WNBA power rankings: Las Vegas Aces back to the top

Angel McCoughtry might not be playing in the WNBA right now, but the five-time All-Star is still making contributions in the sport.

This weekend, McCoughtry and Adidas unveiled the Angel McCoughtry Court at Shively Park in Louisville. The court features a color-blocked image of McCoughtry with her arms outstretched. One sideline reads “Reach for the stars.” McCoughtry, who is from Baltimore but resides in Atlanta, said she chose Louisville as the location for this court because she accomplished so many of her dreams in that city.

Now, on to this week’s power rankings.

(Last week’s rank in parentheses.)

1. Las Vegas Aces, 13-2 (2)

We’ll get a preview of the Commissioner’s Cup game Tuesday night when the Aces, who are on a four-game win streak, take on Chicago at home. Their upcoming stretch will be challenging as seven of their next 10 games are on the road. More challenging yet: the bench production. What was once one of the most feared parts of this franchise is practically non-existent. Las Vegas’ bench contributes less than 14 percent of the team’s scoring, assists and steals while playing about one-fifth of its minutes. With a starting five like the Aces, there’s plenty of talent to go around, but foul trouble (and suspect officiating) is always a possibility in the WNBA and in those moments, the Aces will need their bench to produce.

2. Chicago Sky, 10-5 (3)

The loss to Indiana wasn’t great. The fact that Candace Parker has missed the last two games with knee soreness isn’t great. (Though coach James Wade said that if these were playoff games, Parker would be ready to go. They’re wisely taking a long-term approach.) But I still look at the Sky, when fully healthy, as the second-best team in the WNBA. And scarier yet, it’s still a team that’s coming together. Last week, I propped up Emma Meesseman’s offensive firepower as a bright spot. This week, it’s reigning WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper, who averaged 26 points and seven rebounds on 60 percent shooting over the last two games. In transition, the Sky are a dangerous team, and the fact that the transition game can start with Parker, Meesseman and (oh yeah!) Courtney Vandersloot, makes them so multi-faceted.

3. Washington Mystics (with Elena Delle Donne), 11-7 (4)

The Mystics allowed the Sun to make it a single-digit game late in the fourth quarter Sunday, but when Delle Donne is healthy and this roster is ready to go, there are a lot of options on both ends of the floor. Natasha Cloud has gotten a lot of credit for her 20-game streak of recording at least five assists, but her defense in the Mystics’ big win over Connecticut deserves some ink. She recorded three steals and one block and matched up throughout the game against Courtney Williams, Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner (the latter two have a slight height advantage over the 5-foot-9 guard). Shakira Austin continues to show real improvement (I argued last week she might earn my Rookie of the Year vote). Aerial Atkins had a big facilitating game with six assists against Connecticut. But ultimately, Delle Donne is the piece that makes this team go from a semifinalist to a championship contender. She impacts the game even without touching the ball and changes the way opponents have to think about the Mystics. With Delle Donne healthy, Washington is No. 3. Without her, I think they’re somewhere between No. 5-7 depending on the night.

4. Connecticut Sun, 12-5 (1)

The separation between Chicago, Washington (with Delle Donne) and Connecticut is slim, and though Vegas has a lead on the trio, I don’t think it’s that huge. That said, when looking at head-to-head results, Chicago has won three of four against Washington and Connecticut, Washington has gone 2-3 against Connecticut and Chicago, and Connecticut has gone 1-2 against Washington and Chicago. So, that speaks to the order of No. 2 through 4 in this week’s ranking. Coach Curt Miller shouldered a lot of Sunday’s loss to Washington, saying Connecticut never really got into a flow or looked like itself and that started with him because he never found the right buttons to push. That is fair, and what you expect a good coach to say. But for a veteran team, you also expect the players to show a bit more spark through the middle 20 minutes of the game.

5. Seattle Storm, 10-6 (5)

For the most part, the Storm have beaten the opponents they should beat, and a 4-1 record on a recent 10-day road trip is nothing at which to scoff. But now, the Storm return home to attempt to win two games in which they might not be favored against Washington and Las Vegas. Seattle hasn’t played Las Vegas since its second game of the season, when Gabby Williams (who dropped 23 points and nine rebounds Sunday on New York) went scoreless and Ezi Magbegor appeared to be the stopgap before Mercedes Russell returned to the starting lineup. The Storm have grown since then, and if Magbegor and Williams both show up in big ways, the Storm could be taking down the league’s top team this week.

