The All-Stars were announced on July 15th but let’s first take a look at the important role players around the league. With second through ninth in the league separated by only three games in the standings, and the entire league with five and a half games, every game carries that much more weight.
Based on recent results above all else.
1) Las Vegas Aces (11-5): It’s hard to look past the impact Dearica Hamby has been making off the bench for the Aces. Hamby has come off the bench in all 16 games so far this season for the Aces, averaging just under 20 minutes per game. Hamby has been having a career year and is making an impact across the board as she leads the Aces in net rating at 16.5, which is fourth best in the league.
Hamby has increased the Aces already tight defence, which leads the league overall. The Aces only allow 83.6 points per 100 possessions with her on the court compared to 94 when she’s off the court. A career-high 27 points against Dallas on 11-14 shooting is one of many highlights for Hamby this season. She’s scored fewer than nine points in only six games and has also put up three double doubles this season. If Hamby can keep producing, the Aces will be the favourites come September.
2) Washington Mystics (9-6): LaToya Sanders may be the quietest of the regular starters in Washington, but Sanders does the little things that help them win. Sanders may not put up numbers as good as Delle Donne or Atkins, but her contributions are needed. Sanders numbers have taken a downturn this season with 5.3 points per game along with 5.5 rebounds per game.
Sanders has been pushed to do too much at times which have shown her limitations. With Delle Donne missing a few games throughout the early parts of the season for various reasons the rebounding responsibility has shifted more to Sanders. In four of the six games in which she has grabbed more than 10 per cent of available rebounds the Mystics have gone on to lose. With Emma Meesseman returning Saturday from playing for Belgium, Washington should now have more support to help Sanders play her role perfectly.
3) Seattle Storm (10-8): On any other team, Alysha Clark would be filling a key role in helping them win, regardless of what role they needed her to play. Clark can score when needed, double digits in seven games, rebound, at least 5 in 10 games, or act as a secondary playmaker, 11 games with at least 3 assists. With Jewell Loyd joining the list of last year’s starters out injured, Clark has had to fill a larger role.
The importance of her job as support player for the team becomes obvious when looking at the Storm’s performance in games that push her into a more active offence role. When Clark takes 11 or more shots, the Storm are only 1-4. With Loyd returning soon and Sue Bird expected back for the playoffs, Clark should be able to slide back into her supporting role.
4) Los Angeles Sparks (9-7): A team full of All-Stars across the starting line-up is not supposed to be led by a player with 7.1 points, 1.4 rebounds and .7 assists last season. Riquna Williams has had productive seasons in the past but since coming to LA she has seen her production drop drastically. Joining a championship caliber team forced Williams to take on a small role.
This season under a new coach and with a fresh rotation of players Williams has been given a second chance and taken advantage to lead the team in net rating while playing 25 minutes a night. In her final season in Tulsa, Williams was an All-Star in 2015 and although she probably won’t make it this year she has returned to an almost similar level.
5) Connecticut Sun (11-6): It’s tough to name a star role player for a team that started the season so well before struggling lately, starting 9-1 before losing five in a row. Courtney Williams was my original choice for everything she does to keep the engine running. Shekinna Stricklen though has used her outside shooting to help propel the Sun’s to multiple wins.
Stricklen’s five worst shooting performances from three-point range, including four games without any, have all resulted in losses. Stricklen is second in both three point attempts and makes while sitting sixth overall in three-point percentage. A 3-15 shooting performance over five games in unlikely to happen again, so Connecticut should be fine moving forward.
6) Minnesota Lynx (10-7): There aren’t many rookies who play integral roles on teams that are looking to make deep runs in the playoffs but that’s where Napheesa Collier finds herself. Collier has stepped into the massive shoes of Maya Moore this season.
Averaging 11 points and six rebounds in 32 minutes per game Collier has stepped in and found ways to contribute on a nightly basis. Collier’s ability to play such a key role efficiently has been key as she has a positive assist-turnover ratio along with a true shooting percentage of 55 per cent.
7) Phoenix Mercury (7-8): With Diana Taurasi back in the line-up now the Mercury have their star trifecta back in operation which should allow everyone else on the roster to return to their more specialized roles. For Briann January and Leilani Mitchell, that means bombing away from long range and causing havoc on defence with steals.
Mitchell is having the better year currently ranking fifth in three-point attempts, makes and percentage league wide while also currently sitting 11th in assists, a career best performance. For January, after leading the league last year in three-point percentage she has slipped slightly to 13th, but she has jumped into the top 20 for steals per game this season to help cover the absence of Taurasi. The Mercury could be title contenders if these two can keep shooting like this and with Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner, and Brittney Griner playing like an MVPs.
8) Chicago Sky (9-8): Stefanie Dolson is probably the best player on both ends of the court in Chicago for a team that struggles to find balance. For a team with the second worst defence, Dolson is not the one to blame. Chicago has a better defensive rating regardless of what starter is off the court, but Dolson is the closest to even as the defence only improves by 1.9 points per 100 possessions. Next best is DeShields at 6.3.
