2019 WNBA Playoffs Preview and Primer
By Geoff Magliocchetti
Those missing the drama of professional basketball, particularly the drama seen on the actual hardwood, should celebrate this coming week.
The WNBA Playoffs commence on Wednesday, with a pair of single-elimination games. Two more solo games await before the festivities conclude with a pair of best-of-five rounds.
TBL documents the squads, the stars, and the skinny for each participant as the postseason gets underway…
#1. Washington Mystics (26-8)
Head Coach: Mike Thibault (7th season, 130-108)
Key Players: F/G Elena Delle Donne (19.5 PPG, 8.3 APG), F Emma Meesseman (13.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG), G Kristi Toliver (13.0 PPG, 6.0 APG), Ariel Atkins (10.3 PPG, 1.5 SPG)
In the summer of 2017, Alexander Ovechkin brought a Stanley Cup to our nation’s capital and ended a title drought for hockey’s best championship-free player. Elena Delle Donne seems destined to end her own such void this fall. It would be perfect timing for her to do so, having just capped off the first 50/40/90 player in WNBA history. Head coach Mike Thibault also seeks his first title, having coached 60 postseason contests leading up to this one.
Frankly, this title is Washington’s to lose. The Mystics’ dominance hasn’t been seen since the days of the ill-fated Houston Comets. Washington broke the 2000 edition of the Houston dynasty’s record by winning 16 games by at least 15 points. They also set new league records for assists per game (21.8) and offensive efficiency rating (113.2).
First Game: Semifinal Game 1 vs. TBD, (9/17, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
#2. Connecticut Sun (23-11)
Head Coach: Curt Miller (4th season, 79-57)
Key Players: F/C Jonquel Jones (14.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG), G Courtney Williams (13.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG), F Alyssa Thomas (11.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG), G Jasmine Thomas (11.1 PPG, 5.1 APG)
The Sun have had the uncanny pairing of both consistency and a spotless record when it comes to health this year. They were able to keep the same starting five for all 34 games.
Neck-and-neck with Washington for a majority of the season, the Sun come in slightly stumbling, having gone 7-5 over their past dozen. But no game is ever over with them, especially with sharp shooters like Williams in tow. Perhaps no one in the Association creates scoring opportunities better than the Sun. They ranked second in free throw attempts (18.5 per game) and successful three-point attempts (7.5).
First Game: Semifinal Game 1 vs. TBD (9/17, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
#3. Los Angeles Sparks (22-12)
Head Coach: Derek Fisher (1st season, 22-12)
Key Players: F Nneka Ogwumike (16.1 PPG, 8,8 RPG), G Chelsea Gray (14.5 PPG, 5.9 APG), F/C Candace Parker (11.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG)
Tops in the Western Conference, the Sparks enjoyed a mini-resurgence under fellow Staples Center, well, staple, Derek Fisher. A trade with Connecticut allowed Ogwumike to play alongside her sister Chiney, and the two combined for over 25 points a game and 14 rebounds a game.
No one, perhaps, enters the tournament with more momentum and power than Parker. Injuries limited her to 22 games and a player survey conducted by The Athletic named her the most overrated player in the league. Parker replied by earning the final Player of the Week honor of the season, during which LA went 3-0 and swiped one of the single-bye slots away.
First Game: Single-Elimination Quarterfinal vs. TBD (9/15, 3:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
#4. Las Vegas Aces (21-13)
Head Coach: Bill Laimbeer (2nd season, 35-33)
Key Players: F A’ja Wilson (16.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG), C Liz Cambage (15.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG), G Kayla McBride (13.3 PPG, 1.2 SPG), F Dearica Hamby (11.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG)
Say what you will about the Aces, they’ve never been boring. Las Vegas has quickly accepted their new squad, and the city even hosted this year’s All-Star Game. Labeled by some as the WNBA’s first superteam after a trade brought Liz Cambage in, the Aces struggled to find true dominance and consistency. Those problems surfaced in the late stages of the year, as they lost four of their final six games. One was a particularly perplexing loss to the last place Atlanta Dream.
There’s time to live up the hype, but the Aces, already prone to lapses in greatness, could be a quick victim of the single-elimination format if a mere single occurrence goes out of place.
First Game: Single-Elimination Quarterfinal vs. TBD (9/15, 5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
#5. Chicago Sky (20-14)
Head Coach: James Wade (1st season, 20-14)
Key Players: G Diamond DeShields (16.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG), G Allie Quigley (13.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG), G Courtney Vandersloot (11.2 PPG, 9.1 APG)
If anyone’s going to crash the party at the top four, it’ll be the fast-paced, high-scoring Sky. Armed with the splashy duo of “VanderQuigs” (Vandersloot and Quigley, partners on and off the court), the Sky can score and score in a hurry. Their scoring tally (84.6 PPG) is second only to the mighty Mystics. Wade was recently awarded for his efforts with the group via this season’s Coach of the Year Award.
First Game: Single-Elimination 1st Round vs. Phoenix (9/11, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
#6. Seattle Storm (18-16)
Head Coach: Dan Hughes (2nd season, 44-24)
Key Players: F Natasha Howard (18.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG), G Jewell Loyd (12.3 PPG), G Jordin Canada (9.8 PPG, 5.2 APG), C Mercedes Russell (7.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG)
It’s a miracle the defending champion Storm have even gotten this far. They’ve had to deal with countless issues; stars Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird missed the entire regular season with injuries, Howard was involved in an alleged domestic violence situation, they were evicted from their KeyArena home due to NHL renovations, and Hughes dealt with a cancer diagnosis. Yet, through the efforts of young guards Loyd and Canada, they were able to scrape into a playoff appearance.
First Game: Single-Elimination 1st Round vs. Minnesota (9/11, 10:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
#7. Minnesota Lynx (18-16)
Head Coach: Cheryl Reeve (10th season, 231-109)
Key Players: G Odyssey Sims (14.5 PPG, 5.4 APG), C Sylvia Fowles (13.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG), F Napheesa Collier (13.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG)
It’s a true shame that someone’s going home after Wednesday’s showdown between the Storm and Lynx. Minnesota is another squad that had plenty to deal, namely departures of stars Maya Moore (stepped away for 2019 to focus on ministry) and Seimone Augustus (limited to 12 games due to injury). But the breakouts of rookie (Collier) and veteran (Sims) just might make 2019 a magnum opus for Reeve, a four-time WNBA champion.
First Game: Single-Elimination 1st Round @ Seattle (9/11, 10:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
#8. Phoenix Mercury (15-19)
Head Coach: Sandy Brondello (6th season, 118-86)
Key Players: C Brittney Griner (20.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG), G DeWanna Bonner (17.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG), G Leilani Mitchell (12.8 PPG, 4.0 APG)
It sounds harsh, but let’s face it…the Mercury are here because we needed an eighth team to qualify for the playoffs. Phoenix enters as losers of their final four games, and ranks second-to-last amongst playoff teams in points and rebounding averages. Mitchell proved herself to a pleasant surprise and has garnered Most Improved Player consideration, but making this process all the more painful (literally) is the fact they likely won’t have the services of Diana Taurasi, who has battled injuries all season, for an improbable push few see coming.
First Game: Single-Elimination 1st Round @ Chicago (9/11, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)