Over halfway through the 2023 WNBA season, the crème de la crème of the league are home in their skin.
Las Vegas is dealing
The Las Vegas Aces reign over the league once again this season with their sights set on becoming the first team to repeat as champions since the early 2000s Los Angeles Sparks. Sitting at 21-2, the Aces are outscoring opponents by 15.4 net points per 100 possessions, according to the Her Hoop Stats.
Watching the Aces this season has quite literally been history in the making.
They’re currently in first place with a four-game lead with an 8-1 record in July. On track to hold the highest winning percentage in WNBA history (91.3), they have the strongest team on both ends, wielding a plus-19 net rating that would be the best ever for a full season.
Becky Hammon’s group is leading the league in points per game at 94.1. If this pace is maintained, not only will they surpass their average in 2022 (90.4) — which currently sits at fourth all-time in WNBA history — they have the potential to pass the 2010 Phoenix Mercury’s 93.8 at number one. All in all, this team is special and will live forever in WNBA lore.
As a team, the Aces are first in field goal percentage (50.3) and three-point percentage (38.3), all while allowing the fewest points per game (78.7).
Chelsea Gray is enjoying a 50/40/90 season while ranking third in assists (6.9) and piloting the best offense in the history of the WNBA.
What else to say about A’ja Wilson? Where to start more importantly. She’s in the running for her second straight MVP and her third overall as well as back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards. While the award can go any which way with several deserving players in the midst, I find it paramount to reflect on just how crucial Wilson is to their success. Averaging 20.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.2 blocks, she fuels the W16 engine in the Bugatti Chiron that is the Aces.
Fun fact: Out of the top 10 scorers in the league, the Aces have three in the reigning MVP A’ja Wilson (fifth, 20.7 PPG), Jackie Young (eighth, 19 PPG), and Kelsey Plum (seventh, 19.3 PPG). You won’t find any of them in the top 10 list of field goals attempted as Plum, Wilson, and Young sit at 12th, 14th, and 20th respectively. They all own a true shooting percentage over 60 with Young at 68.2, Plum at 62.9, and Wilson at 62. This is what dominance paired with insane efficiency looks like.
The Sun is still shining
The Connecticut Sun are 18-6, winners of eight of their last 11 games since losing star center Brionna Jones on June 20 against the Seattle Storm. Jones will miss the rest of the season with a ruptured Achilles. Despite the unfortunate injury, a path forward to the Finals is still present for this team in her absence, and it starts and ends with future first-ballot Hall of Famers Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner.
Bonner, having one of the best seasons of her career, is a dark horse MVP candidate, averaging 18.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. Thomas is averaging a hair under a triple-double with 14.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 8 assists in her own bout for Most Valuable Player.
Placing second in defense and fourth overall in offense, this group’s no-frills approach to basketball is a marvel to see play out in real-time. In her first season at the helm, Stephanie White is a clear Coach of the Year candidate.
With the right ancillary players in place, Connecticut is not a squad to look past. Key off-season acquisitions are gelling, proving to be a formidable challenger come playoff time, even after the departure of former league MVP Jonquel Jones.
New York state of mind
The New York Liberty are firing on all cylinders at the right time — powered by perennial All-WNBA forward Breanna Stewart. In her first season in New York, Stewart is second in points per game at 22.6. A career year not only scoring the ball but efficiency at its finest, she holds a 53.5 effective field goal percentage, currently the second-highest rate of her career.
Veteran point guard Courtney Vandersloot was everything the Liberty’s offense needed, and then some. Owning a staggering 41.1 assist percentage, she’s the power plant empowering an assortment of talented players. Her been-there-done-that leadership paired with Stewart’s force will be essential to this group’s longevity in the playoffs.
Vandersloot is the engine, and five-tool player Betnijah Laney is the connector. Averaging 11.3 points this season, her process of getting there is built on efficiency. Laney is shooting a blistering 72.8 percent at the rim, and 55.4 percent on twos, but what jumps out at me is her mastering the corner three.
Per PBP Stats, she’s knocking down 44 percent of shots in those spots. Carving a niche within a team carrying championship aspirations is a crucial task and Laney has delivered when called upon. Not to mention her defending the best wings in the W every night.
Fourth-year pro Sabrina Ionescu has adapted as well as one could hope for with the amount of change in such a short period. While averaging 16.2 points per game, how Ionescu does so not only leaves something to be desired, it’s a red flag to take note of.
