The Daily W, 05/24/2014

 

Seattle Storm 59 @ Connecticut Sun 71

 

Lineups: After two dismal performances last weekend, Seattle made a change to their starting lineup with Alysha Clark replacing Noelle Quinn at small forward. Replacing one mediocre wing with one of their eighteen other mediocre wings was never going to make much difference, but why not? Connecticut stuck with the same group that had started their previous two games.

 

Story of the Game: On the bright side for Seattle, they didn’t get taken apart to quite the same extent as in their games last weekend. On the negative side, they lost by double-digits for the third straight game, and to a much weaker opponent than the ones that beat them in the first two. The Storm made a decent start, but that quickly dissipated and Connecticut pulled in front for good in the second quarter. It was only a six-point lead at halftime, and still only six early in the fourth quarter, but the Sun dominated the closing stages to ease home fairly comfortably.

Seattle’s lack of size was painfully evident in this game. They got Crystal Langhorne more involved in the offense than she had been in their previous outings, and Camille Little’s physical low-post defense affected Chiney Ogwumike’s post-up attack, but the flaw was still a significant problem. Most of Ogwumike’s production came via the offensive glass and second-chance looks, while Kelsey Bone looked like a giant in the paint when she came off the bench for the Sun. And it’s not just about the one-on-one issues, or the rebounding. Being so small means you have to send more help when defenders are overmatched, which opens up bigger holes elsewhere when the ball is reversed – and makes the rebounding issues starker because a second post is often dragged out of position.

Little and Langhorne are already a small starting pair – and Langhorne doesn’t ‘play big’ like Tina Thompson seemed capable of in the same role last year – but when either needs a rest or is in foul trouble, the likes of Jenna O’Hea, Nicole Powell and Clark are masquerading as post players. Brian Agler has no faith in his only actual backup post, Angel Robinson, and didn’t use her until garbage time. It’s going to hurt them all year, probably even more once teams have more video and gameplan to attack it repeatedly.

The same turnovers and sloppiness as in their first two games also affected the Storm, although they made some runs to keep themselves in the game when they managed to inject some pace. At the moment, they rarely look capable of scoring enough points to balance what they’ve got left to offer on the defensive end.

 

Key Players: Despite Little’s defense, Ogwumike still led the Sun with 18 points on 7-12 from the floor. She’s got enough athleticism and works hard enough that she can find points even when it’s difficult to produce on standard post touches. Kelsey Bone also had her first good game in a Sun jersey while exploiting her size advantage, and Kelsey Griffin picked up boards and made hustle plays all night.

Allison Hightower also showed off her continually improving offensive game, featuring strong drives (always to her left) and a decent jumper. She’s not really a point guard – she’s an initiator who can bring the ball up and start your offense, but she isn’t an instinctive creator for teammates – but she’s a productive player whatever you’re asking her to do.

Langhorne was Seattle’s only double-digit scorer, while everyone else hit a shot or two as the night went along, but without any consistency. Agler and his team have a lot of work to do.

 

—–

 

Washington Mystics 79 @ Indiana Fever 63

 

Lineups: Indiana were unchanged, with Tamika Catchings still unavailable due to her sore back. They swapped injured backup guards, with Layshia Clarendon back from her concussion, but Sydney Carter wearing a boot to protect a sprained ankle. Washington made a surprise change to their backcourt, with Ivory Latta – one of the few productive offensive players in their opener – relegated to the bench in favour of rookie Bria Hartley. It was evidence of the truth behind Mike Thibault’s statements that he sees his roster as having three strong, interchangeable guards. And maybe of the need for more instant offense from his reserves.

 

Story of the Game: Indiana got off to an awful start in the first quarter, semi-recovered in the second, and then meekly surrendered in the second half. After two losses last weekend that were at least closely contested games they could’ve won, this was a depressingly lifeless performance where they were outplayed for most of the night by the Mystics.

