Swish Appeal Roundtable: 5,763 words to your delight or dismay

Minnesota Lynx v Los Angeles Sparks Is Minnesota Lynx guard Crystal Dangerfield on track to become the 2020 WNBA Rookie of the Year? The former UConn Husky is averaging 14.3 points and 3.5 assists per game. | Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Swish Appeal Roundtable convened to discuss the pleasant surprises and mild disappointments of the 2020 WNBA season thus far. A roundtable wouldn’t be complete without some predictions too.

With the 2020 WNBA season at the halfway mark — that’s right, a compressed schedule of 22 games means the playoffs will be here before you can say PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE — the Swish Appeal squad gathered around the proverbial roundtable to discuss the unprecedented pandemic-induced wubble season at its midway point, and where we think things are heading the rest of the way. In the season of Breanna Stewart’s and Sue Bird’s returns for the Seattle Storm, the defending champion Washington Mystics struggling behind a depleted lineup absent 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles and Natasha Cloud, and a fizzling of excitement for the 1-10 New York Liberty while Sabrina Ionescu (ankle) is sidelined, storylines abound.

After three weeks of competition, the Storm boast a league-leading 11-1 record and a nine-game winning streak (for games played through Wednesday, August 19). The 8-3 Las Vegas Aces and MVP candidate A’ja Wilson fell further behind the Storm courtesy of a down-to-the-wire loss to the Chicago Sky. The 8-3 Los Angeles Sparks round out the top three and boast a five-game winning streak helped along greatly by the sharpshooting of Riquna Williams.

The 8-3 Minnesota Lynx are fourth in the standings and trailed by the 8-4 Chicago Sky, who are missing the usual athleticism of Diamond DeShields, who has been playing through a calf injury. The 6-6 Phoenix Mercury, sixth in the standings, are on a two-game slide courtesy of the rookie-heavy Dallas Wings and Western Conference postseason nemesis, the Sparks. And in spite of being sub-.500, the 5-7 Connecticut Sun and 4-7 Indiana Fever are currently in playoff contention in seventh place and eighth place, respectively.

The Mystics (4-7), Wings (4-8), Atlanta Dream (2-10) and Liberty (1-10) occupy spots nine through 12.

As was the case in 2019, injuries this year could play an important role in how things shake out in the postseason. Sylvia Fowles became the WNBA’s all-time leading rebounder on July 28 but has been nagged by a calf strain all season, which forced her to exit a game on Aug. 13, just one minute in, and she has since been ruled out indefinitely.

Marianne Stanley is proving her code-cracking ability with the Fever in her first year as head coach, but her lineup has been without Stephanie Mavunga for several games (facial injury), Natalie Achonwa has missed time (hamstring) and Victoria Vivians, in her return after missing all of 2019 following an ACL tear, returned to action wearing a leg brace. Her playing time dwindled amid ongoing struggles with the knee and, after six minutes on August 11, Vivians exited and did not return. She has since departed Bradenton to meet with medical experts back in Indianapolis.

Diana Taurasi did not suit up for the Phoenix Mercury for games played August 9-15 due to a back injury but returned, in the same effective form she has displayed all season. On August 16, she teased a double-double with 14 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals. Taurasi is averaging 16.5 points for the season — a vast improvement over 2019’s average of 4.3 points per game.

Rookie phenom Chennedy Carter was averaging 17 points for the Dream before being sidelined three minutes into their August 10 matchup with the Sun.

But don’t forget the players who opted out of the season because of COVID-19 concerns (like Jonquel Jones and LaToya Sanders) or who were medically excused due to preexisting health conditions (as with Tina Charles and Asia Durr). And then there are those who were diagnosed with COVID-19 and got a late start to the season (such as Kalani Brown, Sydney Colson, Natisha Hiedeman and Briann January).

Given all of these factors, here’s what the Swish Appeal contributors think about the 2020 season so far and anticipate happening in the second part of the season.

