Well y’all, it’s finally here. The season ends on Sunday—and it ends with a bang, but more on that later—and there are plenty of storylines to keep up with as the calendar flips toward the second week of September.
But instead of strictly focusing on what to watch for this postseason, I thought it’d be fun to stay in the present and really enjoy these last six or seven days full of regular season basketball and what they could mean for myriad teams and players across the W now and going forward. So let’s get it into a few stories that have bearing on the next week and beyond.
A Rumble Between Rookies
Let’s go ahead and talk about this right off the bat; this Rookie of the Year race has gotten spicy and I’m all the way here for it.
I picked Napheesa Collier at the beginning of the season and she gave me plenty of reason to feel confident in my pick, with consistent all-around play and a place on the All-Star team after A’ja Wilson’s injury. Then Arike Ogunbowale turned into a freaking supernova.
Here are some stats for you, courtesy of Rachel Galligan. In August, Arike averaged 25 points per game, shot 42% from the field and 44% from three. She’s got three games over 30 points, all of which have come in the past 16 days or so and her season averages are 18.1 points, three assists, 38.2% shooting and 34% shooting.
She’s got support from legends too? Sheesh.
I’m not saying the race is over because Collier is having a fantastic season in her own right. She leads rookies in minutes, efficiency, blocks and has become an integral piece for the Lynx, especially on the defensive end. But Arike is quickly emerging as a superstar and must-see tv whenever she steps on the court.
Collier has two more games to make her case for the award, with the Lynx playing the Mercury and Sparks before season’s end while Ogunbowale has games against the Sun, Mystics and Storm left. It could be a critical week for both players and it’ll be a hell of a lot of fun for viewers tuning in to watch the rookies go off. I got my popcorn ready, do you?
Will the Real Aces Please Stand Up?
So, what exactly should we think of these Aces? Las Vegas had lost three games straight—including a 15-point defeat to the Fever in Indiana—before putting it all together and taking down the Sparks on Saturday night.
But that Sparks win showed just how much talent this Aces team has. Kelsey Plum went off for 20 points, while Kayla McBride scored 14 and Dearica Hamby dropped 12 in a game in which Liz Cambage didn’t have it working. Cambage shot 25% from the floor on 12 shots in about 25 minutes on the floor. And, of course, the team’s rock, A’ja Wilson, led the team with 24 points.
This is the Aces at their most dangerous. You don’t know who is going to off but you know that at least two players are going to get their own. That should make them terrifying for any team that they match up against in the playoffs, especially if Plum can keep herself going.
Las Vegas is a half-game up on the Sparks and a game ahead of the Sky but plenty can change in a week. No matter what their seed in the playoffs is, however, they’ll certainly be worth tuning in to. And if they can get solid contributions out of all the talent on their team, maybe they can make good on that preseason WNBA Finals prediction.
Can Mystics Hold on to 1 Seed?
We all know that the Mystics are very good. Like very, very good. But are they good enough to hold off the Connecticut Sun, who are only a game back?
Washington seems to have a reasonably favorable run-in for the last week of the season, playing the Liberty, Wings and then the Sky on the last day of the season. Meanwhile, the Sun play the Fever and … the Wings and the Sky. So this should be fun.
The Mystics would likely love the No. 1 seed and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs but no one is quite sure when Kristi Toliver will return. This team is great without Toliver but it will need its floor general to get the most out of the squad. These last three games—for both the Mystics and the Sun—will have fans of both teams at the edge of their seats.
Seeds 6-8 Battling It Out
Yes, seeds 3-5 are tight also but I interested in the last three teams who made the playoffs. The Lynx sit in sixth, with the Storm trailing them by half a game and the Mercury pulling up the rear 1.5 games back of Minnesota.
What could make this better, you ask? Oh just that the Storm and Mercury play on Tuesday, Minnesota faces off against Phoenix on Friday and all three teams play on the last day of the season. There could be plenty of movement and there’s bound to be an abundance of intrigue and jockeying for position. And speaking of that last day of the season ...
Having each team play on the last day of the season is hardly a revolutionary idea. Having each team play at the same time on the last day of the season is absolute chaos and exciting and I couldn’t be happier to have an excuse to plop myself on the couch Sunday afternoon, play a game of Tetris with reduced windows on my laptop and act like a complete mad man for two-plus hours.
By 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, we will have a clearer view of the playoffs, the deadline for submitting season awards will be looming and postseason basketball will almost be upon us. Let’s get it.
It was awesome watching Plum go off Saturday night and her postgame interview will give you all the feels.
I told y'all that Liz was going to get her own section in this column. And as long as she keeps coming with the heat, you can find her best roastings right here.
I would like to make it a rule that dogs are mandatory at all postgame press conferences. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.