The Weekly Roundup: Everything’s Coming Up Aces
Analyzing Las Vegas’ 2-0 start, from a new offense to A’ja Wilson’s brilliant weekend
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The WNBA is back, which means the return of the weekly roundup! While this edition is more of a weekend roundup, there was nonetheless plenty of action from the weekend’s slate of WNBA games.
After playing only three games in the past two seasons, Elena Delle Donne impressed in the Mystics’ season opener with a 21-point, nine-rebound, and three-block effort in Washington’s 84-70 win over Indiana. Additional good news for Mystics fans came in the form of their team’s dominant 78-66 victory at Minnesota sans Delle Donne, who did not travel with the team as part of her scheduled rest days to avoid reaggravating her back injury. Natasha Cloud exploded for 19 first-half points, and first-round draft pick Shakira Austin filled in wonderfully for Delle Donne, dropping a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double against four-time Defensive Player of the Year Sylvia Fowles.
The Los Angeles Sparks was the second of three teams to emerge from the weekend with a 2-0 record. A change of scenery appeared to be just what the doctor ordered for Jordin Canada, who tied a career-high with 21 points to go along with eight assists in her Sparks debut Friday versus Chicago. Los Angeles benefitted from a questionable foul call at the end of regulation that sent Canada to the line for three game-tying free throws, forcing overtime. The Sparks took care of business in the extra frame, outscoring the Sky 10-3 en route to a 98-91 victory on opening night. It was another Los Angeles newcomer who figured prominently in the Sparks’ second victory of the weekend, an 87-77 decision over Indiana. Liz Cambage scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in just under 22 minutes, the 47th double-double of her WNBA career.
Las Vegas rounds out the trio of teams who picked up a pair of wins over the weekend. Becky Hammon’s offense is firing on all cylinders, as her squad is averaging a 111 offensive rating (best in the W). A trio of 20-point scorers - Dearica Hamby (24), Kelsey Plum (20), and Jackie Young (20) - led Las Vegas to a 106-88 triumph over Phoenix on Friday night. It was A’ja Wilson’s defensive performance on Sunday, an effort that included five blocks, that proved instrumental in the Aces’ 85-74 win. The Aces limited Seattle to an offensive rating (87.1) that the Storm failed to eclipse on just four occasions last season.
Is the sky falling in Minnesota? ‘Tis the season for overreacting, but a 23-point loss to Seattle and the aforementioned loss to Washington that was much more lopsided than the score indicates have done little to inspire confidence in their championship prospects. The Lynx put up offensive ratings of 84.1 and 79.5 in those two contests; only once did they record a lower offensive rating last season (against the defensive juggernaut that is the Connecticut Sun).
Stat of the Week: The debut of the three-ball in Las Vegas
I’ll admit that the header for this section is a bit misleading. The three-point shot existed in Las Vegas before this season, a fact that Kelsey Plum (4.4 three-point attempts per game last season) and Riquna Williams (4.7 three-point attempts per contest in 2021) can attest to. It just wasn’t a significant part of the Aces’ offensive repertoire under former coach Bill Laimbeer. The Aces ranked last in three-point rate - the percentage of all scoring attempts that come from behind the arc - in each of Las Vegas’ four seasons under Laimbeer. The Aces ranked in the top two in offensive rating, so his triangle offense was effective, though it is a far cry from Becky Hammon’s pace and space offensive philosophy that lends itself to more three-point opportunities (check out a piece by The Next’s Matthew Walter, where he recently explored the differences). Therefore, it’s unsurprising, yet still eye-opening, that the Aces’ three-point rate in their season-opener Friday night under new coach Becky Hammon was 28.0%. No Aces team during the Laimbeer era cracked the 27% threshold in a game.
Player of the Week: A’ja Wilson
The sportsbook PointsBet lists A’ja Wilson as the favorite to win this season’s Most Valuable Player award. Perhaps it’s because she won the honor in 2020. Maybe it’s more a function of her no longer sharing the frontcourt with Liz Cambage. Whatever the reason, Wilson kicked off her 2022 MVP campaign in style, averaging 17.5 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks in a pair of Aces victories over the weekend and is my pick for Player of the Week(end). In Sunday’s win over Seattle, the Aces center became one of just a dozen players in league history to post a 20-point, 15-rebound, and five-block stat line.
While her performance on the offensive end this season is more likely to grab the attention of MVP voters, her defensive effort is what has impressed coach Becky Hammon so far and could be the difference between a championship run and another early playoff exit.
