At the start of the season, it didn’t seem like there would be much movement in the power rankings’ top two spots. Yet four teams already have cycled through second place, and one more makes its debut this week.
Since an 0-6 start, the Minnesota Lynx have steadily clawed their way back to .500, getting there for the second time this season thanks to consecutive road wins against the New York Liberty and Connecticut Sun — both victories taking place without All-Star Napheesa Collier in the lineup. Prior to those games, the Lynx were helpless without Collier on the floor; the star forward averages 33.3 minutes per game because Minnesota was getting outscored by 18.4 points per 100 possessions when she sat.
But just as Collier has raised her level of play throughout the season (prior to this ankle injury that will keep her out seven to 10 days), the rest of the Lynx have risen with her. Lindsay Allen is the stabilizing hand that Minnesota needs from its floor general, her drives to the basket — she makes 68 percent of her shots at the rim — complement her stable distribution. Kayla McBride made 38 percent of her 3-pointers in the month of July after starting the season 33 percent from distance, including 8 of 14 in the Lynx’’s last two wins.
Meanwhile, the Lynx’s two rookies are providing positive impacts. Diamond Miller is equally comfortable attacking the basket as she is pulling up from long range — she did both in the final minutes in New York after the Liberty had cut a 17-point lead to one. Miller also has sprinkled in multiple nine-assist games as she figures a way to keep the ball moving in Minnesota’s offensive system. Dorka Juhász, another rookie, had a game-saving block on DeWanna Bonner to complete an 11-point, six-rebound afternoon.
Dorka Juhasz blocked DeWanna Bonner’s potential game-winning shot 🚫
The Lynx have now had two straight UPSET wins against the Liberty and the Sun 😳 pic.twitter.com/DY8n1HVP6P
— ESPN (@espn) July 30, 2023
The Lynx seemed destined for a four-game losing streak once Collier’s absence was announced. Instead, they’ve continued to build in tough road environments. Their record may be far below second place in the standings, but right now, it’s hard to find a team outside of Las Vegas playing better and more consistently.
Here is this week’s ranking:
Three standout performances
DeWanna Bonner keeps turning the clock back
Alyssa Thomas’ positional versatility is always a topic of conversation with the Connecticut Sun. But since Brionna Jones’ season-ending injury, Bonner has been arguably as much of a chameleon as her fiancée. In Year 14, at age 35 (she turns 36 in three weeks), Bonner continues to expand the boundaries of her game.
She’s not just a relentless force from the perimeter whose willingness to shoot from well beyond the 3-point line stretches defenses. She brings up the ball and directs the offense. She finishes as a cutter when Thomas runs the show. She bullies smaller defenders on duck-ins. She guards centers on the other end and uses her length to cause difficulty on entry passes.
Against the Wings on Tuesday, Bonner seemed like she was an amalgam of all five positions. She had 32 points, eight rebounds and four assists while playing 39 minutes and having to tend with Teaira McCowan on the other end for much of it. Bonner dialed up from distance, earned her way to the free-throw line 11 times, and added in some clutch baskets for good measure.
DB said HOLDDD ONNNN 👀
— WNBA (@WNBA) July 26, 2023
And she also made Thomas actually smile on a basketball court.
The Sun have asked for more from everyone with Jones out of the lineup, and Bonner has accepted the challenge. She has 12 games of at least 20 points this season and three of at least 30. She’s raised her usage while posting the second-lowest turnover percentage of her career. The league’s eighth all-time leading scorer (she could conceivably be in fifth by the end of the season) is showing no signs of slowing down.
Jordin Canada’s game-winner
As Los Angeles trailed by two with 11 seconds left against Indiana on Tuesday, Jasmine Thomas inbounded the ball to Canada. The call was for Canada to get the ball in to Sparks All-Star Nneka Ogwumike, but fellow All-Star Aliyah Boston was denying the entry pass.
So Canada isolated on Erica Wheeler. She thought about driving to the basket herself, but decided against it given the time remaining, and instead pulled up for the game-winning 3-pointer because she felt confident in her jumper.
ICE COLDDDD 🥶
— WNBA (@WNBA) July 26, 2023
It’s a sequence of events that would have been unheard of even one season ago. Canada has never been much of a shooter. In fact, she’s been a historically poor jump shooter until this season. Entering 2023, she had made 17 percent of her 3-pointers and connected on only 29 over five years.
But Canada had more time to work on her game this offseason by not going overseas, and she put a large chunk of that time into her jumper. She and coach Curt Miller have talked about how helpful it was to have the Sparks coaching staff available to work out before the start of the season, and the results have paid dividends almost immediately. Canada already has made 25 triples this season, poised to double her career mark with ease before the end of the year, and she’s converting them at a 36 percent rate. She has also topped 90 percent from the foul line for the first time as a pro.
