Year 26 of the WNBA is finally here! There will be plenty of
storylines to follow this year: Swan songs for long-time legends
(Sylvia Fowles, Sue Bird), highly anticipated returns (Elena Delle
Donne), new faces in new places (Tina Charles and Liz Cambage among
others), and plenty of young stars looking to make leaps. It's a
great time to get invested in the W if you haven't already.
Opening night was a doozy: four games featuring eight teams with
wildly different expectations. Every game got my brain churning in
some capacity, and the same can be said for my pal Mark Schindler.
So, naturally, we decided to team up and share our takeaways
from each game. Let's dig in!
INDIANA FEVER VS WASHINGTON MYSTICS
THE SCORE: 84-70 MYSTICS
THE STORY: MYSTICS' OFFENSE SCARY HOURS
This was a weird game to say the
least, something that will likely be the norm for an extremely
young Fever team that started three rookies and had five who played
significant rotation minutes last night.
The youth was apparent, but so
was the budding potential. NaLyssa Smith finished her first game in
the pros with a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double while showcasing
the footwork, fluidity and athleticism that make her a remarkable
Destanni Henderson carved up the
floor with passes, hitting cutters with ease and operating out of
ball screens with the guile that made her a joy to watch at South
Most importantly, seeing a
healthy Elena Delle Donne back was just awesome. She's gone through
an insane amount medically in the past few seasons, and to come in
without a minutes restriction was great.
The 84 points scored by the
Mystics last night undersells the brilliant flashes they put
together offensively. While noting again that this Fever team is of
course inexperienced, Washington put them through the ringer. They
threw so many actions and looks at the wall in the first game that
impressed, and it felt like a playoff gameplan at times. The second
Crystal Dangerfield checked into the game, sets were called to run
lead guard Natasha Cloud off screens or cuts to post the much
smaller Dangerfield up and draw a foul or easy bucket.
Cloud saw the court extremely
well last night, and her control of the offense and ability to
shift east and west to find better angles to attack was
For a roughly five-minute
stretch in the second quarter, the Mystics went to Delle Donne at
the 5 with Cloud, Ariel Atkins, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Tianna
Hawkins. All five players can shoot, pass, handle and attack the
floor. While it's not a look that the Mystics can fully embrace for
large chunks of the game, the run they went on (outscoring Indiana
by 8 in a 4:47 stretch, per InStat scouting) showed glimpses of a
With Delle Donne up screening
this high and three shooters fanned out, Fever rookie big Queen
Egbo has to play at the level. Cloud is capable of hitting a
pull-up two against drop. Delle Donne is too good of a shooter from
*checks notes* everywhere to give her any modicum of space. It's hard to
draw help from any of the off-ball defenders given the personnel
the Mystics are employing.
Washington went repeatedly to a
5-out look with this group. Space Delle Donne and use Hawkins as a
popper off a pick for Cloud, as she can drive to the basket off a
hard close. This is a stout group defensively as well! There's
length and mobility. While they'd likely struggle against a true
post, the offense feels like it could be so good that it can
dictate matchups and opposing lineups.
This Mystics team has a chance
to really pop, and it's great to see them whole again. -
- I was a bit surprised by how straight-up
the Fever defended the Mystics in this one. Pick-and-rolls were
defended two-on-two, often allowing Delle Donne to pop into open
space or, if the Fever executed a late switch, drivers to get
one-on-ones against bigs. Delle Donne saw plenty of single coverage
on post-ups, including a notable up-and-under against NyLyssa
Smith. Bless her heart.
- On the pick-and-roll front, I'm curious to see how teams
defend the Cloud-Delle Donne duo moving forward. Drop is a
non-starter, and switches aren't ideal considering the scoring
ability of both. Do you really want to give Delle Donne short-roll
opportunities with traps? Good luck.
