All In On Five: Examining new All-Star Game format and why skidding Fever waived high draft pick
Each week of the WNBA season, we'll go "All In" on five topics that are worth a closer look and preview what is upcoming.
It's All-Star season and that means swapping out tea for champagne.
The 12 Team WNBA All-Stars were announced by the league on Wednesday, joining the 12 Team USA players who were automatically deemed All-Stars. The W doesn't usually host an All-Star Game during an Olympic year, which made the vote a little odd and might have created some confusion for fans.
The list of 36 players who earned the most votes, but were not already on Team USA, is bloated and includes Elena Delle Donne, who hasn't played a minute this season, but doesn't have Tiffany Hayes, who is averaging a top-10-best 17.6 ppg in Atlanta. Nneka Ogwumike made the list, but was not selected by coaches to play for Team WNBA.
(That's fine, she's too busy leading the WNBA Players Association to a 99% vaccination rate and impactful social justice work.)
The enticing part of an All-Star Game in an Olympic year is the format they've set up this time around. Team USA, which will hold training camp in Las Vegas from July 12-18, will face the 12 players voted to Team WNBA. The game is July 14 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
We're most excited to see these two frontcourts go at it. Half of them are betting favorites for the MVP award via BetMGM, and technically, five are Olympians.
For Team USA, it's 6-foot-6 Sylvia Fowles (Lynx), 6-9 Brittney Griner (Mercury) and 6-3 Tina Charles (Mystics).
And on Team WNBA, there are 6-6 Jonquel Jones (Sun), 6-8 Liz Cambage (Aces) and 6-4 Candace Parker (Sky). Jones is the only non-Olympian as Bosnia and Herzegovina did not qualify for the Games. Cambage will compete for Australia, and Parker won gold with Team USA in 2008 and 2012.
Charles (25.5 ppg), Breanna Stewart (21.8) and Jones (21.5) lead the WNBA in points scored. It's Jones who leads the league in rebounds per game (10.3), and she's the best distributing big at 3.2 assists per game.
Stop us if you've heard this before, but Team USA is going for its record seventh consecutive gold medal at Tokyo. They'll play exhibitions against Australia and Nigeria before heading overseas, but what better way to prepare for opponents than to face a team of All-Stars from the best league in the world. And bonus, they know your style well whether it be because they're teammates or nemeses.
Fever skid continues after waiving Lauren Cox
The 2021 Indiana Fever are losing games by historic margins and they're waiving a second-year player who they drafted top-three.
The news that the Fever waived Lauren Cox, the 2020 No. 3 draft pick out of Baylor, last weekend has proved to be a head-scratcher. Indiana is now 1-16 after another loss to the Connecticut Sun on Thursday night. Their only win is against the Washington Mystics the final week of May, and they're losing by an average margin of 15.25 points. Their net rating is a truly abysmal -17.4, trailing the 11th-place Liberty by nearly 11 points (-6.8).
Second-year Fever head coach Marianne Stanley addressed the release with reporters on a Zoom call ahead of Thursday night's game.
"We have a number of people in the post and at this juncture, we had a couple of vets and a couple of other people," Stanley said. "It was just, it was hard to carve out minutes and dealing with, for two years now, off-and-on injuries and stuff. I didn’t see, we didn’t see a path for a whole lot of minutes. And so it felt like we just needed to make this decision at this point."
Cox, who has type 1 diabetes, has had some rough breaks in the past few years. She injured her left knee in the 2019 NCAA national championship game that Baylor won. It was diagnosed as an MCL sprain and she didn't need surgery. Her senior year, she missed time due to a hand injury.
Ahead of the 2020 WNBA training camp, she contracted COVID-19 and didn't join the team until four games into the season. In 14 games, she averaged 3.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in 13.1 minutes, but missed the final four with a knee injury.
Through 11 games with Indiana this season, she averaged 8.6 minutes per game, despite the team skidding and clearly in need of a change to spark a new course.
