June 30, 2024 

Sunday Notes, Week 7: All-Star picks, Storm suffocate Sun and more

Your weekly look at trends around the W

Welcome back to Sunday Notes, your weekly journey into trends and analyses around the WNBA. Today we’re looking at who could be on the All-Star team in Phoenix, just how badly Dallas is missing Satou Sabally, what makes the Storm a potentially league-leading defensive unit, and who is now the best shooter in W history.

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For reference, since this notebook comes out on Sundays, I define “this week” as the prior Sunday through last night.

Tankathon check-in

To be clear, no one in the WNBA is currently tanking on purpose (at least, the players aren’t). That being said, let’s see where our teams are right now in the lottery standings and where they project to end up (chart vaguely organized by rightmost column):

Team:Games back in lottery¹:Games back of No. 8 seed:Strength of schedule remaining (out of 12)²:Likely finish:
Washington4.535th-strongest (eighth-easiest)Top-two lottery odds
Los Angeles2.538Top-two lottery odds
Indiana10.510No. 7 seed
Dallas82.59No. 8 seed or bottom-two lottery odds
Chicago36.5———2No. 8 seed or bottom-two lottery odds
Atlanta48.5-16No. 8 seed or bottom-two lottery odds
Phoenix currently owns the top lottery odds, but that team is going to make the playoffs
2. Per Massey
3. Dallas owns the rights to swap picks with Chicago
4. Washington owns Atlanta’s pick


I think the All-Star ballot this year is as easy as it’s ever been: Kahleah Copper, Jackie Young, Sabrina Ionescu and Kayla McBride in the backcourt, and A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Napheesa Collier, Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and one of Nneka Ogwumike or Dearica Hamby in the frontcourt is how I would be voting. But the vast majority of those names are playing on the Olympic team, which means seven of those names need to be replaced for the All-Star Game. And who you replace them with is a much more interesting question.

We need three guards/wings and three bigs, since we now don’t have to choose between Ogwumike and Hamby. We can’t use someone like Kelsey Plum, who isn’t playing at quite an All-Star level this year anyway, since she’s on the U.S. women’s team. Additionally, Ezi Magbegor is ineligible since she’ll be training with the Opals. Sure, Hamby is on the U.S. 3-on-3 team, but that’s not real basketball anyway.

First up is Alanna Smith. Smith, I would argue, has played at least as well as Hamby this year, hitting an absurd amount of her 3-pointers (more on that later), powering the Lynx offense with her screen-and-roll game and playing excellent defense despite regularly matching up with opposing 5s, 4s and 3s.

Another easy call is Betnijah Laney-Hamilton. Not only one of the best wing defenders in the league but someone who continues to capably switch onto point-of-attack guards. She ranks second in pWAR and is one of 16 players in the league averaging at least 12 points on 56% true-shooting, per Sports Reference.

Of the other 15 players on that list, seven (including Hamby) are Olympians and four are already on our ballot (Jones, McBride, Ogwumike and Smith). The other four would fill out the rest of my Non-Olympian-All-Star ballot: Caitlin Clark, Chennedy Carter, Maddy Siegrist and Brionna Jones. You can quibble about defense when it comes to Carter and playing time with Brionna Jones, but I don’t see many other players in the WNBA whose efficiency doesn’t make them a non-starter for me.

Of course, Siegrist is injured, so she’ll need to be replaced. I submit Stefanie Dolson, for reasons we’ll get to later.

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Dallas Wings

The following is all per PBP Stats:

Since Arike Ogunbowale was drafted in 2019, the Wings have a -2.1 net rating in the 5,856 minutes she has been on the court and a -1.1 net rating in the 1,414 minutes she has sat. Since the start of 2021, which I would argue is the most recent you can start this query without having significant sample size issues, those numbers are 0.0 with Ogunwbowale on the court and +1.1 with her on the bench.

Since Satou Sabally was drafted in 2020, Dallas has a +2.9 net rating in the 2,360 minutes she has been on the court and a -2.9 net rating in the 3,550 she has sat. Since 2021, her first All-Star campaign, those numbers are +5.1 with Sabally on the court and -2.9 with her on the bench.

Since 2021, the Wings have a +4.6 net rating in the 1,713 minutes Ogunbowale and Sabally have played together and a -3.4 net rating in the 2,336 minutes Ogunbowale has played without Sabally. Dallas also has a -1.2 net rating in the 773 minutes both have sat, which is bordering on a sample size issue. (There have been fewer than 200 minutes of Sabally without Ogunbowale.)

The point of this is not that Ogunbowale is a bad player; I think her skill set is tricky to build around, but she’s immensely talented nonetheless. The point is the Wings are missing a player who has meant about as much to them as Napheesa Collier has to the Lynx over the past few years, and scaling Ogunbowale back up from a complementary piece to the focal point does not help mitigate that loss.

