WNBA Week 8: The Wings Soar and The Liberty Finally Look Like a Superteam

It’s week eight in the WNBA and week two in the Women’s World Cup! It’s a great summer to be gay!


Heather: Natalie! Have you been awake for six straight days?

Natalie: It feels like it sometimes.

Heather: 😂

Natalie: The funny thing is I came to the conclusion at the end of the week that this cycle wasn’t sustainable…I’d been waking up to watch all the games live and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I’d have to DVR some games and watch them when I could. So last night I’m like, “okay, I’ll set my alarm for 4:25 so that I’m up to watch Germany” and OF COURSE my body decides, “nope, we really want to watch Argentina v. Italy” so I’m wide awake at 1AM.

Heather: Nooooooo! You really have been awake for six days! Germany did have an exciting win for you though, right?

Natalie: They did! And then Brazil — who is probably the team that I most enjoy watching and who I want to win the most — put on a great show.

Heather: That’s so exciting! I don’t know much about soccer, but it seems like many games were more exciting than the one I watched, which was US vs. Vietnam!

Natalie: Yeah, I think the US game was frustrating to watch because there were so many chances that the USWNT didn’t capitalize on.

But enough soccer chatter: are you ready to talk about the WNBA?

Heather: Yes, I am! I’m so impressed you also somehow had time to watch basketball last week??

Natalie: I try to squeeze it in! I wanted to start, because we took last week off for the All-Star break, with talking a little bit about All-Star…what’d you think of the festivities? What were your favorite parts?

Heather: I’m so glad you want to touch on this because I’m honestly still not over that weekend! I think it was the closest the WNBA’s ever come to recreating something like a Super Bowl weekend, for fans who could attend, for fans who couldn’t, and for the players. From the skills competition, to the orange carpet party, to the game itself. There was so much big press! The team and league socials were working overtime to bring fans all the most fun, behind-the-scenes content! It just felt like a giant gay basketball party — and, best of all, it felt like a wonderful league-wide homecoming from Brittney Griner, who was spotted chomping down on a plate of bacon during the skills challenge, a sno-cone during the game, and DeWanna Bonner’s Skittles after the game. She was just radiating the most childlike joy. I had so much fun. What about you?

Natalie: I mean, for me, BG was the star of the show. She was just really at her best and so joyous…and that was just a treat to watch. I think for a lot of people, their introduction to Brittney Griner was the detainment…and so they viewed a lot of the activism around securing her release in this narrow prism…which is mostly, “wrongly imprisoned basketball player.” But, at the All-Star Game, you really got to see Brittney Griner, the person…and, hopefully, people understood that that’s who we were fighting to get back: that person who is such a light and who just so happens to play basketball.

My favorite part with BG was when she was mic’d up. It was absolutely hilarious. I particularly loved her interactions with A’ja Wilson and I feel like if anyone at ESPN wants to greenlight a show with those two together, I’d watch every single day.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about that 3-point contest where Sabrina Ionescu just played out of her mind. It really was one of the greatest performances I’d witnessed on the court. Now, does it mean that I think she should be on the NBA 2k cover? Nope, but I can give credit where credit’s due: that was awesome.

Heather: I completely agree! That was unreal! And, to me, the most impressive thing about it is that — somehow, some way, through some magic or miracle — she has played the best defense of her life since she’s been back from winning that thing!

By which I mean “she’s played defense.”

Natalie: The bar is in hell when it comes to her and Courtney Vandersloot playing defense.

Heather: LOL. Too true!

So what W games and news have made it through the soccer/footie sleepless haze you’ve been operating in since the World Cup kicked off last week?

Natalie: I’d actually like to pick up on the Liberty here…yesterday they played the Fever and had a record breaking first quarter performance. Maybe for one of the first times this season, I felt like the team was really living up to the super-team hype that we heard during the pre-season. It felt like Jonquel Jones had finally found her place in the offense and Betnijah Laney was able to assert herself as an offensive threat, instead of just being the team’s best on-ball defender. What did you think about that game and is it too early to say that the Liberty have turned the corner?