- The post-up bullying aside, it was nice to see Dangerfield
scooting around out there. I'm still a little shellshocked by the
Lynx waiving her, especially considering the struggles they had
generating offense in their game against the Storm. - Nekias
LOS ANGELES SPARKS VS CHICAGO SKY
THE SCORE: 98-91 (OT), SPARKS
THE STORY: DANA EVANS!!!!
The most competitive game of the
evening was also a cagey affair! Both teams have new faces in
prominent roles, and it was clear that both coaching staffs were
trying to pinpoint these new areas early to test the waters of
Chennedy Carter had great
flashes as a scorer out of transition and in the halfcourt, but she
was also on a very different rhythm than the rest of the team,
which was to be expected in her first game in LA. Derek Fisher rode
with Jordin Canada down the stretch, as she cut up the Sky in the
halfcourt on drives and set up her teammates extremely well. They
don't win the game without her shotmaking (and that call on the
Candace Parker and Nneka
Ogwumike were both fantastic — Parker with her playmaking and
defensive freneticism, Ogwumike with her aggression on offense and
defense as well. It was great to see Nneka look this fluid and
The story of the game for me was
backup guard Dana Evans. A member of the Sky's title team as a
rookie last season, Evans shined bright, going for a career-high 24
points, easily surpassing her 14-point outing that paced her
scoring last season.
Evans toggled on and off the
ball, which made her performance all the more impressive. She got
to her pull-up and operated well as a ball-handler in
pick-and-roll. She canned some deep threes, which opened up even
more for her off the catch. She was great intiating sets and then
relocating and making herself involved in play, which is essential
playing alongside star players.
Evans was great drawing contact,
finishing through it and making herself a weapon as a secondary
scorer and advantage attacker last night, feasting off of initial
plays in sets.
With Julie Allemand (part of the
Diamond DeShields trade in the offseason) coming over from overseas
to play soon, it'll be interesting to see how the backup guard
rotation shapes up in Chicago. Allie Quigley was out last night and
Kahleah Copper (who is also finishing up overseas play) is really
the only true wing on the roster. As Peter
Kilkelly pointed out
last night, we should expect a lot of 3-guard sets from the Sky
this season. This was a special, special performance from Dana that
perhaps signified even more reason for excitement this season. -
- Consider me intrigued with Chicago's
frontcourt. Starting big with Parker, newcomer Emma Meesseman, and
Azura Stevens is sure to pose problems for everyone. That
combination of size and ball skills can only be matched by... two
other teams? Maybe three? To the three-guard point, I'm excited to
see more of the Parker-Meesseman duo. They already showcased some
high-low chemistry in the opener.
- How about Jordin Canada, Starting Point Guard? It's about darn
time! She's been one of the W's best drivers and point-of-attack
defenders for quite some time. Watching her direct the offense and
call her own number down the stretch was pretty fun. I don't think
she's a 21-and-8 player, but there's clearly more in the bag than
she was able to show in Seattle.
- Chennedy Carter is playing basketball again! Her shot creation
should pop in this bench role. One might say she'll provide a
Spark. - Nekias
LAS VEGAS ACES VS PHOENIX MERCURY
THE SCORE: 106-88, ACES
THE STORY: OFFENSIVE FREEDOM
Let's get the caveats out of the way early. It's one (1) game.
The Mercury, in particular, were missing a ton of talent. There was
no Brittney Griner (GET BRITTNEY HOME) as she's still detained in
Russia. Brianna Turner, one of the best young frontcourt players in
the W, is still playing overseas. The same is true for Diamond
DeShields, one of the most athletic wings in the W. That's a pretty
large chunk of the Mercury's defensive infrastructure
With that said: whew, buddy, did the Aces put the ball
in the basket.
Not only did they drop 106 points, a mark they eclipsed just
twice last season, the way they went about it was
With A'ja Wilson starting alongside Dearica Hamby, there was
more space to operate with. The pace was pushed more frequently
— they won the fastbreak
points battle, 15-6 — and
the tempo was up in the half-court. More pace and space means
Wilson and Hamby getting busy as screeners or post hubs. Actions
with an empty corner have a little more juice now.
