Vanessa Nygaard says she ‘didn’t mean’ to diss Skylar Diggins-Smith
Nygaard had slighted the All-Star game for not selecting Diana Taurasi.
One month into the WNBA season, every team has played at least 10 games. The Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut Sun and Chicago Sky have established themselves as the top three teams in the league, while others are still building chemistry and consistency.
The Phoenix Mercury finally moved back into the win column after a seven-game losing streak, their first since 2012. In their win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday, they played one of their most complete games of the season with balanced scoring, good defense and teamwork on offense.
The Seattle Storm suffered a two-game skid at the tail end of their eight-game homestand behind a tough shooting night against Dallas and a Connecticut comeback win on Sunday. The Storm, now 5-5, have been dealing with rotational inconsistencies as more players miss games due to COVID-19 protocols.
Here are my biggest takeaways from the past week in the WNBA.
Connecticut went on the road last week and won three games in four days during a tough West Coast swing against the Aces, Mercury and Storm. The Sun dropped their first game of the week to the Las Vegas Aces without head coach Curt Miller on the sidelines, but then bounced back to hand the Aces just their second loss of the season.
By 4:15 a.m. the next morning, the Sun were en route to the airport to catch the first flight from Las Vegas to Phoenix to take on the Mercury later that night. Facing a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Connecticut stormed back in unbelievable fashion to hand the Mercury their seventh consecutive loss.
On Sunday, the Sun ended their road swing up in Seattle, where they outscored Seattle 32-19 in the fourth quarter to overcome a 13-point first-half deficit and win 93-86.
At 9-3, Connecticut sits in second place in the league standings behind Las Vegas. While their wins haven’t all been pretty, the team is digging deep and finding ways to claw back into games by getting defensive stops. The Sun have displayed a toughness and belief in each other that are lifting them to results despite difficult circumstances.
While Alyssa Thomas continues to serve as the Sun’s anchor, reigning MVP Jonquel Jones elevated her play last week, going from averaging 13 to 23 points per game and shooting 68 percent from the field in their last three contests. Brionna Jones, with her consistency on offense and defensive work on the glass, is the X-Factor for the Sun, having finished with a season-high 21 points against the Storm. The Jones-to-Jones connection has proved to be a serious matchup problem for opponents.
Jonquel Jones’ impact extends beyond her ability to score and rebound the basketball. Jones finished with a career-high six assists against Seattle, showcasing her elite vision and pinpoint passing ability.
Here is an underneath, out-of-bounds play the Sun executed well to give them a nine-point lead over Seattle late in the game. In this set, Jonquel Jones and Brionna Jones screen to a cutting DeWanna Bonner. Brionna Jones then screens for Jonquel as she cuts to the ball. The Storm have difficulty communicating on their switches, resulting in an open Jones-to-Jones layup.
The play is a great example of how well the Sun share the basketball and execute late to win games.
The Aces have three legitimate MVP-caliber candidates on their roster based on what we have seen so far from A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum. In my last column, I analyzed the efficient and confident play of Young. This week, I turn my attention to Plum.
The sixth-year guard scored a career-high 32 points in the Aces’ win over the Wings on Sunday, playing all 40 minutes and elevating her play while Young was sidelined with an ankle injury. Plum currently leads the Aces and is second in the league with 20 points per game, she’s third in the league with six assists per game, and she leads the potent Aces offense in 3-point shooting efficiency, averaging 45 percent on the season.
What’s even more impressive is her stamina. With the ball in her hands most of the time, she initiates Las Vegas’ offense at a fast pace and does not seem to run out of gas, playing 77 minutes in the last two games over a four-day stretch.
Plum, 27, is hitting her stride and seems to be realizing her full potential. What felt like a breakout 2021 campaign for Plum after she recovered from an Achilles injury was simply a warmup for this season, as she is posting the best numbers of her career in nearly every statistical category.
2019 vs. 2021 vs. 2022 Stats
Minutes: 25.5 — 25.5 — 33.3
Scoring: 8.6 — 14.8 — 19.8
FG %: 36.5 — 43.7 — 44.8
3-point %: 35.7 — 38.6 — 46.0
Assists: 3.0 — 3.6 — 6.0
Rebounds: 2.8 — 2.5 — 3.5
Plum is the perfect fit for coach Becky Hammon’s high-paced style of play, which emphasizes more possessions, shot attempts and the green light to take virtually any 3-point look that comes available.
Not only is Plum efficiently putting up big-time scoring numbers, but she’s also shown an improved ability to create for her teammates. She’s currently fourth in the league with six assists per game behind Courtney Vandersloot, Natasha Cloud and Sue Bird — not bad company for a guard who averaged 3.6 assists per game last season.
Plum is pushing in transition with her head up, able to hit teammates running the floor, like to Dearica Hamby on this play.
She is attacking off the dribble and getting herself into the paint, where she is forcing two to three defenders to collapse on her and kicking it out to open teammates, like in the example below.
While their late-game comeback against the Minnesota Lynx fell short on Sunday, the Liberty picked up wins over the Indiana Fever and Washington Mystics and showed they can be competitive.
Sabrina Ionescu has begun to hit her stride, as her scoring has increased from 12.6 points per game at the start of the season to 23 points per game in the Liberty’s last three contests. The 5-foot-11 guard has had the chance to play off the ball more in recent games, allowing her to expend less energy and flow more naturally on offense. With more time on the floor, she’s getting herself to the free-throw line and hunting perimeter shots with more frequency than she was at the start of the season.
Just over two weeks ago, the Liberty signed Crystal Dangerfield to a hardship contract after DiDi Richards and Jocelyn Willoughby were ruled out indefinitely with injuries. Dangerfield, a true point guard and primary ball-handler, takes some of the load off of Ionescu, and it’s clearly helping.
While the Liberty remain last in the league in scoring at 72.8 points per game, they increased their output to 79.3 points per game in their last three outings — largely because of Ionescu’s production. Going forward, New York will need to find more consistent second and third scoring options. With third-leading scorer Betnijah Laney out for the next eight weeks while recovering from knee surgery, New York will rely on Natasha Howard, Sami Whitcomb and potentially Han Xu for more production.
Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.
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