The WNBA is back, which means it’s time to dust off the JWS Power Rankings as we head into the final stretch of the 2021 regular season.
We were without live WNBA games during the Olympics, but there still was plenty of activity to monitor that could affect the standings in the second half. Which teams might have benefitted from the break, and which teams might have suffered setbacks during it?
Let the power rankings light the way.
The Fever won three straight games before the Olympic break for their first victories since May. There’s no guarantee that the momentum has carried over from the month away, but it’s a start. One key learning Indiana should have taken away from the win streak? Teaira McCowan, averaging a near double-double this season, deserves to be in the starting lineup.
The Dream have the most questions to address in the second half. Mike Petersen stepped down as interim head coach on July 24, leaving Atlanta with yet another person in charge. Candice Dupree brings much-needed veteran leadership after signing with the Dream on July 26, and Petersen’s replacement, Darius Taylor, has called the next month a “restart” for the team. With Chennedy Carter’s suspension still hanging over them, the Dream will take whatever positive boost they can get.
It was a disappointing first half for the Sparks, who were voted as the team most affected by injuries and absences in our anonymous survey about the first half of the season. Los Angeles is banking on the returns of Kristi Toliver, Chiney Ogwumike and Nneka Ogwumike (who should be extra motivated after an eventful Olympic break) as the keys to getting back into the playoff race.
If the Sparks were the team most affected by missing players, the Mystics weren’t too far behind. Elena Delle Donne is practicing with the team again, but whether she returns this season from a serious back injury is anyone’s guess. It also doesn’t appear likely that Emma Meesseman will return after competing with Belgium in the Olympics.
The Wings dropped four of their last five games before the Olympic break, including a 16-point loss to the Aces on July 11. Arike Ogunbowale leads Dallas into the second half after an epic MVP performance in the All-Star Game. The Wings continue to be the best upset candidate in the WNBA, but will their overall inexperience trouble them down the stretch?
The Liberty looked like a shell of their early-season self in July. When their 3-point shots weren’t falling, they struggled to get anything going on offense beyond Betnijah Laney’s isolation game. Natasha Howard is back at practice after missing all but two games with a knee injury, while Sabrina Ionescu had a month to rest her ailing ankle. Those are all good signs for the Liberty, so long as they can capitalize on them.
The Mercury severely underwhelmed during the first half of the season, so moving them up three spots from the last power rankings might come as a surprise. But the Mercury have been in this position before, winning seven of their final games in 2020 and just missing out on a semifinal appearance. Diana Taurasi’s health remains a question, but Brittney Griner’s dominance at the Olympics bodes well for Phoenix coming out of the break.
For as talented a roster as the Sky have, their streakiness in the first half of the season makes them a wild-card entering this stretch. Their ball control has improved since their seven-game losing streak early in the season, but they still turn the ball over 15.8 times per game, which is the second-most in the league. The chemistry they’ve built since Candace Parker returned from injury will be the key to a deep playoff run.
The Lynx head into the final month with the most momentum, having won their last seven games before the break. Cheryl Reeve has put together one of the most efficient offenses in the league, built on good ball movement and strong finishing at the rim. As part of Team USA’s undefeated run to the gold medal, Reeve, Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier haven’t lost a game since June 19. That’s what we call a winning mentality.
The Sun looked like they hadn’t played in a month Thursday night, dropping the Commissioner’s Cup championship game 79-57 to the Storm. Jonquel Jones had an off night and still recorded a double-double, which is all you need to know about her dominance this season. The Sun’s 20 turnovers Thursday were very uncharacteristic for a Curt Miller-led team and shouldn’t persist.
The Aces hold the regular-season edge over the Storm and still have time to retake the top spot in the power rankings. They went into the break first in points per game (90.7), first in field-goal percentage (46.7), first in rebounds (39.3) and second in blocks (5.2). They’re as complete a team as any in the league, and the experience A’ja Wilson gained from her Olympic run with Team USA will only help.
It was only one game, but it felt impossible not to give the Storm the honors of the top spot after their performance in the Commissioner’s Cup title game. Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd led the way despite getting back from Tokyo on Monday. They showed no signs of jet lag or fatigue, and instead made the defending champions look even more formidable as we move closer to the playoffs.