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Friday, July 19, 2019

Injuries Shift the Landscape of the WNBA West

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Credit: Original Artwork Courtesy istock Photo.com©

By Clay Kallam

Two injuries shifted the landscape of the WNBA West, with former MVPs Candace Parker and Lauren Jackson both going down. Though Parker is expected to come back late in the season, Jackson’s return is much less probable, and either way, the impact on the conference will be profound.

If Parker can return after six weeks from surgery to repair a torn meniscus, that should be enough time for the Sparks to make a late-season run, but even so, Parker will hardly be at full strength. She’s also said she’s not hurrying back, and why should she? She now has had serious injuries to both knees and one shoulder, and she doesn’t need the money (her husband and brother both play in the NBA). At some point, she’s not going to risk a lifetime of limited movement for $100,000, and that point may be coming sooner than women’s basketball supporters would like.

As for Jackson, she too has had her share of injuries, and with her focus on the 2012 Olympics, why would she push to play for Seattle again this summer? In fact, it’s possible the WNBA has seen the last of Jackson, as she may simply never return to a league that pays so little (compared to what she can make overseas) and has been the source of so many aches and pains.

But the game marches on, and the absence of Parker and Jackson smooths the way for every other team in the West – except Tulsa, naturally – to bust a move into the postseason. San Antonio and Minnesota look like the favorites for the conference title, but at this point, there are no sure things. And of course, the next injury could change everything again. But here’s how things stand at the moment:

1. San Antonio (7-2 overall, 4-1 in-conference): The received wisdom says that top teams rebound well – but the Silver Stars are the worst team in the league in rebounding margin. That weakness seemed obvious from the get-go, which is why most folks had San Antonio penciled in for fifth place. But Dan Hughes returned to coach, revitalizing the team, and the Silver Stars make up for their rebounding deficit with outstanding shooting (46.4 percent as a team), good defense (allowing opponents just 41.6 percent from the floor) and excellent ball control (fewest turnovers, best turnover margin, and a team assist-to-turnover ratio—A/TO— of 1.73:1). It also hasn’t hurt that second-round pick Danielle Adams has become an offensive force (15.9 points per game) while defending better than expected, and that Jia Perkins (picked up for Michelle Snow) not only is scoring 15.5 points per game off the bench, giving the Silver Stars a fourth double-digit scorer, but also has a 3.0 A/TO.  Becky Hammon and Sophia Young are still top-flight players and rookie Danielle Robinson has blossomed under Hughes, so there are plenty of reasons for San Antonio’s hot start. The big question, though, is whether the Silver Stars are just hot, or if they can sustain this level of play for an entire season.

2. Minnesota (6-3 overall, 4-2 in-conference): Lynx doubters simply dismiss Minnesota as a team that always finds a way to lose; Lynx fans point to injuries and claim that, if healthy, Minnesota would have been a contender all along. Finally sound of body, the Lynx are making a case for their fans, playing solid basketball while avoiding injury. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Maya Moore (13.2 points, 4.7 rebounds per game) has been added to the mix, though she’s not shooting as well as expected (40.7 percent from the field, 28.6 percent from the arc). Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen are, though, and along with Rebekkah Brunson, Minnesota rolls out four starters who average between 12 and 14 points per game. The ageless Taj McWilliams-Franklin is sputtering a bit (38.8 percent from the field), and neither Candice Wiggins nor Monica Wright are playing as well as they could, so there’s actually room for improvement. So should San Antonio falter, the Lynx are primed to take their place at the top of the table.

3. Seattle (4-3 overall, 3-2 in-conference): Well, we’re going to find out why Brian Agler has remained so loyal to Ashley Robinson, who in her career has more fouls than points and is on the same track this season. The 6-5 veteran has claimed a roster spot since 2006 and though she’s averaging a whopping two points per game at the moment, she has never boasted a season average of more than 1.4 points per game for the Storm. But with Lauren Jackson out, very likely for the year, and Seattle at the salary cap, Robinson is going to get her chance to show she’s more than just a locker room positive. Swin Cash will need to shoot better than 36.1% as well, and Camille Little and Le’Coe Willingham, two extremely undersized posts, are going to have to figure out how to thrive without the 6-5 Jackson to lean on. Katie Smith is another player who has to step up, as if she continues to shoot 27.0% from the field, the Storm will start having to look to Robinson a lot more points than fouls.

4. Phoenix (5-4 overall, 1-3 in-conference): The Mercury are the very picture of a .500 team, and until Friday night’s win over the Chicago Sky boosted them into fourth place in the West and put their record in the black at 5-4, they had perfectly “balanced” scoring: They had scored 716 points and given up 716 points. They might have scored more, and given up fewer, had Diana Taurasi played up to her previous standards, but perhaps the time off (the first in her career) after a groundless drug suspension hurt her effectiveness. She’s shooting right at her career averages, but she’s rebounding less, assisting less and turning the ball over more. Penny Taylor and Candice Dupree are both playing very well, though, and Kara Braxton has come on of late. So, with Seattle and L.A. both missing their MVPs, if Taurasi kicks it into gear, the Mercury, who have already lifted themselves from a dreadful start past L.A. and into the West’s top four, could also vault past Seattle and into conference title contention. It would help if Nakia Sanford and Marie Ferdinand-Harris played a little better, though Phoenix is getting an unexpected contribution from Alexis Gray-Lawson.

5. Los Angeles (4-4 overall, 3-2 in-conference): When Candace Parker went down, the foundation of the Sparks crumbled. They not only needed her undeniable talent, but also her youth and energy, as otherwise they are leaning on far too many thirty-somethings to survive the summer’s grind. Granted, DeLisha Milton-Jones and Tina Thompson are playing reasonably well, but as the 2010 debacle of a season showed, neither can play 32 mpg any more, and both can be expected to miss time due to nagging injuries. Kristi Toliver, however, is providing a youthful spark, shooting 50 percent from three, though she’s still a very small shooting guard rather than just a slightly small point guard. Noelle Quinn has struggled with her shot, but Australian import Jenna O’Hea has not – and is a surprisingly good defender as well. Ebony Hoffman, on the other hand, is an unsurprisingly ineffective power forward, and what makes her 35.7 percent shooting and indifferent defense even more distressing is that without Parker, she must now play a much bigger role.

6. Tulsa (1-9 overall, 0-5 in-conference): Even the truest of true believers is finding it hard to support Nolan Richardson, as he has seemed intent on destroying any chance that the Tulsa franchise had of succeeding since his arrival on the scene. The Shock are simply horrible, by almost every conceivable metric, and if the numbers aren’t convincing, it only takes a few minutes of actually watching them to realize that this may be an historically bad team. All the blame, of course, goes to Richardson, who is both general manager and coach, and even with prize rookies Elizabeth Cambage and Kayla Pedersen, this team is a disaster. After the New York game on July 17, Tulsa doesn’t play until July 26, so fans of the Shock, the league and women’s basketball, can only hope that ownership will pull the plug on Richardson’s reign of error on July 18 and put someone in charge who has a clue.

Note: Records as of July 1, 2011.

Originally published Fri, July 01, 2011

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.