Continue reading

Advertisements

The Daily W, 05/23/2014

 

There often won’t be columns on the days when there’s no WNBA action to report, but enough has happened in the last couple of days to be worth talking about so here’s a little bonus piece. With four games tonight, there are also some mini-previews to be found if you scroll down.

 

—–

 

League News

 

Epiphanny Prince has reported to the Chicago Sky, been unsuspended, and is expected to return for the team tomorrow night. There’s still been no explanation beyond ‘personal reasons’ for her absence, but it’s understandable that some of these players need a little time between their overseas commitments and the WNBA just to breathe. Due to the World Championships this year the WNBA season started early, which meant anyone playing a full European season had virtually no break. Maybe Prince just needed a little time to sort her head out. The Sky cut Aaryn Ellenberg to make room for her on the roster. They wouldn’t have needed to, but Sylvia Fowles was also quietly unsuspended on Monday. Exactly why they did that remains unclear, although hopefully it means her recovery from hip surgery is going well.

 

Prince, fortunately for the Sky, isn’t in Russia’s squad for their EuroBasket Women 2015 qualifiers this summer. But there are other WNBA players who might be required. Kristi Toliver was just naturalised by the Slovak Republic, whose qualifiers begin in just over two weeks. She’ll likely be gone from the Los Angeles Sparks for at least a couple of weeks in June. Phoenix has several players who might go missing for a while, including Ewelina Kobryn already confirmed as leaving to help Poland in their games. Shay Murphy is Montenegrin these days, and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota is still part of the Latvian set-up, so it remains to be seen if they’ll stay with the Mercury rather than heading to Europe. Both Emma Meesseman and Farhiya Abdi have committed to staying with their respective WNBA teams rather than playing for their countries this year. Ironically, Abdi might gain some playing time with the Sparks while her ‘Slovakian’ teammate is overseas.

 

Sadly our first in-season year-ending injury occurred this week, with San Antonio guard Davellyn Whyte ruled out with an ACL tear. After partially tearing an Achilles tendon late last season, it’s unfortunate for her that another serious injury has taken her down again so soon. San Antonio started the season with eight perimeter players on their roster, so they’ve got plenty of guard cover to fill the spot, especially if Becky Hammon returns from her ankle sprain soon. But with Whyte a fringe backup, there’s also the option to cut her (while paying her off for the remainder of the season) and sign a replacement. They have the cap space to do that, as long as the new player is relatively cheap. They may well just roll with what they’ve got for now, and save that option for later in the season if an extra player becomes a necessity at a certain position.

 

—–

 

Tonight’s Games

 

Seattle @ Connecticut, 7pm ET

If the Storm play like they have in their first two games, and the Sun replicate their first half performance from Wednesday’s loss to Chicago, this one will be virtually unwatchable. Hopefully, with both teams yet to record a win, there’ll be a sense of desperation fueling them and it’ll be a little better than that. The Storm have been off since Saturday night, and they needed the practice time to develop some much-needed cohesion after looking like they barely knew each other’s names in their opening games. Crystal Langhorne has barely been heard from so far in a Storm jersey, which needs to change, but basically the whole team’s attitude and level of competence needs to improve. Sue Bird doesn’t usually run teams that look this disorganised.

Continue reading

The Daily W, 05/21/2014

 

Connecticut Sun 68 @ Chicago Sky 78

 

Lineups: Same starting fives for both teams as in their previous outings. So Alyssa Thomas went from defending Maya Moore in her last game to opening this one chasing Elena Delle Donne. Welcome to the pros, rook.

 

Story of the Game: Thomas actually did fine on Delle Donne to open the game, and scored two buckets herself before the Sky’s star troubled the scorers. But Thomas also picked up two quick fouls while trying to defend Delle Donne, and went to the bench.