—Tamryn Spruill, Editor-in-Chief


Biggest on-court surprise

TEAM

Eric Nemchock: The Minnesota Lynx definitely have exceeded my expectations, especially as they’ve been without Odyssey Sims for most of the season. Their depth and defense have given them huge advantages against opponents that may not be as strong in those areas, and the contributions of Crystal Dangerfield as a second-round draft pick have been especially critical to the team’s success. I didn’t envision the Lynx to be in the top half of the playoff hunt, but they’ve definitely woken me up.

Cat Ariail: I questioned the Aces’ big offseason addition of Angel McCoughtry (more on her below), fearing that adding a past-her-prime veteran to a team of younger talents would result in an Aces squad that was less than the sum of its parts. The absences of Kelsey Plum and Liz Cambage increased my skepticism; I expected Vegas to flounder in the middle of the standings as they tried to figure things out. All wrong! The Aces have been great, quickly coalescing due to the excellent play that they have received from up and down the roster. I can’t wait to see how they stack up against the Storm on Saturday.

Zachary Ward: The Minnesota Lynx. They lost in the first round in each of the last two seasons. Now, they are overachieving and contending, in spite of having less talent than during the dynasty years. Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier were a hyped, one-two punch before the season started. With Fowles injured, Collier has dominated, and it has been surprising to see so many other players, like rookie Crystal Dangerfield and second-year player Bridget Carleton, stepping up.

Jim Savell: The Lynx are easily the biggest surprise so far this season. They are a team that just finds a way to frustrate their opponents on the defensive end. Offensively, it can be anyone’s night and that makes it difficult for defenders to key in on any one player. The importance of the team dynamic is identified clearly this season and Minnesota’s success is a credit to how head coach Cheryl Reeve has gotten buy-in from everyone on the roster.

Jasmine Baker: The Lynx are my pick. They’re playing great team ball. Cheryl Reeve knows how to flat-out coach and the team’s rebuilding process has been a master class. Sylvia Fowles continues to prove she’s one of the GOATs down low, and her clinics are legendary. They’ve reminded us not to count them out.

Tamryn Spruill: Zero disagreement with the statements above, but ... have y’all seen Kahleah Copper this season?!

PLAYER

Eric: Betnijah Laney. I’ve been a fan of Laney dating back to her days at Rutgers, but it was purely for her hard-nosed defense and positional versatility. She’s proven in her first season with the Dream that she’s much more of a complete player than just a defensive stopper. I was surprised when she was cut by the Fever prior to the season, but I understood the reasoning. I just never expected her to be the scorer or playmaker she has become with Atlanta.

Cat: Angel McCoughtry. McCoughtry is not past her prime. Or, if she is, she is a model of how to excel as one ages. She looks fitter and sharper than she did before the knee injury that knocked her off the WNBA court for nearly two years. Her fit with the Aces has been seamless, as she has enhanced their offense, with her uniquely, and often unstoppable, floor game, and defense, where she remains a steals and deflections maven. All kudos to Angel!

Zachary: Myisha Hines-Allen. Hines-Allen was the story of opening weekend with 27 points and 10 rebounds that led the Washington Mystics to victory over the Indiana Fever in their first game. She then helped Washington to a 3-0 start despite the team missing many star players, including 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne.

Jim: Bria Hartley is in her seventh season and just spent three years as a starter with the New York Liberty. Hartley comes to the Phoenix Mercury with a downgraded role and has been a monster off the bench. Hartley is having a career year and with the Mercury’s early season struggles, she brings much needed energy to the squad.

Jasmine: Skylar Diggins-Smith is averaging 14.5 points per game right now in her first season with the Phoenix Mercury. Many questioned how she’d return from maternity. She’s proven that she’s still one of the hardest on the court and hungrier than ever. She allows the Mercury to spread the offense and she continues to be great at the line. Mama is back!


Biggest on-court disappointment

TEAM

Eric: In spite of Laney’s heroics and the dynamic play of Chennedy Carter, the Atlanta Dream have been flat-out bad. Missing Tiffany Hayes and Renee Montgomery hurts, yes, but nearly every other team took roster hits prior to the season. Atlanta also had a very productive offseason, but none of the big-name players they acquired (I’m talking Shekinna Stricklen, Glory Johnson, Courtney Williams, and Kalani Brown) have lived up to expectations thus far. If Carter doesn’t return from injury soon, Atlanta may very well finish as the worst team in the league.

