How every team can finish the 2021 season strong

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The first half of the 2021 WNBA season has officially concluded. The WNBA All-Star Game will be played Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App) in Las Vegas, followed by a month-long break for the Tokyo Olympics.

Top teams like the Las Vegas Aces and the defending champion Seattle Storm have been dominating all season, showing few weaknesses. Other teams like the Minnesota Lynx struggled early but have turned things around to become one of the hottest teams in the league. The Lynx have won seven consecutive games, while the last-place Indiana Fever own the second longest win streak (three) heading into the break.

As we unveil our Week 9 Power Rankings, we look at what each team has done well so far and break down what it needs to improve in the second half of the season.

What’s working: The Aces have shown just how important depth is if you want to become — and remain — the favorite to hoist the 2021 WNBA championship trophy. They lost Angel McCoughtry to a torn ACL in the preseason, but got Liz Cambage (who sat out the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic) and Kelsey Plum (who missed 2020 due to a torn left Achilles) back, and signed Chelsea Gray (team-high 6.1 APG) in free agency.

Cambage’s defensive rebounding perfectly complements the offense of A’ja Wilson, who on Sunday notched her third game this season of at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Only Tina Charles and Candace Parker, with four apiece, have tallied more such games in a single season.

Plum comes off the bench to average a career-high 13.5 points, as well as 3.5 assists. And the Aces also have seen growth from Jackie Young, the 2019 No. 1 overall pick who, along with Dearica Hamby, provide two additional double-digit scorers and tough defense.

The Aces have the best offensive rating (107.0) and are tied for the top defensive rating in the league (95.1). They also rank fourth in assists per game (21.0) and second in blocks (5.2).

Las Vegas is 2-1 against Seattle, which swept the Aces in the 2020 WNBA Finals. They’re balanced at home and on the road, with three losses in Las Vegas and three losses away from Mandalay Bay.

What needs work: One of their few weak spots is reliance on offense. In their six losses (including three in which they failed to score more than 67 points), they’ve averaged 76.8 points. Las Vegas averages a league-best 90.7 on the season.


2. Seattle Storm
2021: 16-5
Previous ranking: 2

What’s working: Like the Aces, quite a lot has been working for the defending champion Storm, who lead the Aces in the WNBA standings by one game.

That is due to Breanna Stewart (20.6 PPG, 9.6 RPG) and Jewell Loyd (17.5 PPG, 4.2 APG, 4.2 RPG) running the offense — and each putting together MVP campaigns. Sue Bird is also chipping in 10.9 points and 5.5 assists per game.

Stewart ranks second in the league in points and fifth in rebounds, and has consistently shown she can carry the team when her teammates are having an off night.

The Storm’s ball movement remains spectacular; they lead the WNBA with 21.6 APG. The also rank second with 86.4 PPG and fourth with 36.4 RPG.

What needs work: The Storm started the season without Alysha Clark and Natasha Howard, and the defense struggled early on. Despite going 5-1 in their first six games, they gave up an average of 85.5 points. In their next six games, they held opponents to 75.8 PPG, again going 5-1. After Sunday’s 82-75 victory over Phoenix, Seattle’s defensive rating is fourth in the league (97.2).

They still have to lock down on defense if they want to defend their 2020 championship. In their last three losses, they’ve given up an average of 89.3 PPG.


3. Connecticut Sun
2021: 14-6
Previous ranking: 4

What’s working: The Sun have emerged as one of the favorites to win the WNBA championship thanks to the play of MVP-favorite Jonquel Jones (21.0 PPG, 11.1 RPG) and Connecticut’s ability to quickly adapt without injured Alyssa Thomas. Jones is shooting lights out (54.0% from the field and 43.7% on 3-pointers) and also playing strong defense. At 95.1, the Sun are tied with the Aces for the best defensive rating in the WNBA.

