WNBA playoff basketball is finally here! With things kicking off
on Wednesday night, I decided to highlight an X-factor I'll be
keeping tabs on for each best-of-three first round series.
For Part II of this two-part series, let's look at the Thursday
night matchups, which features the Connecticut Sun taking on the
Dallas Wings and the Seattle Storm battling with the Washington
Mystics. If you missed Part I, featuring the Las Vegas Aces-Phoenix
Mercury and Chicago Sky-New York Liberty matchups, you can read that here.
(For deeper thoughts on each series, listen to our playoff
preview on the latest episode of The Dunker Spot.)
(4) SEATTLE STORM vs. (5) WASHINGTON
THINGS TO KNOW
- Storm won season series 2-1
- June 23: Storm 85-71
- July 30: Storm 82-77
- July 31: Mystics 78-75
- Mystics star Elena Delle Donne
played in all three matchups, and should be fully available for the
- The Storm (22-14) finished No. 6 in offense (102.6 ORTG), No. 3
in defense (97.4 DRTG) and No. 4 in Net Rating (+5.2).
- The Mystics (22-14) finished No. 7 in offense (101.1 ORTG), No.
1 in defense (96 DRTG) and No. 5 in Net Rating (+5.1).
KEY QUESTION: Who can create easy buckets?
It is both a treat and a disgrace that two legitimate title
contenders are facing off in the first round. It's cruel that we
may get, at most, three games of Delle Donne after the Mystics were
so diligent about load-managing her so she'll be in peak condition
for the postseason. And the thought of Sue Bird's career ending —
or Breanna Stewart's career in Seattle ending, if you believe the New York smoke —
with a first-round ouster just seems unfair.
Beyond that — holy bleep, are these teams ridiculously good
The Mystics and Storm ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in Defensive Rating respectively.
That Moreyball stat from the Aces-Mercury section — the
percentage of shots that come at the rim or behind the arc — can be
flipped to see which teams are preventing their
opponents from taking shots from fruitful areas. The Mystics (54.4%
of shots) and Storm (59.0%) have allowed the lowest share of
those shots in the league.
As dominant as they are defensively, they've been equally
middling on the glamour end of the floor. They're separated by
roughly a point in terms of Offensive Rating, with the Storm
(102.6, sixth) edging out the Mystics (101.1, seventh) this season.
Quiet as kept, neither team gets to the rim that often.
They've both struggled with flow in the half-court, though some
of their struggles can be explained away. The Mystics haven't
always had Delle Donne in the lineup; with her being the only
player that consistently draws an extra defender, it's led to a lot
of side-to-side passing and unsavory shot selection. As good as
Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins are, teams are pretty comfortable
ducking under picks against them to:
- Keep them out of the paint
- Stay out of rotation
With the Storm, things would fall off a cliff whenever Stewart
would leave the court. Ideally, this would set the stage for Jewell
Loyd to lead second units. Her blend of driving and pull-ups should
help weather storms (sorry), but she simply hasn't made shots at
the same clip. She converted a career-worst 40.3% of her two-point
shots, including a ghastly 33.7% on shots between 3 and 10
With that, I wonder how each team goes about unlocking itself in
the half-court beyond, "Give it to Stewie/EDD and get out of the
For the Storm, that may be experimenting with more on-ball reps
for Gabby Williams, who's both the worst spacer in their starting
unit and a sneaky-good pick-and-roll player. They trust her with
reps in early offense situations, either above the break or
emptying a side and letting her zig and zag.
Utilizing Williams on the ball could limit the help the Mystics
can send. If Williams is the one setting the table, the star talent
she's surrounded with could feast on catch-and-shoot or
catch-and-drive opportunities against a tilted defense.
On the Mystics side, I'm intrigued by the inverted
pick-and-rolls and ghost screens they've mixed in with their
guards. That could be a way to get the Storm to put two on the
ball, which could open up short-roll opportunities and easy
(3) CONNECTICUT SUN vs. (6) DALLAS WINGS
THINGS TO KNOW
- Wings won season series 2-1
- May 24: Wings 85-77
- May 26: Sun 99-68
- July 5: Wings 82-71
- Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale
will miss the first round after having core muscle
- The Sun (25-11) finished No. 2 in offense (105.8
ORTG), No. 2 in defense (96.3 DRTG) and No. 1 in Net Rating
- The Wings (18-18) finished No. 4 in offense
(104.6 ORTG), No. 9 in defense (104.3 DRTG) and No. 6 in Net Rating
KEY QUESTION: How impactful can Teaira McCowan
This has felt like a popular upset pick, and I get the argument
for it. The Wings did win the regular season
series, though the wins came with Ogunbowale averaging 18 points
and drilling crucial shots and versatile forward Satou Sabally
doing a little bit of everything. Neither will be available once
the series starts.
There's also the matter of the Sun, as talented as they are,
also having a tendency to lose the plot in the half-court. Even
amidst their overall success — I hear having the second best ORTG
in basketball is a good thing — the lack of Jonquel Jones in crucial moments continues to
Ultimately, I think the Wings' chances for an upset will depend
on how well McCowan can hold up.
She's been a revelation of late, holding
down the fort inside with deep seals, post hooks, offensive boards
and plenty of fouls drawn. She's also seen her fair share of double
teams, and that's where things could get dicey.
Jones is a good defender in her own right. She
won't need help in form of a double or hard dig.
But she may get them, mostly because Alyssa Thomas is one of the
best defenders on the planet. She's an event creator of the highest
order, and an instinctual defender willing and able to take
aggressive gambles. I think back to this recent possession from a
If Sophie Cunningham can fluster McCowan with help like that,
what kind of damage could Thomas do?
McCowan has been able to plow through opposing defenses —
figuratively and literally — as the Wings have closed their season
on a high note. Being game planned against in a playoff setting is
different altogether. It's where the foul trouble and the
less-than-sterling assist-to-turnover ratio — she had 8 assists and
14 turnovers in her last five games — come into play.
I'm a little less worried defensively, but it's worth keeping an
eye on her in a drop. Courtney Williams is not gun-shy; she took by
far the most mid-range jumpers in The W,
and I'd worry about the cascading effect of McCowan's drop turning
into a late switch.
Not that Kayla Thornton and Allisha Gray aren't good rebounders
in their own right, but tasking them with battling with
Connecticut's size on the glass is unfair to them. McCowan in space
is also asking for an advantage to be given up, or fouls to be
committed. And without Ogunbowale, she's frankly too important to
log under 30 minutes a game if she can help it.