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Hoops Happening: Today in women’s basketball (and beyond) — Sunday May 27, 2018

Kelsey Plum has been activated for Las Vegas in advance of the Aces’ season home opener. What impact will her long overseas season have on her performance in Sin City? Plus, how is the compressed schedule affecting teams so far?

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San Antonio Stars v Phoenix Mercury
Kelsey Plum
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As reported here yesterday, guard Shoni Schimmel was waived by the Las Vegas Aces on May 23. However, no other information about the team’s roster moves was provided on the WNBA’s Transactions or elsewhere until today: Both Schimmel and Raigyne Louis were waived to make room for the return of Kelsey Plum and Kayla McBride from overseas play in Turkey.

For the record, Plum’s Fenerbahce team claimed the victory over McBride’s Yakin Dogu.

Now that the guards have sharpened their court general skills abroad, and return to their US teams on the high of championship play, what should the Aces expect from these players in the coming weeks as well as into the long, hot months of the summer? No matter the rhythm they’ve been in and the momentum they’ve generated, playing year-round is grueling both mentally and physically.

Also, what impact of the condensed season are we seeing on teams’ play and the quality of competition?

Overseas aspect

It’s common knowledge that women’s team sports in the US do not benefit from wide, mainstream interest as witnessed in parts of Asia, Russia and Europe. A small fan base in comparison to others means less revenue and lower salaries for players. To get the most out of a short-lived professional basketball career, players will sign contracts to compete for teams in other countries that offer much bigger salaries.

Granted, this is not a knock against players attempting to maximize their earnings while they can, a widespread disrespect for the WNBA borne of gender inequality.

Kelsey Plum and Kayla McBride are activated for the Las Vegas Aces, after missing all of training camp, the short preseason and one week of the regular season. The Aces have a big show planned for fans at the team’s season opener tonight at Mandalay Bay Events Center at 8:30 p.m. EST (nationally televised on NBA TV).

But what can the team and fans expect from a matchup against a 2-1 Seattle Storm team that has demonstrated depth and diversity in the ways it can win?

A’ja Wilson has asserted her dominance in games but the Aces are 0-2 on the season. The return of two players who can create scoring opportunities for themselves and others should give this squad a boost, if chemistry does not prove to be an issue.

But if player health is not a concern for the Aces organization, it should be. Plum battled injuries in her rookie season, played a long season abroad and is entering the rotation for Las Vegas having had limited time on the court with her new-look team. Last season in the NBA, several players went down with catastrophic season-ending injuries, causing many to once again question the 82-game season and hellacious travel schedule (especially regarding back-to-back games).

Male or female, in the US or broad, the risk of injuries increases when the number of games played in a calendar year goes up, teams play across time zones and teams play back-to-back matchups, especially across time zones.

Condensed-season concern

In addition to players having long seasons between their WNBA and overseas teams, they also must deal with a shorter WNBA season during years in which the USA Basketball Women’s National Team has international competitions.

In short, the WNBA season is sandwiched between the overseas seasons of other leagues and world competition.

The 2018 WNBA season is a condensed one, requiring players to compete in the same 34 games in a shorter span of time. This year, the WNBA regular season ends on August 19 to accommodate the needs of Team USA — specifically, the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Tenerife, Spain at the end of September. Since international competitions affect seeding for future Olympic Games, it’s not like these events can be skipped.

Although a playoff schedule has not been determined yet, a regular season ending on August 19 means the playoffs would run into the start of September, with the country’s best players expected to compete in international competition at the end of that month.

The grind for players who will end up playing overseas before the start of the 2018 WNBA season, during the regular season (and, if they’re lucky, in the playoffs) and then on into world competition is unimaginable and the consequences cannot be known yet, until the 2019 WNBA season. But consequences of the compressed season are already apparent even in these early weeks of the season, including:

Limited time to jell and build chemistry: The compressed season meant a super-short, one-week training camp and an equally short preseason. These circumstances did not allow more time for teams to get on the same page in games that did not count, which is showing up in the regular-season games that do. Teams with a lot of rookies (like the Indiana Fever) or key new-to-the-team players (like the Phoenix Mercury) are experiencing the biggest growing pains this season, with the Fever down 0-5 to start.

Increased number of back-to-back matchups: The Fever’s rocky start began on the second day of a back-to-back. The team played a May 19 preseason game against the Chicago Sky in Indiana and lost (82-64). The next day, the Fever played a regular-season game against the Washington Mystics in DC and lost (82-75). Fitting the same number of games into a fewer weeks on calendar forces these kinds of scenarios and increases the frequency of teams playing across time zones, in a short span of time, in any given week.

Game results

The Atlanta Dream kept it close in a game in which Angel McCoughtry returned to form, but it wasn’t enough to stave off the high-flying Dallas Wings. Once again, the dominant scoring of Skylar Diggins-Smith and double-double production of Liz Cambage got it done.

So far in the 2018 WNBA season, Cambage is putting up a double-double per game — handily — with averages of 16.3 points and 11.6 rebounds. Hence, the following moniker is warranted: Ms. Double Feature.

The Indiana Fever kept it interesting, but ultimately came up short against the streaking Connecticut Sun and unstoppable Alyssa Thomas and Rachel Banham.

The Fever are now 0-5 to start the season while the Sun remain undefeated.

Today’s games

Up next in the WNBA:

Previews are forthcoming later today.

Game of the night/play of the night

Most exciting game: Dallas Wings vs. Atlanta Dream

Most exciting play: Ms. Double Feature’s entire Q4 including block party

Links Appeal

  • A tweet by Shoni Schimmel shows she may not have expected to be waived by the Aces. Or, even if she had been expecting it the news is still tough nonetheless.
  • When the words “viral dunker” precede your name, you know you’re hot stuff. Stanford is happy to have you, Fran Belibi!
  • ICYMI: “The big girls are taking over,” according to Brittney Griner, and Liz Cambage says the pesky “undersized” power forwards get away with everything. 1-2-3-4: Double Feature declared a C-PF war.
  • Erica Ayala examined whether Kia Nurse can crack the starting lineup for New York and whether the Liberty have a chance against the defending champs, Lynx.

How to #WatchThemWork all season

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