Basketball didn’t end with Stephen Curry’s memorable miss that sent Canada into hysterics. In fact, in some ways, it had only just begun.
The WNBA is engaged in one of its most memorable seasons yet. Names have been made, shots have been swished, memories have been etched. The league’s 23rd season is set to resume after enjoying an eventful All-Star break at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Second half action will commence on Tuesday night.
With ratings rising and women’s sports enjoying a renaissance, the WNBA is in the midst of a promising turning point. If you’ve missed out on the action so far, shame on you, but TBL is more than happy to assist. Here’s what you need to know as the league enters its second half slate.
The WNBA went through four presidents before naming its first commissioner in May. To call the newly minted Cathy Engelbert experienced is perhaps the understatement of the basketball season. The former CEO of Deloitte made tremendous strides for women in the workplace, including becoming the first female American CEO of a “Big Four” accounting firm. Engelbert made her public debut as commissioner during the All-Star festivities in Las Vegas.
“We are going to take the W to the next level,” Engelbert said in her introductory press conference. “I truly believe that we are at an inflection point in society where women’s sports and quite frankly women’s leadership are at the forefront, and honestly, it’s time we give these elite athletes the recognition they deserve.”
Youth in Revolt
The WNBA’s 2019 draft class has featured heroines from every part of the country. Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier went to her first All-Star Game. Top first-year scorer Arike Ogunbowale is turning into the new face of Dallas basketball. Teaira McCown is topping not only Indiana’s rebounding charts, but inching toward the top of the W as a whole. Asia Durr is partaking in an improbable playoff push in New York.
2018 draftees A’ja Wilson, Diamond DeShields, and Kia Nurse were likewise named to their respective first All-Star squads. Wilson was even named a captain based on fan vote.
Sports fans routinely spend their summers demanding MLB to “let the kids play”. The WNBA is allowing that and then some, as the league ventures into a future in the hands of reliable young talents. 2018 draftees A’ja Wilson, Diamond DeShields, and Kia Nurse were likewise named to their respective first All-Star squads. Wilson was even named a captain based on a fan vote.
The WNBA’s unconventional playoff system invites eight of their dozen squads to the postseason. The bottom four of that group square off against each other in single-game madness before taking on the rested third and fourth-ranked squads…also a single-game process.
Meanwhile, the top two teams watch the chaos unfold while preparing for a three-game semifinal arrangement. The current holders of these golden tickets hail from Connecticut and Las Vegas. Their situation, however, is anything but stable. Entering Tuesday’s games, the top nine teams are separated by only five games. Seven of those teams are within two and a half games of the elusive top seeds. Thus, every night will be crucial down the stretch. A team could well go from hosting a second-round playoff game to missing the playoffs entirely in the span of one slate of games.
After winning last season’s WNBA title, the Seattle Storm became Murphy’s Law personified. They were evicted from their KeyArena home while the building undergoes renovations (they’re set to return in 2021). Reigning WNBA and Finals MVP Breanna Stewart tore her Achillies overseas. Knee surgery sidelined 11-time All-Star Sue Bird indefinitely. Head coach Dan Hughes was diagnosed with cancer. Jewel Loyd and Jordin Canada have likewise missed time due to injury. All-Star Natasha Howard has been accused of domestic violence in an ongoing situation.
But the Storm rage on.
Seattle sits at 12-9, good for sixth in the league. Loyd and Howard have picked up the slack, and each was rewarded with invites to Las Vegas. They continue an unlikely playoff trek in a 2018 Finals rematch on Friday night against Washington on NBA TV.
“We’ve gone through more
changes and ups and downs than anyone expected and we’re still right in the mix of things,” Loyd said to Percy Allen of the Seattle Times. “That just shows how deep this team is and how hard we fight. No matter who’s in there, you see that effort.”
The WNBA may have hit the jackpot when it comes to Las Vegas. The Entertainment Capital of the World has had professional basketball for less than two years, but it has already become a hotbed. Rave reviews were bestowed upon the city for its All-Star weekend.
Even though the All-Stars have left town, three Aces remain behind, including the injured Wilson. Multi-talented Liz Cambage and outside threat Kayla McBride have shown they are more than capable of picking up the slack. The addition of Cambage, who set a WNBA record with a 53-point game with Dallas last season, as well as the drafting of Jackie Young with the top overall pick, created what some saw as a rare WNBA superteam. At 13-6 (6-1 in their past seven), it’s safe to say the experiment has worked thus far.
“From the outside looking in, (a deep playoff run) has always been expected for our team,” veteran reserve Tamera Young told Sam Gordon of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “If we play together and keep pushing together, then great things will happen.”
The Championship dEED
One of the most curious cases of the WNBA may be Elena Delle Donne of the Washington Mystics. Washington (12-6) is less than one game out of both the top seed and the double-byes. They were seen as preseason champions by many upon the return of Delle Donne.
Her resume has it all: Six All-Star Games (including captaincy in Vegas), three WNBA first-team nominations, a scoring title, an Olympic gold medal…but no championship ring just yet.
A prime opportunity came last season against the Storm, but a knee injury just before the Seattle matchup derailed her and her team’s chances. More adversity struck her down when she broke her nose earlier this summer while averaging 17.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Needing protection when she came back, the masked version of Delle Donne has become a bit of a legend in Beltway basketball.
All that’s missing is an elusive WNBA title. Is this finally her year?