Feature image photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
The first week of 2023 WNBA action has come to a close, and Natalie and Heather are here to run it down for you! Here’s where the league stands after its first week back!
1. Las Vegas Aces – (4-0)
Natalie: What can you say about Las Vegas? They are every bit as good as we thought they’d be. I still worry, though, about these long minutes for their starters. Alysha Clark and Kiah Stokes are able to come off the bench and give Candace Parker and A’ja Wilson some rest but the guards? Why does Jackie Young need to play 34 minutes against the Lynx? I mean, Young’s having an MVP-like season so maybe you just want to give her opportunity to run up her stats but…gosh…I’m just so scared that Becky Hammon’s tempting the injury gods.
What do you think, Heather, am I worried over nothing? Am I just looking for something to complain about after this flawless start for the Aces?
Heather: I don’t know what I expected. I mean, I guess I at least expected them to look human? But nope, they look like basketball goddesses out here. Candace Parker seems to have slotted right in with no transition period at all; the investigations and Becky Hammon being out for two games didn’t seem to affect them at all; Syd Colson even achieved a dream years in the making: she got Anita Baker to come to a game, and during their ring ceremony. And, yeah, those championship rings, which are the most expensive rings in women’s sports history. It feels like the only hope anyone has against the Aces at this point is… well, what? Maybe the Olympic Team could beat them, but that team is also full of Aces!
2. Connecticut Sun – (3-1)
Natalie: There’s nothing Connecticut fans love more than touting the disrespeCT they get from WNBA fans who overlook the franchise…but maybe this year, they’ve actually got a point? I admit that I totally underestimated the Sun this year. In my defense, the Sun came into the season with two big unknowns — how they’d adjust without Jonquel Jones and what a Stephanie White-led team would look like — and so it was hard to gauge how the Sun would look this year.
What about you, Heather? Are you guilty of disrespeCTing the Sun?
Heather: Yes, I am endlessly guilty of disrespecting them despite the fact that Alyssa Thomas singlehandedly won our fantasy league for me last season! And I should know better because in 1999, the Carolyn Peck-coached, Stephanie White-led Purdue Boilermakers won the NCAA Women’s National Championship in what should have been Chamique Holdsclaw’s and Tamika Cathcings’ fourth title in a row at Tennessee. Like have I been underestimating the people of this organization in one way or for TWO DECADES? Natalie, yes. I need to tighten up!
Natalie: But, that Liberty game notwithstanding, I think they’ve looked good. I don’t know if I’d say the team is better without JJ but I do think she and Bri Jones are two very different types of post-players…and Bri was never going to thrive in an offense built around and for JJ. Now, though, Bri’s the team’s center and she, Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner are spacing the floor well to maximize their opportunities.
That said, that Liberty game…woof…what happened to the Sun there and, if you’re a Connecticut fan, are you concerned about that moving forward?
Heather: I think the Sun will be a-okay. They have enough veteran leadership on that team to bounce back from games like the Liberty and to just keep doing their thing. If there’s any team that has the mental tenacity to just bounce back and power through, I think it’s the Sun — and also probably the Mercury. Maybe the Mercury?
3. Chicago Sky – (3-1)
Natalie: Well, take a bow, Heather Hogan, because you certainly called this one: after four games, the Chicago Sky have shocked…well, everybody except you…and are sitting in third place in the W.
Admittedly, I didn’t see Chicago coming because of the massive amount of turnover on their roster…but also because James Wade’s answer to that seemed to be bringing two other players who are, stylistically, very similar to Kahleah Copper. I thought we’d get a repeat of what happened with Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale last season in Dallas; they were just too similar to play together. Somehow, though, they’ve made it work in Chicago.
What do you think’s in the water in Chicago?
Heather: I think this is just a team full of people with chips on their shoulders, almost all of whom have been overlooked in favor of the bigger stars they’ve played with, and they have all come out like they have something to prove. And they’re proving it! What’s shocking me about the Sky isn’t even that they’re winning; it’s that their ball movement is the best in the league right now, besides the Aces. Who’d have thought this roster would be full of passsers???
4. New York Liberty – (2-1)
Natalie: So, that first game? Atrocious. I mean, certainly, a lot of that loss had to do with the Mystics’ suffocating defense, but also…it was clear that this team still doesn’t understand its new identity. I nearly went hoarse yelling at Sabrina Ionescu from my couch in North Carolina. She took more shots than JJ and Breanna Stewart combined (!!)…I was apoplectic. Thankfully, Sandy Brondello got them together by the second game and Stew York was officially christened.
What’s your take on your Liberty, through their first three games?
Heather: That first game was so embarrassing I don’t even want to replay it in my imagination! They looked like they could have been beaten by some random college team in the Ohio Valley Conference. (No offense, OVC.)
