The WNBA Playoffs 2015 presented by Boost Mobile are finally upon us, and there are plenty of intriguing storylines that make this iteration of the postseason one of the more interesting ones in recent memory. By and large, each series is wide open.
The No. 1 overall seeded New York Liberty are set to face off against a team that beat them three times during the regular season. The top team in the Western Conference — the Minnesota Lynx — is pitted against a No. 4 Los Angeles Sparks team that many think can topple them in the first round. And then there’s the Indiana Fever. The Chicago Sky had their number during the regular season, but you simply cannot count out any team that’s guided on the court by Tamika Catchings.
And those are just a few of the many questions surrounding this postseason. WNBA.com’s Anthony Oliva, Brian Kotloff and Josh Zavadil sought to tackle four of the most burning questions.
First-Round Schedule: Watch the Playoffs on ESPN and NBA TV
Who is the most important player to this postseason?
Anthony Oliva: Candace Parker. After sitting out the first half of the season, no player had a bigger impact on the league’s second half than Parker. The proof? Los Angeles went 11-5 with Parker in the lineup and only 3-15 with her on the sidelines, thanks to her near triple-double output almost every night. With the Sparks rolling into the Playoffs seemingly healthy, they are as dangerous a No. 4 seed as we’ve ever seen, but it all hinges on how far Parker can take them.
Brian Kotloff: Elena Delle Donne. She was the Most Valuable Player for a reason. Everything the Sky do revolves around EDD, and she’s defined the 2015 season from start to finish more than any other player in the league. If she’s not at her best, Chicago will have a tough time with any of the stout defensive teams in the East playoffs, be it the Fever, Liberty or Mystics. If she continues to produce at the historic rate she produced during the regular season, the Sky can avenge last year’s WNBA Finals disappointment.
Josh Zavadil: Elena Delle Donne. There’s a part of me that wanted to choose Candace Parker, just because of how important she has been to the Sparks since her return, but ultimately there was no better option than Delle Donne. She’s been the best player in the league all season, she’s the league’s MVP and she’s a part of a Chicago team that’s trying to get back to the WNBA Finals and take care of unfinished business. Her play will dictate how far the Sky go in what is sure to be a highly competitive WNBA postseason.
Assuming the higher seed as the “favorite,” what series do see as the biggest potential to upset?
AO: Lynx-Sparks. Los Angeles advancing to the Conference Finals over top-seeded Minnesota is the trendy pick amongst all four matchups. The reasoning is that L.A. seems to be peaking — the Sparks hold an 11-5 record with Candace Parker in the lineup — while Minnesota is dealing with key injuries to Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen. In fact, the Lynx lost six of their last 10 games, but in fairness, there was no need to rush their players back in the closing games with the West already locked up. Assuming Augustus and Whalen are not 100 percent, the Sparks will actually have more firepower than the Lynx and that’s why they are the wise-guy pick, but expect a raucous homecrowd in Minnesota to level the scales and make for a great series regardless.
BK: Lynx-Sparks. I think the higher seed will prevail in all four series, but I see L.A. as the most likely upset candidate. The Sparks are 11-5 with Candace Parker in the lineup this season and have a starting lineup of five All-Stars. You’re not going to find a more dangerous No. 4 seed. You’re also not going to find a player as hot as Candace Parker, who is making plays from the forward spot (6.3 assists per game) like few in WNBA history.
JZ: Liberty-Mystics. This may come as a surprise to some, but I’m convinced the Washington Mystics have a really good shot to upset the Liberty. They’re 3-1 against them this season, and they just matchup really well with New York at almost every position. Their length in the frontcourt has been an advantage on both ends of the floor, and Stefanie Dolson and Emma Meesseman’s abilities to stretch the floor have opened up plenty of options for Ivory Latta, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and company. They’ve most likely got to steal the first game to do it, which will be hard to do in front of a sure-to-be-packed Madison Square Garden crowd, but they’ve won in that arena more than once this year. Now they have a chance to do it when it matters most.
Which player should casual WNBA fans be most excited to see?
AO: Tamika Catchings. In her 14th WNBA season, her playing days may be numbered, but her intensity and desire are as strong as ever. While Catchings and the Fever have a tough matchup against another must-watch in MVP Elena Delle Donne and the Sky, nobody would be surprised to see Indiana turn this into a classic series. Catchings is still one of the hardest workers in the league, so if you like a blue-collar brand of basketball, Catchings is appointment television.
BK: Brittney Griner. These playoffs are loaded with star power, so this is more of a “take your pick” question. I’ll go with Griner, who’s been a unique force in women’s basketball over the past five years. She’s the tallest player in the game (6-foot-9) and seemingly covers the entire paint when she’s swatting away shots at a record rate on defense. The cat-and-mouse game between her and former Baylor teammate Odyssey Sims — a 5-8, lightning-quick guard — will be the highlight of the Mercury-Shock series.
JZ: Candace Parker. All of the talk this year has been about Elena Delle Donne, and rightfully so. But what Candace Parker has done over the second half of the season has been unreal. She put up numbers that would have had her in the MVP conversation if she had played the entire year. Parker averaged 19.4 points per game, 10.1 rebounds per game and 6.3 assists per game over the 16 games she played in the regular season. That’s virtually unheard of. She and the Sparks will be an interesting team to watch in the first round against the Lynx.
Which up-and-coming player can make a name for herself this postseason?
AO: Anna Cruz. With Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen missing extended time, second-year guard Anna Cruz has become a key fixture in the Minnesota backcourt. Starting in 17 games and averaging nearly 30 minutes a night, Cruz has proven to be a complement to a team that, when fully healthy, can run out five former U.S. Olympians. When the Lynx acquired Cruz from the Liberty in a draft day trade this past year, coach Cheryl Reeve praised the guard’s versatility, and that’s exactly what she’s brought to this team. With a few hobbled players entering the postseason, she’ll be counted on more than ever.
BK: Kiah Stokes. She has gone from backup on the UConn Huskies to X-Factor on the WNBA’s top team in just a year. The rookie has a lot of responsibility on her shoulders as the Liberty seek their first-ever title after posting a franchise-best 23-11 record. I think Stokes will be up to the task, especially since she already gained big-game experience in winning two titles under Geno Auriemma. Her shot blocking (2.0 per game, 3rd in the league) covers up the few mistakes the league’s top defensive team makes.
JZ: Odyssey Sims. The Tulsa Shock have become quite an interesting storyline through the second half of the season, and they wouldn’t be where they are without the play of second-year guard Odyssey Sims. She’s kind of the “second star” on a team that typically features Skylar Diggins, but Sims has had to be a leader since Diggins went down with an ACL injury. Although she only played 21 games, she finished the season fifth in scoring average (16.0). She’s a major part of a Tulsa offense that was second in the league in Offensive Rating (points scored per 100 possessions) at 103.9.