Cat: It may be a bit unfair, as they have been hit hard by illness and injury, but I expected more from the Indiana Fever. Even as they have improved, they have not shown signs of developing a discernible “Marianne Stanley system.” Indy’s successes have been more attributable to the individual brilliance of the Mitchells, rather than to a system and style that they can build on for future, more consistent successes.

Zachary: The Phoenix Mercury. Most of the teams in the league are where they were expected to be at the halfway point. But if there’s one team who has underachieved a little it’s the Mercury. With Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith on the team, Phoenix (6-5) has enough star power to make noise in the playoffs. Most would give the edge to Seattle, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but Phoenix probably expected itself to be in fourth or fifth place rather than sixth behind Chicago and, more surprisingly, Minnesota.

Jim: The Indiana Fever have yet to signs of progress as a team. Kelsey Mitchell stepped into the role of primary scorer as would be expected but the team continues to struggle on the defensive end. It is their first with a new head coach but with the bottom of the league so vulnerable due to injury, COVID-19, and youth, I would have thought the Fever would look more like a team on the rise.

Jasmine: I feel like COVID-19 has made this impossible to answer considering most of the factors are attributed to the virus. I’ll definitely have to go with COVID-19 and 2020.

PLAYER

Eric: Teaira McCowan has taken a step back and I think it’s a big reason why the Fever haven’t looked like a contender. She showed flashes of being one of the WNBA’s most dominant centers towards the end of her rookie season, but she hasn’t been as productive this year on the glass or from the free throw line — two areas of the game she should be able to control with ease. She continues to struggle with fouls and can’t defend stretch bigs. I understand why fans are frustrated that Marianne Stanley hasn’t been playing her more, but McCowan hasn’t exactly earned those minutes.

Cat: I hate to beat up on a player who is only in her second season, but Teaira McCowan also gets my vote. After last season’s All-Star Break, she was an automatic double-double, averaging 14.9 points and 10.5 rebounds. Her play suggested she was poised for a big sophomore season. Not so much. That she had not earned the trust of new head coach Marianne Stanley entering the season (as she began the season coming off the bench) was concerning. Since then, she has too infrequently used her physical advantages to influence the action.

Zachary: Chelsea Gray of the Los Angeles Sparks. Gray isn’t struggling in the assists department, which is her main job. But her scoring average is down a bit and she is shooting a glaring 4-of-25 from distance in a season where she was expected build off of her amazing 2019 campaign and become one of the best players in the league.

Tamryn: I’m broken over Victoria Vivians’ situation. She tore her ACL playing overseas, missed all of 2019, returned with a bulky knee brace, aggravated the injury and had to exit the bubble. I hope she’s able to get the knee right, the Angel McCoughtry did with her ACL tears, and resume building what had started as a promising career.

Jim: Natasha Howard for the Seattle Storm has been the one low point for an otherwise outstanding start to the season for the Storm. Howard really established herself last year and this year has seen her scoring cut to a third of what it was last year. Her minutes are down significantly which does play a factor and may be her last two games, both of which were double-doubles, are signs that she settling in to the season. I would have expected more given what we had seen the last two seasons.

Jasmine: Kayla Thornton scored 9 points total in her first four games this season. Not what many expected from one of the Dallas Wings veterans. Dallas needs her leadership as this young squad finds its way. She continues to be inconsistent despite the potential we’ve seen over the past two seasons.


Story lines of 2020, on or off the court

STORY LINE YOU LOVE MOST

Cat: The way players have used their platform to demand justice for Black women killed by police deserves all the attention thus far received. Their efforts have been elegantly organized, all while conveying an authentic sense of urgency. Say their names. Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor. Vote Warnock.

