Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the second May edition of “The Triple Double”!
As promised, I was going to do something different with this edition, so I reached out to one of my fellow teammates here at The Ball Out, RJ Saunders. I’ve known this man for almost five years, and he is someone I consider like a little brother. He’s been with the publication for a year now, and in that time I have seen the progress he has made not just as a writer, but as a person as well.
Since we’re going to be focusing for the most part on the WNBA here, I asked him to provide some of his personal experience with the league. So that is where we are going to start!
1) THE WNBA WILL HAVE YOUR ATTENTION NOW by RJ Saunders
What sells television is theories.
A show goes on a hiatus and daily videos come out with theories about how a certain arc can go or how a character will develop. I’m seeing this a lot since the cartoon “Steven Universe” has gone on hiatus.
However, before a TV show can get to a point where it has those fan clubs and theorists continually hypothesizing where the show may go, two things must happen. One, the show has to be good. It can’t be just another regular show where you’re done after a season. Two, the show has to go somewhere. You can only have so many episodes that are okay before people begin to start looking elsewhere. You need a couple good episodes, then that one episode that knocks the viewer out the water and wanting more. That’s good TV.
Now, the WNBA is getting in to its 23rd season and I feel that there have been those on the fence at this point. You’ve had those who love watching good hoop, watch the WNBA and see the top players like Candace Parker, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins-Smith. Others, the casual basketball fan, may watch a game or two and maybe the finals when they come around.
Since their inaugural year, the league has had season (episode if you will) after season, and there have been very good seasons. However, there hasn’t been an season to some that have made them say, “Now I’m hooked”. And trust me, an argument can be made that to some it’s just not all that exciting: not enough dunks, can’t sell out arenas, small ball, televised during the summer, rather watch the BIG 3, etc.
Yet, as a fan of the WNBA since 2007, I theorize that this season is THE season where everything changes.
Where’s the money in it, you ask? Well, the WNBA’s television ratings were up last season and with the new partnership with CBS, they’re getting more games on national TV. Cathy Engelbert, former CEO of Deloitte, was recently named the first-ever commissioner of the league (previous leaders have been referred to as president) and she looks to be very forward thinking as well as a great basketball mind. Then you need star power… there’s so many stars in this league now they could create their own constellation.
The Los Angeles Sparks just reunited the Ogwumike sisters (Chiney and Nneka) with an off-season trade and still have Parker. Yet, just when you thought they were going to be the newest WNBA super team, the Las Vegas Aces pulled off a HUGE off-season heist by acquiring last season’s MVP runner-up Liz Cambage from the Dallas Wings. Also, New York Liberty rookie center, 6-foot-9 Han Xu, is looking to turn into the WNBA’s equivalent of Yao Ming and potentially takes this league overseas to China.
In addition, there are so many more storylines going on around the league. Will the Washington Mystics redeem themselves this season? What will the Minnesota Lynx do without Maya Moore? Who’s the next dynasty?
The thing that’s going to hurt the WNBA at least this year is the potential lack of star power: you’ve lost 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart (will miss entire season), Diana Taurasi (10 to 12 weeks) and Sue Bird (will likely miss all of 2019) to injury. Maya Moore is sitting out this season to focus on faith-based work. In addition, you can’t gloss over the fact that attendance was down last season by 13 percent.
Now I’m not saying that the WNBA is going to turn everything around this year, but the pieces are now there to make that season/episode that makes this something people really want to sink their teeth into. This season is the turn. When I got into Steven Universe, there were great episodes, but once Jasper knocked Steven unconscious, I was hooked.
The WNBA is on the verge of knocking everyone out the water with what they have up their sleeve. This will be the year that now sets up next year and the year after.
Sit back, relax and prepare to enjoy some good TV from the WNBA.
2) WHAT TO EXPECT FROM OPENING DAY
While there are only two games to start Opening Night tonight, we’re going to break down the entire weekend for you. There’s plenty of action in store for both the veteran WNBA fan and the rookies as well, so let’s go:
FRIDAY, MAY 24:
DALLAS WINGS vs. ATLANTA DREAM: The new-look Dallas Wings are going into State Farm Arena with no shortage of expectations after barely making the playoffs last season. After some drama last season which saw former head coach Fred Williams dismissed before the end of the season, new head coach Brian Agler comes over from the Los Angeles Sparks to helm the ship. However, this ship will not be an easy one to steer at the beginning.
With the loss of last season’s top two scorers – MVP runner-up Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins (out to start the season after giving birth), Agler will have to lean on veteran Glory Johnson (who will most likely be starting more now) and second-year players Allisha Gray and Azura Stevens. On the upside, rookie Arike Ogunbowale (2018 Final Four MVP for Notre Dame, averaged 21.8 ppg last season) and new addition Imani McGee-Stafford will look to add some scoring punch to a team who only had two players average more than 10 points a game last season.
