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.
The WNBA debuted a new playoff format last season that took the top eight teams in the league regardless of conference affiliation and ranked them by overall record.
Following the regular season, four teams from each conference qualified for the playoffs, with the West holding the top two and bottom two seeds with the four East teams sandwiched in the middle. The West held the advantage with the top two seeds earning a bye to the semifinal round, where they were joined by a third team, giving the West three of the final four teams in the postseason.
In the end, the top two seeds prevailed and gave us the first intra-conference Finals since the league’s second season back in 1998, with the Los Angeles Sparks defeating the Minnesota Lynx in a classic five-game series.
After a full week of competition in the 2017 season, the West holds the edge once again, claiming five of the top six records in the league and a 6-2 edge in head-to-head matchups between teams from each conference. While it is WAY too early to project toward the playoffs, it will be an interesting trend to watch over the weeks to come.
1. Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
2017 Record: 2-0
OffRtg: 116.4 (1); DefRtg: 102.6 (8); NetRtg: 13.8 (1)
The Sparks raised the 2016 championship banner prior to their season-opening game with Seattle, but waited until their game against Washington on Friday to hand out the championship rings so the final three players fulfilling overseas commitments would be back with the team. After receiving their new jewelry, the Sparks defeated the Mystics – including former teammate Kristi Toliver, who picked up her ring for her efforts in L.A. last season – to improve to 2-0 on the season.
2. Minnesota Lynx
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
2017 Record: 3-0
OffRtg: 102.0 (4); DefRtg: 90.5 (2); NetRtg: 11.6 (2)
Since 2011, the Lynx have led the league in offensive efficiency three times – including a 107.2 offensive rating last season – and finished second twice. History tells us that their fourth-ranked offense (102.0 points per 100 possessions) will come around. The same can be said for Maya Moore’s shot as the 45.7 percent career shooter is hitting just 29.8 percent of her attempts through three games. While the Lynx work out some early kinks, they have leaned on Western Conference Player of the Week Sylvia Fowles (21.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 2.0 blocks per game) to remain unbeaten at 3-0.
3. Phoenix Mercury
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
2017 Record: 2-1
OffRtg: 94.4 (9); DefRtg: 85.6 (1); NetRtg: 8.9 (3)
When the Mercury won their last championship in 2014, they did so with the league’s top-ranked offense and top-ranked defense. While their offense is still coming into form after three games, their defense has been stout, nearly five points better than second-ranked Minnesota. Brittney Griner has gotten off to a fabulous start – averaging 23.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks through three games. Griner entered her fifth WNBA season averaging 14.5 points on 56.3 percent shooting for her career. Her scoring is up nearly nine points per game and she ranks third in the league in field goal percentage at 68.4 percent.
4. Atlanta Dream
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
2017 Record: 2-1
OffRtg: 97.6 (7); DefRtg: 92.8 (3); NetRtg: 4.8 (5)
In the closing seconds of Atlanta’s first loss of the season on Sunday, Tiffany Hayes suffered a sprained ankle after attempting to grab an offensive rebound and backpedaling into the basket stanchion. While she had to be carried off the floor, the report on Monday is that it is only a mild sprain and she has been listed as day-to-day. That is quite a relief for the Dream, who have opened the season strong thanks to the play of Hayes (19.7 points per game ranks seventh in the league) and Eastern Conference Player of the Week Layshia Clarendon (16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and tied for third with 6.0 assists per game).
5. Seattle Storm
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
2017 Record: 2-1
OffRtg: 104.4 (3); DefRtg: 102.2 (7); NetRtg: 2.2 (6)
After falling to the Sparks in the season opener, the Storm have won two straight to get over .500 for the first time since August 2013. Jewell Loyd has been the star of the show; the league’s leading scorer (26.0 ppg) is shooting 60 percent from the field, 61.5 percent from three, while also grabbing 5.3 rebounds and dishing 2.7 assists. After playing their first two games without Sue Bird, the team got its veteran floor general back on the court for Sunday’s 91-81 win over Washington. In her first game back, Bird scored nine points and dished out 10 dimes with just one turnover in 29 minutes.
