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WNBA’s week ahead: The race for Rookie of the Year heats up

NaLyssa Smith was one of the few bright spots for Indiana this season. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

Another week, another packed WNBA schedule. 

Just Women’s Sports has three storylines to watch as the action continues. 

Can the Sky continue on without Candace Parker?

Chicago Sky vs. Las Vegas Aces: Tuesday, June 21 @ 10 p.m.

Tuesday’s matchup between the Sky and the Aces is a preview for the Commissioner’s Cup after each team secured their places by the weekend’s end. 

Chicago remains without Candace Parker, which showed on Sunday as the team lost 89-87 to the Indiana Fever. It wasn’t without effort from the Sky, as Kahleah Copper notched 28 points in the loss. They’ll need more from players like Azurá Stevens and Allie Quigley, however, if they want to get past the Aces. 

The Sky has been without Parker in the past. Last season, the team went on a losing streak when Parker went down with an injury early on, but they rebounded upon her return, winning seven straight to set a franchise record for consecutive wins.

Vegas, meanwhile, is on yet another win streak having triumphed in their past four. With a 13-2 record, they lead the league with an .867 win percentage.

But they narrowly managed to escape Minnesota on Sunday, scraping by with a 96-95 win thanks to a 25-point performance from A’ja Wilson. All five Aces starters continue to be offensively sound, having scored in double digits against Minnesota. But the team’s defense was once again lacking, something head coach Becky Hammon has been vocal about all season long.

The race for Rookie of the Year continues

Dallas Wings vs Atlanta Dream: Tuesday, June 21 @ 7 p.m.; Indiana Fever vs. Dallas Wings: Thursday, June 23 @ 8 p.m.

The race for rookie of the year is continuing to heat up as the season wears on. Indiana Fever forward NaLyssa Smith is coming off of a career game in which she scored 26 points and contributed 11 rebounds. It was her fourth double-double of the season.

While the Fever have a plethora of rookies, including Emily Engstler, Destanni Henderson and Queen Egbo, Smith appears to be cementing herself as one of the best. But she can at times be all over the place, having scored just four points in Phoenix prior to exploding against Chicago.

Rhyne Howard, meanwhile, has been more consistent for Atlanta. She’s coming off of a 16-point performance against Chicago and has scored in double digits in all but two games this season.

While Shakira Austin’s name is certainly in the mix for Rookie of the Year, as of right now it’ll probably be between Smith or Howard at the end of the season. But don’t count out Rebekah Gardner for Sixth Woman of the Year. Gardner, a 31-year-old rookie for Chicago this season, has been averaging 9.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game off of the bench. She’s averaging better than expected in fantasy points per game and has in the past been coined the WNBA’s leading unicorn by Just Women’s Sports.

Who will be named to the WNBA All-Star squad?

Voting closes Monday, June 20

The time has come for the WNBA All-Star squad to be named. With voting closing on Monday, the top selections will soon be made known.

Will it be A’ja Wilson, who has been steadily leading the Aces to the best record in the league? Could she be joined by Kelsey Plum, who has firmly cemented herself as Las Vegas’ second-best player — if not at times the best?

Who of the rookies will make it, if any?

There’s also injuries to consider — Sylvia Fowles is out indefinitely with a knee injury as Candace Parker remains absent.

With Chicago hosting the event for the first time in team history, it’s likely that there will be some hometown heroes — including Allie Quigley, who won the 3-point contest last season for the third time.

Determining who will be team captains is like trying to decide on your favorite holiday — there are too many good ones to choose from. So keep an eye out to see who will make it and get to play on July 10 in Chicago. 

Full Schedule:

Tuesday, June 21

  • Dallas Wings vs. Atlanta Dream @ 7 p.m.
  • Minnesota Lynx vs. Phoenix Mercury @ 10 p.m.
  • Chicago Sky vs. Las Vegas Aces @ 10 p.m.
  • Washington Mystics vs. Los Angeles Sparks @ 10:30 p.m.

Wednesday, June 22

  • New York Liberty vs. Connecticut Sun @ 7 p.m. on ESPN2

Thursday, June 23

  • Phoenix Mercury vs. Minnesota Lynx @ 8 p.m.
  • Indiana Fever vs. Dallas Wings @ 8 p.m.
  • Washington Mystics vs. Seattle Storm @ 10 p.m.
  • Chicago Sky vs. Los Angeles Sparks @ 10:30 p.m.

Friday, June 24

  • New York Liberty vs. Atlanta Dream @ 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 25

  • Phoenix Mercury vs. Dallas Wings @ 8 p.m.
  • Los Angeles Sparks vs. Seattle Storm @ 9 p.m.
  • Washington Mystics vs. Las Vegas Aces @ 10 p.m.

Sunday, June 26

  • Connecticut Sun vs. Atlanta Dream @ 3 p.m.
  • Minnesota Lynx vs. Chicago Sky @ 6 p.m.

*All times ET