July 12, 2022 

Daily Briefing — July 12, 2022: Second-half predictions from The Next staff

It's always Han Xu O'Clock somewhere

It’s Tuesday. Welcome to The Next’s Daily Briefing, featuring the W Roundup, daily Watch List, and Yesterday’s Recap. Day 56 of the WNBA season is here (we’re counting the two days of All-Star fun), featuring five games to fully immerse you in basketball. That’s probably a little much for a weeknight, but hey, we’re back, baby. And not only do I have the Watch List for you, but we’re continuing our midseason awards feature with some second-half predictions and first-half reactions from our intrepid cast of beat reporters and analysts. Such questions as “who’s the title favorite,” ”who’s Bombing for Boston,” and ”what’s defined this season.”

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But first, read:

W Roundup

Remember yesterday’s TDB, when I noted WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert citing a trope often racistly used against Chicago? Apparently I missed that such concerns were based on consultations with noted security experts and bastions of public safety The Chicago Police Department. Then, yesterday afternoon, a CPD spokesperson denied that the league ever spoke with them.

The CPD isn’t exactly a reliable narrator, but I’m unsure exactly why they would choose to lie about this. The whole debacle has somehow become even more embarrassing for the W, in one way or another.

Los Angeles: Off-ball guard Kianna Smith’s seven-day contract with the Sparks expired

Minnesota: Re-signed big Nikolina Milić’s to a third seven-day contract, the last seven-day she’s allowed to sign with the team

Phoenix: Re-signed big Reshanda Gray and off-ball guard Jennie Simms to their third seven-day contracts after each’s second such deal expired. It’s the last seven-day she’s allowed to sign with the team.

Washington: Re-signed off-ball guard Evina Westbrook to a third seven-day contract after her second such deal expired. It’s the last seven-day she’s allowed to sign with the team.

Watch List, Tuesday, June 12

(All times in Eastern, Game Of The Day in bold)

Dallas @ Seattle, 3 p.m., League Pass/Facebook (Local: Bally Sports SW, FOX13/Amazon Prime video)

Las Vegas @ New York, 7 p.m., League Pass (Local: My LV TV, YES App)

Atlanta @ Chicago, 8 p.m., League Pass (Local: Bally Sports Southeast, CW26)

Phoenix @ Minnesota, 8 p.m., League Pass (Local: Bally Sports Arizona Extra, Bally Sports North Extra)

Washington @ Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m., League Pass (Local: Monumental Sports Network, Spectrum SportsNet)

Midseason predictions and observations

Let’s just jump right into it, shall we? The all-important leadoff: preseason, we had Seattle and Chicago a cut above. Where do we stand now?

Who are the title favorites?

Bar graph showing Chicago around 15 votes and Las Vegas at 4
Votes for title favorites

To no one’s surprise, it’s the two teams atop the standings (and competing in the Commissioner’s Cup on July 26) that are the favorites. But just how close is it?

Bar graph showing Chicago around 80%, Las Vegas near 45%, Seattle 20%, and Connecticut 5%
Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite

Not close at all. But hey look, the Seattle Storm!

On the other end of the spectrum…

Indiana and Minnesota are the lottery favorites. Which other teams are going to join them?

Bar graph showing Phoenix around 13 votes, Los Angeles at 10, Dallas at 7, Atlanta at 2, and New York at 1

It’s a tight race for the 6-10 spots in the standings, but we’re pretty confident that the Phoenix Mercury are going to be joined by the Los Angeles Sparks or maybe the Dallas Wings in sitting on their couches come late August. The good news for those squads is that they can always hope the lottery odds come out in their favor, granting them a chance to draft Aliyah Bost- oh, yeah, right.

Who’s winning the battles for seventh and eight in the standings?

A lot of the uncertainty about which team will join the Fever, Lynx, and Sparks comes from how close the race for the last couple playoff spots has been; Atlanta, Dallas, and Los Angeles are currently tied for sixth (tiebreakers notwithstanding), three games behind Washington, while New York sits a game behind that trio. How do we think that’s going to shake out?

Box-and-whiskers plot showing New York with an average of 1.8 and a median range between 1 and 2, Atlanta with an average of 2 and a median range between 1 and 3, Dallas with a mean of 3 and a median range between 3 and 4, and Los Angeles with a mean of 3.8 and a media range between 2 and 4
How these four teams will finish in the standings. The way to read this plot is that most votes fell within the colored boxes, with the average placement being the dot in the middle, and the lines extending to the highest or lowest votes outside the middle range.

At first glance, it seems odd to have the Sparks last, given their Nneka Ogwumike-led star power. But Los Angeles has actually been the second-worst team in the league by net rating through the All-Star break, suggesting it’s gotten lucky by about two wins so far. (No other team has overperformed their expected wins by multiple games.) The Sparks have missed key players to injuries or confusing rotations, but the other three teams have all missed some of their best players for extended stretches as well.

Don’t be shocked if this one comes down to the wire.

What trends have surprised us so far?

Chart showing "Continued dominance at post play" at 3, and "Value of backcourt defense" and "Success of switchable defenses" and "League parity" and "Jump in assist rate" and "Increase in both three-point and foul rates" at 1 apiece

There’s plenty to notice this year on a team-by-team basis, but the thing that always interests us is the wider progression of the game. And for yet another year, the best players in the league have been bigs. They’re more diverse in their skillsets than last year, but this is still a big woman’s game. Which isn’t a trend confined to the WNBA, as the majority of MVP finalists in the MNBA over each of the past three years have been frontcourt players.

However, on a more macro-, team-level, the 2022 season is showing some real paradigm shifts. League-wide offense has continued its march into the modern age, with rates of assists, threes, and fouls all increasing significantly over the past six years, per Her Hoop Stats. On the other end, Seattle and Washington and Atlanta have used switching to varying degrees to help pace the league defensively, a coverage WNBA teams typically haven’t favored. Dallas’ best defensive minutes have come with its switchable lineups as well.

What are we looking forward to in the second half?

Sideways bar graph showing "the race for eighth" at 5 votes, "the Lynx turnaround" also at 5, "the battle for the #1 seed" at 3, and "<a rel=

Unsurprisingly, the teams battling for the last couple playoff spots are what we’re most eager for — and if their resurgence continues, that includes the Minnesota Lynx. Don’t ignore the top of the field, though; just two games separate the top four teams, who’ve all looked like real title contenders at one point or another. (Or in Chicago’s case, at every point.)

Also, watch Han Xu. Any opportunity is a blessing.

All stats per Basketball Reference unless noted otherwise

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the WNBA at large and college basketball for The Next, with a focus on player development and the game behind the game.

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