On June 21st, I was laying on my couch at home flipping through the channels. This is a pretty regular occurrence, especially when home and visiting my parents who like to go to bed much earlier than myself. Normally I would land on FX or TNT because I enjoy watching giant robots fight giant monsters, which is really their billing one way or another. That night, I decided to land on CBS Sports Network and check in with the WNBA. The reigning champs Seattle Storm were playing the LA Sparks in a West Coast battle. I’m not going to pretend at this point I had any real investment in the league’s action outside of some excitement around the rookies after last year’s tournament.
After watching this game, and specifically the Storm (more on this coming), I was quickly hooked on the league. This time of the year is generally one of the lightest with the sport’s schedule, with only really the midsummer malaise of mid season baseball to carry me through. This Phillies team hasn’t really grabbed me, and I was looking for some basketball in my life. Where the WNBA may lack in above the rim action, it makes up in competitiveness and parity of the league. With only 12 teams, the rosters are incredibly stacked and each game has the opportunity to be a wire to wire battle. After catching a few games on a free trial, I reached deep into my pockets, grabbed my $17, and invested in league pass. I haven’t looked back since.
The Big Focus (Natasha Howard and the Seattle Storm)
The 2018 Seattle Storm were led to a championship victory on the back of MVP and Finals MVP Breanna Stewart. Unfortunately, prior to the 2019 season, Stewart while playing in the Euro-league title game tore her Achilles. The team also lost legend of the game Sue Bird, another UCONN superstar in a past life, ironically, to a severe season ending knee injury prior to the year. Down two of its best players to start the year, it would have been easy to count Seattle out as a repeat champion. By the way, this is awfully similar to the situation that the 2019-20 Warriors will be facing this upcoming season. To compound the issue even further, veteran WNBA coach Dan Hughes was diagnosed with cancer over the off-season and missed the first few games of the year with treatment. It would have been easy for the Storm to lay down and accept failure, but like Coach Hughes this team has shown serious fight in staying competitive.
Thankfully, the team still has MVP candidate Natasha Howard, a destroyer of worlds. Howard’s game is what has most drawn me in over the past few weeks, as a smooth stroking shooter with a bulldog mentality on the defensive end. She often times is tasked with guarding the tallest player on the opposing team and does not back down from the challenge. In her 6/25 clash with the Las Vegas Aces, Howard held Liz Cambage, 6’8 forward, to 5/12 from the field and 14 points. She also embarrassed Liz with this sick block. She consistently sets hard screens, fights for tough boards, gets buckets. I love it.
Howard isn’t alone in her efforts to lead the squad to a repeat title. Prior to Jewell Loyd’s unfortunate ankle injury (can you say cursed????), she was averaging 19.7 over her last three games and had a 5/10 3PT shooting night against the Sparks. Jordin Canada, the Storm’s 5th overall draft pick last season who was also returning from injury (What is this the Sixers??), is a total spark plug who pushes the pace and leans into the team’s defensive identity. Next is Alysha Clark, who has stepped up her offensive production in the absence of a few of the team’s stars. In a metric pulled by twitter user @snapwilson that I found on @herhoopstats, Clark is 2nd in the league in 3 Point % for players who take more 3s per game than the league average, at a blazing 53% on 6 attempts a game. The team in general moves the ball incredibly well on offense, and locks down on defense. For anyone looking to get into the action, this would be my recommendation for a natural starting point.
My big birthday gift to my girlfriend, an avid college women’s basketball game, was tickets to see the NY Liberty (Kia Nurse, Asia Durr) play the Dallas Wings (Arike Ogunbowale, Megan Gustafson) in West Chester. I had a few thoughts on the game and in person experience.
- Kia Nurse, Asia Durr, and Brittany Boyd are a really fun back court. Brittany Boyd is a powerhouse, Asia Durr is a blurr, and Kia Nurse is somewhere in the middle with an extra dash of cerebral. She also did a lot of shit talking with Arike, which was a blast. Geoff Magliocchetti of winsidr.com did a great article on ⅔ of the trio that you can read here.
- Speaking of Arike, she had a historically terrible night, shooting 2 for 23 from the field. According to ESPN STATS, this was the worst shooting performance in the history of the league with 20 shots or more. This was pretty evident watching the game in person. Kia was in her head, and she looked like J.R. Smith in a Sunday afternoon game in South Beach.
- The West Chester County Center, also home to the G-League West Chester Knicks, was the worst professional sports facility that I have ever attended. While I did appreciate the intimate nature of the facility and the staff was great , it was pretty embarrassing to host a professional sports event there. The view was obstructed for most people in the lower section, the vendor selection was incredibly limited, and it looked worse than a lot of high school gyms I’ve been to. Shame on Jim Dolan, as usual, for moving the team there in a cost cutting move. I really hope the new majority owner, Joseph Tsai, does the right things and gives these women a better place to play. They didn’t have a chance to move the team with the sale happening right before the season, but I’ll be looking for some action in the off season.
Game of the Week
7/3/19- NY Liberty v. Seattle Storm at 3PM
Check out the two teams that I wrote about this week and see if the young guards from NY can handle the tenacious D of the Storm. Prediction : SEA:65 NYL: 59