The Weekly Roundup: Jonquel Jones’ Departure and the MVP Race Plus Week 5 Power Rankings!
Evaluating the impact of the Connecticut star’s EuroBasket-related absence on the MVP Race
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The defending champs rebound with three straight wins. Tina Charles adds to her league-leading scoring tally. The Connecticut Sun feel the effects of a Jonquel Jones-less lineup. Speaking of which, let’s dive into the events of the week by first analyzing the impact of Jonquel Jones’ participation departure on her MVP chances.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder?
If the WNBA regular season ended today, Jonquel Jones would be the league MVP. I love a good debate and if I were feeling particularly argumentative, I could play devil’s advocate and make a case for Jewell Loyd, Tina Charles, A’ja Wilson, or Breanna Stewart. But despite their impressive resumes, none of them match Jones’ output through the first third of the season. Whether it be points per game (second), rebounds per game (first), total rebounding rate (third), points per scoring attempt (second), player efficiency rating (first), win shares (first), or astoundingly for a center, three-point percentage (fourth), Jones is at or near the top of most traditional and advanced statistical categories. How about team performance? She’s the best player on arguably the W’s best team when at full strength (and remember, Alyssa Thomas is out for the season). However, the Connecticut center will miss the next four to six games as she competes for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the EuroBasket competition. Could this absence impact her chances of becoming just the second player in Connecticut Sun history to capture league MVP honors? Absolutely.
Assume Jonquel Jones misses five games due to EuroBasket. That represents 15.6% of the entire 32-game WNBA regular season. The WNBA and the NBA have awarded a combined 90 MVP awards. How many MVP recipients have missed more than 15.6% of the regular season? Per Basketball-Reference.com, just one. Bill Walton didn’t play in 24 games, or 29.3% of the season, during his 1977-78 MVP campaign with the Portland Trail Blazers. The highest percentage of regular season games missed by a WNBA MVP is 9.4% when Yolanda Griffith didn’t play in three of her team’s 32 contests. WNBA MVPs have missed an average of 3.5% of their team’s regular season games; NBA MVPs have been absent just 3.2% of the regular season. Apparently, absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder for MVP voters.
If Jones maintains her current numbers when she returns and plays in all of the Sun’s remaining games, she likely takes home the MVP trophy. Her time at EuroBasket might even strengthen her MVP case should Connecticut struggle over the next couple of weeks as they did in a 23-point loss to Seattle on Sunday. However, if history is a reliable indicator, missing this many games considerably narrows Jones’ margin for error. A slight drop in production or sitting out an additional game or two might cause Jones’ EuroBasket-related absence to loom a bit larger in voters’ minds come September.
Game of the Week: Dallas escapes late Phoenix charge
Just a week prior to Phoenix’s matchup against Dallas Tuesday night, the Mercury mounted one of the most improbable comebacks in recent memory that culminated in a buzzer-beating half-court heave by Kia Nurse. How improbable? The website inpredictable.com gave Phoenix just a 0.4% chance to overcome a 10-point deficit with 2:39 remaining against Chicago. The Mercury faced a similar quandary Tuesday when a Satou Sabally three gave Dallas an 81-70 advantage with just 1:41 left in the game. This time, Phoenix had less than a 1-in-1000 chance of coming away with the win. However, four straight points from Brittney Griner, a Skylar Diggins-Smith teardrop, a gorgeous outlet pass from Griner to Diggins-Smith for a fast-break layup, and a Diggins-Smith free throw cut the Wings’ lead to 81-79 with 30 seconds remaining. The 3,618 fans in Phoenix Suns Arena surely felt that lightning might strike twice. It almost did.
Wings guard Marina Mabrey (14 points, six boards, five assists) had other ideas. The Notre Dame alum faked going off a high screen and blew past Nurse for an easy layup with 11.1 seconds on the clock to put the Wings up 83-79. After two Megan Walker free throws cut the Dallas lead to two, Arike Ogunbowale (22 points), ever the clutch performer, knocked down two free throws of her own to put the game away.
