WNBA Power Rankings – Las Vegas Aces up, Chicago Sky on top and Washington Mystics ready to make a move

ByHarriet

Jul 23, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Washington Mystics were such a high-powered offensive team when they won the WNBA title in 2019 that their defense was a bit overlooked. But they were very good on that end of the court, too. And if they are to make a title run this season, defense will be a very big part of it.

The Mystics have been in the top five of ESPN’s WNBA Power Rankings most of this season and are holding steady in Week 11. With nine games left in their regular season and Elena Delle Donne expected to play in most of them, things are looking pretty good for the Mystics.

Admittedly, holding Minnesota to just 57 points in Sunday’s victory might reflect the Lynx being a bit worn out after a challenging week and travel woes. But all season, Washington has been effective at neutralizing opponents’ strengths. The Mystics are holding opponents to a league-low 75.2 points per game and are second to the Seattle Storm in defensive rating (94.6).

“It’s kept us above water when we’re not shooting well,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said of the defense. “We can hang our hat on that every night. Here’s a perfect example [Sunday]: We shoot 37-38%, but we win a game by 13 because we were so good at the defensive end. We chart how many times we get three stops in a row … there were a lot of those tonight.”

Delle Donne is one of the best offensive players in WNBA history when healthy, as her 50/40/90 season showed in 2019. But she does her part on defense as well, even though she says her teammates work hard to take a lot of that load off of her. She has played in 18 of Washington’s 27 games this season as the Mystics have rested her strategically to help with her back issues. Washington is 13-5 when she is in the lineup.

The two-time WNBA MVP wasn’t named an All-Star, but she has answered that this past week with two double-doubles while averaging 22.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists in three games.

“It’s pretty set,” Delle Donne said when asked about her schedule for the remainder of the regular season. “It’s still something we’ll kind of figure out as we go, but I should be in more games than at the beginning of the year, for sure.”

Delle Donne said the addition of veterans such as center/forward Elizabeth Williams and forward Alysha Clark, both high-level defenders, plus drafting another defensive force in center Shakira Austin has really shored up Washington. It was a big part of Thibault’s overall plan for 2022. That actually started when Clark came in as a free agent in 2021, although she was out all last season due to injury. Thibault was sure enough about the availability of Austin at No. 3 in the draft that he traded the No. 1 pick to Atlanta.

“We already had Natasha [Cloud] and Ariel Atkins here,” Thibault said of the guards who played so well defensively on the 2019 title team. “But when we went out a year ago, getting Alysha Clark was a big deal for us as a defender. Signing Elizabeth Williams [this year] was a priority. And kind of the ultimate decision in the draft … Shakira Austin, I thought, gave us a chance to get an elite-level young defensive player.

“It’s not my normal identity probably as a coach to place defense over offense. But right now, we have an abundance of good defensive players and we have to have that as our identity.”

Previous rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10

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Julie Allemand darts a nice pass through traffic to Emma Meeseman inside for the and-1 score.

1. Chicago Sky
Record: 19-6
Previous ranking: 1

The Sky — who went 3-0 last week — have the WNBA’s best depth this season, and it showed again in their win Saturday at Dallas. With All-Star point guard Courtney Vandersloot in concussion protocol, the Sky still had 25 assists, including eight from Vandersloot’s backup, Julie Allemand. In their win Thursday at Los Angeles, Candace Parker had an off game shooting and didn’t score, but Rebekah Gardner led the way with 18 points, plus 10 rebounds. Emma Meesseman is shooting 56.3% and Gardner 54.9% from the field this season. And Kahleah Copper (14.7 PPG) leads six Sky players averaging double-figure scoring.

This week: vs. Seattle (Wednesday), vs. Dallas (Friday), at New York (Saturday)

2. Las Vegas Aces
Record: 18-7
Previous ranking: 5

The Aces needed a pick-me-up stretch right after the All-Star Game, and they got it with two wins at New York and one at Connecticut. Las Vegas had lost five of its last seven before the All-Star weekend, which is why the Aces dropped three spots in last week’s Power Rankings. But they’re back up in the top two heading into a week with three home games. While the Aces have had some defensive concerns of late, the offense continues to chug along; they averaged 102 points in their three victories this past week.

This week: vs. Atlanta (Tuesday), vs. Indiana (Thursday), vs. Los Angeles (Saturday)

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Chelsea Gray makes a great assist to Dearica Hamby inside for an Aces’ bucket.

3. Seattle Storm
Record: 17-8
Previous ranking: 2

The Storm went 2-0 with home wins over Dallas and Indiana and only drop a spot in the Power Rankings because the Aces were so impressive. Seattle is clearly in the championship hunt, though, and road games this week at league-leading Chicago and longtime rival Phoenix are good tests. Friday’s matchup with the Mercury could be the last time we see longtime teammates/foes/friends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi on the court together, unless they meet in the playoffs.

