Recapping a game between the Connecticut Whale and Montreal Force as well as the PHF's All-Star Game in Toronto.
Hello. It has been a while. And a lot has happened in (and out of) the WNBA since my last post about a month (...and change) ago.
First off, a champion was crowned. The Connecticut Sun swept Los Angeles and the Washington Mystics beat Las Vegas to reach the WNBA Finals, where Washington came out victorious after an epic five-game series.
There's a lot that has happened for all 12 teams in the past month – and throughout the season, of course. Here are my takes for each squad, in alphabetical order with each record and standings finish noted.
Atlanta Dream (8-26, 12th place)
The Good: While Atlanta won only eight games in 2019, some of those wins were against playoff-bound teams, including Connecticut, Seattle, and Minnesota. That shows that when this team gets hot, they can get really hot.
The Bad: ...Atlanta won only eight games in 2019 after finishing 2018 with 23 wins and an appearance in the semifinals. In addition, All-Star veteran Angel McCoughtry may not suit up for the Dream again after some drama ensued between her and the team near the end of the regular season.
The New: The Dream will start the 2020s with a new logo and a new stadium. Both moves I think are good for the franchise, which made news in a bad way throughout the season for their lackluster crowds in Atlanta's State Farm Arena. The move to the smaller new Gateway Center Arena @ College Park should hopefully help bring people in and create more of a crowd for the team.
Chicago Sky (20-14, 5th place)
The Good: A lot went right for the Sky in 2019. They sent three representatives to the All-Star Game (and Diamond DeShields won the WNBA Skills Challenge); Courtney Vandersloot led the entire league in assists; and the team returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. For his efforts, first-time head coach/general manager James Wade was named the WNBA Coach of the Year.
The Bad: Chicago was one shot away from a trip to the WNBA semifinals – one now-infamous shot. No matter what you think about the validity of said shot, the Sky's season ending the way it did was heartbreaking for the players and fans alike.
The Slide: DJ Casper, more commonly known as the guy behind the "Cha-Cha Slide," is a Chicago native. So it only made sense for the Sky to bring him to their team' home playoff contest last month for a fun performance. (Click this link but beware of earworms.)
Connecticut Sun (23-11, 2nd place)
The Good: Connecticut made it past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in three years! In fact, the Sun were so good that they didn't even play in the second round and instead went straight to the semifinals. And as I previously mentioned, they then swept the Sparks to move on to the Finals.
The Bad: The Sun eventually lost in those finals. They also had a buzzer beater loss to Atlanta and a forgettable loss to the Minnesota Lynx back in July that set records – in a bad way.
The Squad Goals: It's fair to say that not many fans outside of Connecticut would be able to name a Sun player in recent years. But as head coach and general manager Curt Miller pointed out after this year's Finals, they will now.
Dallas Wings (10-24, tied for 10th place)
The Good: Arike Ogunbowale. The former No. 5 draft pick out of Notre Dame certainly made her presence known in her first WNBA season. She averaged 19.1 points per game, good for first among rookies and third in the entire league.
The Bad: Pretty much everything else. There were some good points in the Wings' first season under legendary head coach Brian Agler, but the team wasn't able to support Ogunbowale's scoring the way she needed it.
The Atmosphere: Skylar Diggins-Smith gave birth just a few weeks before Wings' training camp earlier this year. She didn't play at all – and earlier this week, we learned a reason why. She also tweeted that she was pregnant during the entire 2018 season and "didn’t tell a soul." With this, plus Liz Cambage's push to get out last year, and Mystics player Aerial Powers thanking the Wings for trading her, it's clear that something is up in Arlington. Let's hope it changes soon.
Indiana Fever (13-21, 9th place)
The Good: Indiana improved in the win column, finishing just two games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. The Fever also sent veteran Candice Dupree and Erica Wheeler to the WNBA All-Star Game, where Wheeler was named MVP after an amazing performance.
The Bad: Despite the aforementioned improvement, the Fever fired head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman after just three seasons at the helm. The team will also move to Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse for the next two and a half seasons while their current home arena, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, is renovated. (The NBA's Indiana Pacers, of course, won't be moved.)
The Champion: Another Erica had quite the moment this year as well – reserve Erica McCall, that is, who won a contest to perform with singer Carrie Underwood during her Indianapolis concert back in June.
McCall wrote about her experience for High Post Hoops, saying in part, "Before the performance, I thought I was just going to rap and leave the stage but unbeknownst to me, I would actually inspire myself and others in ways I could never imagine."
Las Vegas Aces (21-13, 4th place)
The Good: After winning the draft lottery for the past two years, the Aces made it all the way to the WNBA semifinals in just their second year in Las Vegas. Dearica Hamby won the WNBA's Sixth Woman of the Year award and had one heck of a shot to help the Aces advance in the playoffs. They also welcomed the league's finest to town for the All-Star Game festivities.
The Bad: Las Vegas just barely snagged a first-round bye in the playoffs with a fourth-place finish in the regular season. The Aces went 2-4 in their final six games before the playoffs, including losses to Indiana and Atlanta.
The Liz: All-Star center Liz Cambage has said nothing but good things about her new team after successfully getting a trade from Dallas in the offseason. This continued after the Aces' exit from the WNBA playoffs, as Cambage hinted that she doesn't want to play anywhere else in the WNBA right now. That's a good thing for everyone.
Los Angeles Sparks (22-12, 3rd place)
The Good: In a year that saw injuries, a suspension, and a new head coach in Derek Fisher, the Sparks still made it to the semifinals.
