October 30, 2021
The Pan-Am Power Rankings: Looking at the WNBA from a EuroLeague perspective
How do the WNBA teams stack up based on how their players are performing in EuroLeague?
At this point in the WNBA offseason, it would be very easy to power rank the teams. We would make sure to put the reigning, undisputed champs Chicago Sky at the top and the other finalist, the Phoenix Mercury, second. Maybe we’d start to have some doubts around the third and fourth spots, with the Connecticut Sun and the Las Vegas Aces in contention. Then we’d throw a bunch of other names into the pot, and we’d wrap it all up with the Atlanta Dream followed by the Indiana Fever, or the other way around.
But that wouldn’t be entertaining. The 2021 season is (sad but true) already past, in the rearview mirror, in the shadows of the fall, with us moving forward and facing the cold winter. It’s time to move on. And although the situation is probably not the best for professional athletes (such as the women with contracts and other links to the WNBA), overseas basketball comes up next.
But don’t get depressed! We’re here to have fun. If you remember last week, we went on a fantastic carousel of battles between teammates. The question was simple: Have WNBA imports outperformed Europe-based players in the early EuroLeague season? The answer, it turned out, was nope. Europe-based players clearly beat their American counterparts, with a final result of 7-4. Cold world for the WNBA imports, I guess.
So this week, with four game days of EuroLeague play in the books and keeping our interest split across both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s time to blend the EL and the WNBA to determine the Pan American Power Rankings.
Introducing the Pan American Power Rankings
If you know anything about the transportation industry in the United States, you likely know about Pan American Airways. If not, here’s a super quick summary: Pan Am was basically the biggest, baddest, largest, illest air carrier from the 20th century in the United States, flying folks left and right on an intercontinental basis until it ran into bankruptcy. But that’s a story for another day.
Pan Am is important because it narrowed the bridge between the USA and everywhere else. And that’s precisely what is happening at this moment in women’s hoops: WNBA players are jumping the ocean to ball for overseas teams spread around Europe. So many players are doing this, in fact, that it’s actually quite hard to follow them all and keep track of what they’re doing. And we’re just covering a tiny part (the 16 EuroLeague participants) of the vast number of European basketball clubs out there.
Paying homage and tribute to Pan Am, instead of focusing entirely on the EuroLeague side, we are going to do something different. We’re going to power rank the WNBA teams (leaving out Chicago because its players have yet to debut in the EuroLeague) by what their EL imports have done in the first four weeks of the European competition. Let’s get to it.
1. Connecticut Sun
This was a true toss-up, folks. The Sun and the New York Liberty were this close to sharing the first spot, but I just can’t do my readers dirty like that and had to pick one team to lead the way. And so Connecticut ends at No. 1 through Week 4. The reason, at the end of the day, is simple: three against one.
The Sun have already sent three players overseas in comparison to New York’s one. The Sun also reached last season’s WNBA semifinals, which meant that their players took a little bit longer to arrive in Europe than players whose WNBA seasons ended earlier. However, the early returns have been great. Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones, both playing for Praha, are putting up similar numbers (around 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game each, with Thomas stealing three balls per game and Jones blocking a shot per game) in their two games played. Reigning WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones only needed two games to show her dominance and is already nearing a double-double average with 17 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Can’t get much better than this…
2. New York Liberty
…Or can it? New York, as I said, is only losing this race because just one Liberty player has played EuroLeague ball this season: Natasha Howard. But do you know what she is doing? No, seriously: Howard has played four games, and she has always scored at least 14 points, grabbed six or more rebounds and had at least one steal. Her season highs for the five “golden stats” sit at 26 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks.
With a very serious case for EuroLeague MVP when all is said and done, Howard is elevating the Liberty’s profile in Europe in a very delightful way. Howard is currently averaging 20 points (third-most among imports) and nine rebounds (fourth-most) patrolling Dynamo Kursk’s paint.
3. Atlanta Dream
Atlanta has a very similar case to New York’s with Howard. In fact, I wouldn’t even get mad if you wanted to rank Atlanta second. Only one player is competing in EuroLeague for the Dream these days, but Elizabeth Williams has been so freakishly great that she’s also up there in the early MVP ladder for Fenerbahçe.
A soon-to-be free agent, E-Will is putting up numbers in the EL this season and calling for her due attention from upcoming bidders. Only four players including Williams are averaging at least one point, one rebound, one dime, one steal and one block per game. Oh, and Williams isn’t on the low side of that baseline, either: She is actually averaging a fantastic line of 13.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 3.8 blocks per game that, to my eyes, is enough to have her leading the MVP race. There, I said it.
4. Indiana Fever
Is Fever import Bernadett Hatar getting robbed of making the top three here? That could very well be the case, and I’m sorry. But I can only pick one team at a time, and this is turning out to be way harder than I anticipated. I never learn… Hatar, the only Fever player in the EuroLeague, has surprised everybody on this side of the pond with her fantastic start.