The injury frustration and necessary decision time makes since. But it's curious that the franchise couldn't, or wouldn't, find time to develop its No. 3 overall pick if they are indeed rebuilding. Kysre Gondrezick, the Fever's surprise No. 4 overall pick this past spring, is also curiously averaging 9.8 minutes per game.
Baylor Connection 🐻@TeaCooper2 | @lauren_cox15 pic.twitter.com/edwZedGvKJ
— Los Angeles Sparks (@LASparks) July 1, 2021
Cox was picked up by the Sparks and played 18:47 of the Tuesday night loss to Las Vegas. The move may be best for Cox, who wasn't seeing the court in Indiana anyway, but it's yet to be seen what the future game plan is in Indiana.
NIL laws and their impact on WNBA
The Skylar Diggins headbands. You can't have forgotten them.
Name, image and likeness laws went into effect in states throughout the country on Thursday, a day after the NCAA approved an interim measure for it. It drew comment from already established professional athletes who could have benefitted from the law, such as former Notre Dame standout Skylar Diggins-Smith.
Young girls, at the time, searched high and low for those headbands she wore at a time when they weren't as popular as they are now. Fans clogged her mentions with how much money they would have spent on it, and how they scoured stores for them.
We literally called them ‘Skylar Diggins headbands’ https://t.co/Ol94CRRgru
— Autumn Johnson✨ (@autumnjohnsontv) July 1, 2021
College players are already taking advantage in various ways. South Carolina's Aliyah Boston is on Cameo to connect with fans. ESPN GOAT Holly Rowe wants to sponsor a weekly favorite athlete award with a cash prize.
Hanna and Haley Cavinder, basketball players at Fresno State who have watched their TikTok account explode, signed an endorsement deal with Boost Mobile first thing Thursday morning. Stephen Stokols, CEO of Boost Mobile, told Yahoo Sports it was an ideal launch, and they're looking at the laws as an opportunity to empower athletes, specifically women who don't have the same earning potential as men when they go pro.
There are a lot of unknowns about NIL laws and what the real impact will be. There are also the glossed-over aspects, as South Carolina and U.S. national team coach Dawn Staley pointed out in a series of tweets. As the years go on, it will be interesting to see what these are and what the impact is on the WNBA.
A rising tide lifts all boats, as the saying goes, and giving women in college earning potential means their next moves might vary. We saw Satou Sabally opt to enter the WNBA as a junior to "give a better lifestyle" to her family. Does she do that if she can make $40,000 in various endorsement deals or appearances while staying a final year in college?
Not only that, but will this lift the earning potential of WNBA players once they hit the league? The Sabrina Ionescus or Paige Bueckerses of the world were always going to be OK (though admittedly not as well-off as their male peers). But we still see a lack of investment and endorsements for talented stars that is only now starting to shift.
A big part of the NIL laws will be on a local level, rather than national. College stars are icons in strictly college towns, so if a smaller business — say a regional cellphone company — can produce data that shows this female player brought in this much revenue, it could benefit players as they rise up the ranks to the pros. And it could lift everyone's earning potential from college walk-on to 10-year WNBA veteran superstar.
This is a Mother of Dragons stan segment
There was a lot going on in Tuesday night's matchup between the Connecticut Sun and Washington Mystics.
The Mystics, which lost 90-71, came into the game with six available players. Six. Head coach Mike Thibault equated it to coaching AAU when you plan out whose turn it is to sit and who gets in the game. It was the second time that had ever happened in a WNBA game, per Across the Timeline. Meanwhile, the Sun were back up a player with the return of Jonquel Jones, who most certainly was not jet-lagged upon return from EuroBasket.
Understandably then, with the game out of reach, you might have heard the broadcasters acknowledge with amazement that the Sun were +30 in rebounds. By game's end, the Sun had outrebounded the Mystics, 52-13, for the largest rebound margin (+39) in league history, via Across the Timeline. Jones had more by herself (16) than the entire Washington team, the second time a player has rebounded more than a team in WNBA history.