Dallas’ defensive plan hinged on getting the ball out of Brittney Griner’s hands and forcing the Mercury to beat them from the perimeter. Given Griner’s propensity for dominating the interior and Phoenix’s mediocre shooting from long distance (eighth in the league in three-point percentage at 32.5% entering the game), this was a logical strategy. However, the Phoenix center didn’t get the memo. Frequently double-teamed, the nine-year veteran still managed to impose her will inside to the tune of 27 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks.
Also, with the combination of three-pointers, layups, and a dearth of long-range two-pointers, Phoenix’s shot selection would make almost any basketball analytics expert jump for joy. So, what went wrong for the Mercury? Well, all the “x’s” behind the arc in the chart above might provide some insight. Phoenix shot an abysmal 5-for-25 from long range, and some of those misses were wide-open looks created by Griner’s passes out of double teams. Diggins-Smith provided the only other bright spot for the Mercury’s offense with 22 points, six rebounds, and five assists.
After knocking off Phoenix again Friday night 77-59, Dallas dropped an 85-78 decision at Las Vegas. The Wings (5-6) take the hardwood next when they host Minnesota this Thursday. The Mercury’s shooting woes continued Sunday afternoon when they lost an 85-83 thriller against New York. Phoenix (5-6) travels to Los Angeles for its next game Wednesday night.
Three Stars of the Week
What do the reigning MVP, the league’s leading scorer, and a dominant center currently averaging a double-double have in common? Well, a lot. They’re FIBA World Cup gold medalists; they’ve all won NCAA national championships; and they’re sadly not on my fantasy basketball team. They also had the three best single-game performances last week.
Third Star: Brittney Griner - 27 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks vs. Dallas on 6/8 | 29 points, 14 rebounds vs. New York on 6/13
Just twice did a player compile a 25-point, 15-rebound game during the 2019 and 2020 regular seasons. Brittney Griner has done so twice this season in a ten-day span, the latest such performance coming in Phoenix’s 85-81 loss against Dallas Tuesday night. She was one rebound shy of accomplishing the feat a third time Sunday evening in the Mercury’s 85-83 loss against New York. Dropping 27 and 29 points versus Dallas and New York, respectively, while frequently facing double teams from both defenses, Griner was the epitome of dominance. Tuesday night, her ability to find the open player on the perimeter was equally impressive and, if not for the Mercury’s shooting woes, she might have even flirted with a triple-double.
Second Star: Tina Charles - 31 points, 8 rebounds vs. Minnesota on 6/8
For past readers of the Weekly Roundup, I may sound like a broken record. But the reason Tina Charles leads the league in scoring is simple. Versatility. Matched up against Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year and league number two in defensive win shares, Charles’ full arsenal of weapons was on display in the Mystics’ 85-81 win over the Lynx Tuesday night. The baseline fadeaway jumper against a double team, the step-back 18-footer, the triple, the shot fake and strong drive to the bucket all led to Charles’ fourth 30-point performance of the season. The rest of the league has combined for just six 30-point efforts.
First Star: A’ja Wilson - 28 points, 14 rebounds vs. Dallas on 6/13
For the second straight week, 2020 league MVP A’ja Wilson has earned the First Star. Her 19-point second half and third straight double-double propelled Las Vegas to a win over the red-hot Dallas Wings Sunday evening. Like last week, Wilson finds herself in the top spot not solely because of her gaudy numbers, but also due to her knack for performing down the stretch. With the Aces clinging to a two-point lead and 2:43 left in the game, Wilson scored the Aces’ next five points, including a critical dribble drive and-1 that gave Las Vegas enough breathing room to escape with the victory.
WNBA schedule this week (All times Eastern)
Here is a full listing of this week’s games, start times, and where you can catch the action.
