Welcome to the first edition of my weekly column. From now until the sun explodes (or something less dramatic), I'll be taking one game a week and one player a week, and breaking down their respective performances.
After this first week, I'll also be talking about where teams stand. I'll probably add segments to the column and remove portions as I find my sea legs in doing something like this. This column will be in addition to my weekly power rankings, so, congratulations: you'll be getting at least two pieces a week from me!
GAME OF THE WEEK BREAKDOWN
MINNESOTA LYNX v. CHICAGO SKY
I picked this as my first game of the week because these two teams are my two favorites to watch. They have two of my favorite players in Elena Delle Donne and Maya Moore, and both teams are top-tier contenders for the WNBA championship.
One thing that is interesting to note is how the Lynx defended the Sky offense. The Sky run a fair amount of mid-screens, an offensive set in which a player sets a pick at the top of the arc to get things in motion. Vandersloot is a talented ball handler and excellent at driving to the rim, but they do a really good job defending this set.
Take this one, for example:
This is the first possession of the game. Chicago wins the tip, and Vandersloot brings the ball up the court. Delle Donne rolls to the weakside low post, and Erica de Souza sets a screen at the top of the arc.
Vandersloot gets free when her defender falls down, but stops just inside the arc, and lofts up a midrange jumper that clanks off the back of the rim. Now, Vandersloot was open, about as open as you'll ever get. But it's interesting to note that nobody even attempted to close her out.
This midrange jumper caused zero panic from the Lynx. Vandersloot shot a little over 50% on two point shots last year, a career-high, but only 35% on threes, which she took sparingly. Vandersloot is a player that likes to drive to the rim, so any shot from this far away, even this open, has to be considered a win for the Lynx.
The points that Chicago did score often came on difficult, contested shots. Take this one, a made bucket by Jessica Breland:
Vandersloot steals the ball, and pushes up the court. Breland floats to just inside the top of the arc, and catches the pass from Vandersloot. She starts to drive in, steps back, and takes a contested midrange jumper. It goes in, but there is a hand in her face, and another defender only a few feet to her right. It's not an optimal shot.
The Lynx offense wasn't what you would call a bastion of flow and grace, either. Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles scored essentially all of their combined 46 points on plays like this:
The thing that I took away from this game was that the teams were more evenly matched than I previously would've thought. The Lynx are the better team, a deeper team, but they aren't so deep as to be able to run Chicago off the court.
The Sky actually played pretty damn well; they scored 80 points, which is roughly what they averaged in 2015. However, their defense went in the tank, and they just couldn't make enough shots over this tough Lynx defense to make up for it. The Lynx offense suddenly gelled, and that was sufficient to put Chicago away.
I would be wary about drawing too many conclusions from this game. Had the Sky played defense commiserate with the previous three-quarters, this game would've been much, much tighter.
ELENA DELLE DONNE
Elena Delle Donne is a force of nature. Long-bodied, long-limbed, with long-range; she can cover through both the ground and the air with relative ease. She won the MVP last year, deservedly so, and is only going to get better. But while she almost always brings the offensive firepower, there are things she could work on, especially in dealing with off-ball offensive work.
Take, for example, this play against the Lynx on Wednesday:
The clip comes a little late, so I'll set the scene: The Sky are coming down the court, and immediately start with a mid-screen, with Delle Donne as the screener and Vandersloot as the ball handler.
When the clip starts, Delle Donne has just set the initial screen, and almost totally whiffed; Vandersloot's man slides right past here, as if she's not even there. Delle Donne even slides a bit, and still essentially misses her. Vandersloot, who looks as if she's going to drive the lane, has to stop her momentum, and reset.
As she does this, Delle Done flares to the weak side high post, and sets a screen for Allie Quigley. This screen whiffs, too, and Quigley can go literally nowhere. Delle Donne then moves into the lane, but the play has mostly been broken apart.
Another example, on the next Chicago possession:
The Sky have come down the court, and Delle Donne has the ball at the top of the arc. She passes out, and then goes to set a screen, and misses. She then tries to set another screen for a different play, is too slow on the uptake, and then tries to set it going the other way, and whiffs. She backs out to the arc, open, but her teammate has driven into the lane. It's really bad screening.
Perhaps the most distressing is that the screens don't seem designed to go anywhere, even if they were to succeed. The Sky run a Mid-Screen set a lot, with Delle Donne as the screener. However, it seems that Delle Donne never really does anything with it.
A lot of the possessions that I watched, she would slide back to the three point line, or just kind of ambles around. Considering that the Sky seem to really like setting mid-screens in the half court, having the screener miss this often can really drag their offensive ceiling downwards.
I want to be very, very clear: Elena Delle Donne may have lapses like this, and may have them too often, but she is still an incredibly skilled, incredibly smart offensive player. This is one game in a thirty-four game season. But for this game, her missed screens were very apparent, and a negative for her team.