WNBA second-half storylines: Storm and Aces leading race for top-two seeds; Tina Charles chasing history

Now that the Tokyo Olympics are over, and Staff USA has secured a historic seventh straight gold medal, it is time to flip our focus again to the WNBA. The 2021 season was placed on maintain for the Olympics, however returned on Thursday with the Commissioner’s Cup Championship recreation received by the Seattle Storm. The common season will then resume on Sunday. 

From there, it is only a quick one-month dash to the playoffs, and there is nonetheless loads to play for. Forward of the restart, this is a have a look at three key storylines for the second half of the season. 

1. The battle for the top-two seeds

Playoff seeding has all the time been essential within the WNBA as a result of it decided matchups and homecourt benefit, however ever for the reason that league switched to a brand new playoff format in 2016, it is taken on further significance. 

The highest two seeds within the common season get a bye all the way in which to the semifinals and get to keep away from the single-elimination rounds solely. It is little shock, then, that in 4 of the 5 years for the reason that playoff format was modified, the Finals have been contested between Nos. 1 and a couple of seeds. 

Final season, that was the Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm, and heading into the second half of this season it is the identical story. The one factor that is completely different is the Storm at present have the highest spot at 16-5, whereas the Aces are in second at 15-6. Proper now, they’re the clear favorites to safe the byes once more, however they will have to carry off a number of groups. 

Led by Jonquel Jones, the Connecticut Solar put collectively a powerful first half of the season and entered the break at 14-6, simply 1.5 video games out of first place and half a recreation out of second. They’ve additionally received the season sequence in opposition to the Aces, in order that they have the tiebreaker within the occasion they end tied. We’ll see if the Solar can choose up the place they left off, however with Jones enjoying at this degree they need to stay in competition all season lengthy. 

One other group that is nonetheless within the combine is the Minnesota Lynx. They’d a little bit of a gradual begin this season, however closed the primary half on a seven-game profitable streak to leap into fourth place at 12-7. They’re three video games out of first and two out of second, in order that they have some floor to make up however it’s definitely not insurmountable with a month left to play. 

The Chicago Sky even have a case to be within the dialog popping out of the break. They’re simply 10-10 as a result of Candace Parker missed a big a part of the season, and are 5.5 video games behind the Storm and 4.5 video games behind the Aces. Nevertheless, they nonetheless have three video games left on the schedule in opposition to each of these groups. They’ve a ton of labor to do to overhaul both of them, however with that many direct matchups, there’s nonetheless a little bit of hope. 

2. MVP race taking form

Because the second half of the season begins, it is time to begin taking inventory of the MVP race. At this level, there are 4 fundamental contenders: Jonquel Jones, Breanna Stewart, Tina Charles and A’ja Wilson. 

Jones, who sat out all of final season, returned in type and is the clear chief proper now. At 21 factors, 11.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals per recreation, she’s second within the league in scoring, first in rebounding and one in every of solely two gamers averaging a double-double.  Because of her stellar play on either side of the ball, the Solar have been probably the most stunning group within the league within the first half, and have been 12-3 together with her in comparison with 2-3 with out. 

Whether or not you favor Stewart’s all-around recreation or Charles’ scoring would decide who you’d vote for in second versus third, however these two are neck-and-neck for the second spot. 

Stewart, who received the award in 2018 and completed because the runner-up final season, is broadly considered one of the best participant within the league, and is as soon as once more placing collectively a powerful season. She’s at 20.1 factors, 9.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.7 blocks per recreation, and has made positive the Storm did not take a step again after a few of their offseason departures. 

Charles was traded to the Mystics previous to the 2020 season, however determined to sit down out of the bubble so she did not make her debut with the group till this summer season. The day off and alter of location has clearly carried out her properly, as she’s bounced again with top-of-the-line seasons of her profession. She leads the league in scoring at 26.3 factors per recreation, which because it stands could be the very best scoring common in league historical past. 

Wilson, the reigning MVP, can be within the combine although there is a hole between her and the opposite three. At 19.4 factors, 9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 blocks per recreation, she’s proper about the place she was at numbers-wise final season. This time round, nevertheless, she has much more assist because of the returns of Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum, and the arrival of Chelsea Grey. 

3. Tina Charles chasing single-season scoring document

In 2019, Charles struggled by arguably the worst season of her profession. Her 16.9 factors per recreation have been the fewest since she was a rookie, and he or she shot a career-worst 38.9 % from the sphere. Whereas that New York Liberty group was unhealthy, she had carried poor offenses earlier than, and that was a steep drop-off from the extent she’d been at in years previous. 

Washed was too sturdy of a phrase, however there have been undoubtedly questions on whether or not she was nonetheless an All-Star caliber participant and top-of-the-line bigs within the league. When she was traded to the Washington Mystics forward of the 2020 season, it appeared like an ideal match. The Mystics would get a talented veteran to spice up their title protection, whereas Charles could be surrounded by higher teammates and slide into extra of a supporting position. 

Then the pandemic hit and Charles determined to sit down out of the bubble, together with numerous key Mystics gamers. Whereas the Mystics nonetheless made the playoffs, they have been bounced within the first spherical. Coming into the 2021 season, nevertheless, they have been penciled in as one of many fundamental contenders. Sadly, Elena Delle Donne wanted a second again surgical procedure, Emma Meesseman stayed abroad within the first half of the season and key free agent signing Alysha Clark underwent season-ending foot surgical procedure. That is to say nothing of the accidents they’ve handled for the reason that season started. 

That is all left Charles reprising her act because the lone star on a group combating for the playoffs. And he or she has certainly been a star. The truth is, she’s one of many main MVP candidates and on monitor to make historical past. Her career-high 26.3 factors per recreation put her in place to win the second scoring title of her profession, and would even be one of the best scoring common in WNBA historical past. The present document is held by Diana Taurasi, who put up 25.3 factors per recreation in 2006. 

Whether or not Charles can get there’ll rely not solely on maintaining her torrid tempo, but when she’ll get the alternatives to take action. Whereas it should not take away from her unimaginable begin, Charles has been going off largely as a result of she’s been the Mystics’ solely dependable offensive participant. Her 32.9 utilization fee could be the third-highest in league historical past, behind solely two Angel McCoughtry seasons in 2011 and 2013. 

Elena Delle Donne and Myisha Hines-Allen are each anticipated to return sooner or later within the second half, whereas Emma Meesseman may rejoin the group as properly. If the Mystics can get again to one thing resembling their greatest lineup, that may imply fewer touches for Charles. However whereas it can harm her particular person success, getting wholesome will give the Mystics an opportunity to make some noise within the playoffs. | WNBA second-half storylines: Storm and Aces main race for top-two seeds; Tina Charles chasing historical past


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