Freelance: 2017 WNBA Futures— Who Will Win This Year's Championship
The NBA may have its champions for 2017 in the form of the Golden State Warriors, but things are just starting to heat up as their female counterpart, the WNBA is about to reach the midway point of its 21st season. With that in mind, who should you put your money on when the time comes in September-October? Thanks to 5Dimes a few suggestions are below.
5. Sleeper: The Phoenix Mercury (+1000)
Who, in their right mind, would pick the Phoenix Mercury, who indeed? Possibly you. You see, the Mercury have tasted glory before as there are a number of teams that are all racing to break the overall championship record (see below.) The most recent title for this desert squad came back in 2014, so at worst they’ve just deviated from their path over the last couple years (admittedly, they are halfway down the standings at #6 out of 12 teams.)
However a team only needs to be in the top eight to advance onto the postseason and they currently employ the new all-time leading scorer at guard in the form of 12-year veteran Diana Taurasi. Taurasi (7,494 points) just recently surpassed WNBA legend Tina Thompson (7,488 points) for the honor.
Alongside her is a woman that at one point was the face of not only the Mercury, but the modern-day face of the league entirely (prior to the emergence of Chicago’s Elena Delle Donne in 2015 before Delle Donne was traded by the Sky to Washington) in Brittney Griner. Despite not playing as many games as others this year, Griner and Taurasi make a dynamic duo as Griner has still managed to lead the league in a multitude of categories (see her totals here.)
A little more aggressive play in the coming months will fix their currently 6-5 record right up! It could be worse...they could be the 0-12 San Antonio Stars!
4. The New York Liberty (+800)
Like the Mercury, Sparks, and Lynx that eventually won a championship at some point, the New York Liberty have been to the finals (in back-to-back seasons between 2000 and 2001 as a matter of fact.) However, there was something in the franchise’s way during both of those postseason runs and they tasted defeat.
Perhaps even more so than the title-less Washington Mystics (see below,) the fact that “The Big Apple” has yet to take home a women’s championship in the great game invented by Dr. James Naismith, has yet to lift a banner into the rafters of “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” Madison Square Garden (shared with the Knicks) hurts worse because they have come so close.
Three big factors to keep an eye on over the rest of the season are the Liberty’s turnover numbers (they commit an average of 13.4 to 12 by their combined opponents), their three point percentage could be slightly better (New York trails other teams 36 percent to 31.9 percent,) and point differential. They average just better than others at 81.6 to 81.4 points per game.
A possible explanation could be that some teams are lacking in depth at the moment with some players away competing at a European tournament though.
Right now, it could be argued that one Tina Charles is carrying the team as she leads them with numbers still aren’t the greatest (20.5 points per game with an average play time of 33.5 minutes, she’s the top rebounder with nine per game, and also the the top dog in assists with a whopping two per game.)
Although, the European tournament is forcing other players to step up. The team just recently activated Epiphanny Price, who had been temporarily suspended, away in Russia. Shavonte Zellous has put up an average of 20 points over six games as of June 20, which has helped NeW York maintain its position.
“We knew this was coming, three of our top seven will be gone, the league doesn’t stop, it is what it is. It’s going to be tough, we can win some games, that is our goal, to win as many games as possible,” Coach Bill Laimbeer told WNBA.com “We’ll tread water till we get our players back. This isn’t going to be one person saving us or one person making us fail. This is a collective group of coaches and players. We have to all stick together and get through this.”
Having a few of their missing pieces back may solve the problems.
3. The Washington Mystics (+600)
For whatever reason, Elena Delle Donne (a native of Denmark) just didn’t produce well enough over the course of her rookie contract for the Chicago Sky to want to keep her. Part of the reason could be that in 2014 she only played 16 games and averaged less than 19 minutes in seven of those due to a battle with lyme disease.
She was instead traded to the Washington Mystics for Stefanie Dolson, Kahleah Copper and the second overall pick in the 2017 WNBA draft. Although, she could be the answer to the Mystics prayers. Delle unfortunately had to miss the team’s game against the league-leading Minnesota Lynx due to an injured groin. That brought the Mystics’ four-game winning streak.
The towering blonde responded the next game by impressively scoring 25 points, going 9 of 15 in shooting and 4 of 6 on three-point shots. We will all just have to wait and see if her health stands up to the challenge of the next three months or so.
What the Mystics have going for them is this: pure, aggressive hunger. At 7-4 overall to this point, undefeated at 5-0 in their conference, and a decent 5-2 at home, Washington is looking better than it ever has at any point in its existence. The motivation for this crew is the fact that not only have they never won a single WNBA championship, they’ve never even made an appearance in the finals since coming into the league in 1998 just a year after the league kicked off play, thereby making it one of the oldest clubs.
