Natasha Howard and Jewell Loyd have helped Seattle weather the storm of injuries early in the season while the absence of Angel McCoughtry has seen the Dream struggle out of the gate.
Dealing with injuries is commonplace in sports. We hear trite phrases like “strength in numbers” or “next man up” all the time as teams try to adjust to missing pieces. But what happens when your team loses a superstar or two? Well, you get almost half of the WNBA right now.
We likely won’t see Diana Taurasi suit up for a game until July, Maya Moore is out for the season, Skylar Diggins-Smith is on maternity leave, Candace Parker is still recovering from a hamstring strain and yet each of those teams—the Mercury, Lynx, Wings and Sparks—either have lesser expectations than the ones I’m about to mention or have complimentary superstars to step up in their absence.
That’s not particularly the case in Seattle or Atlanta, two teams which came into the season with high expectations that have been altered by injury and a couple of lackluster early results.
For the Storm, no one can fault them for struggling a bit. They played fantastically in their season opener, outdueling the Mercury and showing what this team could be with Natasha Howard and Jewell Loyd in the driver’s seat. But even with the starting five putting up solid numbers this team has a definite ceiling, which is bound to happen when you lose last year’s league MVP and one of the best players the WNBA has ever seen—who also just so happens to run much of your offense.
The absences of Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird make this Seattle team thoroughly beatable, as has been proven by the Lynx and Sky so far. There are certainly going to be growing pains as Jordin Canada takes the reins of the offense in her second year and tries to find her way, but Howard—who is quickly emerging as the best Seattle player on both sides of the court—and Loyd have been solid so far in trying to keep the ship afloat.
The one area where the team desperately needs improvement? It’s three-point shooting. Seattle is currently bottom of the league in three-point shooting percentage at 21.4 which is … not ideal. Maybe there’s something in the Puget Sound water, but no one can connect from three on a consistent basis except for Alysha Clark and Loyd.
Almost everyone else is struggling from outside, which will likely cause opponents to start to sit back in the future and clog up the paint for Howard and the drives of Canada and Loyd. Maybe it’s just early-season jitters or trying to adjust to missing the two bellwethers of this team, but the Storm will need to acclimate soon or they could quickly see themselves outside of the playoff conversation, which brings us to …
So what is exactly is happening in Atlanta? Nicki Collen’s team surprised many after claiming the second-best record in the league last year with hard-nosed defense and smart play from Tiffany Hayes and Angel McCoughtry. Now with McCoughtry out half of that duo is on the shelf for some time, and the team is crumbling on both sides of the court.
The Dream’s defense remains one of the most athletic in the league, but when opposing teams get their offense going, Atlanta can’t seem to stop the bleeding. Look no further than the Dream’s games over the weekend against the Storm and the Mystics.
Atlanta has a similar problem to Seattle in that it doesn’t have a bevy of go-to three-point shooters, with Renee Montgomery being the only surefire one on the roster. But she can’t be expected to carry the team’s offense or bring the Dream back from big deficits, like the kind they faced Friday and Saturday.
Atlanta is a dangerous team in transition but has struggled in its halfcourt sets, which allowed both Seattle and Washington to get out to big leads early on. Both teams established double-digit leads within the first quarter and never looked back, leaving the Dream to try and dig themselves out of a deficit. But without McCoughtry, there just doesn’t seem to be enough secondary scoring, leaving teams to focus on Hayes and Montgomery and not allow Atlanta to get much going.
We’re still early in the season, and there’s more than enough time for the Dream to get back on track and show us the defense they were capable of last season. Their offense, however, needs to improve immediately to stay in the playoff hunt. Hayes was the team’s leading scorer with 17.2 points per game last season; she’s averaging less than half of that now and Brittney Sykes is the only player consistently scoring in double digits this year. Having a dominant defense is a fantastic asset, but it doesn’t mean much if you can’t score.
Now this is how you make a return!
Elena Delle Donne has come back to scorch your favorite team and there’s nothing you can do about it. After starting their season with a less-than-inspiring loss to the Sun, this is exactly what the Mystics needed. Opening up your new arena with a huge performance from your star while Ariel Atkins goes off should have Washington fans plenty excited for the remainder of the season.
The Ogwumike sisters are starting to click together and that should scare every other team in the WNBA. Chiney scoring 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting in her first game against her old team was encouraging after watching her struggle against the Aces. Add Nneka’s 19 points to that and this is the dominant frontcourt we expected to see from the Sparks.
What this team looks like when Candace Parker comes back is going to be interesting in terms of where the majority of offensive touches go, but for now, let’s sit back and enjoy the Ogwumike ride.
The New York Liberty came oh-so-close to breaking their losing streak in the first game of the season against the Fever, but Teaira McCowan’s last-second lay-up saw the streak go on. Saturday’s rematch was a bit more definitive.
Also, send the Libs good wishes to break the losing streak. New York has now lost 15 regular season games in a row.— Arielle (Ari) Chambers (@ariivory) June 3, 2019
The Liberty’s losing streak, stretching to last season, is a bit jarring to consider when you think about all the talent on the roster. We’re still in early times here, but a team with a talent like Tina Charles and emerging players like Kia Nurse and Asia Durr should be competitive this year.
New York’s next few games are against the Sparks, Mystics and Aces before a bit of a break against the only undefeated team (!!) left in the WNBA: the Minnesota Lynx. Unless the Liberty put it all together against one of those contenders, we could be talking about this losing streak for some time.
At a time of year in which many brands simply slap a rainbow on their logo and send out a tweet or two of support, it’s really awesome to see the WNBA continue to be so proactive during Pride Month.
Sharing stories from players and fans about inclusion and inspiration on their social channels as well as donating proceeds from sales on Pride Month apparel to GLSEN is a great way to celebrate the LGBTQ community and show its importance in society.