Heather: Oh great kick-off topic! That game was so good that I rewatched the first quarter when our local station played it again last night! And, as usual, I think you have cut right to the why of it. This whole season I have been waiting for Jonquel Jones to find her comfort zone on the Liberty. We’ve talked about this in our column, and also just in casual chats. First of all, the kind of frustration that Sandy Brondello hadn’t found a way to really work JJ into the offense in a way that felt good. And then, second of all, and maybe as a result of the first thing, JJ just was not playing up to her usual gold standard. Not even just offensively, but she was getting out-positioned on rebounds, out-maneuvered on defense, passes bouncing off her hands. Something has clicked for her in the last few games and it has made all the difference in the world to the team.

And, of course, Betnijah Laney. She is the engine of the Liberty, despite being the player who gets most often overlooked. She is a killer on defense. She can always find the seams on offense, which is crucial when you’ve got people jumping to double Stewie and Sabrina constantly. And, most impressive to my heart, she is not afraid to get down in the post and bang around. She’s consistent and when she’s playing with the kind of confidence she had on Sunday, what’s anybody gonna do to stop her? It was just so fun to see them finally playing to their potential!

Do you think it’s a fluke, or do you think they’re finally coming together?

Natalie: I don’t want to get too invested in that performance because it was against the Fever who, as we touched on before the All-Star break, are really struggling to regain their form, but I think it was a positive development. One of the things that the Aces do so well is have balanced scoring in their games…like, one night someone might put up 30 or something…but for the most part, you’re going to have five different people who give you 15-20 points each. No one person is ever carrying all the offensive weight. So to see the Liberty replicating that….getting five strong performances from their starters…feels like a step in the right direction. I hope they can sustain it.

On the subject of the Aces, that balanced scoring has led some WNBA media to leave Las Vegas players — most notably, A’ja Wilson — out of the MVP conversation. She seemed to take that personally and went off for 35 points and 14 rebs against the Lynx on Saturday. What’s your take on the MVP conversation?

Heather: Okay this has been the absolutely wildest thing I have seen this season. Who leaves A’JA WILSON out of the MVP conversation?!

I mean, there’s this thing you always ask that slices right through the bullshit: Who’s the best player on the best team in the league? IT’S A’JA WILSON. Not just scoring, though that’s part of it. But she is a defensive wizard! And she forces teams to pay so much attention to her that it does free up the other Aces stars! And she is so consistent! There’s not a moment when I’m watching the Aces when I think A’ja’s out of it. Plus! Plus! She’s so unselfish, such a good teammate, she’s not scoring 30 a night because she doesn’t need to! (Unless she does, in which case, she will.) I think honestly that conversation about her sprung up out of Wings brodcast where they said Arike and Satou should be in the conversation, but as a person who watches every Wings game, I can say that those announcers are the biggest homers since Rebecca Lobo. What’s your feel on this whole thing?

Natalie: So, like you, I don’t know how anyone worth their salt is having a conversation about the MVP of this league and is not including A’ja Wilson. That’s just bananas. She’s actually gotten better this year…not in terms of pure points but in terms of efficiency, she’s putting up the best numbers of her career. How is it possible that she’s doing better than she was last year WHEN SHE WON MVP and now people want to not include her in the conversation? That’s some nonsense.

Heather: Speaking of the Aces and the Liberty, let’s turn to the only team in the W that’s beaten them both: the Dallas Wings. They’re on a five-game win-streak and they look GOOD.

Natalie: They really do look good. I mean, in their last game against the Sparks, Natasha Howard drops 28, Satou Sabally gets 26 and Arike Ogunbowale puts up 25…and while you can say, “well, it’s the Sparks,” the Wings had lost 3 games to LA already this season, so it really does feel like they’ve hit a transition point.