Zachary: It goes without saying that the WNBA is playing for things bigger than basketball this year and it has been comforting to see players repeatedly acknowledge that. If I had to pick an on-court storyline, I would select Angel McCoughtry reinventing herself with the Las Vegas Aces as Cat discussed above. McCoughtry has played with an incredibly calm demeanor from the jump. She is also being a selfless player, sacrificing minutes and scoring for the betterment of the team after spending nine years as the focal point for the Atlanta Dream. McCoughtry is one of the biggest stars in the league without a championship and her addition to the Aces has helped them maintain their status as a contender despite Liz Cambage being out.

Eric: I’m with Cat on this one. WNBA players have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to social justice and the way they have used their platform this season has been nothing short of amazing. I’ve never been prouder to support the WNBA.

Jim: Angel McCoughtry and Breanna Stewart are the two biggest stories for me. Both players were incredible in 2018 and both missed the 2019 season due to horrific injuries. For them to be back and playing at incredible levels is just great to see. The will and tenacity of athletes to overcome ailments, mental and physical, and perform on high levels is why we love sports.

Jasmine: One of the biggest stories I’ve seen has been the racial undertones of WNBA coverage. Frankly, it's been going on for years but it became even more apparent over the past NCAA women’s basketball season. It will be interesting to see how my white industry colleagues rectify the matter in the future.

STORY LINE YOU WANT TO SEE DIE

Cat: Laimbeer’s hair and headband? I have no real complaints.

Zachary: The adventures of Washington Mystics forward Emma Meesseman finding animals inside the wubble has been entertaining, but may be getting a little too much attention.

Eric: I can’t really think of any bad story lines.

Jim: It has been a positively fun season and so much extra content from the players! I have no complaints.

Jasmine: I’m so confused by the Las Vegas Aces’ social obsession with Matt Ellentuck.

Over it, chile ...


Oh, what a wonderful wubble?

NO. 1 UPSIDE OF THE WUBBLE

Eric: As a fan, I love that there are games nearly every day — and that they usually don’t overlap. We are totally immersed in basketball, and it’s been very interesting to see how the coaches and players are adjusting to the daily grind of a bubble season.

Tamryn: Killer camera angles.

Cat: The curiosity surrounding the wubble seems to have encouraged increased coverage. And, in turn, this coverage (and the promotion of this coverage) inspired greater interest, which motivated more coverage. Not a surprise! For years, even decades, advocates of women’s sports have insisted that covering women’s sports (with seriousness and respect) would drive interest. It seems to have taken a world-shaking pandemic to make this (at least begin to) happen. Whenever we again have a “normal” WNBA season, let’s hope that ESPN (since they are the sports media standard) takes this lesson from the wubble, continuing to devote regular time slots to W games.

Zachary: The on-court environment, with the 12 logos in the background, no suits for coaches and the ability to hear what players and coaches are saying to each other. Pretty much everything about the on-court environment has been cool. It’s very down to Earth and has the atmosphere of an Olympic event at the same time.

Jim: I am a big fan of the court design with the massive WNBA logo in the center and having games everyday gives me something to look for every night.

Jasmine: I’ll have to co-sign with Cat on this one. The fact that we have a time where basketball is back and there are so many personalities in the league, people want to see how these women are living in Florida. They want to see how they’re utilizing their platforms and putting on for the cities they can’t be in. We’ll look back at this season as not only a turning point in the W but sports as a whole. Black women will always lead the movement.

NO. 1 DOWNSIDE OF THE WUBBLE

Jasmine: The schedule is a mess.

Eric: The condensed schedule (as well as smaller rosters due to player opt-outs) has clearly caused problems with regards to fatigue and injury. Teams are typically getting just one off day in between games, which is not enough for practice, rest and recovery. The circumstances also make it difficult to sign and integrate replacement players in a timely manner. I’m pretty concerned about everyone’s health moving forward.

Cat: As Eric noted, the nearly non-stop schedule has been a delight for fans. But last weekend’s multiple blowouts are evidence of the deteriorated play that this jam-packed schedule can produce. In particular, the lack of true practice time seems to result in struggles snowballing, as seen by the extended losing streaks suffered by Atlanta, Washington and New York.

Zachary: Unnecessary techs. While it’s fun to hear what the coaches have to say from the bench, it is really frustrating to see players receiving technical fouls for things that are said to coaches and not intended for referees to hear. There have been too many techs and it has slowed down the pace of the game.