The Bad: Riquna Williams played for far too long in the WNBA season before getting a 10-game suspension following accusations of abuse. Fisher benched star Candace Parker in the Sparks' win-or-go-home game 3 of the semifinals. General Manager Penny Toler was fired after sources told ESPN she used the N-word while yelling at the players following their game 2 semifinal loss.
The Future: The atmosphere has got to change here, too; there's too much talent on the team to let it slip away. Chelsea Gray received a spot on the All-WNBA First Team, while Nneka Ogwumike got on the Second Team. The Sparks' reserve players are also doing well.
Minnesota Lynx (18-16, 7th place)
The Good: Napheesa Collier started her pro career strong and ended it with the WNBA's Rookie of the Year award. Her boss, head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve, received the league's Executive of the Year award for reshaping the Lynx roster. Sylvia Fowles was Sylvia Fowles. And former rival Odyssey Sims shined in her first year in Minnesota, grabbing an All-Star bid and finishing as the team's highest scorer.
The Bad: Two of Reeve's big gets in the offseason, rookie Jessica Shepard and once-free agent Karima Christmas-Kelly, suffered season-ending injuries just as the players were getting hot off the bench. Both are expected to return in 2020. Sims will serve a suspension for the first two games of next season after she was caught driving while intoxicated back in June. She recently pled guilty and is serving house arrest in Texas.
The Maya: The biggest question on everyone's minds in and out of Minnesota is about veteran Maya Moore, who took a sabbatical in 2019. Will she be back next year? Or at all? Right now, she's focused on fighting for prisoner Jonathan Irons who, as she told NBC News, she believes was wrongly convicted. Whatever she decides to do, she's made a big impact already, reminding the general public that for the players of the WNBA, there’s more to life than just basketball.
New York Liberty (10-24, T-10th place)
The Good: Players finally supported veteran Tina Charles on the court – specifically sophomore Kia Nurse, who earned her first All-Star bid earlier this season. Charles joined her in Vegas as well. Despite still finishing out of the playoff picture, the Liberty did improve on their showing from last year.
The Bad: New York fired head coach Katie Smith after just two years at the helm. I wish they would have given her one more chance – especially since the Liberty won the top pick in next year's draft – but it is what it is.
The Big City: New York will play the 2020 season in… New York City! Not wherever Westchester County Center is! The move to Brooklyn's Barclay Center was applauded by many in and out of the Liberty fandom as people across the WNBA continue to fight for better conditions.
Phoenix Mercury (15-19, 8th place)
The Good: DeWanna Bonner continued to be DeWanna Bonner and was named as an All-Star reserve because of it (when she should have been a starter but at least she got a nod). Brittney Griner was also in character: she finished as the league's highest scorer and earned a spot on the All-WNBA First Team. Brianna Turner was named to the 2019 WNBA All-Rookie Team. Leilani Mitchell made a return to the court after giving birth and earned the WNBA's Most Improved Player award.
The Bad: Despite the aforementioned honors, the Mercury weren't really able to put together strings of wins when they needed to in order to stay competitive. The absence of Diana Taurasi for most of the year was felt hard at times, especially after Griner got suspended following an in-game fight. At 15-19, Phoenix was the only playoff-bound team to finish with a sub-.500 record.
The Future: Griner and Taurasi have both said that they want to stay in Phoenix as long as possible, and many of the Mercury's younger players are getting some more playing time overseas in the offseason. This can only be good as the team looks to get back to competing for what would be their fourth WNBA title in 2020.
Seattle Storm (18-16, 6th place)
The Good: Seattle was one of the hardest-hit teams when it came to the injury bug in 2019. The Storm played without Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart for the entire year and had several others injured for a few games at a time. Despite this, they still made it to the second round of the WNBA playoffs. And Natasha Howard won the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year award. And most importantly, Storm head coach Dan Hughes beat cancer!
The Bad: Howard is facing domestic abuse allegations of her own and also accused her now ex-wife of taking money from her and abusing her herself. Despite these allegations, Howard was still able to play for the entire 2019 season and has not faced any suspension time.
The Ambassador: Stewart served as the WNBA's "Ambassador" in 2019 while she was rehabbing following her injury overseas. It was unclear what exactly her role entailed, but I hope this continues for other players who might get hurt so they can still be involved in the league.
Washington Mystics (23-8, 1st place)
The Good: The Mystics are the WNBA champions! A year after being swept by Seattle in the WNBA Finals, they finally received the title themselves after a close five-game match with Connecticut. Elena Delle Donne was unstoppable all year (even with her face mask), earning the WNBA MVP honors. But pretty much everyone on the Mystics squad contributed in some way, including Emma Meesseman, who became the first reserve to receive the WNBA Finals MVP award. The Mystics also moved to the smaller Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, which proved to increase the team's home court advantage.
The Bad: Um…
The Reality: Most teams celebrate winning a league title with a parade a couple of days afterward, but not the Mystics. While the team had a nice celebration at the ESA the day after their title-clinching victory, the traditional parade won't be held until the spring. Why? International play. Meesseman in particular had to leave just two days after the win. The season doesn't stop for many players in the WNBA no matter when they finished in the summer. Let's hope that one day players don't feel like they have to go overseas just to make a living.
That's all for me this season. As always, thank you for following along. And a special thanks to Zoë and the Victory Press staff, some of whom are now WNBA fans like me. See you next year!
(Photo credit: @WNBA / Twitter)
Filed under: wnba; basketball; 2019 wnba playoffs; washington mystics; connecticut sun; chicago sky; dallas wings; indiana fever; las vegas aces; los angeles sparks; minnesota lynx; ny liberty; phoenix mercury; seattle storm; atlanta dream
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