WNBA Power Rankings: One major question for each team coming out of the All-Star break

There is no time for rest in the WNBA, especially in this condensed season. After a memorable, and at times frustrating All-Star Weekend wrapped up on Sunday, the second half of the season will get underway on Tuesday night with a busy five-game slate. 

From there, it’s just a short one-month sprint to the end of the regular season. Ahead of the stretch run, let’s reset and take a look at one big question for each team. 

1. Chicago Sky (16-6) — Last week No. 1

Can they hold onto the No. 1 seed?

After a somewhat slow start to the season, the Sky went 9-2 over the last month to surge into first place at the All-Star break. Their goal for the second half of the season will be holding off the Aces, Storm and Sun to keep the top seed going into the playoffs. While there are no more byes in the new postseason format, the team with the best record will get home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. That’s a big deal, especially considering that the Sky have the best home record in the league at 8-2, and went 5-0 at home in the playoffs last season. 

2. Las Vegas Aces (15-7) — Last week No. 2

Will they start guarding anyone again?

The Aces stumbled into the All-Star break losing five of seven, in large part because they haven’t been able to guard anyone over the last few weeks. Over that seven-game slide they had the worst defense in the league, and allowed 111.4 points per 100 possessions. Whether it’s fatigue – Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young lead the league in minutes per game, and all five starters are in the top 24 – or opponents having a better understanding of their game plan, that kind of performance on the defensive end just isn’t good enough. The Aces need to lock in and start guarding again in the second half of the season if they want to compete for a title. 

3. Connecticut Sun (14-8) — Last week No. 3

Do they know Jonquel Jones is still on the team?

Though just an exhibition, Sunday’s All-Star Game was a reminder that reigning MVP Jonquel Jones is one of the most talented players on the planet. She hasn’t been able to showcase those skills often enough for the Sun this season. Her usage rate, shot attempts and points per game are all down since last season, and there’s been too many games where she is a non-factor on the offensive end. Even acknowledging the return of Alyssa Thomas, and the Sun’s desire to get out and run, there’s no reason Jones should have the same usage rate as Marina Mabrey and Myisha Hines-Allen. It’s no surprise the Sun are 8-2 when Jones scores at least 15 points and 6-5 when she doesn’t. They have to find a way to get her the ball more often. 

4. Seattle Storm (15-8) — Last week No. 4

Can they score enough?

The Storm were hit hard by COVID early in the season, and got off to a 5-5 start. Since then they are 10-3, and now sit in third place, just two games behind the league-leading Sky. Still, questions remain about this team, particularly on the offensive end. Breanna Stewart leads the league in scoring at 21 points per game, and Jewell Loyd is 10th at 16.4. Together they account for nearly half of the Storm’s offensive output, which is impressive but also concerning. Ezi Magbegor is the only other player averaging double figures, and night-to-night there’s no telling who might chip in. Tina Charles was brought in to try and solve this issue, but has been hit or miss since her arrival. The Storm will need Charles or someone else to step up on offense out of the break to take some pressure off Stewart, Loyd and the team’s league-leading defense. 

5. Washington Mystics (14-10) — Last week No. 5

Will Delle Donne stay healthy?

Over the last two seasons, Elena Delle Donne had nearly as many back surgeries (two) as games played (three). At long last, the former MVP was healthy for this season, but in order to keep her that way the team has been extremely cautious with her workload. She routinely skips road trips and sits out games. The short-term impact of that strategy is obvious, as the Mystics are 11-4 with Delle Donne and 3-6 when she sits. The long-term benefit could be great, however, if Delle Donne is well-rested and a full go for the playoffs. In that scenario, the Mystics could be a real threat. However, they won’t be able to give Delle Donne days off in the playoffs and it remains to be seen if her body will be able to hold up to the increased workload and physicality. 

6. Atlanta Dream (10-12) — Last week No. 7

Does Hayes provide enough of an offensive spark?

The Dream, in many ways, have been a slightly worse version of the Storm this season. Their defense is dominant at times, but they cannot score on a consistent basis. Of course, the Dream don’t have a Breanna Stewart or Jewell Loyd to bail them out, and as a result have the worst offense in the league. They do, however, have Tiffany Hayes. The former All-Star missed the first 19 games of the season with a knee injury, but returned recently and has had an immediate impact. She’s averaging 13.7 points on 50 percent shooting, and the Dream are 2-1 with her in the lineup, including a blowout win over the Storm. There’s no question the Dream are a better team on both sides of the ball with Hayes, but will she provide enough of a boost to get their offense out of the basement and ensure they make the playoffs? 

