We’re already one month into the WNBA season, and it’s been a fun ride so far. The Las Vegas Aces have the league’s best record at 11-2, and first-year head coach Becky Hammon earned Coach of the Month for May. Fittingly, A’ja Wilson was awarded Western Conference Player of Month (17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game), and Alyssa Thomas scooped up the Eastern Conference Player of the Month (15.8 points and eight rebounds per game) for the Connecticut Sun. And it came as no surprise that Rhyne Howard (16.9 points per game) won Rookie of the Month for her accomplishments in her first season with the Atlanta Dream.
June is shaping up to be another great month of basketball with the Aces, Sun, Chicago Sky, Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics holding court at the top of the standings. Though the New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury have gained some momentum, the Indiana Fever and Minnesota Lynx have struggled.
So, let’s get into it. You know the drill for my 12 questions column: I address questions about the WNBA, teams and individual players, while providing the best possible answers based on stats, game results, individual and team play, and gut feelings. Agree. Disagree. Discuss. That’s what makes talking about the WNBA so much fun. And if you have questions you’d like me to address in the next column, drop them in the comments.
1. Which is the best team in the league out of the top three in the standings: Chicago, Connecticut or Las Vegas?
Las Vegas. They’re playing an uptempo, run-and-gun style that’s not only been fun and successful for the players, but fun for fans. The Aces have the league’s best offense, averaging 90.8 points per game and a 107.1 offensive rating. All five starters are putting up double-digit points, and Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Wilson are enjoying MVP-caliber seasons. Though there have been legitimate concerns raised about the lack of bench minutes and production, it has yet to make a major impact. It’s something to keep an eye on later in the season as fatigue comes into play. But Las Vegas is rolling right now, and the starting five are thriving under Hammon.
2. Which is the worst team in the league out of the bottom three in the standings: Indiana, Minnesota or New York?
Minnesota. With Sunday’s loss against the Fever, the Lynx have won just two out of their last nine games. And it doesn’t help that Sylvia Fowles, averaging 16.5 points and 10.3 rebounds in her final season, is out indefinitely with a cartilage injury in her right knee. The Lynx’s roster has had a revolving door with injuries and hardship contracts, and the team hasn’t yet had a chance to settle in and mesh. The Lynx are ranked second last in the league in effective field-goal percentage and last in 3-point percentage. Though we’ve seen flashes of guard Aerial Powers taking over and Jessica Sheppard’s potential emerging as a frontcourt threat, the progress hasn’t been consistent. And as good as she can be, Kayla McBride can’t carry Minnesota on her own.
3. New York and Phoenix have been playing better. What’s changed for both teams?
New York leads the league in 3-point attempts and scores the highest percentage of its points from 3 (34.4) while ranking just 10th in 3-point percentage (32.3). But the Liberty have connected on 43.5 percent beyond the arc in their last three games. Sabrina Ionescu has also been playing like a franchise player, averaging 24 points, 6.5 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game. She earned her first triple-double of the season (27 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists) in Sunday’s 88-86 loss to Chicago to become the youngest player in WNBA history to record multiple triple-doubles. Adding Crystal Dangerfield was a positive move overall for both the Liberty and Ionescu, who can switch it up and play more off the ball, where she’s able to get up shots. New York’s defense also has been better.
Phoenix has plenty of talent on its roster, but it has taken some time for the chemistry to come together. The mental, emotional and physical toll of Brittney Griner’s absence definitely has played a part. And it’s clear her teammates miss Griner’s physical presence on the court as well when it comes to rebounding and rim protection. But with four starters averaging double-digits, the Mercury have been playing a step below their capabilities. They lost back-to-back close games against Chicago (73-70) and Connecticut (92-88) before going on a three-game winning streak. Phoenix is in the middle of the pack when it comes to effective field-goal percentage, and it boasts a balanced scoring attack. But if the Mercury really want to turn a corner, they have to improve their rebounding and play better defense.
4. How good are the Dream?
The Dream own the best defensive rating in the league, rank second in defensive rebounding and are near the top when it comes to steals per game and steal rate. But Atlanta’s lack of offensive production has kept it from pulling out wins against some of the better WNBA teams. The Dream are last in assists and assisted shot rate, and they have a poor assist-to-turnover ratio. They lead the WNBA in turnovers with 17.7 per game. Though Howard has been playing extremely well as a rookie and carries the Dream offensively, these issues need to be addressed if Atlanta wants to compete in the playoffs.
