And One with DiDi Richards: New Liberty era, modeling and more
Richards has quickly become a fan favorite in New York and across the league.
Just over a week into the season, unpredictability already abounds in the WNBA. The Lynx are 0-4 and seem to have a revolving door for a bench, the Dream are tied for first in the league at 3-1, and previously under-the-radar rookies — from the undrafted players to the 30-somethings — have come out of nowhere to have an early impact for their teams.
Building off of our guide to the 2022 season, we break down what you need to know in the WNBA this week from a betting perspective.
One aspect of the chaos is the fact that somehow every team has already won and lost at least once against the spread (ATS). That also holds true for the over/unders, with the exception of the Sun, who have yet to hit an over in their two games.
With so much parity in terms of the small-sample records, we can dig a bit deeper and look at average points above/below the spread or total to tell the story so far. Here are the best and worst teams by each measure.
Best ATS: Washington (+5.5)
Even after losing to Dallas as 7.5-point favorites in their last game, the Mystics have covered by an average of 5.5 points over their four games. The scariest part? They have yet to play a game with their full complement of players.
Alysha Clark made her Mystics debut last week after missing just over a year due to injury, and Natasha Cloud looks set to return this Friday after clearing protocols. Once Elizabeth Williams is back, which may also be on Friday, this starting lineup will finally be whole — at least in games in which Elena Delle Donne suits up.
Worst ATS: New York (-10.6)
The Liberty looked primed to build off of last year’s momentum after bringing in Sandy Brondello and Stefanie Dolson, and a season-opening victory over Connecticut did nothing to change that.
In the week since, New York has fallen off a cliff. A 33-point beatdown in Chicago followed by home losses to the Fever and Wings have not exactly inspired confidence in this team’s ability to take the next step. It doesn’t get any easier tonight in a rematch against the Sun, who look to have Courtney Williams back for this one.
Best for Overs: Indiana (+3.6)
It’s hard to believe for a franchise that’s been around for over two decades, but Indiana has only finished in the top half of the league in pace one time: 2015. If its first five games of 2022 are any indication, however, that may not be the case by season’s end.
The Fever, with a roster full of players who were taking college classes mere weeks ago, lead the league in pace with a whopping 86.5 possessions per 40 minutes. In fact, if that number held throughout the season, they would set a new mark for the fastest team in WNBA history. When you operate at that speed, the overs will be in play whether the offense shows up or not.
Best for Unders: Connecticut (-11.5)
The Sun have played only two games thus far, but is anyone really shocked to see them once again cashing out those unders?
It was mildly surprising to see Connecticut let an opponent break 80 in its opener after returning nearly every starter from a historically good defensive unit in 2021. It didn’t take long for that unit to get back on track though — the Sparks managed a meager 60 points against the Sun in the next game.
In theory, sportsbooks should know by now how much the Sun like to grind out games, but models often regress to the mean early on in a season. If books have regressed more than the Sun have, then Connecticut may continue to hit those unders.
Aside from the team extremes, there are also always some trends worth watching across the league, a couple of which we covered in our season primer. Let’s check in on those and take a look at a new trend that may be emerging.
Last season, unders hit over 55 percent of the time in the second leg of back-to-backs. We’ve had only one opportunity for this through 11 days, but so far, so good.
Phoenix poured it on Seattle 97-77 on Wednesday after Breanna Stewart was ruled out due to COVID-19 protocol and cleared the 162.5-point line by double figures. In the nationally-televised rematch on Saturday, the teams combined for just 133 points, a decrease of over 40 points from the first total.
If you’re interested in riding this trend, the next chance comes your way Tuesday night in the Atlanta vs. Indiana game.
This trend has not held up in the same way, to say the least. Fourth-quarter unders are 10-12 after hitting over 60 percent of the time last year.
The first instinct may be to assume sportsbooks have just adjusted, but it gets curious when you look at league numbers for all four quarters. Over at least the last four seasons, average scoring has gone down in each quarter throughout a game. This season, that trend is almost completely reversed.
Historically, this has corresponded with a decline in pace quarter by quarter, and that decline is mostly still there (third quarters have been slightly faster than second quarters, but the overall downward trend still applies).
Instead, it appears that much of this is being driven by hot second-half shooting. Teams have shot a combined 32.7 percent from 3 in the first half and 38.8 percent in the second. This feels unsustainable, but it’s good to be aware of the trend if you’re planning on betting halves or quarters.
Live second-quarter unders
Fourth quarters may have let us down so far, but another quarter has been coming through for us. Second-quarter unders overall are 14-8 (63.6 percent), but when the first quarter has gone over, the proceeding second quarter has gone under all seven times. In other words, teams that light up the scoreboard in the first quarter have consistently come back down to earth in the next frame.
Obviously you won’t be able to bet on this trend before knowing how the first quarter shakes out, but if you are watching a game and interested in betting it live, consider taking a swing at the second quarter under after the first quarter surpasses its line.
As books continue to pay more attention to women’s basketball, and thus update their odds more often, teams on hot or cold streaks are seeing more and more movement in their championship odds. Here are the biggest movers on FanDuel.
Stock up: Washington (+2000 preseason to +750 current)
The Mystics were already one of the biggest risers of the offseason after opening at +3000. The 1000-point shift in odds has been more than duplicated in the first four games of the regular season for a lot of the reasons mentioned above.
Another thing benefitting Washington this year is the new playoff format. Resting Delle Donne for certain games won’t hurt them as much this season as it would have under the old format, where seeding was so critical and the regular season standings played a huge part in playoff success.
Stock down: Minnesota (+1000 preseason to +3500 current)
Starting 0-4 and cutting players left and right has a way of doing that to a team’s championship odds. It remains to be seen whether the Lynx are headed for the Aliyah Boston sweepstakes or for becoming this year’s version of the 2021 Sky, but they certainly aren’t in a good spot for the time being.
Like the Mystics, Minnesota may be another team aided by the new playoff format. With the May losses piling up, even a great run in July or August probably wouldn’t be enough to land a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, but this year that matters a whole lot less. With no more single-elimination games or byes, as long as teams can sneak into the No. 8 spot, they have a shot.
Connecticut/New York under 158.5
We talked about Connecticut’s penchant for playing slow, low-scoring games as well as New York’s struggles over the last week. Bet on both of those to continue Tuesday night.
Atlanta/Indiana under 158.5
We mentioned the success of back-to-back unders as well, and despite the blazing pace at which Indiana has been playing, this line is still high enough to have value on the under.
Calvin Wetzel is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering basketball and betting. He also contributes to Her Hoop Stats, CBS SportsLine and FiveThirtyEight. Follow him on Twitter at @cwetzel31.
Richards has quickly become a fan favorite in New York and across the league.
The three-time WNBA MVP retired from international basketball nine years ago.
The Dallas guard exited Saturday’s game with an injury.
Ionescu has been having a banner season.
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