Just two weeks remain in the regular season, after which four teams will exit the bubble in Bradenton, Florida, while the other eight stay for the postseason. The Seattle Storm and Las Vegas Aces clinched playoff spots Saturday, and the Los Angeles Sparks joined them on Sunday.
The Sparks had to work hard for their ninth consecutive victory, as the Atlanta Dream‘s Chennedy Carter — in her second game back after missing six games with a sprained ankle — had 26 points against Los Angeles.
Carter’s big game helped propel her back into the WNBA Rookie of the Year race, but the Minnesota Lynx‘s Crystal Dangerfield is still going strong, too.
In this week’s Power Rankings, we take a look at what the rookies are contributing.
The Aces’ two victories kept them in the top spot, although Seattle seems ready to climb back to the top perch. A’ja Wilson, who’s making a case for MVP, is doing her best to help the Aces lock up one of the byes into the semifinals.
After having three consecutive No. 1 draft picks from 2017 to 2019, Las Vegas doesn’t have any rookies this season. But second-year player Jackie Young, last year’s top overall selection, is coming off the bench and averaging 9.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists. And while her scoring touch has cooled off the past few games, the guard had five games in a row scoring at least 15 points in early August.
After losing twice the previous week, things returned to normal for the Storm with two victories. Point guard Sue Bird is still out with a knee injury, although she might return this week. Following the losses, coach Gary Kloppenburg said the Storm needed a bit more from their bench. Rookie center Ezi Magbegor is one of the players who has helped shore up the starters.
The Australian played professionally before coming to the WNBA, but she just turned 21 this month and is bursting with potential. She had her third game scoring in double figures this season (11 points) in Saturday’s victory over the Sky. She is making the most of her court time, averaging 6.6 points in 13.2 minutes per game, while shooting 54.9 percent from the field.
The Sparks have been walking a tightrope with some close games, but they haven’t fallen off it and now have won nine in a row. Chelsea Gray (13.7 PPG, 4.9 APG) and Candace Parker (13.5 PPG, 9.4 RPG) — two of the most dangerous clutch-time players in the WNBA — are leading the way. The Sparks also have gotten a lift from rookie guard Te’a Cooper, whom they picked up after she had been cut by Phoenix, which drafted her. Cooper is averaging 6.6 points and had her best overall game of the season (14 points, six rebound) in Friday’s victory over Connecticut.
.@TeaCooper2 lays it in at the end of Q1!
— WNBA (@WNBA) August 31, 2020
“She’s that point guard, she’s steady, she can knock down the 3,” Parker said of Cooper. “She can take contact at the rim. And then defensively, she’s able to kind of change the pace from what we have.
“If you look at our point guard situation, look at Chelsea, look at Sydney [Wiese], she’s different than them. When you can come in and bring a different element to the game, that helps us out a lot. I’ve had a fun time being her vet and teaching her. Obviously, she learns and listens and applies.”
Sometimes teams can find themselves when dealt adversity, and maybe that has happened for the Mercury. They lost guard Bria Hartley, who was playing very well in 2020, for the season to a knee injury Friday. Phoenix was already without forward Nia Coffey (hand), center Brittney Griner (left bubble for personal reasons) and forward Jessica Breland (medical exemption this season).
But eight players were enough for the Mercury to beat the Lynx on Sunday, giving Phoenix its third victory in a row. And while the Mercury have no rookies on the roster this season, last year’s trio of rookies are doing their part in 2020.
Brianna Turner has started every game and is averaging 7.1 points and 7.5 rebounds; she has averaged 8.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 3.7 blocks during Phoenix’s three-game winning streak. Alanna Smith (6.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG) and Sophie Cunningham (4.3 PPG) are both filling their roles. Cunningham has also started 10 games. Smith had her best game of the season Friday in a win over Washington with 14 points and eight rebounds.
The Lynx have had to make do without center Sylvia Fowles, who has missed eight games with a calf injury and is out indefinitely. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s smallest player is helping take up some of the scoring slack from the absence of its tallest player. Crystal Dangerfield, a 5-foot-5 rookie guard, is averaging 15.5 points and 3.0 assists.
