Injuries, absences, inconsistency and inexperience have the bottom-six teams in the WNBA stuck below .500. For several of these squads, it’s hard not to focus on what might happen in the future, from the end of this season to the offseason and beyond. Here’s the second edition of “WNBA Six Pack”:
Minnesota Lynx (11-13)
Following last night’s win over the Washington Mystics, the Lynx have won six of their last 10 games, situating them somewhat comfortably in the seventh spot in the standings.
However, a closer look at Minnesota’s win profile inspires little confidence in their ability to legitimately challenge a higher-seeded squad in the playoffs. Of Minnesota’s 11 wins, only two—both wins over Washington—have come against a team above them in the standings. And Wednesday’s win was over an injured-ravaged version of the Mystics.
All this raises the question: Should the Lynx just tank? The possibility of drafting Caitlin Clark, an admirer of Lynx legend Maya Moore, or Minnesota-native Paige Bueckers (if they declare for the 2024 WNBA Draft) certainly entices.
Over at Canius Hoopus, Mitchell Hansen recently addressed this conundrum, ultimately deciding that tanking is antithetical to the competitive culture that head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve prioritizes, especially when so much uncertainty surrounds the draft lottery and the declaration of the best prospects.
And no one wants to see less of Napheesa Collier on the court during this MVPhee season!
Up next: Sunday, Jul. 30 at Connecticut Sun (1 p.m. ET, CBS Sports)
Chicago Sky (9-14)
With James Wade’s sudden departure to the Toronto Raptors, the Sky not only lost one of the W’s sharpest Xs-and-Os minds, but, possibly, the best general manager in the league.
Yes, Wade constructed the 2021 title-winning roster, inking Candace Parker to the championship-securing hometown contract. The more marginal talent acquisition moves he has made in the intervening offseasons also have impressed. Last season, Rebekah Gardner, whom Wade targeted after seeing her play in Spain, emerged as an instant impact player.
This year, he brought Morgan Bertsch, a 2019 third-round draft pick out of UC Davis who had never caught on with a WNBA team and has been through multiple overseas stops, and Robyn Parks, another overseas journeywoman who was undrafted in 2014 after a collegiate career at VCU, to Chicago. Wade also signed two players—Alanna Smith and Elizabeth Williams—who have emerged (or re-emerged) as the best versions of themselves for the Sky.
A first-round draft selection by the Phoenix Mercury in 2019, Smith seemed poised to become the kind of player who would perennially bounce around the end of rosters, intriguing as a theoretical stretch big yet never receiving consistent minutes. She has flourished in Chicago, doing a little bit of everything—including grabbing 17 rebounds in the Sky’s victory over the Storm last Saturday.
Tonight @AlannaSmith96 became just the 3rd player in WNBA history to finish a game with 17+ REB, 4+ STL, and 3+ BLK:
Sylvia Fowles – Aug 24, 2021 – 20 REB/4 STL/3 BLK
Candace Parker – Aug 28, 2022 – 18 REB/4 STL/6 BLK
Alanna Smith – July 22, 2023 – 17 REB/4 STL/3 BLK
— Across the Timeline (@WBBTimeline) July 23, 2023
Last season, it appeared that the the increasingly spaced-out and high-scoring WNBA had passed E. Williams, an undersized, traditional big with limited scoring range, by. Yet, arriving in Chicago after a single forgettable season in Washington, she has rediscovered the form she showed during her six seasons with the Atlanta Dream.
In short, Wade had started to reconstruct the kind of supporting cast that could successfully surround the next superstar who decides to play for her hometown Sky. But if he’s no longer there, can this strategic process continue to be executed as effectively?
Up next: Friday, Jul. 28 vs. Seattle Storm (8 p.m. ET, ion); Sunday, Jul. 30 vs. Phoenix Mercury (4 p.m. ET, ESPN 3)
Los Angeles Sparks (8-15)
Back in 2019, Swish Appeal predicted the 10 best players of the 2020s. While the list includes a number of hits, one player who has not reached the potential we thought possible is Jordin Canada, who then seemed like the heir apparent to Sue Bird in Seattle.
On Tuesday night, a Canada who resembled that imagined superstar version herself powered the Sparks to a skid-snapping win over the Indiana Fever. She scored 20 points, tossed 10 assists and snagged four steals before nailing the clutch 3-pointer that helped LA avoid a franchise-record ninth-straight loss.
Overall, Canada is putting together the best offensive season of her career. An impactful defender since she arrived in the W, her limitations as a shooter raised concerns about her ability to be a high-caliber starting point guard. In her second season in LA, she has found a more reliable 3-point stroke, outpacing her previous attempt and conversion rates as she is hitting 37.3 percent of her 2.8 attempts per game. And, as her game-winner illustrates, Canada has confidence in her 3-ball. That she also has vastly improved her free throw percentage, swishing a sparkling 92.2 percent of her 3.7 attempts per game, further suggests her shooting leap is real.
