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WNBA Weekly Rundown | Upsets cap wild weekend

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 26 2017: Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot (22) makes a pass during a WNBA women's basketball game between the Washington Mystics and the Chicago Sky on May 26, 2017 at Verizon Center in Washington DC. The Mystics defeated the Chicago Sky 88-79. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire)
Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire

The Chciago Sky’s struggles this season have been well-documented. As we trudge through the July portion of the WNBA schedule, the Sky are still looking to find its way, offensive inconsistencies abound under an all-new coaching staff.

You wouldn’t have known it from watching the Sky play Saturday. Chicago pulled off an improbable upset against the Minnesota Lynx, putting on a stellar shooting performance against the best defense in the league. The numbers were staggering: A team that scores just 96.1 points per 100 possessions on the season put up 123.5, notching a 65.3 eFG% versus a Lynx team that had been stingier defensively than anyone else.

Sure, the performance was anomalous, especially considering the Sky shot just eight free throws, but it showed us several things. For one, much of the Sky’s offense was fueled by Minnesota’s lack thereof: poor shooting by Lindsay Whalen (2-8) and Maya Moore (0-3) allowed Chicago to get out and run, at one point prompting Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve to bench her entire starting lineup. Perimeter shooting is perhaps the only weakness Minnesota has, and the Sky exploited it.

On a broader scale, we were reminded that there’s more parity in the WNBA than team records suggest. It’s difficult for teams to stay strong throughout an entire season. We saw that with the eventual champion Los Angeles Sparks last summer.

More of this parity was on display just hours later, when the Seattle Storm soundly beat their rivals from LA. The Sparks seemed sluggish, even against a team they should beat on paper. Seattle made up for a size disadvantage with — you guessed it — hot outside shooting. Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd, and Breanna Stewart combined to hit 8 of 13 3-pointers, while the Storm held the Sparks to just 4-of-23 shooting from the same distance.

That’s not the only statistic which magnifies the work of Seattle’s starters. The Storm’s bench scored a grand total of zero points in the game. It was the ultimate high point for a Storm roster that is often feast-or-famine; the Storm go as their starters go, and on Saturday, their lack of depth was almost completely forgotten.

Connecticut’s continuing ascent

The Sun got an unexpected jump-start in June when injuries forced coach Curt Miller to shorten his rotation. They have been spectacular since then, rising to the top of the Eastern Conference. They also own a top-four position in the league standings.

The cool thing about Connecticut’s quick rise is that while almost all of its rotation players have significantly improved, a balanced team approach is truly evident. One could make an argument for several players — Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas, mainly — being their best this season.

There’s no better example of this than the Sun dominating the WNBA’s Player of the Week awards. While these awards are subjected to small sample sizes, they gain some traction when players from the same team win four weeks in a row. Jasmine Thomas, Jonquel Jones, and Alyssa Thomas (twice) have most recently received the weekly honor. It’s the perfect representation of a group whose success is predicated on team basketball: individual awards split among several different players.

What we should look for now is how Connecticut maintains its hot streak when it gets back to full strength. Forwards Lynetta Kizer and Morgan Tuck are easing their way back from injury, but much of the Sun’s success has come with Alyssa Thomas at the four. How will Miller reincorporate this talent?

Whatever happens, the Sun have a dearth of talent, forcing pivotal decisions this offseason. 2014 Rookie of the Year Chiney Ogwumike, who is currently rehabbing an Achilles injury, seems like the odd woman out right now, and plenty of teams would be interested in her if Miller wishes to take that route. On the other hand, Connecticut could have unmatched depth soon if it can keep all its core players. It’s a good problem to have for a team that, for the first time in a while, is back among the league’s elite.

Other Notes

As happens at midseason every year, a few cuts occurred ahead of the contract guarantee deadline. The San Antonio Stars waived forward Sophie Brunner (making the Monique Currie trade seem even more one-sided), while the Sparks cut loose Ify Ibekwe. In the East, Meighan Simmons was waived from Atlanta, and the Indiana Fever cut Nadia Colhado, who was subsequently replaced by fellow center Jennifer Hamson on a seven-day contract.

Such cuts rarely result in anything significant. For San Antonio, the roster vacancy could be used for a tryout of sorts for next season. Indiana might find Hamson’s 6-7 frame useful. Otherwise, it’s unlikely any big signings will be made at this point in the season.

Top Performers

  1. Brittney Griner: 31 points (13-17 FG), 13 rebounds, 6 blocks vs. New York Liberty
  2. Layshia Clarendon: 27 points (11-15 FG), 8 rebounds, 6 assists vs. Indiana Fever
  3. Nneka Ogwumike: 27 points (10-16 FG), 14 rebounds (6 OREB), 3 steals vs. Minnesota Lynx
  4. Sylvia Fowles: 20 points (9-15 FG), 13 rebounds, 4 blocks vs. Los Angeles Sparks
  5. Courtney Vandersloot: 26 points (11-16 FG, 3-6 3FG), 7 rebounds, 13 assists vs. Minnesota Lynx

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