Specifically, with those wins over the Aces and the Liberty, I think the system that the Wings have been building has finally paid off. Look, I’ll be the first to admit when I looked at their acquisitions in the off-season, I had some questions…chief among them: “who needs that many bigs?!” But it seems like the Wings are the only team in the league (so far) with the defensive ability and the physicality to throw the top teams off their game.

What do you think is going right in Dallas?

Heather: “Who needs that many bigs” was exactly the correct question coming into this Wings season. In fact, I thought they were kind of preparing for Natasha Howard to be injured? But nope, she’s out here also playing the best basketball of her career!

I think there’s three things going extremely right in Dallas: 1) Satou Sabally. This is really the first season she’s been fully healthy and she is living up to every bit of hope and hype the Wings had for her when they drafted her. And she’s not just healthy, she’s gotten better and better. She’s playing with confidence inside and outside. She’s stepping up and leading when it’s needed. You and I have been Sabally stans for a while and now the world can see what!

2) Latricia Trammell lets Arike be Arike. I think Vickie Johnson really struggled with the streakiness of Arike’s play, her hot head, and figuring out when to just let her play and when to sit her to cool her off. What LT seems to understand is what Muffet McGraw understood when Arike was at Notre Dame: She’ll work it out on her own, you just need to leave her on the court and let her work through it. Will that amount of playtime from Arike get the Wings in the end? Maybe. But for now, it’s so key.

3) Defense. LT is a defensive coach. That’s her whole thing. Former DPOY Natasha Howard is a perfect fit in a system like hers, and now that the whole team has bought into it, you can see them not only frustrating the hell out of their opponents, but turning that incessant, furious storm of defensive hustle into points. And man, who doesn’t want to see Satou and Arike in the open floor in transition? My only worry about Dallas is that they’re peaking too early. Does that concern you at all? And, as a longtime Satou believer, how are you enjoying her success this season?

Natalie: The WNBA has a handful of players — EDD, most notably, but also AD Durr and Diamond DeShields — who have struggled with injuries for a long time and when they’re finally healthy, you’re just really gratified to see them on the floor and contributing. I feel that way about Satou. Even if she wasn’t having a monster season, I’d be thrilled for her because this is progress.

When Satou and Sabrina were coming out of Oregon, the hype was — very much — around Sabrina but if you talked to anyone who really watched basketball, they’d tell you that of the two, Satou had a bigger upside and the potential to be an all-time great. I think we’re seeing that now and are, hopefully, just scratching the surface of what she can do.

Heather: Absolutely!

Natalie: I think that you’re right to be worried about whether the Wings are peaking too early…we’ve seen a few teams now go on win streaks and then stumble…but I’m hopeful that the Wings can stay on course and continue to improve their offensive efficiency.

Heather: Me too! Stay healthy, bbs!

The other team that’s really surprising people, I think, is the Dream. What’s going right in Atlanta?

Natalie: Rhyne Howard.

Heather: Amen.

Natalie: She’s just been playing so consistently well that I sometimes forget that she’s only a couple years into her time in the league.

Heather: It’s truly unreal. I’ve have also been endlessly impressed with the cultural shifts Tanisha Wright has been able to implement in her short time head coaching the Dream. One of my biggest hopes this season was that Allisha Gray would find her place under Tanisha and she sure has! I’m excited to see if they can take what they learned in the first half of the season and start serving it up to teams with winning records. I want to believe!

Natalie: So do I.

One thing I wanted to touch on before we wrap up this week: the Chicago Sun Times had an article about the chances of the Sky luring Jewell Loyd to play for her hometown team. What do you think about the chances of the Storm losing yet another franchise player?

Heather: Oh ho! I mean! Obviously I think there’s always a draw to play in your hometown. That’s how the Sky got Candace Parker to sign on! And Jewell has said as much. But I also see the work she’s putting in to grow all these players in Seattle. You can’t underestimate the draw or the Storm’s world class new arena or forthcoming Aces-style practice facility. AND, as you know, Jewell has become a phenomenal pickleball player in the W off-season and Seattle is the pickleball capital of the US. I’d say Chicago has a… 20% chance of getting her. You?

