It’s the first weekend of June and about a fifth of the WNBA season is done (boy, that was quick). It seems like a good time to offer up some opinions about the season so far. I didn’t do my usual pre-season post simply because with all of the off-season changes, it seemed to be an exercise too fraught with not-enough-information-itis.
First impression now that the teams are starting to find themselves? It looks like one of those seasons were, if you want to get to the post-season, every win you can get will be a precious one. The talent level in the league has continued the trend toward leveling out. Coaching philosophy and how much the players buy into will be a big factor. Will high-octane (a la Phoenix, Tulsa, Atlanta, et al.) continue to assert itself, or will somewhat less error-prone styles hold sway?
East Wind Blowin’
I’ve been surprised at the increased presence of the East. This may be the more competitive conference this year. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the Shock. Given the players who opted not to travel to Tulsa, I was thinking that this would be more of a rebuilding level of team. Instead, they’ve not only been holding their own, but have been giving teams all they could handle.
Atlanta shot out of the blocks with a 6-0 start, but have since stumbled with two losses. The starters, especially, are creating problems for other teams. McCoughtry and the Brazilians being quarterbacked by the not-surprising-to-me Shalee Lehning have the talent to lead the East. It’s sort of up to them; it’s theirs to lose.
Chicago has had some surprising wins this season. I wouldn’t have expected this with this particular roster. Could they be the Cinderella team this year, or did Key just happen to get the balance he was looking for?
Washington has a different problem: their personnel is first-rate. No question about that. Their problem is that there is no clear leader, especially with Beard injured. Perhaps this will shake itself out as the season wears on.
Pretty much the whole of the western conference seems to be flat this year. Compared to the east, the teams out west seem a little less energetic, a little less hungry for the title.
Of the teams in the sunny climes, Phoenix seems the most out of sorts. Losing Pondexter changed the chemistry of the team. The ball isn’t being pushed up court as fast as often. While Coach Gaines says that this offense is built around a “4″, I wonder if Dupree is the power forward he was referring to. Honestly, this Phoenix system was built around the “3″. Losing CP23 disrupted that. I don’t see the Mercury repeating as champions at this point. The chemistry is wrong.
Los Angeles, too, is struggling with the chemistry thing. They lost their foundation in Lisa Leslie and are having to redefine themselves under the banner of Candace Parker. They also have a team that is both young as well as aging. I think Coach Gillom is making a mistake in having Parker in the blocks. She’s not that kind of player. The system needs to be built around the personnel. “Silk” and Kristi Toliver could form a long-lasting core (like Bird/Jackson in Seattle, or Toliver/Coleman back at Maryland) if the offense was tweaked a bit. Make the pair the go-tos when games are on the line. Because the team has veterans of 10, 11, 12, and 13 years, the Sparks need to think about strengthening and committing to their young corps.
And speaking of Seattle: a healthy Lauren Jackson definitely isn’t something that other teams are happy to see. Even so, Seattle doesn’t seem as aggressive as in years past. LJ, for example, is taking a lot of fall-aways instead of pushing to the rim. Still, they’ve been the most consistently winning team out west, so that says that when the kinks are ironed out, they could be a nightmare for the rest of the conference.
As I mentioned, Tulsa has surprised me a bit. They are better than I was expecting. San Antonio, on the other hand, has been underwhelming, so far. Some might say the same about the Lynx, but the injuries to Wiggins and Augustus almost guaranteed a slow start. As the players get back into the rotation, Minnesota might be the team to beat.