Natalie: Here’s a harder question for you: through three games, JJ’s only averaging 8.7 points in, roughly, 18 minutes of play. What’s going on here? Are we just seeing a tough adjustment for JJ to the Liberty or is it possible that this team doesn’t need Jonquel Jones?
Heather: I hate the idea that the team doesn’t need JJ — because they do need someone like JJ and I want it to be JJ herself. Jonquel’s just not playing at the top of her game. She looks discombobulated out there. Rebounds are clanking off her hands, she’s just throwing the ball away, her shots aren’t falling, she’s not fitting in great with the Liberty’s transition game. I hope some more time will help her settle down and get into her groove. The backup post play has been really encouraging though. Nyara Sabally!
5. Dallas Wings – (2-1)
Natalie: Listen, I told y’all that this was going to be Satou Sabally’s year! Honestly, I’m just so thrilled for her…she’s fought through so many injuries and is finally able to show what we always knew she was capable of. Though I do worry about the Wings’ efficiency, I like three-prong offense that Satou, Arike, and Natasha Howard are building in Dallas.
What’s your take on the Wings thus far?
Heather: My take is that you were absolutely right! Satou looks like a superstar! She’s doing it all, and she’s doing it with a consistency that this team has desperately needed for a long time. Look, we all know Arike is my favorite player in the W, and yes, she’s leading the league in points per game right now — but she’s also kinda disappearing in the second half of every game. She’s logging lots and lots of minutes, so maybe that’s it, but I think there’s a lot to be excited about in Dallas, and I think Satou is going to be their huge difference-maker this year.
6. Washington Mystics – (2-2)
Natalie: In their opening game against the Liberty, the Mystics looked like a legit championship contender. Lock down defense. Balanced scoring. Strong contributions from the bench. But then, the wheels came off and I’m just like…WTF?! They get absolutely bodied in back-to-back games vs. Connecticut and barely eek out a win against the Sky.
And, really, it’s all down to the team’s backcourt — Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, and Brittney Sykes — who have been woefully inconsistent. I know I said I thought Washington was going to surprise people but this is not what I meant! Their backcourt shot an abysmal 13% against Chicago…and couldn’t shut down the Sky’s guards on the defensive end. Again, I ask: WTF?
And it’s a damn shame, too, because Elena Delle Donne and Shakira Austin are every bit as good as I thought they’d be.
Heather: When you said you thought EDD could be the best player in the league this season if she stays healthy, I thought you were being wildly optimistic. But I think I had just forgotten what a healthy EDD looks like. She is just an absolute joy to watch when she’s at the top of her game. Dominant everywhere on the entire court! And Shakira Austin’s growth in the off-season! She looks like a vet already! I’m ready to see that backcourt lock it down because I think you saw something great here, before it even happened, and I want to watch them become everything they can be this season.
7. Los Angeles Sparks – (1-2)
Natalie: Heather, you and I are both on record with our feelings about Curt Miller — sufficed to say, we are not fans — but even I have to give Miller some credit: he’s turned this Sparks team into something. Are they fully formed yet? No…and some mysterious non-COVID illness taking out half the roster doesn’t help. But are they miles better than they were last year? Yes. Their record doesn’t really reflect that but this team led the Aces for a good portion of that game, without Nneka Ogwumike. They’re legit. I’m looking forward to seeing how they do, moving forward.
Plus, this is probably the funnest Sparks team to watch since the 2016 championship squad. They’re genuinely a joy to watch.
Are you surprised by how quickly Curt Miller’s been able to make changes?
Heather: Curt Miller is my WNBA Geno Auriemma. Both of them make my hair stick up and my tail jump to the sky like an angry cat! But I have to admit that they’re honestly really great basketball coaches, and I don’t want to root against the women who play for them just because they’re jerks. It’s been a long time since I stayed up past my bedtime to watch the Sparks on purpose — they alway get those late west coast games — but I’ve done it twice already this season, and I can tell I’ll be doing it more. Because of exactly what you said: They’re just fun as heck to watch.
8. Indiana Fever – (1-2)
Natalie: THEY WON A GAME! The Fever had been on the longest losing streak in WNBA history, dating back to last season, and they finally broke through and won a game! I loved seeing the joy on their faces after the win. I loved the crowd and how so many South Carolina fans came to cheer on their program’s alumni. It was really special.
They had a lot of people step up against the Dream. Nalyssa Smith was balling. Aliyah Boston doing Aliyah Boston things. Queen Egbo giving them quality minutes off the bench. Erica Wheeler showing what she’s capable of. I’d like to see more consistency for Kelsey Mitchell and Lexie Hull on the offensive end…and I really want to see Victoria Vivians find her place on this team…but I really hope the win is the start of something in Indiana.