6. New York Liberty, 6-10 (7)

Momentum is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? The Liberty might have lost two of their last three games, but it’s probably their best three-game stretch this season. If Crystal Dangerfield’s addition and comfort in this system made Sabrina Ionescu play more like herself (read: dangerous off ball), then Marine Johannès’ is the player who most raises the bar and allows all players to be more themselves. Sure, those on the receiving end of Johannès’ passes are realizing there’s a bit of an adjustment period to learn you’re always open when playing with her. But as her passing and scoring improves, it opens up lanes and shooting opportunities for everyone else. The Liberty still have a chance to be the most-improved team from 2021 to 2022 if this momentum continues.

7. Dallas Wings, 8-8 (8)

The Wings cracked a four-game losing streak with back-to-back wins against Phoenix and Los Angeles. Arike Ogunbowale led Dallas in scoring in both games. Despite wanting to be a defense-oriented team, the Wings aren’t winning a ton of games because of their lock-down defense. It’s because they have Ogunbowale — and two to three others, depending on the night — who are going to put up 60-plus points while the Wings outscore you. Ultimately, Dallas goes as its shooting goes: When the Wings’ effective field goal percentage is 50 percent or better, they’re 6-1.

8. Atlanta Dream, 7-8 (9)

The addition of guard AD from New York has been a boost as they’ve led the Dream in scoring the last two outings. (It’s also nice to see such a fantastic recovery from long COVID-19. AD has found minutes and opportunity in Atlanta that they didn’t find in New York.) Coming off the bench, they put up 21 points against both Connecticut and Chicago, two single-digit losses for the Dream. AD’s scoring also has opened opportunities for Aari McDonald, who had back-to-back career bests in scoring (19 against Connecticut, 20 against Chicago). Even if the Dream end up in the playoffs this year, Atlanta is building a foundation with young talent. Every time these young players experience success (even if it doesn’t ultimately end up with a W), it’s a long-term win.

9. Phoenix Mercury, 6-10 (6)

The Mercury are a tough team to read, and they are (and I know I’ve used this joke before but it’s still fitting) very mercurial. They can score 69 points and win; they can score 94 points and lose; they can turn the ball over 18 times and win; they can turn over the ball five times and lose. They have a roster that oozes with talent, resumes and gold medals, but that doesn’t always make for the best teams. Because of the former, you simply can’t count them out. Phoenix could turn it around and make another deep postseason run; with that much talent on the roster, how could it not? The Mercury could also fail to make the playoffs this year. I’m not sure there’s a team with a larger gap between its ceiling and floor than Phoenix.

10. Los Angeles Sparks, 5-9 (10)

Kristi Toliver returned for the Sparks over the weekend in Los Angeles’ loss to Dallas. Given the issues that L.A. faces right now, it’s hard to see Toliver being the fix-all, but she’s definitely a net-positive. The Sparks are on a three-game losing streak, and life isn’t about to get any easier as their next four opponents are Washington, Chicago, Seattle and Las Vegas.

11. Indiana Fever, 5-13 (11)

Holy NaLyssa Smith! Between her, Howard and Austin, we can definitively say this year’s rookie class has three players who are potential future face-of-the-franchise talents. Smith put up 26 points and 11 boards Sunday against the Parker-less Sky, giving the Fever their eighth win of the season as they rallied from down 13 at the half. According to Across The Timeline, Smith is just the 10th first-year player in WNBA history to put up 25-plus points and 10-plus rebounds while shooting 60 percent or better from the floor, and she’s the first since A’ja Wilson did it in 2018.

12. Minnesota Lynx, 3-13 (12)

Jess Shepard had the best game — by far — of her WNBA career. Behind her 22 points, 19 rebounds and six assists Sunday, the Lynx nearly toppled the Aces. Shepard’s ninth field goal of the night was a nine-foot jumper with 0.4 seconds remaining to cut the Aces’ lead to one. Minnesota needed a 3 to force overtime. She owned that fact in the postgame. It was the Lynx’s fifth-straight loss and the third-consecutive defeat by four or fewer points. There’s something to be said for a team that is without its eventual Hall of Fame centerpiece (injured Sylvia Fowles) that still nearly catches teams in the top half of the league, but being close doesn’t cut it in pro sports or power rankings.

(Photo of Arike Ogunbowale: Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

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