Takeaways from WNBA opening weekend, and looking ahead to what’s next

Right here’s what you missed from each WNBA workforce’s first recreation of the season.

The opening weekend of the 2020 WNBA season was a powerful success. Over 500,000 folks watched the ABC tip-off on Saturday afternoon, that includes the rival Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles. The league was capable of flip consideration to the Say Her Identify motion and the continued Breonna Taylor case in Louisville. Gamers wore Taylor’s identify on the again of their jerseys and noticed a 26-second second of silence to honor the younger lady’s age when she was killed by Louisville police. The video games lived as much as the hype, too.

Every of the league’s 12 groups performed throughout opening weekend, and whereas the title favourite Seattle Storm and fellow contenders just like the Sparks and Chicago Sky stepped up, we could must readjust expectations for a number of franchises.

Right here’s what we realized from the primary six video games of the WNBA, and what to observe going ahead:

WNBA: Institutional information outweighs star energy to start out

If professional basketball had been performed in a bubble a decade in the past, you’d have anticipated the San Antonio Spurs to have the ability to block out the distractions of pandemic basketball and relentlessly execute. Throughout the center of final decade, the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx had been the dynasty to wager on. Rosters have been shuffled and neither league has a trusty dynasty, however a number of standouts from 2019 and earlier than picked up the place they left off to start out the 2020 season.

The Sparks’ entrance court docket of Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike options two MVPs who’ve performed collectively since 2012. Los Angeles has a system that works, with floor-spacers on the wing and two genius bigs who can play-make for others or create photographs for themselves. There is probably not a greater chopping massive within the league than Ogwumike, and Parker is aware of the place to seek out her. Add in level guard Chelsea Grey, who joined this core in 2015, and the extent of ESP occurring for the Sparks is unfair.

On Saturday, the 2 beginning bigs mixed for 34 factors on simply 18 shot makes an attempt. Grey’s seven assists put the Sparks’ inside scorers in place to succeed, and that freed Three-and-D position gamers like Brittney Sykes and Seimone Augustus for simple appears to be like throughout the court docket.

Altogether, Los Angeles shot 56 p.c from the sector and outscored Phoenix by 23 within the third interval. In coach Derek Fisher’s second season, the Sparks have a agency identification that may assist them within the “Wubble.”

The closest factor the WNBA has to a dynasty nowadays is Washington. The Mystics are led by the artistic and skilled head coach Mike Thibault and a system that’s shepherding a extra positionless model into the WNBA. However lots of the gamers who helped them understand that system — from Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders to MVP Elena Delle Donne — are out this season. The opposite MVP they acquired to assist change the misplaced scoring, Tina Charles, opted out as properly.

Nonetheless, the Mystics blitzed the Fever to the tune of 101-76 on Saturday night time. The group shot 41.2 p.c from deep and 56 p.c total, the kind of unreal effectivity Washington may generate constantly en path to the most effective offense in league historical past in 2020. That’s the kind of machine that may stand up to the loss even of a dynamic MVP like Delle Donne.

It stays to be seen how the new-look and shorthanded Mystics maintain up on protection after they face a extra fearsome opponent than the younger Fever, however they determine to be equally efficient on that finish. The versatile Ariel Atkins and Kiara Leslie on the wing give Thibault the Three-and-D depth he loves, and so long as the bigs can defend the center, Washington must be a top-half workforce once more, even with out Delle Donne.

The opposite workforce that must be talked about right here is Chicago, a semifinalist in 2019 that stayed principally intact throughout a busy offseason. The Sky saved three starters in place from final yr in addition to rotation mainstays Cheyenne Parker and Kahleah Copper (a Sixth Girl of the 12 months candidate who’s now beginning). Chicago was down on the half to the barren Las Vegas Aces and nonetheless managed to take the sport due to 25 assists together with the game-winning Three from Allie Quigley.

The shot was arrange by a wonderfully executed hammer set and a dish from Courtney Vandersloot, who has shared a backcourt with Quigley since 2013. The Sky will hope their chemistry helps soak up new beginning ahead Azura Stevens and rookie Ruthy Hebard, however the workforce’s core eight-woman rotation shouldn’t miss a beat.

Sykes and Hines-Allen preserve their groups within the combine

This offseason noticed essentially the most participant motion in league historical past, with greater salaries all of the sudden out there due to a brand new collective bargaining settlement, in addition to the continuously enhancing depth of the league. It meant that even groups like Los Angeles and Washington that had been nice final yr needed to change expertise to remain afloat.

Scoring guard Kristi Toliver moved from Washington to L.A., and the Sparks discovered themselves needing much more guard creation after an offensive collapse within the playoffs final yr. They hoped to seek out it in Sykes, lengthy under-appreciated in Atlanta and one of the vital athletic gamers within the league. Sykes was the discuss of coaching camp, and with Toliver opting out for the season, it all of the sudden appeared the Sparks’ hopes had been hinging on somebody like Sykes stepping up as a constant two-way play-maker.

She was precisely that on Saturday night, scoring 10 factors on simply 5 shot makes an attempt (together with two made 3s) and smacking a gimme layup out of the arms of 6-9 middle Brittney Griner. Social media and SportsCenter alike had been full of Sykes highlights.

Later that night time, it was one other surprising younger veteran who stepped up for a possible championship contender. Myisha Hines-Allen, who has by no means even cracked 300 minutes in a season, made her second profession begin for the Mystics and fully dominated.

The Louisville product was energized by her teammates’ help as she stepped in to interchange Sanders within the beginning lineup in addition to her empathy towards Taylor as a Louisville resident and Black lady herself.

Most curiously, Hines-Allen made three of 4 3s, giving the Mystics a shock deep menace that may preserve the house within the offense that made it so particular in 2019. The truth is, if Hines-Allen can preserve defenses sincere from behind the arc, her partnership with 2019 Last MVP Emma Meesseman within the entrance court docket may carry much more taking pictures to the ground than the Sanders/Delle Donne grouping that began final yr.

The Fever made a foolish determination to bench sophomore middle Teaira McCowan in opposition to Washington, leaving Hines-Allen with a matchup that suited her higher than the bruising McCowan, so groups will proceed to check the brand new Washington entrance court docket’s capability to guard the rim. Hines-Allen isn’t a lot of a shot-blocker, and Meesseman is as near a unfavourable as you’ll discover on the Mystics’ roster. Then once more, Washington may succeed by merely outscoring everybody and never sweating the opposite finish an excessive amount of.

Are the Mercury alright?

Regulate Phoenix, who laid an egg within the second half in opposition to the Sparks. With three MVP candidates on the roster and an improved forged of position gamers, the Mercury ought to be capable to clear up their act with extra expertise on the court docket collectively. Integrating a degree guard, even a fantastic one like Skylar Diggins-Smith, takes longer than the twoish-week coaching camp WNBA groups had this summer season.

However the Mercury’s opening-day loss had the stench of their underperforming 2019 season. It’s one factor to be sluggish or lack chemistry, it’s one other to play with out combat. Too typically over the previous two seasons, the Mercury have rolled over when it obtained tough. In a 22-game common season, nobody has any time to waste.

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