WNBA 2011 – How Will It Shake Out?

Before the first tip of a WNBA season, a lot of guesses get made about how it’ll all look when playoff slots are sorted out (I did my part, here). It seems sort of silly, really, to try to figure this stuff out before any real games have been played. So now, with every team having at least two games on the board, it might be a bit easier to make some picks.

East

Or, maybe not. The East looks like a typical year in the East: with tons of conference parity. No one team looks heads-and-shoulders above the rest, and no team looks obviously over-matched. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the last 1 or 2 playoff spots being up for grabs until the final game of the season.

1. Indiana

Indiana has got to be one of the most consistent teams year-in/year-out. They don’t hit on all cylinders every night, but still manage to win many of the games when they aren’t at their best.

2. Atlanta

Despite a stumble out of the gates, the Dream still look to have the goods provided they start winning these close games now that McCoughtry is back in the line-up.

3. New York

The Liberty look solid to start the season, but not spectacular. This team is actually sort of reminiscent of the Monarchs from days of yore (imagine that).

4. Connecticut

As I mentioned above, I think it’s just as likely either of the other two teams could fit in this spot. Still…it looks like the Sun are feeling more like a team this year than in 2010. They could still implode, but at the start of the season they look like they could make a run for the playoffs.

5. Chicago

A new head coach who is focused on the womens game, plus some good roster changes, have made the Sky into a legitimate contender who could make a playoff spot. They might be one year away, though, from everything coming together.

6. Washington

Somebody had to end up here. It’s as likely they’ll end up in the post-season. The main reason for their position here is the coach, whose record with the Sting does give one pause. Still, the talent on the court is there. If they make more shots than the other team, they’ll win.

West

The West is a bit easier to evaluate. There will definitely be more parity than in 2010 when Seattle made their very impressive run, but it’s nothing like the logjam that is in the East.

1. Minnesota

No other team in the West has looked as potentially dominating as the Lynx. They still make dumb mistakes, and Coach Reeve is only now settling in, but the roster combined with a little bit of good luck on the injury front makes them the scariest team in the conference.

2. Seattle

The Green Machine of the Northwest isn’t quite the irresistible force it was last season…maybe. In the first games, the Storm seemed a little off-stride compared to 2010. It’s more of a bench-chemistry thing than anything–certainly nothing that should prevent them from easily making the post-season.

3. Los Angeles

The Sparks look like a team this year. They mesh like they haven’t for a while. The older veterans are starting to show some of the wear-and-tear, but the younger players are definitely taking up any slack. This year, they are solid.

4. San Antonio

Scrappy. There really isn’t any other word for it. The Silver Stars are probably the most “blue collar” of the teams in the league, but they keep pushing at you. Aided by a strong fan base at home, the Silver Stars could be the dark horse in the conference.

5. Phoenix

One roster change too many. Tangela Smith was the linchpin. A F/C who could run and had proven 3-pt ability. Losing her has changed the Mercury so that they can’t play their high-octane offense to the level they have in recent years. Teams are now better able to focus on Taurasi. With that weapon gone, the Mercury need to find their new, apparently slower, identity quickly else it’s going to be a long season.

6. Tulsa

Tulsa, though a gamer, will once again be at the bottom of the league. On the surface, it seems the chief liability is Coach Richardson. He’s made questionable roster moves, and his vaunted “40 minutes of hell” system doesn’t seem to have traveled well to the WNBA. If the Shock have any hope of staying in Tulsa, I think a coaching change sooner rather than later might be necessary.

Doubtless this will all be wrong by the end of the season. Injuries often change the equation. Then there is the All-Star break, after which some teams mysteriously seem to thrive while others lose momentum. But, having seen the teams play, instead of speculating about how well they might play in the new season, I’m naively optimistic that I’ll be slightly better than random chance.

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