She’s shooting 33.3 percent — a career low — on twos and is second on the Liberty in three-point percentage at 42.3. If the Liberty plan on a lengthy playoff run in 2023, Ionescu has to be more consistent inside the arc as there are less wide open opportunities outside of it.
Is Jonquel Jones back? A recipient of the most recent Eastern Conference Player of the Week award, Jones averaged 18.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks en route to her 13th time receiving the award in her career. Her consistency is not only needed, but it truly dictates the trajectory for head coach Sandy Brondello’s group.
The Wings are soaring
Are the Dallas Wings a true contender? As it stands, head coach Latricia Trammell’s group is the only one to defeat both the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty, an accomplishment worth nothing. Dallas ranks third in offense, fourth in defense, second in pace, and fourth in net rating. The Wings are one of two teams in the top five on both sides of the ball.
Winners of their last six before the Sun snapped their five-game winning streak Tuesday night, Dallas is coming together as one at the perfect moment. Star guard Arike Ogunbowale is enjoying the best season of her career and is a legit two-way threat surrounded by players that fit a clear strategy.
On defense, starting center Teaira McCowan and reserve Kalani Brown are instrumental to the team’s defensive ideology. Both being 6’7 and having similar wingspans, whether they get the block or not, other teams think twice about driving on them as the Wings allow the second-fewest points in the paint.
This allows their defensive dynamos in guards Ogunbowale, Crystal Dangerfield, Odyssey Sims, and Veronica Burton to step up and be as aggressive as they choose to knowing they have a player like McCowan or Brown defending the rim. Awak Kuier is getting in on the action as of late as well, only enhancing this team’s already stupendous depth in the front court. I haven’t even mentioned former Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard. That’s a great problem to have.
Not a Dream but a reality
The Atlanta Dream is no longer a dream but a reality. An exceptional seven-game win streak before losing two straight to the Sun launched this group into a tie for fifth in the standings. Leapfrogging the hobbled Mystics, Atlanta bears the fourth most potent offense in July, scoring 86 points per contest.
Rhyne Howard has been uncontainable since being snubbed from receiving All-Star honors initially, dazzling fans with rainbow threes, tantalizing dribble moves, and a love for competition like no other. She’s second in scoring this month at 23.4 points per game while connecting on 40 percent of her threes. She is simply phenomenal.
In a league full of uncertainty as far as separation in standing, the Dream is a team to watch out for in the second half. No one is perfect and the Wings defeating the Aces handily as well as the Liberty is proof of it.
Allisha Gray has dominated this season on both ends as expected when traded from the Wings to the Dream this off-season. Averaging just under 18 points per game (17.6), the former Gamecock standout is knocking down 50 percent of her twos and 37.9 percent of her threes. Maybe there is some validity to the moniker “Dallas Wings University”.
Fading mist in Washington?
The Washington Mystics go as far as two-time league MVP Elena Delle Donne can carry them and over the last few seasons, that hasn’t been very far.
Delle Donne has dealt with extensive back problems, dating back to the 2019 Finals when she played through multiple herniated discs to lead the Mystics to their first title in franchise history. Needing surgery, she sat out of the entire 2020 season due to health concerns related to her back and COVID-19.
Prepping for a return in 2021, she felt nerve pain and underwent another surgery. The rehab for her second back procedure ended up taking more time than anticipated, playing only three games that season.
Though Delle Donne was ready to kick off the 2022 campaign, the team took meticulous measures to ensure her health through the season, limiting her to 25 games. The Mystics were defeated by the Seattle Storm in a best-of-three series last year.
In 2023, the injury bug has struck multiple starters as Delle Donne, Ariel Atkins, and Shakira Austin are all missing from the starting lineup. Their depth has carried them as well as perennial pro Brittney Sykes who has quite literally kept the team from a downward spiral.
Known for her all-around game and tenacious defense, her offense is what’s kept opposing defenses at bay. Averaging a career-best 14 points per game on a career-high 36.9 three-point shooting clip, she just might be the most important off-season acquisition outside of Wings’ forward, Natasha Howard.
Out of the six teams mentioned, Washington is the odd one out due to injury and injury alone. If their players come back and start to click again, do not overlook this team.
*Stats accurate as of 7/26