7. New York Liberty (9-13) — Last week No. 8

Did they dig themselves too big of a hole?

Since June 1, the Liberty have been one of the best teams in the league. They’re 8-6, have the second-best offense and third best net rating (plus-4.0). Sabrina Ionescu and Marine Johannes have formed one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league, Natasha Howard is back to an All-Star level and Han Xu has emerged as a key role player. And yet, because of their historically bad 1-7 start, they are in 10th place and outside of the playoff picture as we exit the All-Star break. The good news is they’re only one game out of sixth, so they can certainly still make the postseason, but they’re one of five (and potentially six) teams fighting for three spots. There’s a very real chance they dug themselves too deep of a hole early in the season.  

8. Los Angeles Sparks (10-12) — Last week No. 6

Is this recent turnaround real?

The Sparks really went for it this offseason, but the early returns were not good. Derek Fisher was fired as head coach and GM a month into the season, and at 5-9 they seemed to be spiraling out of control. Since then, they have picked up wins over the Mystics and Storm, and have gone 5-3 to not only stabilize their situation but climb into the playoff picture. Nneka Ogwumike is playing some of the best basketball of her career, and has recently gotten some much needed perimeter help from Lexie Brown, Brittney Sykes and Katie Lou Samuelson. However, the Sparks still have a minus-5.7 net rating over this eight-game stretch and six of their remaining 14 games are against top-five teams. The question, then, is this recent turnaround real, or just a mirage? 

9. Minnesota Lynx (8-15) — Last week No. 10

Will Collier return from maternity leave?

Like a few other teams, the Lynx were a disaster to start the season, but have started to turn things around. It wasn’t long ago that the Lynx were 3-13 and sitting in last place. Now, they’re 8-15 and just 2 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot. That’s still a significant gap to make up in the second half of the season, but it’s not impossible – especially if Napheesa Collier returns from maternity leave at some point in the next few weeks. The former All-WNBA forward has not played this season after giving birth to her daughter, Mila, on May 25. She has resumed on-court workouts and Sylvia Fowles’ impending retirement is motivating her to play again this season. It remains to be seen how her body will respond to increased activity, but if she can play and provide the Lynx a much-needed boost down the stretch, they could still sneak into the playoffs. 

10. Dallas Wings (10-12) — Last week No. 11

How will they handle the first post-All-Star stretch?

The Wings have been impossible to figure out this season. They can look amazing one night and terrible the next, and there doesn’t appear to be much rhyme or reason for which outcome they deliver; they’re one of just two teams to have a 25-point win and 25-point loss this season. This team has the talent to make the playoffs, especially now that Satou Sabally has returned from a knee injury. Whether they’ll do so, though, will depend in large part on how they handle their first post-All-Star stretch. Five of their first six games are against the Storm, red-hot Lynx, league-leading Sky and Mystics. The schedule lightens up after that, but it might not matter if they can’t figure out a way to pick up a few wins against those elite teams. 

11. Phoenix Mercury (10-14) — Last week No. 9

Will they actually trade Skylar Diggins-Smith?

This Mercury season has been a disaster. Brittney Griner’s detainment in Russia has been weighing on everyone in the league, but particularly her Phoenix teammates. In addition to the Griner situation there was a public spat between Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith on the bench, Tina Charles left the team in the middle of the season and Diggins-Smith called first-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard a clown on Twitter. The drama may not stop there, as the team is contemplating trading Diggins-Smith, per Howard Megdal of The Next. If they do so before the July 15 deadline, it will take them out of the playoff race and signal the start of a rebuild. Regardless, it’s clear this iteration of the Mercury is not working. 

12. Indiana Fever (5-19) — Last week No. 12

Which rookies besides Smith can make an impact?

As expected, the Fever have been the worst team in the league this season, and sit in last place at 5-19. Another trip to the lottery is in their future, but there’s still some work left to do for the rookies already on the roster. No. 2 overall pick NaLyssa Smith has been terrific, and looks like a potential future star. But what about the Fever’s other four rookies? Queen Egbo, a surprise pick at No. 10 overall, has had some moments, and is fourth on the team in scoring and second in rebounding. Emily Engstler and Destanni Henderson haven’t quite found their footing, especially on the offensive side of the ball, while Lexie Hull has seen limited minutes. All of them should see more playing time and opportunities over the final few weeks of the season, and will have a chance to show they belong in the league. 

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