Who Reigns Supreme? Top Teams in the WNBA
Hey, remember that time two weeks ago when I said that the Sun couldn’t be stopped?
Well, they were, and now the WNBA’s standings are a bit more complicated than they were at the beginning of the season.
While Connecticut has looked more vulnerable during its three-game losing streak, the Sparks have gone on a five-game tear to sneak passed the Sun for the top spot in the standings. The Mercury also took advantage of the Sun’s slump as they have soared to an eight-game streak of their own.
Throw in Seattle’s recent surge to third place, and now the WNBA seems to be without a clear favorite to hoist the championship trophy. Here is a breakdown of the league’s top-three teams as of right now (sorry Sun fans!).
Los Angeles Sparks (9-2)
The good: The Sparks have found a groove during their win streak, and the steadiness from Nneka Ogwumike cannot be understated. The 2016 MVP has scored 16 or more points in seven of the 11 games she has started while grabbing at least six rebounds in nine of those contests. While this is not surprising, that type of consistency is needed when another superstar on the roster isn’t playing to her highest potential (more on that later).
Chelsea Gray has been another solid contributor on the offensive end despite not finding her three-point shot yet. After leading the league with an astounding 48 percent from three-point range last season, Gray finds herself at a 30 percent clip from beyond the arc this year. That hasn’t stopped her from scoring in what would be a career-high 15.5 points a game this season. She has also done a great job distributing the ball with 5.9 assists per game which leads the league. The Sparks could see an increase in Gray’s scoring output if she starts knocking down her threes more consistently which only adds to this team’s potential.
The bad: Candace Parker has yet to unleash her scoring superpowers. Parker has all the ability in the world to be an elite scorer, and she has actually shot the ball at a high rate this season (54 percent from the field). However, some of her “dud” performances have come when she isn’t aggressive enough on offense. Health could be a factor here as she opened the season with a back injury and had to come off of the bench to get back on track. Still, Parker should be taking 15 shots a game with her background as a scorer. She has yet to reach that mark in a game this season after doing so ten times last season. I can hear J. Jonah Jameson from Spider-Man screaming “be aggressive on offense, Parker!” and he would be right.
Another aspect of the current Sparks streak that should be acknowledged is that the team only faced one top-five team during that stretch. The Sparks had two wins versus the 3-8 Chicago Sky and one win each over the 1-11 Fever and a .500 Atlanta team that hasn’t found its footing this season. There is a case to be made that the only legitimate win came against the No. 5 Mystics who are also trying to gain momentum for the last two-thirds of the season.
This is still a very talented team that has two former-MVPs on the roster, but the Sparks still have more to prove before trying to make another run at the Finals.
Phoenix Mercury (10-3)
The good: You know what will rejuvenate a team’s season? An eight-game win streak that is led by one of the league’s front-runners for the MVP award.
Brittney Griner has put on an absolute show swatting shots away from the basket. The Mercury are averaging 5.3 blocks a game; 3.1 of them are coming from the fingertips of Griner. Yeah…I am going to have to repeat that: BRITTNEY GRINER IS AVERAGING 3.1 BLOCKS A GAME. Even more astonishing, the next highest blocks per game percentage on the team comes from DeWanna Bonner and Sancho Lyttle who are tied with 0.5. Griner is an absolute beast and is giving the league another taste of why she won back-to-back defensive player of the year honors in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. She has also proved that her uptick in scoring from last year isn’t a fluke by averaging 20 points per game again so far.
In terms of team stats, the Mercury are shooting the least amount of shots in the league yet are fifth in field goals made, third in three-point conversions and are .1 points behind the Mystics for third in points per game. That speaks to the maturity of this team that is mostly comprised of seasoned vets with playoff experience. It doesn’t hurt having the best scorer of all-time in Diana Taurasi who is shooting 97 percent from the free-throw line while decimating the league in her 13th season.
The bad: There really isn’t anything that glaring about this Mercury team other than their bottom half of the league ranking in rebounding. Besides rebounding, the Mercury lead their opponents in every statistical category. They still could use more help from their other cast members outside of Griner and Taurasi, but with those two scoring at an elite level, it might not matter.
Seattle Storm (8-4)
The good: Brittney Griner is the front-runner for the MVP, but Breanna Stewart is right there in the conversation.
The Seattle forward is leading the league in scoring with 22 points per game while ranking fifth amongst forwards in rebounds per game (7.8). She has scored 21 or more points in nine of her 12 games and has averaged 26.7 points per game over her last three games. Her footwork on the low post enables her to create shots that most post players wouldn’t normally be able to get off. Couple that with her ability to draw contact down low (she’s averaging 5.7 free throw attempts a game) and her numbers on offense shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Stewart isn’t the only member of the Storm that is contributing at a high level. While she has cooled off, Jewell Loyd exploded at the beginning of the season and can be the extra punch the team needs for the rest of the season. She had a five-game stretch where she scored 20 or more points while having two 29-point outings and a 27-point outburst. Stewart can’t will her team to the playoffs by herself and Loyd is a huge component to the Storm’s road to the Finals. Natasha Howard is also adding 14.5 points and 6.8 rebounds and has shown flashes of ferocity on the boards.
The bad: While Loyd has had her moments, she also been in a funk since June. She has gone 28-79 (35 percent) since the Storm’s loss to Dallas and hasn’t reached the 20-point mark since May 31st. Her three-point shooting has been atrocious as she has shot 25 percent since the start of the month. She will need to find her shot if the Storm plan on making some noise come playoff time.
In her 16th season, it doesn’t look like Sue Bird is going to be improving her game anytime soon. Without being too harsh, Bird is averaging a career-low in points, rebounds, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, three-point percentage, and minutes played. It’s time for the two-time champion and all-time WNBA assist leader to hang it up. Let’s hope she has just a little more left in the tank to go out the right way.