That is no joke, considering we’re talking about a tower of a woman who is racking up goodies in the EL this season. With very similar averages to those of Williams and Howard, Hatar is definitely a top-10 player through four weeks of play. Hatar, playing for Sopron Basketball in France, has been way better than fellow import Gabby Williams. So much, in fact, that Hatar’s current averages of 14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game make her one of only three players (along with Elizabeth Williams and Sandrine Gruda) to average a double-double so far in the EL.
5. Minnesota Lynx
Another single-player case, this one. Minny’s Kayla McBride is one of only four imports playing more than 33 minutes per game. The trio of McBride, fellow import Amanda Zahui B. and Ukrainian Alina Iagupova has disappointed a bit this season for Fenerbahçe, but that has definitely not been McBride’s fault. She has been a walking bucket, and even though she’s attempting 14.5 field goals per game, she’s hit 48.3% of those tries.
Even better: McBride is attempting seven 3-pointers per game and making them at a 39.3% clip; only Sydney Wallace (46.4% on seven attempts) and Iagupova (35.1% on 9.3 attempts) are above or close to McBride’s volume/efficiency ratio, and McBride leads that trio in total plus-minus with a +47 and an average efficiency mark of 19.5. (Wallace would be second with an efficiency of 13.3.)
6. Washington Mystics
I’m considering Emma Meesseman a Mystic even though she sat out the last WNBA season. That means we’re back to ranking a team that has more than one player in the 2022 EuroLeague, as Washington also has midseason signee Megan Gustafson in Europe. These two, truth be told, have been sublime no matter how you look at them.
Gustafson is playing a ridiculous 36.7 minutes per game (third-most among all players) after just playing 9.9 for the Mystics in 11 WNBA games last season. Not to mention the nonsensical comparison between her WNBA averages of four points and four rebounds and her current EL line of 20 points, seven rebounds and a block per game. Meesseman, part of a loaded Monstars-like Ekaterinburg squad, is playing fewer minutes but still contributing across the board with 11.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.0 steals per game.
7. Seattle Storm
The Storm have the second-most players balling overseas, trailing only Dallas (five), though Seattle could have matched that number if Breanna Stewart hadn’t been forced into Achilles surgery earlier this offseason. Both Karlie Samuelson (Avenida) and Kennedy Burke (Spar Girona) arrived in Spain at the earliest possible date and have played all four games so far. They are also performing at completely opposite sides of the scale: Burke has been a top-10 EL player and MVP contender (almost 22 points, six rebounds, one assist and two steals per game), while Samuelson has had a rough start, finally getting her game right this past Wednesday with a 17-point, five-rebound, two-steal performance.
Between those two (in performing terms and games played) are Katie Lou Samuelson and Epiphanny Prince. Playing for Avenida (like her older sister) and Dynamo Kursk, respectively, they have yet to hit their peak EL shape, but the early returns have not been bad. Samuelson has helped Avenida with 13 points, four rebounds and a couple of assists per game, and Prince has contributed a stuffed average line of 10 points, three boards, six assists and two steals in three games.
8. Los Angeles Sparks
Not counting Maria Vadeeva, who hasn’t played in Hollywood since 2019, Zahui B. and Gabby Williams (who also didn’t play for L.A. this season) are the two Sparks in the EuroLeague. Both have played in all three games for their squads in Europe: Fenerbahçe for Zahui B. and Sopron for Williams, with very swinging results through Week 4.
Zahui B. has sandwiched a couple of nice outings in the middle two weeks of the early season with two middling performances, including a zero efficiency mark this past Wednesday against Sopron. Williams, on the other hand, has been a steady scorer for her French side (at least eight points in every game and an average of 12 per contest) while also putting up rebounds, assists and steals on a relatively healthy basis (4.3, 5.0 and 1.5 per game, respectively).
9. Las Vegas Aces
Riquna Williams and Kiah Stokes are the ones representing the Aces in EuroLeague this season, and both have appeared in the same two games after making it to the WNBA semifinals with Las Vegas. While Stokes only logged a minute in her debut back in Week 3, they have logged at least 30 minutes or more in all of their other appearances (Week 3 and Week 4 in Williams’ case, Week 4 in Stokes’).
Neither player has really had the time or the form to put on singular shows this season, but it’s going to be fun to watch them go against each other when the Turkish clubs Galatasaray (Williams) and Fenerbahçe (Stokes) face each other for the second time later this season. What a shame they did so for the first time in Week 1, when neither of the Aces had arrived yet.
10. Phoenix Mercury
Even though three Mercury players have already played a EuroLeague game since making it to the WNBA Finals, they either did not play a lot (Brittney Griner, 18 minutes) or did not have fantastic outcomes (Shey Peddy and Sophie Cunningham) in their debuts. Griner, who debuted in UMMC’s loss to Valencia in the European SuperCup last Sunday and then played in Wednesday’s EL Week 4 game against USK Praha, was probably the best of the three.
Griner could only play 18 minutes because she must be tired as hell (I would be) after a grueling and deep postseason run with Phoenix. She was still able to finish with a neat 10-point, three-rebound, two-assist, one-block line in those minutes for an efficiency of 12. Not bad, but clearly on a lower level when compared to the rest of the WNBA imports who are already warm in the EL.