All stan the Mother of Dragons as she is now known after breaking the FIBA record for rebounds in a game. Fittingly, Jones loves "Game of Thrones" and the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team is nicknamed the dragons.
Jones will make her third All-Star appearance in five seasons this month and is reaching elite status. She still leads the league in rebounds per game (10.3) and is third overall in points (21.5).
There are far too many highlights from the Mystics game to drop in here, so go check out Alexa Philippou's piece at the Hartford Courant. Although we do particularly like this postgame drop.
✌🏼🤣✌🏼 https://t.co/jsJw8CF6F3 pic.twitter.com/6fcJ9FBXUP
— Connecticut Sun (@ConnecticutSun) June 30, 2021
What's bonkers is that isn't even Jones at her and the team's best. She was almost straight off a flight from 10 days with another team and had to adjust to a Sun squad that played five games without her.
“Chemistry-wise, [I felt] good, but play-wise, not good,” Jones said after the demolition. “I’ve got to watch some film between this game and our next game and just really get locked in on everything.”
Jones leads the BetMGM MVP odds at +125 (slightly worse than +105 a few weeks ago) and it appears her award to lose even though we aren't yet at the midpoint. It's scary to think how much better she can be. It's also exciting to see what she'll be able to do against Team USA.
Commissioner's Cup weather report
With just more than a week to go in the first part of the season, the first Commissioner's Cup race is down to only a few teams. From the get-go, the Sun and Storm took commanding leads in their respective conferences.
Here's how the last week of Cup games break down for the top teams:
In the East, Sun (7-1) will play the Dream and Liberty. They've already beaten each team. The Sky (6-3) will play the Mystics, and have already beaten them. The Sky must beat the Mystics and hope that the Sun drop both of their games.
If that happens, they would go to a tiebreaker. The first is a head-to-head matchup, which is also tied. The second tiebreaker is cumulative point differential. The Sky (+37) would need a significant rout of the Mystics (and hope the Sun drop their games by large margins) to overtake the Sun (+93). No other team can overtake the Sun or Sky.
TL;DR: The Sun are in the driver's seat.
In the West, the Storm (5-1) and Aces (5-2) are basically neck-and-neck. The Storm play the Sparks and Mercury twice each. The Aces face the Wings (won), Lynx (lost) and Mercury (won). The Storm and Aces head-to-head is tied, just like the East, but the Aces actually have the better cumulative point differential (53-39).
The West is bunched up, though, and anything could happen if the Lynx (4-3), Mercury (3-4) and/or Wings (3-5) get hot. The Sparks (1-6) have been eliminated.
The top teams in each conference will meet for the Commissioner's Cup championship game after the Olympic break on Aug. 12 on Amazon Prime Video from Phoenix Suns Arena.
Catch up on the week
Aces prove they're No. 1 in Just Women's Sports power rankings.
Diana Taurasi is back and reached 9,000 career points.
WNBA announces 99% of players are vaccinated.
What to watch this weekend
Sky at Wings, Friday, 8 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network — The Wings looked overmatched and done with in the first meeting on Wednesday night, but fought back to make it close. Can they come out with a punch this time around?
Aces at Sparks, Friday, 10 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network — Aces have won the two matchups by a combined 50 points. It won't be close, but it's a nationally available game and opportunity to see the Aces' smooth offense.
Mystics at Liberty, Saturday, 1 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network — Tina Charles returns to New York for the first time since the trade in April 2020. She scored 34 in the first game against her old team.
Lynx at Mercury, Saturday, 10 p.m. ET on Facebook — At this point, it feels like every Mercury game goes down to the wire. The opening game between these two was determined by a last-seconds Diana Taurasi winner and Wednesday's game was decided by six points.
Wings at Liberty, Monday, 7 p.m. ET on Facebook — The teams came into the weekend tied at 8-9, 4.5 games behind Seattle and only one game ahead of the Nos. 8-11 teams. The cutoff for the playoffs is eighth place.
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