The main problem as far as perception is concerned may be thanks to the team’s record over their last ten games, which at 6-4 like the New York Liberty, Seattle Storm, and Phoenix Mercury below them (the middle of the pack in a still young, slim league,) the Mystics are just barely a more favorable team.
Washington is an organization that will make the postseason no doubt, but as far as winning a title is concerned, is a team that is right on the bubble/ The question is—when exactly will that bubble pop?
2. The Los Angeles Sparks (+375)
The defending champions, the Los Angeles Sparks are on course for back-to-back championships, just behind their rival Minnesota Lynx at #2 in the league standings, 7-3 in their last ten games, unbeaten at 6-0 at home and an impressive 5-1 in their conference. They edged out Minnesota in the championship best-of-five series three games to two after the Lynx had won their other two titles by 3-0 shutouts.
The Sparks are also the only team aside from the #9 ranked Connecticut Sun that can say are on a true winning “streak” at the moment as both have won four consecutive games while the other teams have managed only two consecutive wins at best. They even put a damper on Taurasi’s milestone moment by defeating the Phoenix Mercury 90-59 recently.
As far as standout players go, the face of the franchise in 2016 WNBA Finals MVP Candace Parker is still going strong coming off of last season and has 2016’s regular-season MVP alongside Nneka Ogwumike her. Both women are primary starters and lead the Sparks in points at 16.8 and 20.3 points per game respectively.
The keys to triumph for Los Angeles will be in: upping their rebound numbers (they trail their opponents 9.5 to 6.0 in offensive rebounds and 31.2 to 28.5 in rebounds per game.) Also, the Sparks need to improve away from home as their road record is currently 2-3.
Other than that, they are doing quite well and could once again become back-to-back champions. They are just the second franchise in WNBA history to win titles after the four taken by the Houston Comets, but they have gone well over a decade (2001, 2002) since accomplishing the feat.
1. The Minnesota Lynx (+130)
As it stands at the time of this writing (June 22,) the sister-team of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, the Minnesota Lynx are nearly flawless at 9-1 overall, 3-1 at home, and undefeated in both their conference at 4-0 and in road games at 6-0 respectively.
The team is also being bolstered by a solid starting line-up of Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Lindsay Whalen, and Maya Moore (who is openly described on league site as a modern-day superstar.) Theses ladies have served as starters for every game of the season thus far and average no less than 24 minutes of time on the court per game and with Fowles leading with just under 30 minutes (WNBA games are 40 minutes in length over the standard four quarters.)
The group also averages 20.9, 14.8, 11.9, 11.6, and 7.7 points per game and the team as a whole puts up 12 more points than their combined opponents this season at 87.3 to 75.3. They also produce 34.6 rebound and 22.7 assists to keep the ball constantly in their possession and constantly moving.
Additionally, while Whalen put up that 7.7 average, she just recently became the team’s all-time leader in wins.
The Lynx are also one of the few teams in league history that truly feel like a dynasty as they are just behind the now-defunct Houston Comets for the most championships (four:1997-2000 ) as they are currently tied with active teams the Los Angeles Sparks (2001-02, 2016) and Phoenix Mercury (2007, 2009, 2014) with three.
The Lynx have appeared in five WNBA Finals overall, losing to the Sparks just last season while winning titles in 2011, 2013, and 2015 respectively. With only 34 games on the WNBA’s regular-season calendar, they are on the verge of cementing their place in history above all the rest. Their performance as a whole has earned them the highest praise from WNBA President Lisa Borders as well.
“I never want to have a problem with excellence, I think that’s crazy. The Lynx are extraordinary, they started 13-0 last season as you know and 9-0 this season. When this league started 21 years ago, there was a question about the talent of women, the caliber, the quality, the sustainability. When you see a team like the Lynx, what is the answer to that question? Everybody say amen. The women are amazing. So no, I don’t think that’s a problem for us. I don’t think it’s a burden, I think it’s a blessing. I think that’s called an example, setting an excellent example. I don’t think that’s bad for the league. The Lynx are raising the bar, like many of the other teams. I think that’s a good thing, it gives us all something to strive for and celebrate,” Borders said on June 19.
The WNBA’s website even posted a survey of predictions by all general managers on a number of topics. When asked to predicted the 2017 league champion, here are the results (posted May 11):
1. Minnesota Lynx = 42% 2. Los Angeles Sparks = 33% 3. Washington Mystics = 17% 4. Atlanta Dream = 8%
Seems like some organizational heads have defeatist attitudes, don’t you think? Then again, numbers don’t lie. Will Los Angeles defy current odds to once again capture gold? Will you get a nice payday from the outcome? Tune in to find out!
Prediction: The Minnesota Lynx
The 2017 WNBA Playoffs are set to begin on September 6 with the annual WNBA All-Star game going down on July 22, hosted by the Seattle Storm and broadcast on ABC. WNBA regular-season and playoff broadcasts are divided up between ESPN, ESPN2, and NBA TV. For more information, see the official schedule here.