The Sun have also created their own “Big Three.” Brionna Jones (15.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG) and DeWanna Bonner (15.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG) have played incredibly well this season and will join Jones at the All-Star Game on Wednesday as Connecticut accounts for 25 percent of Team WNBA.

What needs work: The Sun have struggled offensively of late. Their 79.4 PPG ranks ninth in the league, although the average likely dipped during Jones’ absence for EuroBasket.

The two Joneses and Bonner have to use the break to get some rest and get back in it for the second half of the season.


4. Minnesota Lynx
2021: 12-7
Previous ranking: 5

What’s working: After starting the season as one of the worst teams in the league, the Lynx have done a complete turnaround and are now one of the hottest teams. Kayla McBride, who is averaging 21.3 PPG in her last four games, is finding her stride alongside Napheesa Collier (17.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG). Sylvia Fowles (15.9 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.0 SPG) is continuing to stuff the stat sheet and play some of the best defense in the league.

The Lynx are also winning games thanks to Layshia Clarendon, who they recently re-signed for the rest of the season, and Crystal Dangerfield. Averaging 83.3 PPG solidifies the Lynx as the fourth-best offense in the league. The Lynx are also averaging 21.1 APG, a testament to how much they’ve improved their ball movement as the season has progressed.

What needs work: If the Lynx are serious about challenging teams like the Aces and the Storm in the postseason, they have to play better defense — especially against teams that have the ability to score from just about anywhere.


5. Chicago Sky
2021: 10-10
Previous ranking: 3

What’s working: After opening the season with two victories, Chicago lost a woeful seven consecutive games. Then in early June, the Sky finally got healthy and back on track, thanks to Candace Parker’s return from injury. Parker has put together an All-Star resume in her first season in Chicago, as has Courtney Vandersloot, whose 9.1 APG are three more than the second-best in the category.

Despite heading into the Olympic break on a two-game losing streak, the Sky are 7-3 in their last 10 during what was a tough stretch of the schedule. They’re also one of the top teams in a variety of categories, including rebounds (36.2, fifth), assists (21.2, second), blocks (4.4, fourth) and steals per game (7.8, third). And at 95.8, they have the third-best defensive rating in the league.

What needs work: Even with stars like Parker and Vandersloot stuffing the stat sheet every night, the Sky are only averaging 82.2 PPG. Yes, that ranks sixth in the league, but being right in the middle of the pack isn’t going to win playoff games down the road.


6. Phoenix Mercury
2021: 9-10
Previous ranking: 8

What’s working: The Mercury have three of the top players in the league in Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi. Griner and Diggins-Smith are playing very well together. Griner is averaging 20.7 PPG and 9.7 RPG, both of which rank fourth in the league.

But Taurasi has missed the last three games with a hip injury. She has played in seven of 19 games this season.

What’s not working: The rest of the team is struggling, although Kia Nurse scored 28 points and hit a career-high seven 3-pointers in Sunday’s loss at Seattle.

The Mercury have the fourth-worst defensive rating (103.2) and rank seventh in offensive rating (101.0). They’re just 3-3 in their final games heading into the break and will need to improve on both sides of the ball if they want to make the playoffs.


7. New York Liberty
2021: 10-11
Previous ranking: 6

What’s working: Betnijah Laney is working well — and then some. The 2020 Most Improved Player is somehow getting better, averaging a career-high 19.0 PPG, as well as 5.0 APG and 4.1 RPG. She has been one of the best additions to any team league-wide in 2021.

As a team, the Liberty are shooting 42.9% from the floor, which ranks fifth in the WNBA. They’ve also made a league-high 212 3-pointers — 21 more than second-place Seattle.

What needs work: Despite Laney’s gaudy numbers, New York is struggling offensively. The Liberty’s 79.2 PPG ranks 10th in the league. They have to get back into offensive rhythm and establish some consistency. In their past two losses, they have scored just 69 and 54 points. But in the two wins before that, they scored 82 and 99 points.

