A? B? C? D? Grading our 12 WNBA teams at the 2021 Olympic break

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

Even though women’s basketball is still being contested at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo – including the USA women’s 3×3 team of Kelsey Plum, Stefanie Dolson, Allisha Gray and Jackie Young winning gold – we understand that plenty of WNBA fans are going through withdrawals.

Once the flame at Japan’s Olympic cauldron is extinguished, the WNBA campaign will resume on August 12 with the Commissioner’s Cup final at Phoenix when the Seattle Storm take on the Connecticut Sun.

Those two teams have once again established themselves at the top of the W’s standings with the Las Vegas Aces and Chicago Sky also lurking in the background.

Where do the W’s 12 teams stand? Here is our look at how things look and how they could play out in the stretch run towards the playoffs.

Seattle Storm – A+

With Dan Hughes retiring due to health reasons, the Storm handed the reins over to Noelle Quinn. To no one’s surprise, the Seattle Storm still look like the Seattle Storm. Seattle went through one of the more tumultuous offseasons in terms of player movement, but at last check, the Storm’s Big 3 of Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd are on the team and there is a reason why they would earn the double bye to the semifinals if the playoffs began today.

A 2021 championship would be a great way to close this season for the Storm – and a great way to christen its new Climate Pledge Arena that the Storm will set foot inside of in 2022.

Las Vegas Aces – A

No Angel McCoughtry? No problem for the Las Vegas Aces. Early on in the season, it appeared as if there were some questions possibly surrounding the Aces, but the crème of the crop typically rises to the top over time in hoops.

Along with A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage once again turning in stellar seasons in Vegas, Jackie Young is emerging as the No. 1 overall draft pick she was in 2019 and has established herself as a Most Improved Player of the Year candidate. Sin City is an emerging sports city in search of its first professional sports championship since teams began migrating to Vegas recently. The Aces may do just that.

Connecticut Sun – A

Every single season, many a WNBA pundit sleeps on the Connecticut Sun and every single season, Curt Miller and the Sun prove exactly why “disrespeCT” will not be tolerated.

Their “engine” in Alyssa Thomas may be sidelines for the season, but Connecticut is more than overjoyed to have Jonquel Jones back sporting Sun orange and blue (Keesusk). She may not have been in the bubble last year with the Sun, but based on her play in 2021, Jones has not missed a step and has put herself firmly in the MVP conversation.

What remains really scary about the Sun is how good this team could be when at full strength. We saw a taste of that in 2019 when Connecticut nearly defeated the Washington Mystics to win what would have been the franchise’s first WNBA championship.

Minnesota Lynx – A

Early in the season, it appeared that the Lynx would be a team that would tread water for much of the season. Then, coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve made a major move to sign veteran point guard Layshia Clarendon after they were cut by the New York Liberty.

Ever since Clarendon was signed, Minnesota has surged. And even though she has gone through a series of signings and cuts since initially, signing the veteran Clarendon on a team already flush in vets via free agency has paid off for the Lynx. Entering the Olympic break, Minnesota had the longest winning streak in the WNBA at seven games.

Chicago Sky – B+

It feels like months ago when the Sky started the season at 2-7 and Chicago fans were going into full-scale panic mode after the Candace Parker signing upped expectations for what has been a Sky squad on the rise since James Wade was tapped to be the team’s head coach.

Except, many of those same Chicago fans overlooked one thing – the Sky did not have Parker for that stretch when the team started slow out the gate. Parker has since returned for the Sky and the team has looked like the Finals contenders everyone and their cousins predicted them to be at the start of the season.

New York Liberty – B-

When New York got out to that fast start where they started the season at 5-1, Lib Loyals were ready to print out Finals tickets prior to Sabrina Ionescu’s struggles which saw the team come back down to earth.