This week: at Chicago (Wednesday), at Phoenix (Friday), vs. Atlanta (Sunday)

4. Connecticut Sun
Record: 16-9
Previous ranking: 3

Like Las Vegas, the Sun were in a slump entering the All-Star Game, having lost four of their previous six. But they had a solid post-All-Star week, with wins at Indiana and Atlanta, and a good effort in a loss at home to Las Vegas without Jonquel Jones (health and safety protocols). The challenge this week is facing teams that are feeling more desperate about their playoff hopes, and the Sun will have to avoid the turnover disparity (22-7) that plagued them against the Aces.

This week: vs. New York (Tuesday), at Minnesota (Friday), at Minnesota (Sunday)

5. Washington Mystics
Record: 16-11
Previous ranking: 4

Washington went 2-1 this past week, beating Los Angeles and Minnesota and losing at difficult-to-predict Phoenix. Delle Donne has led the Mystics in scoring the last four games and in rebounding three of the last four. Figuring out the rest/recovery puzzle for her will be easier this week, as Washington plays only once. But that will be followed the next week-plus with four games in six days. Thibault hopes this relatively light week can be used to, as he put it, clean up some things in practice. One thing has been like clockwork for the Mystics: Cloud’s assists. She is averaging a league-best 7.2 per game.

This week:
vs. New York (Thursday)

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Breanna Stewart scores 25 points in win over Fever

6. Atlanta Dream
Record: 11-14
Previous ranking: 8

We’ve now entered the “free-for-all” part of the Power Rankings, as the teams in the sixth through 11th spots are within two games of one another. They’re not in the same order here; we give a little more weight to the past week than the cold, hard numbers of the standings do. That said, Atlanta is sixth in both places after an important road win at Phoenix on Sunday, even without All-Star rookie Rhyne Howard (shoulder) in the lineup. That followed losses to Chicago and Connecticut. With three West Coast games this week, it’s an important stretch for the Dream to stay in the playoff hunt.

This week: at Las Vegas (Tuesday), at Los Angeles (Thursday), at Seattle (Sunday)

7. Dallas Wings
Record: 11-14
Previous ranking: 11

The Wings went 1-2, with a win at Minnesota and losses to Seattle and Chicago. Center Teaira McCowan had her fourth double-double of the season against the Storm, and that’s a good sign. Injury issues with forward Satou Sabally (ankle), who played against Seattle but missed the next two games, continue to be a bad sign. The Wings can beat any team and lose to any team in the league, so expect a continued roller coaster in regard to their playoff hopes.

This week: at Chicago (Friday), at Indiana (Sunday)

8. Minnesota Lynx
Record: 10-17
Previous ranking: 6

Are we giving the Lynx too much credit based on what they look like at their best? Perhaps. They’ve already played 27 games, and the loss at home to Dallas this past week really hurt. Overall, they went 2-2 in a compacted stretch that was complicated by travel delays. But they have been a clearly better team since late June. The question is, can they make up enough ground in the standings to overcome their struggles before that? Back-to-back games against the Sun this week are huge.

This week: vs. Connecticut (Friday), vs. Connecticut (Sunday)

9. Phoenix Mercury
Record: 11-16
Previous ranking: 9

Does anyone really know what to expect game to game from the Mercury? They lost one of the more exciting games of the season in double overtime at Minnesota on Tuesday, but then bounced back with what seemed like a confidence-restoring victory over Washington on Thursday. So what happened when Atlanta visited Phoenix on Sunday without star rookie Howard? The Mercury lost by 10. It hurt to be without Diamond DeShields (hip). But the biggest issue seems to be that sometimes Phoenix’s personnel-driven “small-ball” lineup works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

This week: Seattle (Friday)

10. Los Angeles Sparks
Record: 10-14
Previous ranking: 7

After starting July winning three in a row, the Sparks have now lost three straight — and scored fewer than 70 points in two of those games. Center Liz Cambage (health and safety protocols) missed Thursday’s loss to Chicago. The last two games of a seven-game home stretch are this week, and the Sparks really need to win both.

This week: vs. Indiana (Tuesday), vs. Atlanta (Thursday), at Las Vegas (Saturday)

11. New York Liberty
Record: 9-15
Previous ranking: 10

Maybe the worst thing for the Liberty after the All-Star weekend was having back-to-back games against a Las Vegas team eager to reestablish itself. New York lost both and now has fallen in five of its past six. The Liberty’s next four games are against teams in the top five of the standings. It they can rise to the occasion in that stretch, none of their last eight games are against top-five teams.

This week: at Connecticut (Tuesday), at Washington (Thursday), vs. Chicago (Saturday)

12. Indiana Fever
Record: 5-22
Previous ranking: 12

The Fever went 0-3 this past week and have lost nine in a row. They are basically in the role of spoiler the rest of the way. That includes three games against Las Vegas
and two each against Dallas and Washington. The most important thing for Indiana is to build toward better times ahead, hard as that might be to see now.

This week: at Los Angeles (Tuesday), at Las Vegas (Thursday), vs. Dallas (Sunday)

By Harriet