Even with Chennedy Carter’s return, Dangerfield remains in the driver’s seat for Rookie of the Year. She has scored in double figures in all but two games this season, and it’s hard to imagine where the Lynx would be without her.
THAT’S OUR ROOKIE!!! pic.twitter.com/tBbdCpRD6Z
— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) August 30, 2020
This was a tough week for the Sky, who lost twice and saw Diamond DeShields (personal reasons) and Azurá Stevens (foot injury) leave the bubble. Chicago traded Jantel Lavender, who isn’t playing this season, to Indiana for Stephanie Mavunga, who has been out with a broken nose.
Now the Sky are going to need even more from rookie forward Ruthy Hebard. Her numbers aren’t big (4.7 PPG, 3.4 RP), but she is known for bringing in energy whenever she gets on the floor. Veteran point guard Courtney Vandersloot is enthusiastic about how much the former Oregon Ducks standout can continue to contribute.
“She has a really good feel for the game, and she sees things develop and knows where to go,” Vandersloot said. “She’s in the right spot a lot, which is impressive to me for a rookie. She’s going to be huge for us from here on out. She always gives us good minutes. We’re going to look to use her more, knowing that we’re dealing with injuries.”
The Sun split games last week, and as disappointing as their 80-76 loss to Los Angeles on Friday was — the Sparks took over in the fourth quarter — Connecticut came back strong to defeat Washington on Sunday. And the Sun got the best performance they have had so far from rookie Kaila Charles: a season-high 16 points.
A second-round pick at No. 23 overall, Charles has had to be ready for anything for the Sun. Her minutes were also a season best with 33, and coach Curt Miller said of Charles and fellow rookie Beatrice Mompremier, “They give us energy. Kaila only knows how to play one speed, and that’s full throttle.”
The Wings also went 1-1 last week and, led by the WNBA’s top scorer, Arike Ogunbowale (22.0 PPG), they’re still holding on to a playoff spot.
The return of Satou Sabally, who had been sidelined with a back injury, has also been a boost for the Wings. Her play sent out a message to not overlook her in the WNBA Rookie of the Year award balloting. Sabally had 46 point and 22 rebounds over her past two games.
The Dream lost twice last week, yet moved up in the rankings because — especially with Carter back after an ankle injury — they can be a threat to the top teams. They pushed the Sparks hard on Sunday before Los Angeles took control in the final minutes of an 84-79 Dream loss.
Carter, who returned to action Friday with three points against Minnesota, looked like her normal self against the Sparks. She was 11-for-19 from the floor.
“I think they were playing a lot of aggressive defense, which forced me to attack a little bit more,” Carter said. “And just before the game, Coach [Nicki Collen] said, ‘Use your ball screens, find yourself, find your game.’ And that’s exactly what I tried to do.”
Sunday’s 82-78 loss to Dallas stung the Fever, as they’re battling the Wings for the final playoff spot. Indiana has now lost three in a row after their upset win over Seattle.
Rookie point guard Julie Allemand’s play is one of the things that has been consistently good for Indiana this season. The Belgian national team player has been everything Indiana was hoping for. She does a nice job running the offense and is averaging 8.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists.
Plus, with Erica Wheeler missing this season, Allemand has played a lot, averaging 33.4 minutes per game.
It has been a challenging season, but at least New York won’t be stuck on one victory. The Liberty got their second win last Tuesday, much to the chagrin of the Sky, who fell 101-99. The biggest rookie standout in that game was forward/guard Jocelyn Willoughby, who went 5-for-5 for 14 points.
Rookies abound in New York; the Liberty started the season with seven, but Sabrina Ionescu has been out with an ankle injury since the end of July. Guard Jazmine Jones (10.4, PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.1 APG) is the first-year player who has stepped forward the most consistently for New York while Ionescu has been out.
The Mystics went 1-11 in August, but the rookie play of Kiara Leslie has been a bright spot. She has scored in double figures in three of her last four games and is averaging 5.7 points and 2.7 rebounds.
The former NC State standout was a first-round draft pick in 2019 but was injured and couldn’t play last season.