Natalie: Hearing Dwyane Wade talk at the All Star game about his vision for the Sky, I think it’s going to be hard for Jewell not to give that some serious consideration…on top of the allure of playing for your hometown team. That said, I think in the short-term — and I think Jewell’s contract is up soon — looking at the investment the Storm’s ownership have made in the franchise and the leadership that Jewell’s shown in building this team, it’s hard for me to imagine her going elsewhere.

Candace Parker didn’t have a locker in Chicago. I’m not sure Jewell Loyd’s going to be lured out of Seattle with that standard.

Heather: Mmm. Well said all the way around!

Do you think the upcoming draft factors into Jewell’s decision?

Natalie: I don’t know. It’s hard for me to figure out the most pressing need for Seattle. I think it’s a big to play down low with Ezi Magbegor but I see the argument for needing a true point guard to give Loyd a little more freedom.

Heather: Give Jewell both!

Natalie: I hope the ownership group sits Loyd down during the off-season and tries to assess what’s the most pressing need so that she can continue to feel like this is her franchise to lead.

Heather: We had a big WNBA personal event last week too! DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas got engaged!

Natalie: I’m really thrilled for them both.

Heather: Me too, they are so beautiful together!

Natalie: I always worry about teams with couples on them because you never really know what could happen. But I’m thrilled it’s worked out for them.

Heather: DEFY THE LOVE ODDS W COUPLES!

Now, shall we turn it over to Carmen for Fit of the Week?

Natalie: Absolutely!

Heather: Carmen, hi! you got a fit of the week for us?

Carmen: oh lollll let’s find out!

To be honest, it was a very casual week for the W, almost as if everyone’s fashion was in a post-All Star Break hangover. Which… is probably what happened! Hangovers of both the literal and metaphorical variety. But at least one trend has swept the nation last week, and not even the WNBA could ignore it: yes, my friends, we are talking about Barbiecore.

May I present Jordan Horston of the Seattle Storm:

Also A’ja Wilson:

And a special shout out to the Wings marketing team, for working over time:

And may we never ever forget, hot pink is gender neutral! Barbie is for everyone (unless you hate Barbie, in which case I’m sorry it’s going to be a loooong summer).

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Natalie

A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. You can follow her latest rants on Twitter.

Natalie has written 395 articles for us.

Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1719 articles for us.

Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 698 articles for us.

2 Comments

  1. i can’t believe the 3 point contest had me cheering for ionescu! went away p quick when it got brought up in every single bit of commentary for the rest of the weekend regardless of whether she or three pointers were involved

    also watching rhyne, allisha, and the rest of the dream gel has been a delight this season!

  2. Yes Jordan!! I know nothing about fashion but I loved her outfit and was so glad she won.

    I didn’t realize A’ja had been fully left out of MVP convo – I thought everyone was just mad it wasn’t just assumed hers, haha. I don’t know if I totally agree she’s the best player on the Aces (no knock on her, it’s just hard to say when she plays with Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young) but to leave her out of the convo entirely is crazy!

    I love the idea of sitting Jewell down in the off season and asking her which kind of draft pick she’d prefer. She deserves that level of autonomy after carrying us so hugely (and selfishly I don’t want her to leave)!

    It’s funny, someone asked on twitter I think yesterday what everyone’s top 4 draft picks next year would be and I thought those who put Brink above Clark were just being contrarians. But interesting to hear you guys think Seattle might needs a big more than a PG! I feel like I still think a PG is more necessary, as I feel like the Sue coach on the floor is the current biggest missing piece, and Ezi is killing it in the post and Jordan is such a good rebounder and their defense overall is so good, but I could see the other side. And, again, I think Jewell should get to decide who she two-man games with!

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