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Seattle Storm

Last Sunday, the Storm put on one of the greatest defensive performances in recent years.

The Sun, who have averaged about 80 points per game this season, were held to just 61, while shooting an abysmal 37.3% from the field and 2-for-14 (14.3%) from three. They did not commit an egregious number of turnovers, but the ones they did were almost entirely of the live-ball variety, leading to 13 steals for Seattle. It was the first time in two years that a team had been held to 41.0% true-shooting while committing a baker’s dozen live-ball turnovers, per Her Hoop Stats.

The X-factor to the Storm’s defensive performance was head coach Noelle Quinn benching combo forward Victoria Vivians in favor of Jordan Horston.1 Horston has been one of the few best defenders in the WNBA this season, and adding her 6’6 wingspan at the 3 transforms the Seattle starting lineup into one that at its best rivals the greatest units in league history.

At least, it rivals them on paper. The Storm have needed time this season to gel, which makes sense for a team with a new point guard who hadn’t played pro ball in months, a new power forward and a small forward who’s in just her second season. But the capabilities of this lineup were on full display against Connecticut.

That display started with their off-ball defense. Every player in Seattle’s starting lineup is a strong communicator and a plus help defender, so when the Sun ran a rip lob, both Skylar Diggins-Smith and Ezi Magbegor were pointing out screens and rotations, enabling Magbegor to help off Brionna Jones to intercept the lob.

Horston’s length and chasing ability make her a pain on the ball as well. When the Storm stuck to straight-up coverage, Bonner could not get an inch of breathing room.

No team can play straight-up all the time, though. And that’s where Seattle was something special. As Friend Of The Notes Evin Gualberto showed, the Connecticut offense gives opposing defenses fits by forcing them into binds where opponents either leave good scorers open by playing straight-up or create mismatches by switching. The Storm took themselves out of that bind completely, because when the worst defender in your starting lineup is Jewell Loyd,2 there really are no mismatches.

That applied whether it was Diggins-Smith in transition against Alyssa Thomas

… or Magbegor and Nneka Ogwumike switching a Bonner-Thomas empty pick-n-roll.

The Sun have had to deal with that before, given the limits of their offensive personnel, but I don’t think they’ve ever seen a team execute peel switches the way Seattle did against them. Connecticut kept getting openings, only to see the Storm switch to lock it down and scram out of any resulting mismatches.

What made Seattle’s defense so suffocating was not that they were switching, but the fact that they did not want to switch. Like the Oklahoma City Thunder, they want to play straight up, but if they were going to get put in rotation, they switched out of it in a way that forced the ball to stop and allowed the help defenders to load up in position.

Since May 25, the Storm rank second in defensive rating. There is an outside chance that, if they can continue to improve their chemistry and timing, they could be a historically good defense, and one that matches up pretty well with New York and Las Vegas.

Washington Mystics (and Minnesota Lynx)

Greatest 3-point shooting seasons in WNBA history, per Sports Reference:

1. Temeka Johnson, 2012 — 53.1%
2. Alysha Clark, 20203 — 52.2%
3. Jennifer Azzi, 1999 — 51.7%
4. Jennifer Azzi, 2001 — 51.4%
T-5. Stefanie Dolson, 2024 — 50.0%
T-5. Epiphanny Prince, 2021 — 50.0%
T-5. Charlotte Smith, 2004 — 50.0%
8. Alanna Smith, 2024 — 49.0%

Greatest 3-point shooting seasons by a frontcourt player in WNBA history, per SR:

T-1. Stefanie Dolson, 2024 — 50.0%
T-1. Charlotte Smith, 2004 — 50.0%
3. Alanna Smith, 2024 — 49.0%
4. Elena Baranova, 2004 — 46.1%
5. Ebony Hoffman, 2008 — 45.6%
6. Lauren Jackson, 2004 — 45.2%
7. Tangela Smith, 2009 — 45.2%
8. Emma Meesseman, 2016 — 44.8%

Greatest 3-point shooting seasons since the 3-point line was moved back to its current distance, per SR:

1. Alysha Clark, 20203 — 52.2%
T-2. Stefanie Dolson, 2024 — 50.0%
T-2. Epiphanny Prince, 2021 — 50.0%
4. Alanna Smith, 2024 — 49.0%

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  1. Quinn said after the game that the decision to start Horston was because of the matchup against DeWanna Bonner, but Horston has stuck in the starting lineup since. ↩︎
  2. You could argue Diggins-Smith instead of Loyd, but I think the former holds up better on switches. ↩︎
  3. Clark’s 2020 season came in the Wubble, an abnormally offense-friendly environment. ↩︎

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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