There was some pretty shocking defense played in the first half, mostly by Connecticut, although Chicago had their moments as well. For the Sky, they just don’t have the same level of help defense behind the perimeter defenders without Sylvia Fowles on the floor (Delle Donne, Jessica Breland, Sasha Goodlett and Markeisha Gatling just don’t have Fowles’s size and defensive instincts to provide the same kind of cover). So if you can break down the initial defender you’ve got a decent chance of getting to the rim. But the Sun were a mess. Their handling of screens seemed to vary from possession to possession almost at random, although switching at the slightest provocation seemed the favourite option (because it’s the easiest). It led to big holes in their defense and/or painful mismatches, resulting in either layups or open jump shots for the Sky. Even the likes of Allison Hightower and Katie Douglas, long seen as two of the better perimeter defenders in this league, either looked confused or seemed to be expecting help defenders where none were in evidence.

Chicago did a decent job of moving the ball and attacking – or at least setting enough screens in most possessions to leave Connecticut dazed and confused – but without doing anything too special the Sky broke out to a huge lead in the first half. Connecticut were doing a lot of the work for them. The Sky were also helped by Chiney Ogwumike joining Thomas in early foul trouble, and Kelsey Bone being unable to make a shot, regardless of the distance or how open she was. It’s been a rough start for Bone in Connecticut, and although it’s very, very early, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if her next sustained passage of good play in the WNBA comes under a different head coach. Whether that’s via a trade or a change of leadership in Connecticut remains to be seen.

Continue reading

The Daily W, 05/19/14

 

Connecticut Sun 87 @ Minnesota Lynx 90 (OT)

 

Lineups: Same again for Minnesota, with Damiris Dantas continuing to fill in for Rebekkah Brunson. Connecticut promoted rookie forward Alyssa Thomas into the starting lineup in place of point guard Alex Bentley. Part of that may have been to have an extra perimeter defender with some size on the floor to handle Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore, but it’s also a move that wouldn’t exactly be miles outside the box against anyone. Allison Hightower has been handling many of the point guard duties for Connecticut for years now, and can comfortably slide over, while Thomas’s development is a big part of the Sun’s future.

 

Story of the Game: As this was Minnesota’s home opener, the pre-game festivities involved raising the 2013 championship banner and handing out the rings. The Lynx then proceeded to play the first half like they’d drunk too much wine at the party. They were uncharacteristically sloppy, giving up too many cheap turnovers, and leaving too much space to exploit in their defense. The Sun shot unsustainably well, but Minnesota helped them find that rhythm. Chiney Ogwumike also had far too much room to work in the paint. While in some ways it was just a bad half, and those happen to every team, we’re going to see more defensive breakdowns from the Lynx early in the season than we’re used to, simply because they’ve got a lot of new pieces in the mix once you get past the four returning starters. It’s difficult to play on-a-string defense when not everyone knows which way (and how far) that string is meant to stretch.

It took a while for the expected comeback to kick in during the second half – Connecticut’s lead rose as high as 16 – but it arrived eventually. Maya Moore was the unsurprising catalyst, drilling several shots late in the third quarter, while the team defense also started to force turnovers and create transition chances.

It briefly looked like the young Sun squad were going to be overwhelmed by the charging Lynx, but they pulled themselves together and stuck around in the fourth quarter. After Janel McCarville turned an ankle while trying to bring the ball up the floor, it took a ridiculous second-chance basket by Moore, a Lindsay Whalen baseline jumper, a dreadful Katie Douglas turnover, and a tough leaning jumper over defenders from Seimone Augustus to tie the game and send it to overtime. Whalen dribbled the ball straight out of bounds on an inbounds play in the middle of all that, too.

It was all Ogwumike early in OT, scoring the first five points of the extra period, but from there Whalen took charge. She’d generally had an awful night of missed layups and turnovers, but isn’t the kind of character to sit down and hide on the end of the bench. Her driving finishes and earned free throws turned the game in Minnesota’s favour, before she hit a deep jumper to give the Lynx a three-point lead with 12 seconds left. Douglas found Alyssa Thomas wide open for a three to potentially tie it, but shooting from deep is not exactly the rookie’s forte. She airballed it, and the Lynx had pulled off the comeback win.