Against the Fever, Canada’s game-winning 3 was the tip of the iceberg for another stellar two-way performance — she notched 20 points and 10 assists. Only 12 other players have equaled those totals since Canada entered the league, a list comprised of mostly all-WNBA talents like Candace Parker, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Courtney Vandersloot. With more outputs like this one, Canada is putting herself in that discussion.
Teaira McCowan is simply too big
The Washington Mystics are going through adversity from an injury perspective, as their starting frontcourt of Shakira Austin and Elena Delle Donne hasn’t suited up together in over a month. Still, it was hard not to be impressed at the light work McCowan made of the Mystics’ backups in Dallas’ 90-62 rout over Washington last Friday, when she shot 9 of 11 from the field en route to 18 points in 25 minutes.
The Wings’ perimeter players have gotten better throughout the season at feeding McCowan with lobs over the top and entry passes only she can catch in the post, but the center is doing an outstanding job of establishing early position and sealing her defender. She’s not even one of Dallas’ top three scorers, but no one presents a mismatch quite like McCowan.
The Mystics had no answer for Teaira McCowan last night. She’s feasting with the Dallas Wings. pic.twitter.com/29D9oiw36q
— Lyndsey D’Arcangelo 🏀 (@darcangel21) July 29, 2023
Rookie of the week
Victaria Saxton, Indiana Fever
Saxton has had one of the stranger rookie seasons in recent memory. She made the Fever roster as a third-round pick, an impressive feat considering she beat out last year’s lottery pick Emily Engstler and this year’s second-round selection LaDazhia Williams, but she has basically been redshirted despite being perfectly healthy. Saxton had played only 2.4 first-half minutes all season, and just 13 total, entering Sunday. There are hardship players who have far exceeded those totals.
Given the makeup of the Indiana roster, it was expected that Queen Egbo and Victoria Vivians would get minutes over Saxton in the second unit. However, since the Egbo trade, which coincided with an injury to NaLyssa Smith, the Fever’s continued reliance on veterans Emma Cannon and Amanda Zahui B. at Saxton’s expense has been surprising, and honestly a little maddening for a team that is in a rebuild.
That’s what made Sunday’s contest against Seattle so gratifying. Saxton entered in the second quarter and played outside of garbage time next to her familiar frontcourt partner Boston, and she showcased exactly how she plans to remain in the WNBA. She was a smart and versatile defender at South Carolina, toggling between wing and frontcourt matchups seamlessly, and she demonstrated that ability at the pro level.
“She’s got an athletic ability to do things that we don’t have somebody else on our team that can do that,” Fever coach Christie Sides said after the game. Sides specifically cited a play when Saxton intercepted a hi-lo pass. Sides said that the matchup called for Saxton because of the Storm’s athletic and long frontcourt, and Saxton was able to make an impact.
“Victaria Saxton is the ultimate team player,” Sides added. “From Day 1, from training camp, she’s put in the work. She comes to practice. She’s part of the scout team at times. She doesn’t take offense to that, she just wants to do whatever she needs to do to help our team, and you can’t ask for anything else.”
Saxton also got the first bucket of her WNBA career Sunday on a corner 3-pointer, a shocking result considering she took all of three 3-pointers in five years as a Gamecock. But she’s officially on the board as a pro, and considering the direction of Indiana’s season, it’s probably time to see what else she can do.
Aliyah Boston gave major props to Victaria Saxton for making her first points in today’s game.
“For her to get in today and make a positive impact like she did was amazing.” pic.twitter.com/rLCu3W39uZ
— Indiana Fever (@IndianaFever) July 30, 2023
Game to circle
Atlanta at Phoenix, 10 p.m. (ET) Thursday; Seattle at Phoenix, 10 p.m. (ET) Saturday
This is a bit of a cop-out to pick two games, but Diana Taurasi is in line to hit 10,000 points for her regular-season career this week, sitting just 47 points away. Whether it happens in the Mercury’s second or third game this week (she would need to tie her career-high Tuesday against Indiana to make it happen, but wouldn’t that be something?), it’s on the horizon.
It will be momentous for Taurasi, for Phoenix and for the league. It’s hard to celebrate a lot of WNBA milestones since the length of the season has changed so frequently, but 10-K is a nice, round number, and it will add another layer of statistical brilliance to Taurasi’s Hall of Fame career.
(Photo of Dorka Juhász: M. Anthony Nesmith / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)