So while Canada may not become one of this decade’s best players, she is a valuable piece for the playoff-hopeful Sparks.
Up next: Thursday, Jul. 27 vs. Indiana Fever (3:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV); Sunday, Jul. 30 vs. New York Liberty (4 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Phoenix Mercury (6-17)
When he assumed ownership of the Phoenix Mercury and Suns, Mat Ishbia instantly established his aggressive approach on the NBA side.
It appears he is bringing the same attitude to the W, which raises a number of questions for a Mercury franchise that, until recent seasons, had been a model of success and stability, despite the boorishness of former-owner Robert Sarver.
Approximately one month ago, the Mercury dismissed head coach Vanessa Nygard, elevating assistant Nikki Blue for the remainder of the regular season. In early July, it was announced that Nick U’Ren, a longtime member of the Golden State Warriors organization, will take over as general manger after this season, with current general manager Jim Pitman staying with the franchise as chief financial officer. And, Phoenix will host the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game.
Owner Mat Ishbia to CEO Josh Bartelstein when he first got the job:
“I want the WNBA All-Star Game, and I want it in… pic.twitter.com/rO83g2K8AS
— Eliav Gabay (@eliavgabay) July 17, 2023
What else will happen?
Unless the Mercury undergo a massive turnaround that not only results in a playoff berth but also a first round victory, Blue is unlikely to receive the permanent position. Based on everything Ishbia has done so far, he will want to make a splash. As the Las Vegas Aces’ Mark Davis showed with the million-dollar hiring of Becky Hammon, a big-name, well-paid head coach serves as a way for an owner to demonstrate their commitment to establishing a first-class organization, and earn attention for doing so.
Could things get even spicier in Phoenix? After Ishbia agreed to jettison the Suns’ aging, overpaid and often-injured point guard, could he also question the practicality of orienting the Mercury around an another aging legend who, at this point, is being paid for past performance more than current production? There’s also the needed resolution to the Skylar Diggins-Smith stalemate.
Eyes will be on the Valley this offseason!
Up next: Sunday, Jul. 30 at Chicago Sky (4 p.m. ET, ESPN 3)
Indiana Fever (6-17)
Recently, Edwin Garcia assessed head coach Christie Sides’ Coach of the Year candidacy. Here, let’s assess her overall vibe.
Sides brings a bundle of hyper-mom energy to Indy sidelines (or Sideslines?). With her glasses often pushed back on her head to hold back her bleached-blonde hair, Sides might look like she came to the game straight from a county club pool. However, she is anything but chill, constantly pacing, crouching and cajoling. A frequent (friendly) slap on the rear also is a Sides speciality.
Her passionate postgame speeches, even after losses, provide a perspective of the cultural shift she is initiating in Indy.
the locker room is hype as Head Coach Christie Sides addresses the team after today’s win.
“Really proud of you guys.” pic.twitter.com/hOscKbPN1W
— Indiana Fever (@IndianaFever) July 19, 2023
As an assistant coach with Atlanta last season, Sides was part of a similar transformation, helping head coach Tanisha Wright revitalize a Dream franchise that was trending toward disintegration. Despite featuring talented players like Kelsey Mitchell, the Fever have been stale, even irrelevant, in recent seasons. Whereas Wright put her imprint on Atlanta with a cool intensity, Sides exudes an uplifting urgency.
Even if the Fever’s final record again fails to impress, the franchise now has energy and vibrancy, in large part due to Sides.
Up next: Thursday, Jul. 27 at Los Angeles Spark (3:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV); Sunday, Jul. 30 vs. Seattle Storm (4 p.m. ET; ESPN 3)
Seattle Storm (4-19)
Despite the double-digit and franchise-record losing streak of 10 games, the Storm are not mired in a soul-sucking season. While the ascent back to playoffs and title contention might be a ways away, there are reasons for optimism in the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle, sneakily, might have had one of the best 2023 drafts. A projected lottery pick, Jordan Horston fell into the Storm’s lap at the ninth selection. In the spacier offensive environs of the WNBA, her combination of athleticism and craft has popped. With additional seasoning, she could emerge as a difficult-to-defend three-level scorer with defensive upside. After receiving only a smattering of minutes in May and June, Dulcy Fankham Mendjiadeu, drafted at No. 21, has been a rotation fixture in July, flashing her potential as an aggressive, athletic rim-rolling big with the potential to feast on the glass.
If the lottery luck that the Storm historically have enjoyed again comes through and the franchise receives its fifth No. 1 pick, the optimism could accelerate into overdrive.
Up next: Friday, Jul. 28 at Chicago Sky (8 p.m. ET, ion); Sunday, Jul. 30 at Indiana Fever (4 p.m. ET, ESPN 3)