 

Continue reading

The Daily W, 05/18/2014

 

Atlanta Dream 90 @ Indiana Fever 88 (2OT)

 

Lineups: Angel McCoughtry came off the bench due to a minor hip problem picked up the night before (I’ve never understood why not starting helps in any way with a niggling injury, but that’s what happened). Matee Ajavon started in her place. Indiana were still without Tamika Catchings and Layshia Clarendon, so opened with the same five as the previous night.

 

Story of the Game: The Fever got off to a hot start, just like the night before, led by Briann January. She seemed to be avoiding her problems with finishing at the rim by just sticking to jumpshots, and they were all dropping. Indiana led by double digits early in the second quarter.

However, Atlanta never looked in that much trouble, and the game always seemed like it would come back to them. The Fever had some problems containing the Dream in transition, with Erika de Souza picking up points simply by running hard from basket-to-basket. Shoni Schimmel, for the second night in a row, was exciting everyone with her shockingly successful entry onto the pro level. The assists were flowing again, and she was drilling those shots from deep that she always loved firing in college.

It was tight for most of the second half. Fever head coach Lin Dunn went small on the perimeter after losing any confidence in Marissa Coleman or Shavonte Zellous, preferring the double-point guard look with January and Sydney Carter, often with diminutive off-guard Maggie Lucas as well. That left someone thoroughly undersized having to cover McCoughtry – usually January.

A pretty messy half of basketball was finished off by several shambolic broken plays to close regulation. A steal eventually gave Karima Christmas the chance to break away and win the game for Indiana, but she blew the layup and sent us to overtime.

Rookie forward Natasha Howard, who’d already had a strong night, was the star for the Fever in OT. She attacked and finished through contact several times to produce points for Indiana. Then Schimmel, who’d had less impact on the gameĀ  since halftime, converted a ridiculous finish on a drive to tie it up late in the first extra period. Both teams contrived awful shots in the final minute, before the Fever failed to even get one off on the final possession. On to double overtime.

Howard was still the main offensive threat for Indiana, and she gave them a one-point lead with 30 seconds left, but missed the and-one free throw. McCoughtry curled off a high screen at the other end, took the pass, and drilled a three for the lead. In general, opposing teams want Angel shooting threes – but she’s never scared to take or make the big shot, from anywhere on the floor. Lucas ended up with the final shot for the Fever, but she airballed it and the Dream held on.

Continue reading

The Daily W, 05/17/2014

 

A new regular feature here at WNBAlien – quick recaps of the previous night’s games, mentions of who played and who stood out, notes on anything interesting that might’ve cropped up, and anything else that seems worth talking about. Just without the ridiculous length of previous seasons. Most days, it should go up much earlier than today’s initial example.

We’ll still look in depth at certain games and teams when it’s warranted, especially when there aren’t four or five games on a single evening.

There’s also an injury report at the bottom, collating the news on who missed out last night and who got banged up while playing.

—–

 

Minnesota Lynx 89 @ Washington Mystics 77

 

Lineups: Brazilian rookie Damiris Dantas got the start at power forward for Minnesota in place of the injured Rebekkah Brunson. Belgian youngster Emma Meesseman got the nod to start at the same spot for Washington in the place vacated by Crystal Langhorne. Otherwise starters as you’d expect, including Kara Lawson making her debut in the Mystics backcourt.

 

Story of the Game: Maya Moore came out firing, carrying the Lynx into an early lead. Washington’s bench unit helped them get into the game, led by Stefanie Dolson drilling a trio of deep jumpers when the Lynx left her alone. Minnesota maintained a single-digit lead for most of the night behind Moore and Seimone Augustus, but Ivory Latta bombing from outside kept Washington in it. Then Tierra Ruffin-Pratt joined in and the Mystics actually took a very brief lead with 8 minutes left.

But Minnesota’s starters responded, tightened up defensively and hit a series of jumpers to pull away again. Ballgame over.