Adam’s Week 5 Power Rankings
Check out the Her Hoop Stats Twitter page (@herhoopstats) tomorrow for our week 5 power rankings! Once again, we will base these on the votes of a panel of Her Hoop Stats contributors. Just a quick reminder that we rank teams as if they were to play tomorrow on a neutral court. Here’s my ballot this week:
Her Hoop Stats content in case you missed it
Her Hoop Stats released the following podcast content this week:
Twin Cities-based news reporter and Minnesota Lynx broadcaster Sloane Martin joined the Her Hoop Stats podcast. Host John Liddle spoke with Sloane about the Lynx’s slow start, her solo broadcasting earlier this season, and her experience covering the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests.
John pulled double duty this week, as he also chatted with former Atlanta Dream head coach and current Baylor head coach Nicki Collen. Coach Collen provided insight into her strategy for building a college program as well as her feelings on leaving Atlanta.
With nearly a third of the WNBA season in the books, Megan Gauer and Calvin Wetzel provided an in-depth look into each of the league’s 12 teams in the latest episode of Unplugged. How have Megan and Calvin’s opinions changed since the preseason? Tune in to find out!
The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Committee recently approved moving the women’s three-point line back from 20’9” to 22’1¾” for the 2021-22 season. In part one of a multi-part series, Ryan Weiss explored the impact of this change.
In WNBA Dissected, Richard Cohen covered several topics including the meaningful statistical patterns that have emerged this season. He also touched on the challenge players will face in 2023 when the Collective Bargaining Agreement’s “WNBA Prioritization” provision takes effect.
Calvin Wetzel nailed his trifecta of WNBA picks Friday night! Be sure to check out the Wetz Betz on Twitter @herhoopstats for Calvin’s latest picks and follow along as he tracks how they’ve performed.
In the WNBA Minute, Gabe Ibrahim broke down how Jewell Loyd has inserted herself into the MVP conversation.
Other recommended content
For Deadline, Matthew Carey previewed filmmaker Ben Proudfoot’s documentary about Lusia “Lucy” Harris titled The Queen of Basketball. A hoops legend whom Proudfoot describes as “one of the most important American athletes of the 20th century,” Harris won three national championships with AIAW powerhouse Delta State, captured three AIAW tournament MVP awards, was a three-time All-American, and is still the only woman ever drafted to an NBA team.
Shams Charania, who broke the story, wrote in The Athletic about how San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon and South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley are among the initial candidates for the Portland Trail Blazers head coaching job.
In March, the weight-room controversy shined a light on the inequities between the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Molly Hensley-Clancy of The Washington Post addressed similar differences in resource allocation between the men’s and women’s College World Series.
For The Next, Jenn Hatfield wrote about how Tina Charles has compiled MVP-caliber numbers this season.
Kim Gaucher dreams of leading Canada to its first Olympic basketball medal in 85 years this summer in Tokyo. Unfortunately, pandemic restrictions currently prohibit Gaucher from bringing her newborn child with her to the Olympics. Michael Grange of Sportsnet covered the resulting dilemma faced by the Canadian star player.
For The Athletic, Dorothy Gentry explained how Marina Mabrey's competitiveness, training regimen, and desire to learn have coalesced into a breakout season that has her as the early frontrunner for Most Improved Player.
Women’s professional basketball trivia questions of the week
The answers to last week’s questions will be posted on Twitter @herhoopstats. Here are this week’s questions - good luck!
Easier: Besides Lauren Jackson (this feels like the start to a not insignificant number of my trivia questions), name one of the other two #1 draft picks born outside the United States.
More Difficult: Spain has captured three of the last four EuroBasket titles. Accomplishing the feat in 2015, which country won the remaining championship during this timeframe?
Ken Jennings-Level: The United States national team is a mind-blowing 66-3 in Olympic competition. Two of those losses came at the hands of the Soviet Union/Commonwealth of Independent States. Occurring at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the U.S.' only other loss (at an Olympic Games) came at the hands of which country?