they try to finally turn the franchise into a winner. Things haven’t gone as smooth for Nygaard and Brondello in the first half, with the Mercury and Liberty both among the bottom four teams at the break, still searching for answers to bounce back this season.
When it comes to in-season changes, Indiana let go of Marianne Stanley in May after two-plus seasons coaching the Fever, replacing her with interim head coach Carlos Knox. On the West Coast, Los Angeles fired head coach and general manager Derek Fisher in June after three-plus seasons coaching the Sparks, with interim head coach Fred Williams stepping in. Both Knox and Williams have the rest of the season to make cases to become permanent head coaches.
"While there is speculation over who might take over the job next year, Williams will have every chance to earn the position with a successful turnaround."
FIVE OBJECTIVES FRED WILLIAMS MUST SECURE THIS SEASON
— Winsidr (@Winsidr) July 4, 2022
Continued Spotlight on Brittney Griner
Coming into the season, the players and coaches of the WNBA, as well as the sports world at large, offered their support of Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner as she remains wrongfully detained by the Russian government.
So important to remind everyone of the incredible human Brittney Griner is with a heart that is so big. Please watch how one small act of kindness has blossomed in to shoes for nearly 5,000 people who need them. @brittneygriner @wnba @PhoenixMercury pic.twitter.com/0rJdNF554V
— Holly Rowe (@sportsiren) July 2, 2022
As Griner’s trial begins, the hope and demand for her safe return has been a nightly spotlight throughout the league.
"She's our sister … I can't imagine what she's going through … I pray so much for BG and I hope we can bring her home."@_ajawilson22 on Brittney Griner's detainment in Russia. pic.twitter.com/KnUGxo6IMN
— ESPN (@espn) June 28, 2022
What’s to Come
The opening half of the WNBA season has been an interesting and entertaining one. Coming out of the All-Star break, the second half of the season should be even more exciting as teams battle for playoff position. Who will shine? Who will fade? Are there more surprises to come?
Enjoy the rest of the season, basketball fans.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of WNBA Stats.