 

Key Players: Latta and Ruffin-Pratt were the only players who really showed up offensively for Washington, with the occasional flash from Meesseman and Dolson. Some weak rotations defensively – with Augustus and Moore the main culprits, surprisingly – left Latta too open from outside in the second half.

But it was those same two Lynx stars who carried much of Minnesota’s offense over the course of the game. Dantas also had a nice debut, and fit in smoothly as part of the starting core. Asia Taylor, the other rookie post the Lynx retained from camp, looks awfully small and thin for a frontcourt player. You can afford to be one or the other, but when you’re both it’s hard to survive in this league without moving more to the perimeter.

 

Notes of Interest: This is going to become a theme as we go through the other games from last night – solid, impressive rookie performances, but with sequences where they’re still working out what they can get away with at this level. Dolson made some shots, and had a lovely touch pass for a Tianna Hawkins bucket, but was called for at least a couple of illegal screens. Even though many of the refs are the same, that’s the kind of thing that can be called differently in the pros from the college game. Dantas made the necessary hustle plays, and generally kept things simple, although there were a few miscommunications. It looks like she’s already realised that there’s so much freaking talent on her team she doesn’t need to do anything too outlandish. Just fill your role, rook.

 

—–

 

New York Liberty 75 @ Connecticut Sun 54

 

Lineups: Spanish ‘rookie’ (it’s her first year in the WNBA, but she’s 27) Anna Cruz got the start at the point for New York (so much for Cappie Pondexter at ‘lead guard’). DeLisha Milton-Jones was at power forward despite Plenette Pierson being in uniform and seeing a few minutes of action. Pierson doesn’t look physically ready to play starter minutes yet.

The perimeter of Alex Bentley, Allison Hightower and Katie Douglas was about what we expected from Connecticut, but Kelsey Griffin started in the frontcourt next to Chiney Ogwumike. Kelsey Bone and Ogwumike will surely be the best frontcourt pairing this franchise can offer over the course of the season.

 

Continue reading

WNBA 2014 Last Minute Awards and Season Predictions

 

MVP

It seems like a relatively short list of candidates this year, compared to usual. Someone like Tina Charles or Tamika Catchings might be in the fold again if their teams do surprisingly well, but otherwise I see five likely possibilities: Elena Delle Donne in Chicago; Angel McCoughtry in Atlanta; Maya Moore in Minnesota; Candace Parker (again) in LA; and Diana Taurasi in Phoenix.

 

Parker and maybe Taurasi are likely to see their raw stats fall a little due to extra help around them, which would diminish their chances. By contrast, Moore and Delle Donne are starting the season on teams with injury problems, which could lead to more shots and improved raw production. McCoughtry’s efficiency might improve slightly if Michael Cooper can restrain her wilder tendencies.

 

I’ll take Maya Moore. So close to the award last year, still improving as a player, and with Brunson hurt to start the year she could be taking even more shots this season. McCoughtry second choice because her team should probably win more games than Delle Donne’s if Fowles is out for a while.

 
Defensive Player of the Year

Fowles missing the start of the season and Catchings getting older means we might end up with a brand new winner in this category. Brittney Griner’s a possibility if Brondello harnesses her, and because she’ll pile up blocks and voters like stats. But my guess is that they’ll decide it’s Angel McCoughtry‘s turn, and she’ll have the steal numbers to entice the voters. Note: this is who I think will win, not who I’d vote for – the number of plays McCoughtry takes off, and the fact that the Dream have always kept her away from the tougher assignments, would keep me away from voting for her unless there’s a new attitude this year.

 

All-Defensive First Team

Armintie Herrington
Tanisha Wright
Angel McCoughtry
Tamika Catchings
Brittney Griner

 

All-Defensive Second Team

Allison Hightower
Briann January
Candace Parker (again, who I expect, not who I’d vote for)
Jayne Appel
Tina Charles

 

Continue reading