Inside the W with Michelle Smith: Taking Things in 3s

Seven games in, we are one-third of the way through the 2020 WNBA regular-season schedule. Translation: Life is moving fast in Bradenton, Florida. Games are flying by, so fast that there is barely time to catch a breath before the next one. Blink and you might miss something big.

Let’s keep a ‘take things in 3s’ theme and take a look at both where we’ve been and where we are headed.

Three Things We Knew Would Happen

1. The Storm would put it together quickly. While an injury to Sue Bird keeps the Storm’s core from being completely together, this is a team that looks as ready-made as anyone to be successful at this point, with the league’s best record at 6-1 with four straight wins. Breanna Stewart’s return after missing the 2019 season shows that she is as good as she has ever been, averaging 19.4 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. The Storm don’t even need to be one of the league’s highest-scoring teams to be its best. Seattle actually ranks 7th in scoring, but they are hitting 3-pointers and playing strong defense. Jewell Loyd – who has scored 20 in each of her last two games – and Jordin Canada are holding things down in the backcourt in Bird’s absence, Alysha Clark is the quintessential glue player and this team looks every bit the favorite everyone thought they would be.

2. Role players were going to need to step up. This is going to be the year of the breakout for players such as Betnijah Laney (Atlanta), Myisha Hines-Allen (Washington), Kahleah Copper (Chicago) and Layshia Clarendon (New York). Their teams need them to step forward in this unusual season and they are stepping up to the challenge in leading roles, scoring, guiding, stabilizing and staying consistent through this whirlwind.

3. The Rise of the rookies. The brutal ankle injury that has potentially ended Sabrina Ionescu’s debut season doesn’t take anything away from the play of some of her draft classmates in the early days of this season. No one has done more to grab the spotlight than Atlanta’s Chennedy Carter, the Texas A&M product who became the youngest player to score 30+ points in a game with her 35-point game on Thursday night against the Storm. In Dallas, the Wings are leaning heavily on Oregon product Satou Sabally, who is averaging 11.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game. Crystal Dangerfield, meanwhile, is picking up major impact minutes for the Minnesota Lynx.

Three things we didn’t quite see coming

1. The Return of the Lynx. It’s still hard not to view Minnesota as a team in transition. No Maya Moore for a second straight season. Seimone Augustus is playing for the long-time rival Sparks. Odyssey Sims is still being worked back. Karima Christmas-Kelly goes out early with a devastating injury. Sylvia Fowles is trying to stay healthy (having missed two games with a sore calf). But here are the Lynx, sitting at 5-2 in second place overall, with significant contributions from rookie Dangerfield – who scored 29 points Sunday against Los Angeles – and second-year guard Bridget Carleton. Cheryl Reeve is putting her players in a position to succeed.

2. Connecticut struggles. The Sun had to replace a lot of key players from last year’s team that made a run to the Finals series, losing Jonquel Jones (sitting out for personal reasons), Courtney Williams and Shekinna Stricklen to Atlanta. And it shows. The Sun are out of the gate with a 1-6 record, with four of those losses coming by single-digits. DeWanna Bonner has stepped in to be the go-to scorer, but Connecticut has shown it’s a better team when it demonstrates balance with more offensive contributions from Jasmine Thomas, Brionna Jones and Alyssa Thomas. Briann January’s arrival in the bubble should add some needed depth and experience on the floor.

3. The Injury Bug. Whether it’s the frequency of games in a shortened season, an abbreviated camp, or the long months in shelter-in-place, the injury bug has bit hard. Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Nneka Ogwumike, Sylvia Fowles, Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley and Diamond DeShields have all felt the injury bug in the early days of the season. Karima Christmas-Kelly and No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu have injuries serious enough to potentially cost them the entire season. Sending healing vibes to all. They are missed by teammates, foes and fans alike.

Three things to be excited about for the next third

1. Diamond emerges for Chicago. Diamond DeShields is poised to be one of the most exciting players in the WNBA. Starting the season with knee troubles has been a disappointment for her and the Sky, but she scored a season-high 14 points against Connecticut on Saturday, a positive harbinger of things to come.

2. Odyssey Sims is back for the Lynx. Odyssey Sims should play her first minutes of the season for the Lynx in the coming days. Sims will need to get settled in and then look to bring Minnesota another scoring option that they will need to keep pace with the league’s top teams.

3. More players busting out. Keep an eye on Amanda Zahui B in New York, Gabby Williams in Chicago and Sydney Wiese in Los Angeles. They are going to make a big difference in their teams’ fortunes over these next few weeks. Zahui B is posting career highs in points (11.3 ppg), rebounds (8.9 rpg) in the early going. Williams is shooting 48.2 percent from the floor and a career-best 34.5 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Wiese has found her way into the LA starting lineup, scoring 33 points in her last two games.

Three injuries that will have the biggest impact

1. Sabrina Ionescu, New York. Ionescu’s impact on the game was only beginning to show itself and for a team that is loaded with young players, it was necessary.

2. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix. Missing Taurasi for most of last season was enough of a body blow for both the Mercury and the league. Everyone is rooting for a fast recovery for the league’s all-time leading scorer.

3. Aerial Powers, Washington. Powers had become an integral part of the Mystics’ early success. If she misses significant time after going out with a hip injury on Friday, Washington will struggle with depth – with only nine players available and cohesive offense.

Three Players to watch right now

1. Jackie Young, Las Vegas. Young is asserting herself in the Aces’ offense, scoring 15 points in each of Vegas’ last two wins.

2. Kelsey Mitchell, Indiana. Four 20-point games this season already, including 29 Sunday in a win over Washington.

3. Candace Parker, Los Angeles. She fell just short of becoming the first player in league history with multiple triple-doubles on Sunday. With five straight double-doubles heading into Tuesday’s game against New York, it looks like she is as locked in as ever.

Three MVP Frontrunners

1. A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas. First in the league in scoring, fourth in rebounding. Vegas’ centerpiece as the Aces win four straight.

2. Breanna Stewart, Seattle. Back and as good as ever. Doing it all for Seattle.

3. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota. Averaging 16.8 points and 11.0 rebounds early. Hoping that calf heals soon.

Three games you have to see in the next two weeks

1. Monday, August 10 – Chicago vs. Seattle. A possible postseason preview right here. Veteran teams doing battle.

2. Thursday August 13 – Minnesota vs. Las Vegas. Two more teams near the top of the standings sorting themselves out.

3. Friday August 21 – Minnesota vs. Phoenix. Never a boring day when Britney Griner and Sylvia Fowles face off inside.

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.