Except the Liberty have undergone an in-season phase where the team’s fortunes seem to rest on how well Betnijah Laney performs as opposed to the No. 1 overall pick from 2020’s draft. In addition, Michaela Onyenwere appears to be the favorite for the 2021 Rookie of the Year award and coach Walt Hopkins is in the conversation for Coach of the Year. Hardware of some kind appears to be on its way to Atlantic and Flatbush.

Phoenix Mercury – C

As passionate as the Phoenix Mercury’s “X-Factor” fanbase is, it has to be frustrating at times to watch this team. With a Big 3 of Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith, it has to puzzle many Merc aficionados why Phoenix is closer to the Dallas Wings in the standings as opposed to Seattle, Las Vegas And Connecticut.

The reality of the situation in the desert is even with the Mercury’s top-tier talent, there may be a such thing as too old. The “r” word is constantly following Taurasi around until she actually does put away her jersey and Griner and Diggins-Smith are not getting any younger.

Washington Mystics – C

If only Elena Delle Donne was healthy …

If only she were healthy, there would be no question that the Mystics would also be perched atop the standings with the Storm, Aces and Sun. Unfortunately, she has not played a game this season for Washington and questions about her long-term career are only on the rise. Thankfully for the Mystics, Tina Charles has found the fountain of youth en route to an MVP-worthy season in the Nation’s Capital.

Another notable Mystic that has not played a game this season? Emma Meesseman who decided to sit out the portion of the season prior to the Olympics to focus on helping the Belgian Cats win in Tokyo. If she returns to the Mystics for the stretch run, it should give Washington a boost which may be the difference in the Mystics clinching a playoff berth.

Dallas Wings – C

All of those draft picks that the Wings have accumulated over the past few years have to bear fruit one of these years. There is a chance that this could be that year under its new coach in Vickie Johnson.

Everyone knew that Arike Ogunbowale was going to firmly entrench herself once again in the MVP conversation as she has. The story with Dallas could be Marina Mabrey who has emerged as a Most Improved Player of the Year candidate. The Wings only stand two games (in the loss column) behind the Mystics for the eighth and final playoff berth – but they lost their last three games heading into the Olympic break. Said break could not have come at a better time for Dallas.

Los Angeles Sparks – C-

If there was any season designed to inflame the ire of Sparks fans that Derek Fisher is not the right head coach for the job, this may be the season.

Granted – Los Angeles has been hampered by the sisters Ogwumike (Nneka and Chiney) not being healthy, but given the offseason moves Fisher made in free agency (Erica Wheeler, Amanda Zahui B.), the Sparks should still be contenders, right?

Right?

Instead, Los Angeles is at 6-13 and had the longest losing streak of any team entering the Olympic break. Sparks fans have to be hoping that the return of a healthy Nneka Ogwumike plus the team’s return to Staples Center may give Los Angeles a boost as it hopes to make a stretch run to a playoff berth.

Atlanta Dream – D

Not too long ago, it appeared that the Dream were on its way to a promising 2021 campaign before the bottom began dropping out with that blowout loss at the Las Vegas Aces. Shortly afterwards, the Chennedy Carter suspension took place and most recently, Mike Petersen stepped down as coach of the team for “health reasons” enabling Darius Taylor to take the reins.

As much as we love Renee Montgomery for purchasing the team and becoming its VP, Atlanta needs the end of the season to arrive and fast to give the Dream a chance to push the reset button and search for a new full-time coach and full-time general manager.

Indiana Fever – D

If these grades were taking place prior to a couple of weeks ago, we probably would have given the Fever a D-.

But the last thing Marianne Stanley and Indiana wanted was the Olympic break to occur because it appeared as if Indiana was beginning to find its stride right before said break. Getting a huge victory against the Connecticut Sun is the type of win that will do wonders for a team’s confidence.

The Fever are hoping that the same momentum it had prior to the break translates to a stretch run where it may play spoiler for any teams looking to make the playoffs. Indiana’s first game back from the break is on the road at the Sparks as Los Angeles returns to Staples Center.

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