Times change in the WNBA by Clay Kallam
With NBA free-agent frenzy dying down, and three weeks left before the Olympics, one would think the WNBA would be center stage for basketball junkies – but the NBA Summer League still gets twice the ratings on NBA-TV than the W does.
But those who aren’t watching are missing a fascinating season, with a new playoff format (top eight qualify, regardless of conference), stars rising and falling (Nneka Ogwumike on the ascendant, Cappie Pondexter and Seimone Augustus not so much) and the domination of the L.A. Sparks (much to the chagrin of most fans of the league).
1. Does coaching really matter? It sure looks that way in Phoenix, where the Mercury are sinking fast. Diana Taurasi is barely an average player this year (by Win Share/48), Brittney Griner looks lost, and coach Sandy Brondello can’t seem to right the ship.
There’s a reason Phoenix was considered one of the three teams most likely to win the 2016 WNBA title
– any lineup with Taurasi, Griner, Penny Taylor, Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner had to be expected to roll over pretty much everyone but L.A. and Minnesota – but it hasn’t worked out that way. So does the finger of blame point to the collective collapse by individuals of varying age and nationality? Or to the person in charge of putting the pieces of the puzzle together?
Granted, it’s easy to blame the coach for pretty much everything, but the received wisdom is that the team with the most talent should win most of its games, and the Mercury clearly have a lot more talent than Seattle (quick, name three starters (and I’ll spot you Sue Bird)), yet is just one game ahead of the Storm for the final playoff spot.
Or look at it this way: Phoenix is six games worse than last year, a season in which Griner missed 20% of the season, and Taylor and Taurasi didn’t play.
2. Shakeup in Chicago. Pokey Chatman has been feeling the heat a little herself, as the Sky were expected to be significantly better than 8-11 at this point in the season (also just one win more than Seattle). So Pokey pulled the trigger in Sunday’s game, benching the ineffective Cappie Pondexter (that’s a nice way of saying “awful”) and doing the same with Erika DeSouza. Courtney Vandersloot also didn’t start, but that might have been because of a recent ankle injury.
The new-look Sky ran out Cheyenne Parker, Imani Boyette and Jamierra Faulkner at the opening tip, and managed a 100-95 win over the aforementioned Mercury, who defended with all the passion of mainstream Republican support for Donald Trump. Vandersloot did play 21 minutes but Pondexter’s response to her demotion was a dismal zero-rebound, zero-assist, four-foul 14 minutes. Oh, she did jack up five shots (making two) but hardly made a strong case for getting minutes ahead of Allie Quigley (nine-of- 17 shooting, five assists).
But you can’t blame Chatman for changing things up, because if the Sky don’t start winning, the next change may be a new coach.
3. Boom-Nneka- Nneka, boom. Yes, I’m stealing that line from a RebKell Handle, but oh my, is Nnemkadi Ogwumike having a season.
Let’s try some numbers for the 2012 Rookie of the Year:
*70.2% from the field (not a misprint). Her True Shooting Percentage is 75.5 and her Effective Field Goal Percentage is 71.6. These numbers are off the charts.
*31.8 Player Efficiency Rating. Average is 15.0, which means Nneka is twice as productive as the average WNBA starter.
*.474 Win Share/48 minutes. Again, off the charts. Maya Moore is a pretty good player, and her WS/48 is .321. Average? .100. (Seimone Augustus, on the Olympic team, is at .028. Nneka will be watching on TV with the rest of us.)
*84.1% from the line.
*19.1 points, 8.4 rebounds per game. Plus a 1.4 assist/turnover ratio.
*Seventh in rebounding, eighth in blocks. Barely worth mentioning.
Can you say “historic”? Can you say “Tell me again why she’s not going to Rio”?