Jim: The condensed schedule, as mentioned, is an issue because of the rest situation. Lack of rest can feed into injuries, so that is an area to watch as we get later into the season and the playoffs.


Unsung shero

Some players are putting in work to help their teams win or attempt to win, but get none of the shine. Here are the players we think are overlooked and underrated in 2020:

Eric: If you call a player “underrated” often enough, is she, by definition, still underrated? Maybe not, but I still don’t think Alysha Clark’s talent is being aptly recognized. She contributes in every single area, has one of the highest basketball IQs in the WNBA and is as durable as they come. The Storm’s stars will inevitably get the lion’s share of the credit, but don’t overlook Clark’s contributions to what has been far and away the WNBA’s top team thus far.

Cat: Nneka Ogwumike. The president of the WNBPA deserves a trophy case full of honors for all the time and effort she put into not only making this season possible but also making sure that players would be fully and fairly compensated for the shortened, but still extremely burdensome, 2020 season. No player or team would be winning in 2020 without Nneka!

Zachary: Riquna Williams. She is leading the Sparks in scoring with 13 points per game and has been on fire from downtown, the latter of which is no surprise. She deserves more respect as a star player and not just someone who scored 51 points one time. Right now, she is turning everything Candace Parker does as a point-forward into points on the board. She began the season as a starter before moving back to the bench, which takes away from her status as a star but shouldn’t.

Jim: Sami Whitcomb for the Storm has taken her game to another level this year. Whitcomb saw a lot more time last year due to the injuries but in general she is an unknown except for the everyday Storm watcher. Her role as 3-point shooter off the bench has been taken to another level this year as she is shooting 46 percent.

Jasmine: So many players I could name but I’ll have to go with the kids in the wubble. They bring something to this situation we’ve almost never seen in the history of professional sports. Kids keep teams rejuvenated in their own unique way and the mothers have a few aunties for the summer who can lend a helping hand at a moment’s notice. We can’t take their energy and presence for granted.


If the season awards were announced today ...

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Eric: Breanna Stewart. She’s shown zero ill effects of the Achilles injury that kept her out for the entirety of 2019 and has returned as the best player in the WNBA. In some areas, she’s been even better than when she won MVP in 2018 (per Basketball Reference, her true shooting percentage is all the way up to 65.4 percent, and she’s assisting on over 20 percent of her teammates’ baskets), which has been problematic for opponents, to say the least. She’s also been elite on the defensive side of the basketball; through the first half of the season, I’d have a hard time not calling Stewart the WNBA’s MVP.

Cat: Yes, it’s gotta be Stewie. Simply put, she is the best player on the best team, playing better than ever. Put her on any team in the W and that team makes the playoffs!

Zachary: Breanna Stewart. She is doing everything right this season. She is playing with a ton of confidence and contributing across the stat sheet. Her presence has been felt in every game, with at least 14 points in all but one contest. And in the game where she was held to seven points she had nine rebounds and three assists. She is putting up big numbers while also making everyone around her better. The Storm’s scoring for the season is balanced as it should be with a roster deep with talent.

Jim: Breanna Stewart is outstanding once again. The Storm took quite a step back without Stewart and Bird last year but it was really the loss of Stewart that was irreplaceable. Her shooting numbers are on par with or better than they were in 2018. With the exception of A’ja Wilson, no one is playing better than her right now.

Jasmine: A’ja Wilson is currently the second leading scorer in the league. She has her team sitting in second place behind Seattle. She remains consistent and handled the load despite being without Liz Cambage this season. Despite Breanna Stewart’s performance this season, Stewie didn’t bring a whole salon to the wubble. MVP move by Wilson!!

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Eric: Chennedy Carter. She’s missed a few games due to injury now and I understand if that’s your argument for someone else winning this award, but during her time on the court she was already one of the most valuable players to their respective teams in the league. Carter is an elite pick-and-roll player who can dish it as well as she scores it, and without her the Dream seem lost on offense; she makes everyone else around her better and, as evidenced by her 35-point outburst against Seattle, has no issue calling her own number when needed.