11. Dallas Wings
I don’t hate Dallas; it’s just hard to maintain good averages when you have the most players hooping overseas. The Wings have five players in Ukraine, Spain, Italy and Turkey. In order of importance for their overseas squads (basically, minutes played per game), they are: Kayla Thornton, Arike Ogunbowale, Chelsea Dungee, Charli Collier and Bella Alarie.
Ogunbowale needed just two games (including this past Wednesday’s) to get to a nice 17-point, two-rebound, one-steal average on the season with a ridiculous eight 3-pointers attempted per game. However, she’s only made 12.5% of those attempts. Thornton’s four games at 29.8 minutes per game have resulted in 10 points, six rebounds, one assist and two steals per outing, but her efficiency is at a low 12 and her plus/minus is currently -22. Dungee and Collier have had very few chances to showcase their talents so far. And Alarie has been on the court for a +29 plus/minus, but that has had more to do with her teammates than her own game.
NR. Chicago Sky
Allie Quigley has already arrived in Russia, though she didn’t appear in this week’s Ekaterinburg game. Courtney Vandersloot should join her there in no time. Astou Ndour-Fall and Finals MVP Kahleah Copper should also be close to landing in Europe and should debut for Umana Reyer (Italy) and CB Avenida (Spain) next week.
That’s it for the first edition of the Pan American Power Rankings. Congratulations to Connecticut Sun fans for topping the rankings, and congratulations also to Chicago Sky fans for 1) the WNBA title and 2) being mere days away from watching their players go back at it overseas.
Remember that you can find every EuroLeague game available on-demand on the YouTube page of FIBA’s EuroLeague Women. You can also check scores and box scores on FIBA’s website. There are no excuses not to keep up with #WNBAoverseas!
Golden nuggets from Week 4
This is a quick recap of what has happened in the last couple of game days in terms of individual performances worth highlighting, unique stat lines, efficient games, putrid outings, forgettable outcomes, and everything else my data-crunching abilities allowed me to come up with!
- It was quite a week, as every single game was scheduled to take place on Wednesday instead of the customary split into Wednesday and Thursday. Eight games we got to watch, one after the other!
- Remember last week, when we played Partners in Crime and Europe-based players seemed to outperform their WNBA-import counterparts? This week, though, five of the seven players with efficiency marks of 25-plus came from the USA, including the top three.
- Those three players: McBride (34 efficiency), Howard (30) and Elizabeth Williams (25, five-way tie for third that is broken by Williams’ +26 in plus-minus).
- Next in line: Burke (25) and Jonquel Jones, who reached her 24 efficiency in just 23 minutes. The MVP definitely came to play overseas.
- There were a lot of double-doubles this week, all on scoring and rebounding. Three imports and three long-tenured European hoopers achieved the feat. The imports: Elizabeth Williams, Jonquel Jones and Gustafson. The best of them: E-Will, thanks to an overall performance that included 12 points, 10 rebounds, three steals, two assists and four (!!!) blocks against Sopron.
- Meanwhile, Cyesha Goree and Anastasia Logunova both fell short by just two points. Better luck next time.
- It hurt to watch both Nika Baric (Dynamo Kursk) and Celine Dumerc (Basket Landes) reach nine dimes, one short of double digits. It would have been the lone points-assists double-double of the day for Baric, as she scored 14 points!
- Nobody could block more shots than Elizabeth Williams’ four in 36 minutes. In fact, nobody else could even swat three last Wednesday.
- On the other hand, although no player stole the ball four times, 10 hoopers (including Williams and McBride) finished with three thefts. Nice day for burglars, I guess.
- As incredible as it sounds, Iagupova didn’t lead the week in field goal attempts (15). Rather, Thomas and McBride did so by shooting the ball 19 times from the floor. They had quite different results, as Thomas only hit 36.8% of her attempts compared to McBride’s 63.2% (including 4-for-7 on triples).
- Speaking of 3-point shots, what about Ogunbowale? Only two games played, sure, but she has attempted 16 triples already, tied for 21st-most in the EL this year. Nothing impressive… until you realize that no other player with two or fewer games played has shot more than eight!
- Dungee keeps going through growing pains. She couldn’t do more than grab a rebound and finish with a -4 efficiency in 19 minutes on Wednesday for Galatasaray, missing all of her three field goal attempts and both of her free throw attempts.
- Hatar came down to earth after a scorching start to the season, recording two points, six rebounds and one assist/steal/block each in Week 4. It had to happen at some point. It’s all about bouncing back for Hatar going forward.
- The deeper we get into the season, the fewer debuts we’ll see. This week it was down to Phoenix Mercury players Peddy, Cunningham and Griner.
- I mentioned Griner’s line above, but Peddy and Cunningham reached 29 and 27 minutes without really impacting their teams’ games. Peddy scored eight points with two rebounds and three assists; Cunningham finished with five points, seven rebounds and two assists. They will most likely improve their outcomes once they gear up for good.
- The Chicago Sky contingent will probably debut with their EL squads in Week 5.