The WNBA’s Back
Random notes from the first weekend of WNBA ball.
by Clay Kallam
What we learned from the first weekend …
Well, not that much, really, but there were a couple of nuggets. And to say it doesn’t really matter because it’s early misses one crucial factor: Head-to-head tiebreakers.
In a WNBA season that promises to be more balanced and competitive than any of the previous 13, not only is it likely that head-to-head results will determine home court advantage in postseason, but could very possibly determine who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t.
With that in mind, Indiana’s two losses to division rivals is certainly not good news for Fever fans, nor are L.A.’s two defeats at the hands of Phoenix and Seattle. Of course, things are going to be easier in the West because of …
Tulsa: The Shock don’t have much talent, but Nolan Richardson’s vaunted system isn’t going to make that talent any better. Richardson’s brand of pressure defense requires a deep roster that doesn’t feature too many stars and can get production from the ninth player on the bench. It also works a lot better at lower levels where inexperienced ballhandlers are more likely to panic facing double-teams.
To start with the first point, does it make any sense to play Natasha Lacy eight minutes more than Plenette Pierson? Or Scholanda Robinson 11 more minutes than Shavonte Zellous? And since Tulsa’s success is far more dependent on Pierson and Zellous than on Lacy and Robinson, what has Richardson gained by showing the women who he must have on his side that he won’t stick with them?
And yes, the Shock forced 22 turnovers, but that was against a team without its best player, and its third-best player, both of whom would have punished over-aggressive defense a lot more than Nuria Martinez and Monica Wright could.
Marion Jones? Please. Promotional gimmicks are great, but how many tickets will she sell if the team loses and she plays 3:19 a night?
New York: Cappie Pondexter is going to do just fine, but the Liberty are going to have to defend a lot better to be a force in the East. Defense was an obvious weakness coming into the season, but of course if Kalana Greene and Essence Carson keep shooting close to 50 percent, it won’t matter that much.
And my long-time criticisms of Anne Donovan and Kia Vaughn may have to be revised: Donovan, or someone, seems to have gotten to Vaughn and made her realize she has a ton of talent in a great basketball body. Then again, Vaughn didn’t get to the free throw line in 12 minutes, and for her to take the next step, she has to figure out a way to draw fouls.
Chicago: “Fouls” made me think of “Fowles”, and hoo boy, Sylvia Fowles looks a lot better. A whole lot better.
She actually has moves now, and plays with confidence and passion. And she’s no longer a turnover machine, and apparently has learned to catch the ball, which means she’s pretty much unstoppable.
To maximize her value, though, the Sky need their starting guards to make shots, and Dominique Canty and Jia Perkins combined to go six for 19 against New York. If they make two more jumpers, Chicago wins–and Fowles is more wide open.
Phoenix: Losing Cappie hurts, as the Mercury no longer have anyone to give the ball to in crunch time, confident that a good shot will be created for someone. Still, the addition of Candice Dupree is a good one, as even though she provided only token defense on Candace Parker, she put up the first of many double-doubles in the one-point win over L.A.
Also, credit to Corey Gaines for a nifty sideline inbounds play to set up the winning free throws. (I’m stealing that one for my high school team, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.) People will forget the play in a week or so, but when we get to August, and the head-to-head between Phoenix and L.A. becomes a topic of discussion, it might be worth recalling.