Professional Basketball

WNBA Season Ends, Playoff Seeding Finalized

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The WNBA wrapped up its 2017 season on Sunday and the playoff seeding is finally set. Four teams, the San Antonio Stars, Indiana Fever, Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were eliminated from playoff contention, while the remaining eight teams move on to postseason action.

Here is a season recap looking at each team from worst to first.

12. San Antonio Stars (8-26): The Stars are in a rebuilding effort under first year head coach Vickie Johnson. After drafting guard Kelsey Plum with the first overall pick in the draft, the team got off to a slow start, dropping their first 14 contests before picking up their first win, 89-82 over the Chicago Sky on June 30. There was promise late in the season as the Stars closed out the season with a 5-5 record in their final ten games. This was a season of developing players under Johnson’s system and building chemistry with keeping in mind the long term goal of building a young athletic core that will get them to compete for championships in years to come.

11. Indiana Fever (9-25): After competing in the playoffs for the last 12 seasons under head coaches Lin Dunn and Stephanie White, this season finds the Fever on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Head Coach Pokey Chatman took over the team this season after her departure from the Chicago Sky after last season. Indiana was competitive through the months of May and June, but injuries to guards Tiffany Mitchell, Shenise Johnson and Briann January took the wind out of their sails and will give them their first lottery pick since the 2005 draft when they selected guard Tan White. This is only the fifth time in the 18 years of franchise history that the team failed to qualify for the playoffs.

10. Atlanta Dream (12-22): The Dream played this season without star forward Angel McCoughtry, who opted to sit this season out in order to rest. While McCoughtry was missed on and off the court, the Dream stayed within playoff contention until late July. First, they traded their 2018 second round draft pick to the Connecticut Sun on June 8 in exchange for Jordan Hooper, then they shipped Hooper off to the Chicago Sky on July 28 for Tamera Young, Imani Boyette and Chicago’s second round pick. In other words, the Dream picked up Young and Boyette, lost their first round pick and moved back one position in the second round next year. After the trade, they went on a nine-game losing streak and pulled themselves out of contention. We’ll see how the trade pans out long term on whether they are better off with the players acquired or if the lottery pick would have been better. That won’t happen until next year at the earliest.

9. Chicago Sky (12-22): The Sky had an off-season filled with change after the 2016 campaign. They relieved Pokey Chatman of head coaching duties in October and hired Amber Stocks to fill that vacancy in December. Forward Elena Delle Donne was shipped off to the Washington Mystics in a February trade which gave the Sky Stefanie Dolson, Kahleah Copper and the second overall pick in this year’s draft (which they used to acquire center Alaina Coates). Later in the month, Clarissa dos Santos was shipped to San Antonio for Astou Ndour. They started the season slow with a 3-12 record. With the early absence of guard Courtney Vandersloot, who was still playing overseas, a new system brought in by Stocks, and limited team chemistry, it seemed at first that the Sky was moving backwards. However, a 100-76 win against the league leading Minnesota Lynx helped spark a run where they won five of their next six games and gave the young team confidence. The trade with Atlanta may have benefitted the team long-term as they’ll now have two lottery picks next year, but they did drop the last four contests to narrowly miss out on the playoffs this year.

8. Seattle Storm (15-19): The Storm was not active in trades or free agent acquisitions during the offseason, opting instead to stick with their veteran core. They began the season with a strong 4-1 start, but all four of those victories came at home at KeyArena. When the Storm ventured away from home, they could only muster two wins on the road for most of the season. With a 10-16 record and playoff hopes faltering, head coach Jenny Boucek was relieved of her duties in mid-August and assistant coach Gary Kloppenburg was given the interim tag. He was able to motivate the team to a 5-3 record in the final eight games of the season and the final spot in the playoffs. They travel to the Phoenix Mercury for their single-elimination first round game at 9 p.m. CT on Wednesday.

7. Dallas Wings (16-18): Other than trading guard Odyssey Sims and their first round pick (11th overall) to the Los Angeles Sparks for their 4th and 23rd picks, the Wings have continued to build off of the foundation that head coach Fred Williams began since taking the helm in 2014. All season long they have remained consistent, never winning games by large margins, but never getting blown out either. However, only two players have more than a couple of years of experience – this was forward Karima Christmas-Kelly’s seventh season and center Courtney Paris’s eighth year in the league. Williams has five rookies and two second year players on his squad, but that was enough to keep a winning percentage around .500 for the entire season and earning the seventh spot in the playoffs. The Wings will travel to the sixth seeded Washington Mystics for their first round single-elimination game at 7 p.m. CT on Wednesday.

