Enjoy the debut of the “WNBA Six Pack,” a twice-weekly check in that highlights some of the goings ons—on the court, off the court and in between—for half the league’s teams. This week, we’ll begin with the top six teams in the standings before taking a peek at the six lower-ranked squads later this week.
Las Vegas Aces (21-2)
On Saturday, A’ja Wilson authored a MVP-caliber tour de force, scoring a season-high 35 points on 82.4 percent shooting while also grabbing 14 rebounds. The performance powered Vegas to a record-matching fifth-straight win by 15 or more points, with Wilson and company defeating the Minnesota Lynx 98-81.
Yet another Aces’ record might be considered unmoving, merely further evidence of their accepted inevitability. Their dominance deserves more celebration! The Aces not only are on pace to complete the greatest season in WNBA history, but, arguably, the greatest season in all of basketball history.
Yes, Vegas is superteam, stacked with stars willing to sacrifice in search of another championship. But, how many times in the history of this sport have über-talented teams expected to cruise to victories and titles instead disintegrated into disappointment? What’s supposed to “ be fun” oftentimes ends up as failure.
In short, the Aces’ excellence should be a bigger story! They are the rare superteam that actually is surpassing sky-high expectations.
Up next: Tuesday, Jul. 25 @ Chicago Sky (7 p.m. ET, ESPN); Sunday, Jul. 30 vs. Dallas Wings (6 p.m. ET, CBS Sports)
New York Liberty (16-5)
This is the JJ we know and love!
Jonquel Jones’ first season in New York has not been ideal. While it could be expected that integrating Jones into the Liberty’s new infrastructure would come with early challenges, the process was complicated by the effects of her lingering foot injury. In turn, Jones has never established her footing as a member of the Liberty.
In Friday night’s win, she resembled the 2021 MVP version of herself, posting her first double-double of the season with a season-high 27 points and 11 boards. She also added three blocks.
When the Liberty really figure out the Jonquel Jones portion of this, it's going to be tough. pic.twitter.com/x7NLfzZOhG— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) July 22, 2023
If the Liberty are to become a legitimate challenger to the Aces, head coach Sandy Brondello needs to figure out how to consistently optimize Jones’ versatile skillset in conjunction with Breanna Stewart’s MVP-level production, Sabrina Ionescu’s 3-point sharpshooting and Courtney Vandersloot’s offensive orchestration.
Up next: Tuesday, Jul. 25 vs. Seattle Storm (7 p.m. ET, ESPN 3); Thursday, Jul. 27 vs. Atlanta Dream (7 p.m. ET, Prime Video); Sunday, Jul. 30 @ Los Angeles Sparks (4 p.m. ET, ESPN 3)
Connecticut Sun (17-6)
Congratulations to Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner for giving us one the best fit photos from All-Star weekend.
And for their engagement! When Thomas let loose her locks for the Orange Carpet, we should have known that a ring was soon to follow.
The pairing also propelled the Sun to two-straight wins over the Atlanta Dream. While Thomas tallied box-score stuffing performances that broke records and added to her MVP case, Bonner continued to show that—in her 14th season—she is not slowing down. After averaging her fewest points per game since 2014 last season, the now eighth-highest total points scorer in WNBA history has rediscovered her signature pop: firing off deeps 3s, drawing tons of fouls and using her length to take advantage of mismatches down low.
Up next: Tuesday, Jul. 25 @ Dallas Wings (8 p.m. ET, ESPN 3); Sunday, Jul. 30 vs. Minnesota Lynx (1 p.m. ET, CBS Sports)
Dallas Wings (13-9)
Is everything finally coming together in Dallas?
Throughout the season, Eric Nemchock has closely chronicled the Wings, a franchise that, in recent seasons, always seems to amount to less than the sum of its parts. Early this season, the pattern of Dallas failing to fulfill their promise appeared poised to continue.