“We’ve been very straightforward with her on the expectation [defensively], and she’s just gone out there and done it,” Hammon said following Sunday’s victory over Seattle. “Her buy-in factor defensively is going to be huge for us all year. These last two games, the way she’s defended really elite post players, is a separation factor for us.”
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.
Spread the Floor
One of the goals at Her Hoop Stats is to help grow the women’s game, and a potential avenue for growth is sports betting. Accordingly, we’re excited to announce the launch of Spread the Floor, the home for all the work the people on our team do to make picks above and beyond automated predictions on Her Hoop Stats. Follow Spread the Floor on Twitter and YouTube. You’ll get picks from Calvin Wetzel (@cwetzel31), Dano Mataya (@drmataya), Debbie Antonelli (@debbieantonelli), Gabe Ibrahim (@gabe_ibrahim), and Ryan Fees (@threesfees). In addition, we’ll be posting injury updates all season.
Her Hoop Stats content in case you missed it
The Her Hoop Stats team released the following podcast content:
On the Her Hoop Stats Podcast, Gabe Ibrahim and Calvin Wetzel offered a comprehensive preview of the WNBA season, including a discussion of this season’s most intriguing players, Cheryl Reeve’s preseason moves in Minnesota, and how the new playoff format will impact the season.
On the latest episode of Courtside, Gabe Ibrahim and Christy Winters Scott provided their WNBA power rankings and discussed which teams have the best chance of winning the Aliyah Boston sweepstakes.
Today marks the premiere of Dice it Up, a new show on the Her Hoop Stats Podcast Network hosted by Dano Mataya and Ice Young! The debut episode features an interview with New York Liberty guard DiDi Richards.
This Sunday is the deadline both to exercise fourth-year rookie-scale option years for players just starting their third season and to sign fourth-year players to rookie-scale extensions. Richard Cohen offered insight into which of the active WNBA players from the 2020 draft still on their rookie-scale contracts will have their options taken up this week.
In a series of tweets last week, Breanna Stewart described the need for WNBA roster expansion using practice players. In response, Jacob Mox proposed a detailed solution.
Last year, the New York Liberty made the playoffs a year after its dreadful 2-20 campaign in 2020. Will a healthy Sabrina Ionescu and the arrival of coach Sandy Brondello propel the Liberty into the championship picture? Heaven Hill assessed New York’s prospects in his preview of the Liberty’s 2022 season.
Can Minnesota deliver the franchise’s fifth title in Sylvia Fowles’ farewell season? In her preview of the Lynx’s 2022 season, Cindy Smith explained the factors that will help and hinder the Lynx in giving their star center a fairytale ending.
I don’t envy anyone with the task of predicting what will happen three months from now. Aneela Khan bravely did just that, as she predicted who will take home the WNBA’s end-of-season individual awards.
From ESPN recently launching its WNBA fantasy basketball game to Her Hoop Stats adding fantasy stats to the site, seemingly everyone is getting in on the fantasy sports fun! In a resource that’s useful for fantasy sports novices and experts alike, James Hyman outlined the basics of fantasy basketball and provided some helpful tips.
Other recommended content
Unlike this section in typical weekly roundups, this week’s recommended content section includes stories from the past month (since the end of the NCAA season).
On ESPN’s Outside the Lines, Holly Rowe documented Diamond DeShields’ remarkable comeback following a risky medical procedure in 2020 to remove a tumor in her spinal cord. Check out the clip from Outside the Lines or the accompanying article.
For ESPN, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru explored how Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty owner Joe Tsai is representative of professional basketball leagues’ complex relationship with China.
A fierce advocate for gender equality, the coach of 11 Ivy League championship teams, and a basketball legend - The Next’s Jenn Hatfield offered an in-depth look at the 40-year coaching career of Harvard’s Kathy Delaney-Smith.
WNBA players have historically traveled overseas to supplement their income with contracts that are sometimes bigger than their WNBA deals. In a piece for Sports Illustrated, Howard Megdal analyzed how Russia’s detainment of Brittney Griner, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the implementation of the CBA’s prioritization provision could transform that arrangement.
Rui Machida averaged 12.5 assists per game for Japan in the Summer Olympics last year. So, it’s little surprise Washington head coach and general manager Mike Thibault signed the 5-foot-4-inch guard in February. The Washington Post’s Kareem Copeland outlined how Machida’s limitless potential could translate into a successful WNBA career.
Trivia question of the week
Who scored the most points in a single regular-season game last year? The player in question actually had two of the top three scoring performances of the regular season.