Cat: Like Carolyn Peck, I am stanning for my fellow middle Tennessean. Crystal Dangerfield is the only rookie to combine some spectacular performances with consistent contributions to a winning team. While her 29-point game against the Sparks was exciting, showing her scoring upside, that she has been a steady steward for a playoff team (as a second-round pick!) has been more impressive.

Zachary: Satou Sabally. With Chennedy Carter likely to miss six games or more this season, Sabally, who is also dealing with an injury but should be back soon, has the slight edge. Her 17-rebound performance on July 31 was impressive and she is averaging a solid 11.7 points per game as well. She has been taking less threes than she did in college, though part of that is due to a poor percentage, and is really showing how good she could be as a 4 in the WNBA, not just a 3.

Jim: Crystal Dangerfield is the pick here. A good number of people saw Dangerfield as the steal of the draft and she is proving those people right. Dangerfield has failed to meet double-digit scoring in just two games and has proven to be able to get her teammates involved as she six straight games with four assists. The knock on her is turnovers which I would expect to improve over time.

Jasmine: The Unicorn aka Satou Sabally has been impressive with the Dallas Wings. What she brings to the young squad shows promise if she opts to stay with the team after her rookie contract. After the departure of Skylar Diggins-Smith the Wings looked to Arike Ogunbowale to be the face of the franchise but Sabally rookie campaign has her on the way to make a case despite being sidelined with a back injury.

SIXTH WOMAN OF THE YEAR

Cat: This is Dearica Hamby’s award to lose. Even as there is a collection of legitimate candidates — her teammate Jackie Young, Jordin Canada, Cheyenne Parker, Bria Hartley, Riquna Williams, etc. — Hamby has only strengthened her claim to this honor. Her offensive production has improved while her defense has remained super solid. Her all-round effort explains why she has the best Player Impact Estimate among contenders for the award.

Tamryn: No offense intended to anyone, but I’ve been on the Bria Hartley train for years, waiting for her to get an opportunity to shine. And, here we are! Her speed and court vision have improved the Mercury’s offense as I expected. Phoenix’s general shortcomings, however, run deeper than one player.

Zachary: Bria Hartley. She is doing really well on paper with 15.6 points per game (tenth in the league) and 4.3 assists per game (tied for 8th). She has energized Phoenix with three 20-plus-point performances, though she was held to just three points in her latest outing on Sunday. Her offensive versatility should continue to be an X factor for the Mercury in the second half of the season.

Eric: I think it’s Bria Hartley. She may be coming off the bench, but she’s putting up the numbers of a starter due to Phoenix’s shorthanded roster. I’ve been impressed with how she’s fit in next to the Mercury’s star players; unlike her last season in New York, it doesn’t look like she’s trying to do too much out there like. Also of importance is that she’s been doing it at both guard positions, which is critical for a team that currently fields just 10 players.

Jim: Bria Hartley is a shoe-in. While Hamby has been as good as she always is off the bench, Hartley’s scoring is not to be ignored. She has three 20-point games and is likely to get more.

Jasmine: Bria Hartley has done everything necessary to steal Sixth woman! Next!

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

Eric: Betnijah Laney. Seriously, where did this come from? Offense has never been Laney’s calling card during her WNBA career, but with the Dream she’s looked like a completely different player. She’s obliterating her career-highs in scoring efficiency metrics (Laney’s effective field goal percentage this season is 58.8 percent; her previous best was 51.4 percent, and that was in fewer minutes than she’s already played this season) and she’s also making more plays for others than she ever has. There are a lot of good choices for this award but right now I think it’s Laney’s to lose.

Cat: Might Stewie also be the MIP? A more traditional, and very deserving, candidate is Kahleah Copper. In an expanded role, Copper has improved her offensive efficiency, establishing herself as go-to scoring option for the Sky. While Betnijah Laney has shined for the Dream, Copper’s improvements seem more sustainable, and are making a difference on a winning team.