On offence, Dolson can be trusted to knock down her shots with ease and consistency. She is fourth in field goal percentage and ninth from beyond the arc. Those percentages combine to put her fourth in true shooting percentage and sixth for effective field goal percentage. Her struggles rebounding can be covered up on the right team, but she is one of the elite scorers in terms of efficiency in this league.
9) Indiana Fever (6-12): Sometimes all that really matters is grabbing loose balls and either giving your team extra possessions or limiting second chance points for your opponents. Teaira McCowan has made all seven of her starts over the last 10 games and the rookie has not disappointed.
McCowan went from a rebounding percentage of 16.9 on the bench all season and increased it to 20.2 as a starter against some of the game’s best. Overall, she leads the league in rebounding percentage. Indiana has started to struggle in late game situations again like they did last season, they are 1-4 in games that enter clutch time over their last nine overall games and could use any boost to help them pick up wins.
10) New York Liberty (7-10): On a team with two clear superstars in Kia Nurse and Tina Charles, it’s nice to have a player such as Amanda Zahui B. She provides energy for the roster and does all the little things to help win. After missing some time representing her native Sweden at EuroBasket, Zahui B has returned to the Liberty lineup.
Although New York only has a 3-8 record with her playing, three of those wins have come in her five highest scoring games. Zahui B makes her big impact on the defensive end where she’s third on the team in on/off defensive rating helping the team improve by 5.5 points per 100 possessions on the defensive end. As a rim protector, they don’t come much better. Zahui B is second in the league in blocks with just over two per game. Going forward. the Liberty will be looking to get more offence out of her but for now the Swede is making an impact.
11) Atlanta Dream (5-11): I knew going into this that these last two teams were going to be tough just because of the struggles they’ve had on the season. In Atlanta anyone from Brittney Sykes, Tiffany Hayes, Elizabeth Williams, Renee Montgomery, Jessica Breland or Alex Bentley can step up and be the main star on any given night or struggle mightily.
Williams is most definitely not a supporting player on this team, but her recent performances reveal how much the Dream need her. Williams has collected at least eight rebounds over the last five games and the three Atlanta wins over that stretch have all coincided with her scoring at least 10. If Williams can continue to play well, it allows others on the team to not have to force their shot as much and swing the possession battle slightly more towards Atlanta.
12) Dallas Wings (5-11): Isabelle Harrison came over from Las Vegas as part of the package for Liz Cambage over the winter. Harrison has been doing a little bit of everything for a Dallas team that had been atrocious across the board on offence. Battling some minor injuries, Harrison has been one of many players in Dallas to rotate in and out of the starting lineup under a new coaching staff.
Dallas will need some of their young players, they are the youngest team in the league, to start stepping up into larger roles as they progress. Harrison could turn into the type of player who provides a presence in the paint with a bit of scoring and average rebounding that would make a good team become great.
Team of the Week
A starting line-up with one bench player who were the best over the last 6 days, amount of games has an impact. Note: I missed last week so this will be based on games between July 2-14.
G: Chelsea Gray (Sparks)- A triple double line of 13 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds against was one of the top performances of the season. She had two other games where she came close to a double double, as well finishing one assist short once and two short in another game.
G: Allie Quigley (Sky)- Always known as one of the top shooters in the league, Quigley stepped up her playmaking over the last two weeks. In five games the Sky guard put up an assists/turnover ratio of 3.83 spurred by 21 assists and 2 turnovers over three games. Once you add that in all five games she shot above 40 per cent from three, and you see why she is so important to Chicago.
F: Nneka Ogwumike (Sparks)- With 21.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game over the two weeks Ogwumike finished second in both categories league wide. Add in the 1.3 blocks per game, which are a top 10 mark and it’s easy to see why Los Angeles is improving.
F: DeWanna Bonner (Mercury)- Just another week where the MVP favourite helped carry the Mercury until the return of Taurasi.
C: Liz Cambage (Aces)- Finally, after finishing second in MVP voting, the 2018 version ofCambage has returned. Over the last two weeks she has put 17 points, almost nine rebounds and three and a half assists on average over four games as the Aces find themselves on top of the standings now.
Bench: Aerial Powers (Mystics)- Without Delle Donne to lean on, Powers has stepped up to provide a consistent spark of the bench even as the Mystics went winless in three games, their fourth was halted at halftime due to earthquakes in Las Vegas. Powers averaged 12 points per game, tops for any bench player, while playing the third most minutes off the bench in the league at just over 21 minutes a night.
A few games worth checking on over the next six days, all times are eastern standard time.
Las Vegas @ Seattle, Friday 10:00 NBA TV: If Jewell Loyd can be back for this week the top three team’s in the west will be facing off in a mini battle royale in what should be a trifecta of games. The teams enter separated by two and a half games but could be only a game and a half after this week.
Seattle @ Minnesota, Wednesday 8:00 NBA TV: The trio of games begins with the two of the most stable franchises over the years battling to start the week, Loyd should return as she was expected to miss two weeks and this would be near the end of the third week.
Minnesota @ Las Vegas, Sunday 6:00 League Pass: The series of challenges ends the week with arguably the league’s biggest surprise in Minnesota looking to continue their great season against the team that stole all the headlines in the offseason.