5. Which player has impressed the most so far this season?
Jackie Young. Since entering the WNBA in 2019 as the No. 1 draft pick by the Aces, Young consistently has worked on her game and improved in almost every statistical category across the board. She went from averaging 22 minutes and six points per game in her first season to 33 minutes and 19.2 points (tied for third highest in the league) this season. She’s shooting 54 percent from the field and 45.7 percent from 3. Her midrange game is potent, and she has expanded her range beyond the arc. Add in her ability to get to the rim, and Young is not only a leading candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year, she also has a legitimate case for MVP.
6. Were you surprised by the firings of Derek Fisher and Marianne Stanley?
No. General manager Lin Dunn wanted to give Stanley a shot at coaching a fresh slate of rookies (nine games total) and see what she could do for Indiana this season. Though I agree Stanley deserved a chance, it’s hard — even with the talent of NaLyssa Smith, Emily Engstler, Destanni Henderson, Queen Egbo and Lexie Hull — to expect Stanley to accomplish something substantial with rookie starters and young vets early in the season. If I were Dunn, I would have let Stanley go before the season instead. She had a dismal 12-42 record in two full seasons (2020 and 2021) with the Fever.
As for Fisher, the writing has been on the wall. The Sparks made a splash in free agency by bringing in Liz Cambage, Katie Lou Samuelson and Chennedy Carter, and they were expected to compete for a WNBA title. But they started 5-7 this season before firing Fisher. Their poor defense and rebounding shows a lack of hustle and energy, and that starts with the coach. I think Fisher could have also been let go before the start of the season. Fisher had a 54-46 record with the Sparks, losing in the conference finals in 2019 and the second-round single-elimination game in 2020. Los Angeles failed to make the playoffs last season.
7. What’s been the best and most interesting matchup you’ve seen so far?
Any game including the Mystics, Aces, Sun or Sky against each other should not be missed. Watching these top-tier teams go at it is always entertaining, and most (if not all) of the games have been close. But I am completely into the Storm-Wings rivalry that has materialized this season. When Seattle first played Dallas in May, the Wings won 68-51. But now that the Storm are fully healthy, the last two games have been decided by five points and one point, respectively. It’s become a back-and-forth battle that comes down to the last shot. Can’t wait to see them play again in July.
8. Which teams are in your top five?
Best offensive attack in the league and fun to watch.
Have won five out of their last six games, including a big win over the Sun.
Big Three? How about Big Four — Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas, Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner.
A solid team, even without Elena Delle Donne consistently on the court.
Still on a championship mission and playing better.
9. What games are you looking forward to the most this week?
I’m looking forward to Sunday — and not because of any particular matchup. Two weeks ago, every team in the league played, and yet none of the games aired on national television. This Sunday, three games will be televised on ESPN, CBS and CBS Sports Network, and two others will be shown on Facebook Live and Amazon Prime.
Seattle Storm at New York Liberty
Noon (ET) Sunday, ESPN
Connecticut Sun at Washington Mystics
2 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Chicago Sky at Indiana Fever
3 p.m. Sunday, Facebook Live
Los Angeles Sparks at Dallas Wings
4 p.m. Sunday, Amazon Prime
Minnesota Lynx at Las Vegas Aces
6 p.m. Sunday, CBS Sports Network
10. Who’s on your all-rookie team?
Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith, Shakira Austin, Queen Egbo and Rebekah Gardner. Though Gardner has experience playing overseas and is a veteran by every sense of the word in her talent and play, she had not played a WNBA game before this season and deserves all-rookie recognition.
11. What wins in the playoffs — the Aces starting lineup or the Sky’s depth?
So far, the Aces’ starting lineup hasn’t shown any major fatigue despite the minutes they are playing per game. And the Aces beat the Sky earlier in the season. But the playoffs are a different story. With a compact schedule, fatigue will be a factor later. The Aces’ starting five is incredibly conditioned and capable of carrying the team. But increased bench production wouldn’t be a bad thing. The Sky have great depth and multiple players who can come off the bench for a positive impact. We’ll have a better understanding of this closer to the end of the season. But as long as the Aces keep rolling over teams, it’s hard to question Hammon’s approach.
12. Should Minnesota scrap the season and go into full tank mode to get a top three pick?
Minnesota certainly has a case for it. Cheryl Reeve has had her hands full with player injuries, hardship contracts, a revolving roster and being handcuffed by a very tight salary cap before the season began. With Napheesa Collier out on pregnancy leave, and Natalie Achonwa and Sylvia Fowles out indefinitely with injuries, the Lynx are struggling to stay afloat. Fowles is retiring at the end of the season, and Reeve most likely will look to restructure the roster around Collier, McBride and Sheppard. Still, I don’t see Reeve tanking anything.
(Top photo of Jackie Young: Ellen Schmidt / Associated Press)