In the WNBA’s first full week of the 2020 season, teams began to see their personalities jell, and some players emerged as surprise X factors.
Sometimes the surprise is a specific part of a player’s game, such as the improved 3-point shooting of the Chicago Sky’s Gabby Williams. The former UConn Huskies star was 1-of-12 from behind the arc in college and 14-of-67 in her first two seasons with the Sky. This season, she is 8-of-18 in four games after working hard on her 3-point shot while overseas.
“I feel like it was the biggest missing piece to my game,” Williams said. “My biggest thing is I was always just afraid to miss, so I never shot the ball. I’ve just found my confidence.”
In other cases, the surprise is a veteran who is getting more playing time. Or a rookie we weren’t sure would get the chance to make as big an impact as she has. Or someone who might not have gotten any headlines going into the season but has already been impressive.
But there was also a season-ending Achilles injury to the Minnesota Lynx’s Karima Christmas-Kelly, and No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu of the New York Liberty suffered a sprained ankle that could threaten the rest of her season. These and other injuries remind us that especially in a shortened season, most teams need not just their expected stars but also other players to have some big moments.
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Here are our Week 2 Power Rankings, focusing on a surprise X factor so far for each team.
1. Seattle Storm
Previous ranking: 1
Forward Ezi Magbegor was the Storm’s top draft pick in 2019, but at age 19, she wasn’t quite ready to leave home in Australia for the WNBA. This year, she was. Despite being the league’s youngest player this season at 20 and being on a team with several veteran post options, she has already made an impact, averaging 7.8 points.
“It was one of the best decisions for her to come this season,” teammate Breanna Stewart said. “It’s giving her the opportunity to have that room to grow and gain that experience. She’s learning every day.”
2. Chicago Sky
Previous ranking: 4
We’ve already highlighted Gabby Williams’ 3-point shot as a surprise X factor. We also have to note the play of Kahleah Copper (14.8 PPG), Azurá Stevens (14.0) and Cheyenne Parker (13.3), the Sky’s leading scorers thus far. Stevens seems comfortable in her new home after two seasons in Dallas. Copper, in her fifth WNBA season, and Parker, in her sixth, are both responding well to increased playing time this year.
3. Washington Mystics
Previous ranking: 3
You can’t always be sure how a young player who has been behind veteran stars will react to a huge increase in playing time. But coach Mike Thibault had confidence in third-year pro Myisha Hines-Allen, and that has been rewarded. With the absence of key vets from last year’s championship team, Hines-Allen is averaging 30.5 minutes per game, up from 10.5 her rookie season and 7.8 last year. Her production is up dramatically, too: 17.5 PPG, 9.3 RPG and 2.8 APG. Those are the kind of numbers she produced as a college star at Louisville.
4. Minnesota Lynx
Previous ranking: 5
Admittedly, it’s never really a surprise when a UConn player excels in the WNBA. But there were enough questions about point guard Crystal Dangerfield — because of her 5-foot-5 stature, perhaps — that she fell to the second round of April’s draft. The Lynx were thrilled when she was still available at No. 16. Dangerfield said she didn’t really care what spot she was drafted in; she was happy with the fit in Minnesota.
With Lexie Brown suffering a concussion in the Lynx’s second game, Dangerfield has moved into a starting role and is averaging 9.0 points and 2.0 assists.
5. Los Angeles Sparks
Previous ranking: 2
Te’a Cooper was the highest player drafted in April — at No. 18 by Phoenix — to be cut by the May 26 deadline. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she didn’t get a chance to show her stuff in the Big 12 or NCAA tournaments or a normal WNBA training camp. All of that might have impacted the Mercury’s decision to let her go. But with players such as Sparks guard Kristi Toliver opting out of the season in the bubble, Cooper got another opportunity, this time with Los Angeles. She has averaged 7.3 PPG and 2.0 APG in 16.7 minutes per game. She also can be valuable for her defense, specifically her ability to put pressure on the ball.
6. Phoenix Mercury
Previous ranking: 9
It’s no secret that the consensus opinion was that Phoenix overpaid by giving a near-maximum free-agent deal to guard Bria Hartley in February. She’d had six pretty good seasons in the WNBA but had never averaged more than 9.8 points and 3.6 assists. But so far, it seems like the Mercury’s assessment was correct. Hartley is averaging a team-best 19.8 points, which includes games of 26 and 27 points and a career-best 3.8 assists. She’s also shooting 44.4% from 3-point range (12-of-27).
— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) August 1, 2020
Special mention to second-year guard Sophie Cunningham, who reported late to the bubble after being ill with COVID-19 but brought an energy boost that pushed her into the starting lineup after two games. Also, Cunningham was the recipient of the most beautiful assist of the season thus far: Diana Taurasi’s free throw line to free throw line, on-the-money delivery in transition against Las Vegas. It was the kind of gem that shows why Taurasi is a Hall of Fame passer as well as scorer.
7. Indiana Fever
Previous ranking: 12
The Fever were the biggest movers in the power rankings this week, climbing from last after a dismal opening loss to the Mystics. That’s thanks to victories over Phoenix and Atlanta and a three-point loss to Dallas. The American audience might not have known much about point guard Julie Allemand of Belgium before this WNBA season, but they know her now. Allemand was drafted by the Fever in the third round of 2016, but she said she wasn’t ready for this level then.
After playing professionally in Europe and with the Belgian national team, Allemand is now a veteran-like WNBA rookie at age 24. She’s averaging 6.0 PPG, 6.3 APG and 3.5 RPG, and coach Marianne Stanley is happy with how much leadership she has shown. Especially with Fever guard Erica Wheeler not having played yet after testing positive for COVID-19, Allemand has been a great addition for Indiana.
8. Las Vegas Aces
Previous ranking: 7
With guard Kelsey Plum and centers Liz Cambage and Ji-Su Park all out this season, Las Vegas has gotten a big lift from Lindsay Allen, who didn’t play in the WNBA last season, and Carolyn Swords, who initially retired in February. Allen is starting and averaging 8.7 points and a team-best 3.7 assists, the best numbers so far of her three-season WNBA career.
Swords, who initially planned to be in the Aces’ front office this season, is also in the starting lineup and averaging 20.0 minutes per game — more than in any of her eight previous seasons in the league. (She was at 8.9 minutes per game last season.) Swords’ 5.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG and 1.5 APG thus far are all career highs. Her “unretirement” was quite a boost to the Aces.
9. Dallas Wings
Previous ranking: 10
After missing 13 games in 2017, 18 games in 2018 and not playing in the WNBA last season because of a knee issue, Moriah Jefferson needed to step into the starting point guard role this year for Dallas. Could she return to being the player she was as a rookie starter in 2016?
So far, that has been the case. Jefferson, who grew up in the Dallas area, is averaging 8.8 PPG and 3.0 APG for a young Wings team that has a lot of growing to do but talent to build on. Jefferson appears to have a good connection with the Wings’ youthful stars and leading scorers, second-year pro Arike Ogunbowale and rookie Satou Sabally.
10. Atlanta Dream
Previous ranking: 6
On June 17, guard/forward Betnijah Laney didn’t have a WNBA job after being waived by Indiana. A week later, she was signed by Atlanta, and so far, she has been the Dream’s leading scorer. Her 17.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.8 APG and 2.5 SPG are all the best numbers of her career. Laney was a second-round draft pick by Chicago out of Rutgers in 2015, but her 2016 season was cut short at eight games because of an ACL injury, and the Sky waived her in 2017. She spent 2018 with Connecticut and 2019 with Indiana. She has shown great perseverance, and with Tiffany Hayes and Renee Montgomery out this season, Laney has been a strong addition for the Dream.
Atlanta dropped four spots from last week’s rankings, but part of that is just the logjam, with six teams at 2-2 in the standings. With the returns of Courtney Williams and Glory Johnson and continued strong play from Laney and others, the Dream will be a team to keep an eye on.
11. Connecticut Sun
Previous ranking: 8
It has been a frustrating early part of the season for the Sun, but they are taking the attitude that it’s not how you start but how you finish. Forward Brionna Jones’ making the most of her expanded playing time has been one of the bright spots. She did not start in her first three years with Connecticut and never averaged more than 9.0 minutes per game. This year, she is starting and averaging 27.5 minutes, 8.8 points and 5.3 rebounds. With three starters from last year’s WNBA runner-up team not playing for the Sun in 2020 — Courtney Williams and Shekinna Stricklen are in Atlanta now, and Jonquel Jones is sitting out the season — Connecticut has needed others to step forward, and Brionna Jones has.
12. New York Liberty
Previous ranking: 11
Ionescu’s injury has cast a cloud over the Liberty, and we don’t know if she’ll return. But there are still six rookies looking to make an impact this season for New York. Maybe it’s another guard, No. 12 pick Jazmine Jones out of Louisville, who will make the most of more playing time in Ionescu’s absence. At 6-foot, Jones has good size and speed defensively on the perimeter, and she’s averaging 10.3 PPG in three games. The Liberty will need her to play both guard spots, so her playmaking ability might blossom more, too.
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