Heather: Aliyah Boston is so for real, Natalie! We knew it! We wanted it and we believed and we were right! Her learning curve seems to have already peaked in the pre-season. She is playing some powerful, confident basketball already, and I think Indiana is alive with it! I was cheering like it was the Super Bowl when they won their first game over the weekend. It may take more than just this season, but I think the Fever are finally going somewhere again.
9. Atlanta Dream – (1-2)
Natalie: I have a lot of faith in Tanisha Wright, the Dream’s head coach, but this is definitely not the start I expected them to have. I think they’ve had some lapses defensively — which I can’t imagine sits well with their head coach — and on the offensive end they’re just woefully inconsistent. Rhyne Howard continues to be a superstar but, honestly, she’s having to work too hard to get buckets.
What do you think is the problem in Atlanta? Can they get back on track?
Heather: One of the Dream’s main problems is they are getting absolutely demolished on the glass. Allisha Gray had 26 points and 10 rebounds against the Lynx, Rhyne Howard continues her march toward superstardom, but they are simply not clicking as a team yet — and that includes coming together to get on the boards. I don’t know how many points their opponents have scored on offensive rebounds this year, but it’s not an insignificant number! I think Tanisha Wright will pull them together, but I think it’s just going to take some time.
10. Phoenix Mercury – (1-2)
Natalie: I want to keep my basketball punditry hat on and offer a dispassionate analysis of the Mercury’s start to the season but can I do that? No, I cannot…because Brittney Griner is back…and it’s hard to care about anything other than that while watching them. Just seeing her out there — happy and healthy — brings me so much joy.
But also? She looks good out there. To have gone what she’s been through, to have been away from the game for so long…and to come back and compete at this level? She’s averaging 20+ points and playing 30 minutes a game. This is absolutely bananas! She’s put herself into the MVP conversation for sure.
What about you, H? How have you reacted to seeing BG back on the court?
Heather: Oh, my dear friend, you know nothing has made me happier! It would have always been wonderful, even if it had just been her smiling and giving it her all, after everything, but she looks GOOD. I don’t even care what their record is right now. BG is back, baby. Not just back home, but her game is back!
11. Seattle Storm – (0-2)
Natalie: Between Sue’s retirement and Stewie’s move to New York, this was always going to be a year of transition for Seattle, so they’re about where I expected. I like what we’re seeing from Jewell Loyd. Her and Arike putting on dueling scoring clinics in the Seattle/Dallas game…I loved that! But Loyd hasn’t had to lead a team before and she’s really stepping into that role. There’s a moment against the Wings where she pulls Jordan Horston aside and coaches up the young rookie…those are the things you really want to see from your team’s leader.
What are you liking about the Storm so far and what areas do you think they need help in?
Heather: As a Tennessee fan — oh wow did you know I’m a Tennessee fan? I can’t remember if I ever mentioned it before — I was so thrilled to see someone grab Jordan Horston’s jersey and bring her into the reality of the moment, to tell her to get her head in the game and to model how to do that. Jordan Horston is like an unformed Diamond DeShields or Jazz Jones. So much potential. So much upside. But she has always needed someone to help her get to the next level, to develop that mental toughness, and to learn to close. If Jewell Loyd can be that to her, in addition to everything else she’s doing on this team? I think it could pay off big time down the road.
Natalie: Stewie returns to Climate Pledge Arena for the first time on Tuesday. What do you think that game looks like?
Heather: Looks like me screaming KEEP YOUR DRIBBLE ALIVE at Sabrina Ionescu, if the first three games of the season are any indication. I think Stewie gave everything she had to Seattle and they know it and will always love her, and she’ll love them back. I don’t think this is one of those games where she needs to go in and prove something, like Mabrey did against Dallas this weekend. I think she’ll just go in there and Stewie it like she always has done and always will do.
12. Minnesota Lynx – (0-4)
Natalie: I expected the Lynx to struggle as Sylvia Fowles’ retirement meant the official end of the team’s dynasty era and a shift to a wholesale rebuilding mode…but, honestly, I didn’t expect it to be this bad? I expected Napheesa Collier — after spending much of last season away from the game — to just come back and ball out…and she just hasn’t played at the level I expected, especially in that game against Phoenix.
Here’s the thing about the Lynx: they have a lot of players who can get hot and absolutely torch you…but they’re not going to be on fire every night, so Minnesota’s without consistent scorers. It’s hard to build an offense around such streaky shooting.
Heather: Yep! As usual, you are spot on! And I think it just speaks to the power of Napheesa Collier that she’s already had a double-double but we know she’s not playing to her full potential. The Lynx’s main problem right now is they have just got to find a way to score. Whoever, wherever, however, they have got to find a way to get the ball through the hoop.