6. Dallas Wings
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
2017 Record: 1-1
OffRtg: 100.6 (5); DefRtg: 95.5 (5); NetRtg: 5.2 (4)
After opening the season with a 10-point win over Phoenix, the Wings had a shot to take down the mighty Lynx in their home opener but fell just short after rallying from a 12-point halftime deficit. In addition to the 14.5 points and 5.5 assists (6th in the league) from Skylar Diggins-Smith, the Wings are also getting strong starts from rookies Kaela Davis (13.5 points per game) and Allisha Gray (13.0) as the former college teammates make the transition to the WNBA.
7. Washington Mystics
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
2017 Record: 1-2
OffRtg: 109.7 (2); DefRtg: 112.4 (12); NetRtg: -2.7 (7)
Through the first three games of the season, the Mystics have the second-ranked offense, but rank last on defense, allowing 112.4 points per 100 possessions. Elena Delle Donne is averaging 21.7 points per game – tied for fourth in the league and right on pace with what she did last season in Chicago – but Emma Meesseman – Washington’s second-leading scorer last year at 15.2 point per game, is averaging just 7.7 points on 43.5 percent shooting (down 10 percent from a year ago). Getting Meesseman back on track and solidifying the defensive side of the ball will help get Washington on the right track.
8. New York Liberty
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
2017 Record: 1-1
OffRtg: 94.1 (10); DefRtg: 99.4 (6); NetRtg: -5.2 (9)
Tina Charles has gotten off on a cold start to the season, averaging just 9.0 points on 28.6 percent shooting through the Liberty’s first two games. Last year’s scoring champ will need to find her shot quickly as the Liberty just lost Brittany Boyd – one of their most efficient scorers averaging 13 points in just 16 minutes per game – for the season due to an Achilles’ tear. Charles has never averaged fewer than 15.5 points or 8.5 rebounds in her career, so expect her to bounce back soon and leave these subpar performances in the dust.
9. Chicago Sky
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
2017 Record: 1-2
OffRtg: 87.6 (12); DefRtg: 92.8 (4); NetRtg: -5.2 (8)
After opening the season with a nine-point loss to the Lynx, the new-look Sky split a home-and-home series with the Dream with each team winning on the road. In Chicago’s first win of the season on Sunday, the Sky got big performances from newcomer Stefanie Dolson (career-high trying 23 points, 10-13 shooting, five blocks) and veteran Cappie Pondexter (20 points, 11 assists, her first double-double in nearly three years). It was a much-needed boost of offense from the team ranked last in offensive efficiency through the first week of the season.
10. Indiana Fever
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
2017 Record: 1-2
OffRtg: 98.3 (6); DefRtg: 109.1 (11); NetRtg: -10.9 (11)
After dropping a pair of games to Western Conference opponents on the road in Seattle and Phoenix, the Fever returned home on Saturday to earn their first win of the Pokey Chatman era as they edged out Connecticut 81-79. The Fever are getting a balanced effort on offense with four players averaging in double-figures led by sophomore Tiffany Mitchell (14.0 ppg on 22 mpg off the bench). Indiana’s work needs to be done on defense as the team ranks second-to-last in defensive efficiency after being a mainstay in the top half defensively during the Tamika Catchings era.
11. Connecticut Sun
Last Week’s Ranking: 11
2017 Record: 0-2
OffRtg: 97.5 (8); DefRtg: 103.8 (9); NetRtg: -6.4 (10)
The Sun have a ton of young talent and are close to putting things all together on a nightly basis. While they are 0-2 to open the season, those losses have come by a combined nine points with Connecticut in contention to win each game. The young core of Morgan Tuck (her 17.0 ppg and 57.1 3P% rank eighth and seventh, respectively, in the league), Jonquel Jones (averaging a double-double at 14.0 ppg and a league-best 16.0 rpg) and Courtney Williams (14.0 ppg) are making strides with each game. Unfortunately for Connecticut, they have to face the 3-0 Lynx on Tuesday night (8 ET, ESPN2).
12. San Antonio Stars
Last Week’s Ranking: 12
2017 Record: 0-3
OffRtg: 89.7 (11); DefRtg: 103.9 (10); NetRtg: -14.2 (12)
The Stars are nearly impossible to judge while Moriah Jefferson and Kelsey Plum continue to be sidelined with injuries. On a positive note, the Stars did get Kayla McBride back after her team won the Turkish title last week. She had 14 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in her first WNBA game since suffering a hip injury in early July of last season.