What does the addition of Candace Parker mean for the Aces’ lineup?
The Aces played a limited rotation last season.
A third of the way into the WNBA season, we have continued to see key signings, players activated to rosters, coaching changes and broken records.
The Las Vegas Aces have earned the top spot in this week’s JWS Power Rankings following a dominating win over the Los Angeles Sparks in their only game last week. The Aces are still without Jackie Young as she recovers from an ankle injury, but they have not skipped a beat on offense, leading the league in scoring at 91 points per game.
The Seattle Storm have now won three in a row, and yet it still doesn’t feel like they have reached their full potential. Meanwhile, not much seemed to change for the Sparks after they parted ways with Derek Fisher as head coach and general manager. In their first game under interim coach Fred Williams, the Sparks were routed by the Aces and fell to ninth in the league standings at 5-8. This team has the sheer talent to turn its season around, but finding stability and chemistry is the first step toward righting the ship.
The New York Liberty are getting reinforcements and looking more like a contender every day. Marine Johannès, added to the roster last week, gives the Liberty another playmaker and scoring option in the backcourt. Sabrina Ionescu became the first player in WNBA history to record a triple-double in just three quarters against the Chicago Sky on Sunday, giving her the second triple-double of her career and growing confidence as the franchise player many predicted her to be.
In Minnesota, the bad news keeps coming for the Lynx, who will be without Sylvia Fowles indefinitely due to a cartilage injury in her right knee. Minnesota heads into a new week on a three-game losing streak and last in the WNBA standings at 3-11. In better news for the team, Damiris Dantas has returned and Nikolina Milić continues to play well, finishing with 23 points in the Lynx’s heartbreaking loss to the Fever on Sunday.
After raising the alarm bells with seven straight losses, the Phoenix Mercury have now won three in a row. The streak would be four if not for their heartbreaking 92-88 loss to the Connecticut Sun on June 3, when Phoenix was in control but the Sun stormed back down the stretch to take the game. As challenging as this season has been for the Mercury without superstar Brittney Griner, they seem to have found a bit of a rhythm that’s allowed them to grind out wins.
What’s changed? Offensively, the Mercury are averaging 90 points in their last three games compared to 79.8 points in their first 10. Much of that can be attributed to the increased production from Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi (who earlier in the season drew attention for other reasons, having to be separated after getting into a skirmish on the Mercury bench in May).
Diggins-Smith, leading the team with 19.2 points per game, has increased her output from 17.1 points to 24.6 points per game in Phoenix’s last three wins. After missing a pair of games with an illness, Diggins-Smith has raised her intensity, determined to do whatever it takes to keep Phoenix in the win column.
The same can be said for Diana Taurasi, who celebrated her 40th birthday last week. The WNBA’s all-time leading scorer continues to show us why she is arguably the greatest player in league history.
Below, we compare Taurasi’s numbers in the Mercury’s last four games versus the early-season stretch that included their seven-game skid. Not only is Taurasi playing more minutes now, but the Mercury have also increased their pace of play and are finding ways to get Taurasi more shot attempts.
Last four games vs. first nine games
Points per game: 23.5 — 13.2
Minutes per game: 35.0 — 28.8
Shot attempts: 16.2 — 10.6
3-point shot attempts: 10.5 — 7.3
Here is a look at a quick action Phoenix will run in the half court out of the high post between Taurasi and Diggins-Smith. It forces defenses to pick their poison between the pair and gives Diggins-Smith the ability to isolate one-on-one against a switch. Diggins-Smith dumps the ball down to Taurasi and receives the quick pitch back. At the same time, Mercury center Tina Charles is looking to step in and screen for Taurasi cutting away from the ball, i.e. a flare screen.
In this scenario, the Mystics switch and Natasha Cloud is locked in on Taurasi as the flare screen is not actually set. Diggins-Smith briefly catches Alysha Clark on her heels, capitalizing on the defensive miscue with an open 3 and a crucial four-point play to help seal the game for the Mercury.
While the Mercury are 10th in the league in scoring defense, allowing 86.5 points per game this season, they have improved slightly from 87.2 points per game allowed in their first 10 games to 84 in their last three. Phoenix’s ability to sustain this momentum will be tested on the road this week against the Mystics, Fever and Wings.
The Wings have lost five of their last six, including three in a row, after starting the season 5-2. Four of those five losses have come within six points or fewer.
Frustrations have seemed to mount during the stretch, with Arike Ogunbowale being issued a technical for kicking the scorer’s table against the Sparks and getting ejected for kicking a basketball into the stands on Sunday against the Storm. The Wings’ third-leading scorer, Marina Mabrey, has missed the last two games with a nose injury and health and safety protocols, and Satou Sabally went down with a knee injury mid-way through Sunday’s game.
Teaira McCowan has become increasingly involved in the Wings’ system over the last two weeks, averaging close to 13 minutes per game. Prior to that, the recently acquired 6-foot-7 center was playing only 7.5 minutes per game for Dallas. In the Wings’ loss to Seattle on Sunday, McCowan played a season-high 17 minutes and posted season-highs in points (13), rebounds (six), free throws made (7-for-7) and blocked shots (two).
With McCowan on the floor, the Wings slow down a bit, forcing them to execute more intentionally in the half court and find ways to manufacture deep paint touches. McCowan grabbed five offensive rebounds for the Wings on Sunday, which led to the bulk of her scoring on putbacks.
With her size and strength, McCowan has the ability to duck in, establish two feet deep in the paint, turn and finish at the rim. Dallas should look to get the former No. 3 overall pick even more moving forward.
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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