Well, Week One of the season is in the books and it was quite the eventful week. We had two teams remain unbeaten (neither made the finals last year) and three teams remain winless that weren’t hard to guess. A player has returned from overseas and lit the league on fire, while some rookies have begun to make an impact for their team as they hope to start their journey to greatness. The best part is there is still lots of basketball to watch, so even after a busy week there’s lots to look forward to.
Five main stories to follow.
1) Something Mystical is happening in Washington:
Washington has started the season as one of two unbeaten teams, more on the other in a second, with four consecutive wins. Now for the quick disclaimer that three of those wins were over the bottom two teams from last year in Indiana and Las Vegas. The team has been led by their bench unit, especially in a come from behind win over the Lynx, in which they outscored the Lynx 24-10 in the final quarter.
Washington has relied on the three more than any other team in the league by a wide margin with it accounting for 37.1% of their points with New York second at 28.4%. The one problem with this strategy is if they go cold at the wrong time (playoffs) their strategy could backfire. The depth of the team has also been a real strength with their top two players in net rating being first round pick Ariel Atkins (23.6) and second round pick Myisha Hines-Allen (30.8). Hines-Allen was a big part of the effort in the big win over Minnesota in which Ella Della Donne had to leave early due to illness. Another semi-final birth should be the minimum for this team if they can keep firing on all cylinders and if their last performance was any indicator they could be championship contenders.
2) Connecticut is off to a hot start:
Connecticut is in a similar position to Washington with wins over the Aces and Fever, with their third win coming over the Sparks to prove that they are an elite team this season. The team has been carried by their offence so far, especially their efficiency. Through the first week of games they are the only team scoring on over half their shots (52.2%) and lead the league in accuracy from beyond the arc, connecting on an astonishing 44.9%. Even when they do miss the Sun are second best in the league collecting 27.6% of their available offensive rebounds to keep possessions going.
Alyssa Thomas at forward has been the star of the show in the early season. The All-Star is averaging a double-double with 16.3 points and 10 rebounds per game. She is also leading the team in blocks with 1.3 per game and is second with 4.3 assist trailing Jasmine Thomas who is averaging six. Connecticut has six players averaging double digits in points to help the team lead the league in points per game with 96.3 through their first three of the season.
3) Hangover for the Lynx:
While there is no shame in losing to the Sparks or the Mystics it is a problem when you lose to both while they are missing their star players in Candice Parker and Elena Della Donne. While there is still lots of time for the team to turn things around, hopefully in time for a Sunday rematch with LA, the Lynx may be costing them a chance at a bye to the semi’s and possibly even the quarter’s.
This could be the sign of the leagues oldest starting line-up waiting for the games to matter, or a sign that they have started to slow down. With a turnover on 20 per cent of their possessions it looks like the speed of the game could be causing them to make easy mistakes that can either be easily fixed or spell the end of their dynasty. A lack of success from beyond the arc where they have the second lowest shooting percentage at 28.1% is another stat that could correct itself to turn their season around. One area Minnesota is still finding easy is collecting rebounds. The Lynx are the only team to collect above 53% of rebounds, and have collected 55.4% though three games.
4) SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT:
One week into the season some odd names can be on top of the leaderboards. One of those names is Seattle Storm guard Jewell Lloyd, who in her fourth season is averaging 22 points per game to lead the league. Alex Bentley is the top player in net rating with the Sun outscoring opponents by over 40 points per 100 possessions with her in the game, going to guess it ill improve on her career best 3.7 from last year but not by this much. Tina Charles might continue to be the most used player in the league for New York, but back to back seasons with a usage rate above 30% seems unsustainable for any player. Jonquel Jones may be good, but she’s not going to finish fourth in Player Impact Estimate unless she starts playing more than 19.6 minutes per game which is unlikely in a loaded Connecticut front court.
5) Early MVP favourite from Australia:
My early pick for MVP would be Liz Cambage of the Dallas Wings. In her first year back in the league since 2013 the 26-year old is among the league leaders in points (16.8) and rebounds (11), while leading the league by a wide margin in blocks with 3.3 per game. Her defence on Brittney Griner in the Wings season opener showed her strength as a defensive stopper.
Also, keep an eye on past MVP’s Sylvia Fowles and Elena Della Donne as well as dark horse candidate Alyssa Thomas for Connecticut. Fowles is the only person averaging more rebounds than Cambage with 12.8 per game as she tries to keep the Lynx rolling through a rough patch. Della Donne was averaging over 20 per game for the surging Mystics before struggling against Minnesota as she tried to play through an illness. Thomas is an advanced stats star with the Sun outscoring opponents by over 20 points per 100 possessions and is third in Player Impact rating for players playing over 30 minutes per game.
Other interesting stories to follow throughout the season.
6) Injury Updates: Candace Parker returned Sunday against the Sun after missing the first three games of the season for the Sparks. The Dallas Wings will be without Glory Johnson after she hurt her hamstring in their season opener. Sylvia Fowles is nursing a sore ankle and is questionable to play.
7) Winless teams: The Indiana Fever (0-5), Las Vegas Aces (0-2) and New York Liberty (0-2) have all stumbled in the first week. Indiana and New York play on Saturday. New York should improve but the Fever and Aces could be in for a long year again.
8) For those who forgot, Diana Taurasi can still hit from long range: In the season opener Taurasi helped Phoenix win with 26 points including her 1000th three-pointer. She became the fourth person, and first woman, to reach the mark in fewer than 400 games.
9) Fresh blood: A couple of rookies have started out strong including Kia Nurse (10th overall pick) has averaged over 15 points a game in over 30 minutes for New York. Diamond DeShields (3rd) and top overall pick A’ja Wilson are also off to strong starts for the Sky and Aces respectively.
10) Brian Agler dreams about the “tunnel”: Every interview the head coach of LA gives involves the phrase “tunnel” and how his team must dominate it. Agler wants his team to be aggressive and control the middle of the court and the paint and uses “tunnel” to describe the area.
11) ESPN providing a unique perspective on the sport: With the Sparks visiting Connecticut last Thursday ESPN went with a unique presentation with Rebecca Lobo behind the Sun bench and Kara Lawson behind the Sparks bench. The two along with Ryan Ruocco provided unique insight and the game was full of lots of fun moments to go along with the great action.
12) Lynx have a big weekend ahead: Minnesota will get to host Phoenix on Friday with a chance to reassert their dominance before a trip to LA for a small little game with the Sparks.