May 19, 2024 

Sunday Notes, Week 1: Collier, Jones, Austin shine; Indiana, Seattle struggle

A "who's hot and who's not" of opening-week showings

Welcome back to Sunday Notes, your weekly journey into trends and analysis around the WNBA. Today we’re looking at all-league play from Napheesa Collier, Jonquel Jones and Shakira Austin, and reasons for patience in Indiana and Seattle. For reference, since this notebook comes out on Sundays, I define “this week” as the prior Sunday through last night.

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Indiana Fever

Things are going to get easier once the Fever get through this run of having to play the best teams in the league every night. Unfortunately, that’s not happening any time soon. Indiana gets Connecticut again twice, Seattle twice, Las Vegas and New York again over the next three weeks. This stretch is broken up by just four against likely lottery teams (Los Angeles twice, Washington, Chicago). But after that, they have a mid-June five-game span that includes Atlanta twice, Chicago twice and Washington.

All of which is to say: I’m not especially worried about the Fever right now, and you shouldn’t be either. (Unless you’re that one person in our preseason survey who thought Indiana was making it to the Finals. In that case you should be breaking a mild sweat.) We’ll check in next week about Aliyah Boston’s conditioning.

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Minnesota Lynx

There have been three players who were just dominant this week. First up, Napheesa Collier.

In two games against Seattle, Collier put up 49 points, 21 rebounds, seven steals and four blocks on 54.0% true-shooting. It’s not the greatest efficiency in the world, but on nearly 30% usage against a front-court of Ezi Magbegor and Nneka Ogwumike, it’s pretty remarkable. Her game continues to expand, and Cheryl Reeve is now using her more like Prime Candace Parker than a typical combo forward. The upshot, besides looking cool, is that it allows the Lynx to approximate having a point guard without actually having a true playmaker. Any of Collier, Courtney Williams and Natisha Hiedeman can bring the ball up and initiate the offense. And because Minnesota has plus positional passers at the 4, the 5, and sometimes at the 2, there has been enough passing to press the advantage-creation it gets out of Collier.

This is especially reliant on Minnesota’s offensive chemistry, which so far has been unbelievable for a team with two new players in its starting lineup. We’ll talk about that next week after it plays Connecticut and New York.

New York Liberty

The second player who dominated this week: Jonquel Jones. After her incredible performance in the playoffs year, Jones has maintained her level of play into the 2024 regular season, averaging through three games 17.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.7 blocks on 56 FG%/46% 3P%/100% FT% shooting. You don’t need me to tell you that that’s damn good.

Maybe it’s just a hot streak, but Jones is playing like she wants to add some more hardware to her trophy case.

Seattle Storm

Fun fact: Seattle’s opening day starter at small forward in both 2023 and 2024 has been a bottom-five player in league history by Positive Residual’s wins above replacement. Which is why Victoria Vivians was demoted out of the Storm closing lineup after just one game.

Also, we’ll check in on Seattle next week, but for now we’re still at DEFCON 5. Skylar Diggins-Smith is playing her first games in over a year, and she and Nneka Ogwumike both are trying to build chemistry with new teammates. And hopefully someone on that coaching staff remembers that Jewell Loyd is at her best when she’s not taking 20 shots a game.

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Washington Mystics

The third Player of the Week is Shakira Austin. Something about the month of May seems to be giving her special powers: last May, she put up 14.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.0 stocks1 per game on 57.5% FG% while thoroughly outplaying the whole Sun frontcourt, and this May she’s at 11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.5 stocks on 52.6% FG% in just 20.5 minutes while thoroughly outplaying both the whole Sun frontcourt and reigning MVP Breanna Stewart.

Austin’s 2023 breakout was cut short by a strained hip in late June; she returned a month and a half later but was nowhere near 100%, then re-aggravated the injury and missed September. She was playing at an All-WNBA level before the initial injury, on the kind of development path that alters the trajectory of an entire franchise. But with that breakout abbreviated, how confident could we be that Austin was really going to be that level of player?

Maybe pretty confident!

  1. Steals + blocks ↩︎

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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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