Zachary: Myisha Hines-Allen. The hype surrounding Hines-Allen has worn off, but she has continued to put in consistent work. She is a double-double threat every night after seeing very little playing time last year. Her minutes (7.8 to 28.6), scoring (2.3 to 14.5) and rebounding (2.1 to 8.0) have all improved significantly from 2019.

Jim: I will have to go with Zachary here. Hines-Allen has dropped off the news cycle but that is more a function of the Mystics overall success. As the stats show, this has been a very successful year to include her shooting from the floor going from 36 percent to 50 percent.

Jasmine: I’ll have to go with my colleagues and pick Hines-Allen as well. She has put on a clinic all season and it’s been fun to watch such a deserving player.

Tamryn: Either Jewell Loyd or Sami Whitcomb. This is the most dominant we’ve seen Loyd in a while and Whitcomb is on fire from three. Totally different games, with both at different times carrying their Storm to victory.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Cat: Even as she now has missed significant time, Sylvia Fowles deserves credit for the defensive force she has been when she is on the court. However, if Fowles remains sidelined, Candace Parker is compiling a requisite DPOY resume, consistently playing with invigorated intensity for a defensively stout Sparks team.

Tamryn: These are tough decisions, but Stewie has been incredible at totally obstructing opponents in ways that don’t necessarily appear in the box score. She may lead in rebounds but she sure as hell is using her body to set screens and keep opponents out of position. Alternately, Lexie Brown is killing it in steals, leading the league and being a general pest that wears opponents down.

Zachary: Lexie Brown. She is comfortably ahead of DeWanna Bonner for first place in steals per game (2.9 to 2.3) and has been a big help to a great defensive team in the Lynx. She has improved so many parts of her game since arriving in Minnesota last year and is improving even more this year with 23 steals through eight games after swiping 31 in 33 contests in 2019.

Eric: Breanna Stewart. The Storm have been absolutely incredible on defense this season — they’re currently allowing the fewest points per 100 possessions by any one team since 2005 — and it’s been Stewart who has been their anchor. Her length and activity in the frontcourt allow Seattle to do so many different things schematically and their guards can be extra aggressive knowing that Stewart has their back. She’s also the only WNBA player who currently ranks in the top 10 in both steals and blocked shots.

Jim: The Seattle Storm are the best team in the league defensively and Breanna Stewart’s active hands are big reason. Eric’s stats demonstrate this and if you watch the Storm play, Stewart is all over the traffic lanes disrupting the offense.

Jasmine: Lexie Brown is the league’s peskiest defender at her height. Her improvement has been evident as she went from averaging one to three steals per game in a season. She definitely changes the trajectory of the Lynx defense especially with Fowles on the floor too.


The 2020 WNBA champion will be ...

Cat: The Seattle Storm could be split into two teams and both teams would make the playoffs. As a whole, the Storm seem totally unstoppable. If, as expected, they maintain this level of play, it will be interesting to see how they are judged historically. In this odd season, they are posting an über-elite defensive rating, contributing to their historically-great net rating. Could they be the best team of all time? Or, will the exceptional conditions of the shortened, 22-game 2020 season result in them being considered an excellent but too anomalous team?

Zachary: The Seattle Storm. Seattle is the most talented team on paper and they are playing like it. After the way the Storm have performed in their past five games (all blowout wins), it’s hard to go against them. Every other team in the league has shown weaknesses, while Seattle is sound offensively and defensively. Jewell Loyd has been a solid Robin to Breanna Stewart’s Batman, while Sami Whitcomb is having a breakout season. Also, Natasha Howard hasn’t put up big numbers but the reason for that is leaning toward her accepting a new role rather than her struggling. If she has a breakout game here and there, watch out.

Eric: I don’t see how you can pick anyone other than the Storm right now. Not only are they the most talented team in the WNBA, they’re also the deepest, and I think that will only become even more glaring as the season wears on. Seattle is just on a different level than everyone else.

Jim: Top-to-bottom, the Storm are the best team in the league. They have shooters at all five positions and they can play at any pace. Right now, it hard to see any team beating them three out of five times.

Jasmine: I don’t see anyone upsetting the Storm. It’s a wrap.