Players have slow starts; teams have slow starts; and it sure seems like the WNBA is off to a slow start as well.
It’s hard to say why, but it just doesn’t seem like the league has kicked into gear yet. Maybe it’s because the results so far have been pretty predictable, and stars like Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi are MIA. And maybe it’s because the NBA playoffs have been so good in the past couple weeks that any basketball would pale in comparison, but regardless, the WNBA isn’t yet firing on all cylinders.
Still, some story lines are emerging, and as the summer wears on, they should make it easier for fans, veteran and otherwise, to lock in on the league.
The biggest early question is whether defending champion Minnesota will ever lose? The answer, obviously, is that the Lynx will go down to defeat sooner or later, but they also look like to be in a league of their own, given their youth, depth and confidence. Twice this year they’ve lost interest after building 20+-point leads, but managed to hang on for the win. Imagine what they’ll do when they concentrate for 40 minutes…
Their competition in the West looks to be the rejuvenated Los Angeles Sparks, which is rolling right along despite having to play Kristi Toliver out of position at the point. (You doubt she’s out of position? She set a record with 14 turnovers against Tulsa – and then won the game with a big shot late.) The Sparks’ other issue is their overload at power forward, where Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, Delisha Milton-Jones and Ebony Hoffman are all best suited to play. In fact, a case could be made that Jantel Lavender might be better at the four than the five, but regardless, trying to cram four players into one position (especially when three of them start) is a bit of a problem.
As for Seattle, the Storm are without Lauren Jackson until after the Olympics, and traded Swin Cash in the offseason for what turned out to be rookie Shekinna Stricklen, which is clearly a short-term step back. And since Tanisha Wright is playing miserably, and Camille Little only somewhat better, Seattle doesn’t look like much of a threat to anything at this point.
San Antonio will make the playoffs by default, but 80-year-old Becky Hammon is unlikely to carry them to glory, especially with a significant weakness in the paint that the better teams will find a way to exploit.
Phoenix lost Penny Taylor to an ACL tear prior to the season, and now Diana Taurasi is out, so the Mercury will join Tulsa in trying to figure out a way to fix the ping-pong balls so that Brittney Griner lands on the roster in 2013.
There’s a similar focus in Washington, though owner Sheila Johnson and company are too busy padding attendance figures to do much else – and God knows they don’t want to watch their team play. The rest of the East (yes, even New York) is fairly balanced, as the hot starts of Indiana and Connecticut will only be sustained if neither team suffers any significant injuries. Though the Fever have more depth, they’re older, and though the Sun are younger, the talent pool is shallow.
Atlanta just plans to hang around until Erika DeSouza gets back from London, and Chicago, like L.A., has point-guard questions. Courtney Vandersloot has yet to prove she’s a legit WNBA starter, and Ticha Penicheiro, one of the greats, is old and ailing.
As the season goes along, of course, the focus will sharpen, but the looming shadow of the Olympics makes it hard to take too much too seriously. After all, teams like Seattle and Atlanta will be much different when their stars return, and it’s also possible, if not likely, that Olympic injuries will play a big role in the WNBA sprint to the finish.
But whatever the reason, the league isn’t sprinting right now – it’s more like watching the first lap of the 1,500 meters. The finish will be fun, but for now it’s mainly just jockeying for position.