Let’s break in to this week’s first “WNBA Six Pack” by taking a look at the six Western Conference teams.
For each squad, we’re highlighting a player who exemplifies the spirit of persistence required to survive and thrive in a league with a maximum of 144 spots — from milestone-making legends to burgeoning stars to workaday vets.
Las Vegas Aces (23-2): Jackie’s superstar jump
Imagine being presented with this proposition at the end of the 2019 season: Four seasons from now, is it more likely that Jackie Young scores in single digits in 24 of the first 25 games? Or, is it more likely she scores in double digits in 24 of the first 25 games?
The No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, Young averaged 6.6 points per game as a rookie, shooting 32.2 percent from the field. Evidence suggested shooting and scoring would not become her signature skills.
Yet, here we are. Sunday’s win over the Dallas Wings was the first time this season Young did not score in double figures. Her shooting and scoring numbers are still sparkling. Young is averaging 18.6 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 67.4, currently the third-best mark in the league. Her percentage is in this stratosphere because she is burning the nets from behind the arc, making 47.5 percent of her 4.9 3-point attempts per game.
Her improvement is insane.
The Jackie Young workout plan must be released !!
— Chris Williamson (@CWilliamson44) July 31, 2023
At all levels of basketball, the prospect of a raw, toolsy and athletic player just needing to develop a steady shot to become a true star is a frequent dream but rare reality. Young, however, has actualized this ideal; that’s why she’s a superstar.
Up next: Tuesday, Aug. 1 vs. Atlanta Dream (10 p.m. ET, League Pass); Sunday, Aug. 6 at New York Liberty (3 p.m. ET, ABC)
Dallas Wings (14-11): Celebrating comeback Kalani
The WNBA never has had a Comeback Player of the Year award. If there was one, the Wings’ Kalani Brown would be a leading candidate for this season’s honor.
The seventh selection in the 2019 draft by the Los Angeles Sparks, Brown’s combination of size and soft touch suggested she could blossom into an impact offensive player. But the WNBA waits for no one, with roster-building limitations preventing teams from patiently developing a player like Brown.
With the Atlanta Dream for 10 games in 2020 and a single game in 2021, Brown was out of the W last season. So she diligently put in developmental work while playing overseas. Signing with the Wings on a hardship contract after spending training camp with the team, Brown instantly received the consistent opportunity that had eluded her in previous stops due to an injury to, and the subsequent overseas-related absence of, Teaira McCowan. She busted out with a double-double of 17 points and 15 rebounds over the Phoenix Mercury in early June. Although it came in a loss, she also showed off against the Sparks, scoring a career-high 21 points.
McCowan’s return to the lineup, along with Brown suffering a concussion, limited Brown’s opportunities through much of July. However, whether it is with the Wings or another team, Kalani Brown belongs in the WNBA.
Up next: Wednesday, Aug. 2 at Seattle Storm (10:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports); Friday, Aug. 4 vs. Chicago Sky (8 p.m. ET, ION); Sunday, Aug. 6 vs. Chicago Sky (4 p.m. ET; ESPN 3)
Minnesota Lynx (13-13): A Diamond shines bright
Due to missed time, as well as the season-long superbness of the Indiana Fever’s Aliyah Boston, Diamond Miller will not win the 2023 Rookie of the Year award. But that doesn’t mean she will not be a star. Or, quite possibly, it doesn’t mean that she is not already a star!
Not only has Miller turned in some strong scoring performances of late, highlighted by 20-plus points in back-to-back games last week, but she also is exploring and exhibiting the depth of her skillset, tallying two games of nine assists since the All-Star break.
Things still get messy with Miller. In Sunday’s thrilling win over the Connecticut Sun, she struggled to put the ball in the basket. Overall, her ball security and shooting efficiency must improve. Yet, these errors of eagerness demonstrate the undeterred attitude with which she has attacked her rookie season.
And most importantly, Miller contributes to winning basketball. Since she returned from an ankle injury in late June, the Lynx are 9-4 with Miller in the lineup.
Up next: Tuesday, Aug. 1 at Connecticut Sun (7 p.m. ET, ESPN); Friday, Aug. 4 vs. New York Liberty (8 p.m. ET, ION);
Los Angeles Sparks (9-16): Layshia’s light lifts LA
On a recent episode of The Ringer’s Real Ones podcast, host Logan Murdock shared an illuminating anecdote about the in-game comportment of then-injured Layshia Clarendon:
The level of ‘I’m going to be in every huddle and live and die by every huddle’ was so palpable…Just, honestly, living and dying by the game…You can tell the people that give a f*** versus the one’s that don’t.
Based on what happened to them last season, one wouldn’t blame Clarendon if they had succumbed to the cynicism of pro sports. After spurring the Lynx’s turn around during the 2021 season, Clarendon was cut by Minnesota in 2022’s training camp, with the organization, subject to the league’s harsh roster limitations, unable to exhibit any empathy for a valuable veteran who was struggling to recover from a lingering injury.
— Layshia Clarendon (@Layshiac) May 3, 2022
Yet, Clarendon reclaimed a spot in the league with the Sparks because of a mission to maximize every opportunity, from how they performed as a teammate to how they performed on the court. Previously a more traditional point guard, the 10-year vet has morphed into a 3-and-D wing, digging in on defense as they always have while serving as a credible floor spacer on offense by taking a career-high 3.1 3-point attempts per 100 possessions.
Up next: Tuesday, Aug. 1 vs. New York Liberty (10 p.m. ET, NBA TV); Friday, Aug. 4 at Washington Mystics (7 p.m. ET, ION); Sunday, Aug. 6 at Washington Mystics (3 p.m. ET, ESPN 3)
Phoenix Mercury (6-18): 10K for DT
Nothing models persistence more than pouring in points past your 41st birthday.
But, in season 19, Diana Taurasi is still getting it done, on the cusp of breaking the 10,000-point scoring barrier. As the Mercury prepare to meet the Fever in Indiana on Tuesday evening, Dee sits at 9,953 points, a mere 47 shy of the history-making mark. She, of course, already is the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, taking the honor from Tina Thompson in 2017.
While injuries and inconsistency have struck her more often in recent seasons, she remains a certified threat, with opponents ever fearful of facing the vintage version of Taurasi.
Up next: Tuesday, Aug. 1 at Indiana Fever (7 p.m. ET, ESPN 3); Thursday, Aug. 3 vs. Atlanta Dream (10 p.m. ET, Prime Video); Saturday, Aug. 5 vs. Seattle Storm (10 p.m. ET; NBA TV)
Seattle Storm (6-19): Revenge-game Gabby strikes again
In Friday night’s streaking-snapping win, hometown gal Jewell Loyd struggled to find her shot, with the WNBA’s leading points scorer tallying only six points on 1-for-6 shooting. While Loyd steadied during this second half, she still did not turn in the kind of dynamo scoring performance presumed necessary for the sliding Storm to return to the win column.
Yet, Seattle secured the upset, with Gabby Williams unleashing her best effort of the season against her former team. Williams, traded away from the Sky before their 2021 title-winning season, scored a season-high 17 points. We should have expected as much; last season, Williams dropped 21 points during an early-August victory in Chicago.
Up next: Wednesday, Aug. 2 vs. Dallas Wings (10:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports); Saturday, Aug. 5 at Phoenix Mercury (10 p.m. ET, NBA TV)