Ah, and then there were the threes.
The Aces were the league's most efficient offense last season,
but did so in the most predictable, traditionalist way. They fed
the block and brutalized opponents inside. This wasn't a team that
shot threes often; their 13.5 attempts last season ranked last in
the league by a pretty decent margin.
The tide seems to be turning for the group under new head coach
Becky Hammon. They attempted 23 triples in their lone preseason
game. They took 21 on Friday night, making 11 of them. It was, per
the broadcast, the third time in franchise
history that they made 11 or more threes in a
Between Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray bombing away from deep
(hitting a combined 6-of-11 from three), and the complementary play
styles (and general mobility) of Wilson and Hamby, it should come
as no shock that Jackie Young (20 points on 8-of-10 shooting) was
also able to shake loose.
Good freaking luck with this group. - Nekias
- I've already
started the Kelsey Plum All-Star campaign, and Kelsey has done so
accordingly with her play!
- I was so so
impressed by Las Vegas' ball movement and connective passing. While
it's important to note that the Mercury were pretty depleted
heading into game one, the Aces exacerbated all the advantages they
could find and make.
- Jackie Young!!!
Entering her fourth season, I have really high expectations for who
Jackie can be. With a new coach and system, I think Friday night
was a glimpse of her bright spots from past years as well as how
beneficial pacing and an even more spread floor benefits her game.
She's so strong on her power-drives to the rim and such a fantastic
mid-range shooter on a variety of self-created looks. Her defense
on Diana Taurasi was extremely fun and effective as well, really
sticking to her off the ball. - Mark
SEATTLE STORM VS MINNESOTA LYNX
THE SCORE: 97-74, STORM
THE STORY: GABBY WILLIAMS IS BACK
It's been a tumultuous stretch from Gabby Williams, a UConn
standout turned gap-filler for the Chicago Sky. She had her
contract suspended for roster-spot reasons — you can get a breakdown of that ordeal
here — and was then traded from the Sky to
the Los Angeles Sparks before the 2021 season began.
She was traded again over the offseason, this time to the
Seattle Storm for Katie Lou Samuelson and the pick (#9 overall)
that became Rae Burrell.
We're only a game in, but this is already looking like one of
the best moves of the offseason for the Storm.
Wiilliams can do just about everything but shoot from deep (as
she's a career 24.8% from three), which bodes well for a Storm team
as active as this one.
Offensively, she's able to get the machine churning with her
passing ability. Whether it's making entry passes, making kicks off
the dribble or running the occasional ball screen, Williams can
find her teammates. Off the ball, she's a willing screener and
heady cutter. You can't really afford to "gap" her because she'll
make herself — or a teammate
— a threat.
The real appeal comes on the other end. Williams is a true
multi-positional defender. She has the mobility to slide with
guards, can deal with virutally any wing you throw at her, and is
pesky enough to bother bigger players as well. Watching her slither
across screens and mirror ball-handlers is a joy.
For people who aren't familiar or needed the reminder of what
she can do defensively, look no further than her work in the second
quarter of this game. These are
just three examples of her versatility.
You get it all here. Active hands, timely rotations off the
ball, switchability, contesting without fouling. She's a beast. -
- I'm super intrigued by who
Jessica Shepard could be for this team. Her shot was there and she
looked confident in it. She displayed some really fun and
tantalizing ball skills and court vision as a DHO operator and
high-post playmaker. With the Lynx this depleted to start the
season, they'll need as much as she can offer as well.
- The Storm miss Mercedes
Russell's post presence without a doubt, as Sylvia Fowles bodied
them early (a norm for W frontcourt players the past
decade-and-a-half). Yet, their ability to rotate backline and flash
recovery skills and communicate as a defense throughout the game
was impressive. Williams and Briann January bring extra pop at the
point of attack and this team shows real capability early to be a
more stout defense. - Mark
Mark Schindler contributed to this
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