6. Washington Mystics (18-16): The Washington Mystics needed time to adjust early in the season with the acquisitions of Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver, along with the late arrival of Emma Meesseman from overseas commitments. However, late season injuries took the Mystics out of their rhythm pushing them further down into the standings to finish with the sixth seed and the chance to host the Dallas Wings for their first round single-elimination game at 7 p.m. CT on Wednesday. With only one rookie and most three to six year veterans on the squad and a team that has qualified for the playoffs four out of the last five seasons, head coach Mike Thibault will have his team prepared. The question will be whether they will respond.

5. Phoenix Mercury (18-16): This season was one of re-shuffling for the Mercury, the team that won the championship just three seasons ago. Forward Penny Taylor retired at the end of last season. Guard Candice Dupree was traded to Indiana. Forward DeWanna Bonner missed the season due to pregnancy and center Brittney Griner missed time because of injury. However, they signed guard Diana Taurasi, who became the league’s all-time leading scorer this season, to a contract extension which puts her in a Mercury uniform through the 2020 season, added veteran forward Monique Currie to the roster and guard Leilani Mitchell provided a much needed spark. They managed to pull together a good enough season to wrestle the fifth spot away from the Mystics on the last day of the regular season. They host the Seattle Storm for their single-elimination first round game at 9 p.m. CT on Wednesday. They still have enough veterans on the roster with playoff experience that could give them an advantage in the early rounds of the playoffs. In order to do so, they will have to find some consistency in their game, starting with their defense, if they are going to have a shot at the championship.

4. Connecticut Sun (21-13): Curt Miller, in his second year as head coach, has found a way to motivate his young players this season and they have been rewarded with the fourth seed in the playoffs. After a slow start, they managed to give the league-leading Minnesota Lynx their first loss of the season and pulled off three five-game winning streaks. This came after not finding their first win until the fifth game of the season. The Sun has not qualified for the playoffs since the 2012 season, the last under Mike Thibault. They managed to secure a first-round bye and will host a single elimination second-round game at 2 p.m. CT on Sunday. This Sun team doesn’t have playoff experience, but they have already proven that they can defy the odds.

3. New York Liberty (22-12): Bill Laimbeer has quietly been building and developing his Liberty team for the past few seasons and, once again, has them in position to make a deep run in the playoffs. This is the third year in a row that the Liberty has made the playoffs and the second consecutive year that they found themselves with the first-round bye under the new playoff format. They will host a single elimination second-round game at 4 p.m. CT on Sunday. With tough defense, veteran play, and an experienced head coach, the Liberty should be a force to reckon with for any team desiring to get to the championship round.

2. Los Angeles Sparks (26-8): The defending WNBA champions have had to play second-fiddle to the top-seeded team all season, even with pre-season predictions from the media and WNBA general managers. In the GM poll, 42 percent believed that the Minnesota Lynx would win the championship with the Lynx and Sparks each having a 50-50 chance at winning the Western Conference. Now that the season has concluded, the Lynx edged out the Sparks for the Western Conference spot by one game, despite the Sparks beating the Lynx twice this season. Still, they managed to keep pace and earned themselves a trip directly to the semi-finals for a five-game series against a round two winner beginning on Tuesday September 12. They are a well-coached veteran team that still has the claim on being the defending champs. Now they have the right to defend what they earned last year.

1. Minnesota Lynx (27-7): Losing the 2016 championship to the Los Angeles Sparks by one basket in the final seconds of the decisive Game 5 has never been far from the minds of this veteran Lynx squad. This year, they expanded forward Rebekkah Brunson’s role and turned her into a perimeter shooter, and brought center Sylvia Fowles into the offense more. Those two moves have paid dividends for them. Fowles has garnered five player-of-the-week awards and is the only player to have won the Western Conference player-of-the-month award, and will most-likely take home the League MVP Award after media voting concludes. Add to this Maya Moore peaking just as the team enters the playoffs and the return of guard Lindsay Whalen from injury and the Lynx might be the most lethal team in the playoffs right now. However, five of their seven losses this season came to teams that have made the playoffs, showing that they are vulnerable. By nature of having the top seed, they earned an automatic trip to the semi-finals for a five-game series against a round two winner beginning on Tuesday September 12. Any team that faces the Lynx in the playoffs needs to be efficient on both ends of the court during every possession in every game if they are going to knock off the most dominant team in the past seven years. It could happen.

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