At the beginning of this month, the Wings sat at 7-8 after an up-and-down June. Nemchock noted that the July schedule could prove challenging for the team, thus not inspiring much confidence in the Wings’ chances of coalescing into the best version of themselves.
Yet, Dallas not only has deftly navigated a tough slate but also has emerged as a potential threat to the league’s top teams. The Wings are soaring through a five-game winning streak that features wins over the Aces and Liberty.
On Tuesday, they’ll have the opportunity to extend the streak to six, while also knocking off the W’s third-best team in the Sun.
Up next: Tuesday, Jul. 25 vs. Connecticut Sun (8 p.m. ET, ESPN 3); Friday, Jul. 28 vs. Washington Mystics (8 p.m. ET, ion); Sunday, Jul. 30 @ Las Vegas Aces (6 p.m. ET, CBS Sports)
Washington Mystics (12-10)
DC, unfortunately, has become the nation’s capital of injuries, with Ariel Atkins joining the already sidelined Elena Delle Donne, Shakira Austin and Kristi Toliver. (Los Angeles might, justifiably, insist that the injury capital resides on the West Coast.)
This current state of affairs is a (not needed) reminder of the WNBA’s roster realities. Ideally, rosters would be expanded beyond 12 players so that, when down three starters and a key reserve, head coach Eric Thibault could call on players who, while they may not had seen much official game action, had been part of the Mystics system and, therefore, were prepared to step in. Instead, Washington has been forced to hustle in players on hardship contracts, asking often-young players who have been floating between cameos for other teams with injury or availability issues to instantly offer competent contributions.
It’s worth celebrating the perseverance of players who find themselves in this situation, when their lonesome, daily grind pays off and, even if the circumstances are less than ideal, they have the opportunity to prove that they are worthy of a permanent position in the W.
This past week, Cyesha Goree, undrafted out of Michigan in 2015, scored a bucket in her WNBA debut.
Abby Meyers, the Princeton and Maryland product drafted by the Wings this year, is getting another chance to prove that her elite shooting can translate to the WNBA. And former Ohio State player Linnae Harper, who had short stints with the Sky in 2018 and Lynx in 2021, joined the Mystics in late June and continues to compete when called upon.
Up next: Wednesday, Jul. 26 @ Minnesota Lynx (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV); Friday, Jul. 28 @ Dallas Wings (8 p.m. ET, ion); Sunday, Jul. 30 vs. Atlanta Dream (3 p.m. ET, ESPN 3)
Atlanta Dream (12-10)
As in Dallas, sustainable success has been elusive in Atlanta, where promising stretches of play too often fade into uneven and lackluster efforts. After winning seven-straight games, the Dream dropped back-to-back contests to the Sun, with their Saturday home loss featuring a particularly concerning lack of urgency.
Overhanging the end of the winning streak was the curious case of Cheyenne Parker. In Atlanta’s first two games out of the All-Star break, Parker, a first-time All-Star who is putting together a career-best season, did not start. She also did not start the second halves of the Dream’s win over Minnesota and loss in Connecticut, while also playing much fewer than her 25.3 minutes per game. She returned to starting lineup on Saturday.
What does an off day look like for Cheyenne Parker?— ESPN (@espn) July 16, 2023
LaChina Robinson has more pic.twitter.com/5212VEJvoq
Head coach Tanisha Wright denied the lineup change was for disciplinary reasons, explaining, “No, it’s just a coach’s decision to go a different way.”
Something doesn’t quite add up. And if Atlanta cannot get back into the winning column quickly, it will be fair to wonder if the good vibes the team has maintained through ups and downs have been disrupted.
Up next: Tuesday, Jul. 25 vs. Phoenix Mercury (7 p.m. ET, ESPN 3); Thursday, Jul. 27 @ New York Liberty (7 p.m. ET, Prime Video); Sunday, Jul. 30 @ Washington Mystics (3 p.m. ET; ESPN 3)