The Atlanta Dream, fresh off a record-breaking season (finishing with a franchise-high 23 wins) are looking to brush off the disappointing end to last season, where they lost in the deciding game of the semifinals. They will also be doing so without their fearless leader, Angel McCoughtry, who suffered a season-ending knee injury shortly before the playoffs began and is still out indefinitely.
In the meanwhile, second-year head coach Nicki Collen still has plenty of firepower to work with: Tiffany Hayes and Renee Montgomery return to anchor the starting lineup, and new acquisitions Haley Peters (France, formerly San Antonio Stars and Washington Mystics) will be looking to make their mark on the team as well.
INDIANA FEVER vs. NEW YORK LIBERTY: This is going to be a solid battle between two teams who look to set 2018 behind them (both suffered their worst seasons in franchise history).
The New York Liberty were used to being the queens of the Eastern Conference (three straight seasons of the top record) before falling from grace, going 7-27 last season. This season, the Liberty sought to get some help for former MVP Tina Charles, and did so via the draft: Asia Durr (Louisville) is a killer scorer and all-around beast on the court who can defend multiple positions and can help space things out. Bria Hartley and Kiah Stokes are still a presence to be recognized, and don’t forget rookie center Xan Hu, who at 6’9″ will force a lot of teams to think twice before coming into the paint.
The Indiana Fever are also trying to rebuild their reputation after consecutive last-place finishes in the East. Three of their top four scorers (Candace Dupree, Kelsey Mitchell and Natalie Achonwa), and they added Teirra McCowan via draft from Mississippi State to help with rebounding, which was sorely needed after last season (47.2 rebounding average).
SATURDAY, MAY 25:
PHOENIX MERCURY vs. SEATTLE STORM: After a fierce semifinal match-up last season in the playoffs, the Mercury and Storm will have their long-awaited rematch, though they’ll be missing some familiar faces.
For the Mercury, Diana Taurasi is out to start the season. But the team still has veterans Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner as their front-court anchors. Adding veterans Essence Carson and Sancho Lyttle will help with the addition of four rookies to the team.
The Seattle Storm, however, will have a much bigger task ahead. With 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart out for the season and guard Sue Bird expected to miss most if not all of 2019, the defending champions will depend a lot more on guards Jewell Loyd (16 ppg in pre-season) and Jordin Canada (15.5 ppg in pre-season) to shoulder a lot of the offensive load. On the upside, center Mercedes Russell came on strong this pre-season, averaging 8 rebounds a game off the bench, though it’s expected she will play more of a starting role with Stewart out.
WASHINGTON MYSTICS vs. CONNECTICUT SUN: The Mystics, fresh off their first-ever Finals appearance, come into the season with high hopes. Besides veterans Natasha Cloud, Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver, the Mystics will see forward Emma Meesseman return to the fold after missing 2018 (Belgian National Team).
The Connecticut Sun come into 2019 looking to improve on last season’s 21-13 record. Despite trading leading scorer Chiney Ogwumike this off-season, there is still plenty of firepower: the Thomas duet (Alyssa and Jasmine) along with Courtney Thomas and Jonquel Jones will provide most of the scoring punch for the Sun, while rookie Christine Anigwe will look to add depth to the team’s front-court along with Jones.
CHICAGO SKY vs. MINNESOTA LYNX: With a new jersey, new logo and some fresh faces, the Chicago Sky had probably the biggest makeover in the league this off-season. And after a 13-21 season that was largely forgettable, one couldn’t blame them for wanting a fresh start.
The primary core of Stefanie Dolson, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot are still present, but the team added some more depth to help them out: along with rookies Chloe Jackson and Katie Lou Samuelson, the team also picked up former Sixth Woman of the Year Jantel Lavender from the Los Angeles Sparks to give some bench presence.
SUNDAY, MAY 26
LOS ANGELES SPARKS vs. LAS VEGAS ACES
This matchup is the premier match-up of the weekend, with two teams that could very well meet each other in the Finals this season.
As RJ mentioned earlier in the column, the Sparks not only have the Ogwumike sisters and Candace Parker but also brought in a new head coach: Derek Fisher. Fisher is used to the bright lights and pressure: not only is he a 5-time NBA champion with the Sparks’ parent team (the Los Angeles Lakers), but also coached the New York Knicks.
That’s not all the Sparks have, however: the team brought back all-WNBA point guard Chelsea Gray and still have their defensive anchor, two-time consecutive Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard.
On the flip side, the Las Vegas Aces go from being a team that barely missed the playoffs last season to the new league favorite. In the most recent WNBA GM poll, they have the Aces finishing as WNBA champions.
The Aces have potentially the best frontcourt duo in the league in reigning Rookie of the Year A’Ja Wilson and the newest Ace, Liz Cambage. It also helps that they bring back most of last year’s roster. Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum will hold down the backcourt spots with Dearica Hamby more than likely taking the starting small forward spot. Between them all, scoring most definitely won’t be an issue.
Thank you all for tuning in to the last Triple Double for the month of May, and stay tuned to The Ball Out for more WNBA coverage throughout the season!