Note: WNBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Tuesday during the season, are the opinion of this writer and do not reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.
So here’s the dilemma. We have one game – quite literally the smallest of sample sizes – to judge each team for our first installment of the WNBA.com Power Rankings.
How much can you learn from one game? Should it alter your preseason rankings, which only judged each of these teams on paper? A one-game sample size is certainly better than a zero-game sample size, right? But at the same time, how much can one game color your opinion about how good a team really is, when they are playing at their expected level?
Can we really drop the Mystics and Sparks down to the bottom half of the rankings because they lost their season opener? Do the Fever climb into the top half?
All of this is to say that the Week 1 Power Rankings will be a mix of reactions to Game 1 of the season, and the overall expectations for each team over the course of the entire season.
1. Las Vegas Aces (1-0)
The Aces were the preseason favorite to win the 2019 WNBA title and they came out and got the W in their season opener, even without the league’s biggest offseason acquisition in Liz Cambage, whose arrival vaulted the Aces to contender status. The team put up 83 points without the league’s second-leading scorer from a year ago. While it won’t be as simple as adding 20 points to that total, Las Vegas showed they have the depth to win even when one of their Aces is out of the lineup.
2. Connecticut Sun (1-0)
The Sun may have lost their only All-Star from last year in Chiney Ogwumike, but they didn’t skip a beat in picking up a win in their season opener. Over the past two seasons, the Sun have the third most regular season wins in the WNBA behind Los Angeles and Minnesota. Is 2019 the year that the Sun see the postseason success that those two franchises have had in recent years?
3. Washington Mystics (0-1)
The Mystics dropped their season opener as franchise star Elena Delle Donne was sidelined with knee soreness and fellow All-Star Kristi Toliver sat most of the fourth quarter with a quad contusion. Both injuries do not appear to be long term, which is great news for the Mystics as they try to get back to the Finals for the second straight season.
4. Los Angeles Sparks (0-1)
The Sparks opened the season with two-time MVP Candace Parker sidelined with a hamstring injury that is likely to keep her out for a few more weeks. Her presence, scoring and playmaking were missed in Sunday’s loss to Las Vegas, but this team has enough talent to tread water until she gets back into the lineup. The Sparks are learning a new system under first-year coach Derek Fisher and have a number of new players to incorporate into the mix. It’s unlikely that the three veteran newcomers – Chiney Ogwumike, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Alexis Jones – will combine to score just two points on 1-16 shooting again this season.
5. Phoenix Mercury (0-1)
While some All-Stars who missed their season openers are expected back in the lineup soon (Liz Cambage, Candace Parker, Elena Delle Donne), the Mercury will be without Diana Taurasi for at least another month as she is in her fifth week of a 10-12 week recovery period from back surgery. Without her in the lineup, the Mercury were unable to take down the shorthanded Storm in a rematch of last year’s semifinals on Saturday, despite a combined 49 points and 16 boards from DeWanna Bonner and Brittney Griner. While Taurasi is out for a while, the Mercury should get Sancho Lyttle back soon, which could help them on the boards. Seattle outscored them 20-4 in second chance points.
6. Atlanta Dream (1-0)
The Dream stuck to their identity and won game one of the 2019 season with a strong defensive effort that saw them block 11 shots and force the Wings to shoot just 35.1% from the field. That defense helped the Dream overcome an uncharacteristic off day from Tiffany Hayes – Atlanta’s leading scorer last season at 17.2 points per game – who finished with just five points on 2-of-8 shooting. Renee Montgomery scored 15 points in 26 minutes as the Dream outscored the Wings by 21 points with her on the court.
7. Seattle Storm (1-0)
The Storm collected their rings, unveiled the championship banner and picked up a big win in their season opener, taking down the rival Phoenix Mercury despite not having Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird or coach Dan Hughes to begin their title defense. Natasha Howard had a huge night (21 points, 16 boards, 5 steals and 3 blocks), while Jordin Canada overcame some early struggles (6 turnovers in the first half) to finish the game strong with 16 points and six assists, having taken over point guard duties for the injured Bird.
8. Minnesota Lynx (1-0)
The Lynx opened the 2019 season without Maya Moore (out for season), Lindsay Whalen (retired) and Seimone Augustus (knee), but it didn’t matter on Saturday as Minnesota took down Chicago by 18 points. When the Lynx selected Napheesa Collier with the sixth pick in the 2019 Draft, many thought they got the most complete player in the draft and had a potential steal. Collier made that statement look great as she had one of the best rookie debuts in league history with 27 points, six rebounds and three blocks. Only Candace Parker scored more points (34) in a rookie debut.
9. Indiana Fever (1-0)
While Collier may have had the best rookie stat line of opening weekend, Fever rookie Teaira McCowan had the best moment. She hit a layup at the buzzer to help Indiana become the only team to win on the road during opening weekend. Indiana defeated New York by a score of 81-80. The Fever have amassed just 15 wins over the past two seasons, and it took them 11 games to get their first win in 2018. Thanks to McCowan, and 22 points from Tiffany Mitchell off the bench, the Fever are already in the W column in May.
10. Dallas Wings (0-1)
Like the Storm, the Wings also experienced a tough offseason. Each team lost its leading scorer – Breanna Stewart with an Achilles injury and Liz Cambage with a trade to Las Vegas. Both teams lost their lead playmaker – Sue Bird with a knee injury and Skylar Diggins-Smith recovering from childbirth – for an indefinite amount of time. Both teams open the season with a new voice on the sidelines – Gary Kloppenburg filling in for Dan Hughes in the short term, and Brian Agler taking the reigns of the Wings this offseason. But while the Storm were able to get a win on opening weekend, the Wings fell short against Atlanta. The Wings were also without Azura Stevens, as she’s currently dealing with concussion symptoms. Despite being shorthanded, the Wings still gave themselves a chance at the win and got solid performances from a pair of rookies: No. 5 pick Arike Ogunbowale had 12 points as a starter and Brooke McCarty-Williams had eight points and eight assists off the bench.
11. Chicago Sky (0-1)
The Sky are one of three teams with new head coaches this season, along with Los Angeles and Dallas, and all three teams lost their season opener (not counting Seattle since Dan Hughes is only out temporarily and his staff is still in place). Not only did the Wings, Sky and Sparks all lose in their opening games, but all three struggled offensively as they ranked 8th, 11th and 12th in offensive efficiency, respectively. How long it takes the Sky to find their offensive rhythm under James Wade’s new system will go a long way to determining the team’s success. Unlike a team like Atlanta that can rely on their defense to keep them afloat while the offense falters, the Sky ranked last in defensive efficiency in 2018 and are 11th after Game 1 of the 2019 season.
12. New York Liberty (0-1)
The Liberty were the only home team to drop their season opener and did so in heartbreaking fashion. Indiana’s Teaira McCowan hit a layup at the buzzer to win the game, after Tina Charles had given the Liberty the lead with seven seconds to play. Dating back to last season, the Liberty have lost 14 consecutive games. Their 13-game losing streak to close 2018 matched the WNBA record held by the 2012 Washington Mystics and their 14 straight losses (single season or multiple seasons) is creeping up the all-time leaderboard as well (16 by San Antonio in 2016/17, 17 by Atlanta in 2008, 18 by Indiana in 2017/18, 20 by Tulsa in 2011). These are not the type of records a team wants to be in contention of hitting. New York faces Indiana again on Saturday for the next chance to stop this streak.