Tuesday, June 6, 2023

WNBA Power Rankings: Aces still No. 1; Sabrina Ionescu leading Liberty’s turnaround with historic play

In a win over the Minnesota Lynx last Tuesday, Sabrina Ionescu missed out on triple-double history because she had helped the New York Liberty build such a big lead that she didn’t play in the fourth quarter. It was clear, though, that it was a matter of if, not when, she would finally get her second triple-double. 

As it turned out, she didn’t have to wait long at all. On Sunday, Ionescu put up 27 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists to become the youngest player in WNBA history to record multiple triple-doubles, She’s also just the fourth player ever to achieve that feat, joining current and future Hall of Famers Sheryl Swoopes, Courtney Vandersloot and Candace Parker. 

That outing came in a last-second loss to the defending champion Chicago Sky, a fact that made the accomplishment irrelevant to the former No. 1 overall pick.

“I don’t care about the triple-double; we didn’t win,” Ionescu said. “I’m just trying to do my part, continuing to get better every single day, continuing to learn from my teammates, from this coaching staff.”

While the Liberty didn’t get the result against the Sky, they have been winning more often as of late: 4-2 after a disastrous 1-7 start that had them on pace for a historically bad season. There’s still plenty of work to be done, but they have the second-best net rating in the league at plus-8.3 points per 100 possessions during that stretch. 

Ionescu, who has been buoyed by playing alongside true point guards – Crystal Dangerfield and recent signing Marine Johannes – more often, is leading the way. During these six games, she’s averaging 24 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists, while shooting 55.2 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from 3-point land. 

With the Mystics and Storm visiting Barclays Center this week, Ionescu and the Liberty have a chance to show that their turnaround is for real. 

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1. Las Vegas Aces (11-2) — Last week No. 1

Only one game for the Aces this week, and they made easy work of the Sparks, cruising to a 17-point win thanks to a season-high 35 points from A’ja Wilson. Everything continues to look easy for the first-place Aces, who are winners of nine of their last 10, and now have the best net rating in the league at plus-12.5 points 

2. Connecticut Sun (10-4) — Last week No. 2

After crushing the Fever to run their winning streak to four games, the Sun lost a nailbiter to the Sky that was one of the best contests we’ve seen this season. While the Sun continue to play well, reigning MVP Jonquel Jones’ lack of involvement in the offense at times is a head-scratcher. She only had seven points on 3-of-9 from the field in the loss to the Sky, which was the third time she’s been under double digits in scoring and the seventh time she’s had fewer than 10 shot attempts. Last season, she had just one and three such games, respectively. 

3. Chicago Sky (9-4) — Last week No. 3

The Sky were living on the edge this week, with all three of their games decided by four points or less. While they were on the wrong side of the result against the Mystics, they bounced back with impressive road wins over the Sun and red-hot Liberty – the latter of which came on a last-second 3-pointer by Courtney Vandersloot. Since their middling 2-2 start, the Sky are 7-2, have surged into third place and now boast the third-best net rating at plus-5.2 points per 100 possessions. 

4. Washington Mystics (9-6) — Last week No. 5

The Mystics went 2-1 this week, including a nice win over the Sky, but as always their record is secondary to Elena Delle Donne’s health. So it was concerning when she left that matchup against Chicago with back tightness. While she hasn’t played since then, she was out on the floor working out prior to their loss to the Mercury on Sunday, which suggests it isn’t a serious problem. Still, this was another reminder that her back is going to be something to monitor all season. 

5. Seattle Storm (8-5) — Last week No. 6

Three straight wins now for the Storm, who have gone 7-2 in their last nine games to claw their way up to fourth place. Now that they’re all healthy and have gotten some consistent run together, the starting lineup of Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd, Gabby Williams, Breanna Stewart and Ezi Magbegor has been predictably awesome: plus-22.7 net rating in 137 minutes. The lack of any sort of consistent offensive production outside of Stewart, Loyd and Magbegor is becoming an issue, however. 

6. Atlanta Dream (7-6) — Last week No. 4

With back-to-back losses this week, the Dream have officially hit their first rough patch of the season. They’ve lost three of four, and are now 3-5 since their 4-1 start, which is perhaps not surprising given their general inability to put points on the board. It was encouraging to see the offense finally wake up in their last outing against the Mercury, but it didn’t matter because they had by far their worst defensive performance of the season. Strange how things work like that sometimes. 

7. Phoenix Mercury (5-8) — Last week No. 8

The Mercury dug themselves quite a hole with their 2-8 start, but they’re starting to climb out of it now. With two more wins this week they’ve extended their winning streak to three games and would have possession of the final playoff spot if the season ended today. The defense has been much better as of late, while Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi have put the team on their back. Together, the duo is averaging 45.4 points and 10 assists per game over the winning streak. 

8. Dallas Wings (6-7) — Last week No. 7

Just a rough week all around for the Wings. They lost two straight home games to the Storm, and have now dropped five of their last six to fall under .500 on the season. If that wasn’t bad enough, Satou Sabally exited Sunday’s game with a knee injury and Arike Ogunbowale was ejected for kicking the ball into the stands at the end of the first half. Things won’t get any easier this week with the Aces and streaking Mercury up next on the docket.  

9. New York Liberty (5-9) — Last week No. 11

After an opening month that could only be described as a nightmare, the Liberty are starting to turn things around. Sabrina Ionescu, who made triple-double history over the weekend, is playing the best basketball of her career, Marine Johannes has returned to the club for the first time since 2019 and they’ve won four out of six. Two games at home this week versus the Mystics and Storm will put this turnaround to the test. 

10. Los Angeles Sparks (5-8) — Last week No. 9

Despite playing just once – a forgettable 17-point defeat at the hands of the Aces – this was a busy week for the Sparks. Head coach and general manager Derek Fisher was let go after three-plus largely disappointing seasons with the club, and Fred Williams was promoted to interim head coach for the remainder of the season. It’s still early, but it appears the Sparks’ big swing in free agency is not going to pay off. 

11. Indiana Fever (4-12) — Last week No. 12

Double-digit defeats to the Sun and Liberty early in the week gave the Fever the ignominious distinction of having multiple five-game losing streaks this season; three teams have not lost that many games in total. But while the Fever are once again stuck at the bottom of the standings, there’s hope these days thanks to NaLyssa Smith. The No. 2 overall pick was terrific in their win over the Lynx on Sunday, flashing a much-improved outside game. 

12. Minnesota Lynx (3-11) — Last week No. 10

The Lynx’s season went from bad to worse when legendary center Sylvia Fowles was ruled out indefinitely due to a cartilage injury in her knee. The exact details are unclear, but we may have seen the last of Fowles, who is set to retire at the end of the season. Losers of three in a row, and now sitting in last place without their two best players, the Lynx are heading towards a first lottery appearance since 2010. 

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