Even though they would make the playoffs if the regular season ended today, they are one of five teams separated by just 1½ games in the standings. They have to get back into winning games against inferior teams.


8. Dallas Wings
2021: 9-12
Previous ranking: 7

What’s working: Arike Ogunbowale has been playing some of the most well-rounded basketball in the league, averaging 18.9 points, 3.3 assists and 3.0 rebounds. She leads a young group of players that includes fellow All-Star Satou Sabally and Most Improved Player front-runner Marina Mabrey.

The Wings are averaging 85.1 PPG and 36.9 RPG, both good for third best in the league.

What needs work: A loss is a loss no matter by how many points, but the Wings have lost a handful of games by single digits. It makes sense that a young team is struggling to get the type of consistency needed to close out games, but the Wings have to translate that young grit into wins if they want to get back into the playoff picture.


9. Washington Mystics
2021: 8-10
Previous ranking: 10

What’s working: The Mystics started the 2020 campaign without Elena Delle Donne, which set the tone for what has been a fairly lackluster season. But with Tina Charles (26.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG) leading the way, winning is always on the table. Every game Charles somehow dazzles in a whole new way, most recently with her clutch play against the Chicago Sky that stopped a four-game losing streak.

What needs work: Unfortunately, injuries happen. But they have hit the Mystics hard this season. Losing players Myisha Hines-Allen, Natasha Cloud and Erica McCall sent the Mystics into games-long losing streaks.

But as players like Cloud and Hines-Allen get healthy again, Washington can finally start to get into the rhythm it has been searching for all season. The Olympic break will be good for the Mystics to get some rest, but also get some more practices under their belt all together.


10. Atlanta Dream
2021: 6-13
Previous ranking: 9

What’s working: The Dream’s record notwithstanding, they have the fifth-best offense in the league, scoring 82.7 PPG. That offense was led in part by Chennedy Carter (14.2 PPG, 3.3 APG), who has been suspended indefinitely.

What needs work: With Carter (14.2 PPG, 3.3 APG) recently suspended until further notice because of “conduct detrimental to the team,” it is clear the locker room is out of sync. They had been struggling to get any sort of consistency going before Carter’s suspension, and it is concerning for the team going forward. Their league-worst defense will also struggle to improve without Carter on the court.

The Dream should get Tiffany Hayes (MCL) back after the break. She leads Atlanta with 17.6 PPG.


11. Los Angeles Sparks
2021: 6-13
Previous ranking: 11

What’s working: Brittney Sykes, Amanda Zahui B and Erica Wheeler have played excellent defense. The Sparks are averaging 4.5 blocks (third in the league) and 8.5 steals per game (second). At 99.4, they rank sixth in defensive rating.

That stellar defense has kept them competitive against teams like the Aces and the Storm, but Los Angeles — which limps into the break on a six-game losing streak — needs to step up at the other end.

What needs work: The Sparks have had a rough season, and there’s no doubt injuries have caused consistent offensive struggles. Playing without Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, as well as Kristi Toliver, Los Angeles is scoring 73.2 PPG, worst in the league.

If the Sparks have any shot at climbing above .500, that offense needs to get better. That might start with having those three players back and healthy after the break.


12. Indiana Fever
2021: 4-16
Previous ranking: 12

What’s working: Not much has gone right this season for the Fever, who lost 12 consecutive games at one point. But they enter the break on a three-game winning streak after getting their first road win — 79-68 at Atlanta — on Sunday. All five starters scored

The recent success also includes a 73-67 victory over Connecticut. Danielle Robinson (9.9 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.3 RPG) and Kelsey Mitchell (team-high 16.1 PPG) played well — and fast — together in that win.

Teaira McCowan (11.3 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 51.8% from field) has been steady all season long. She had 21 and 14 on Sunday, and was a big reason Indiana outrebounded Atlanta 49-30.

What needs work: Indiana has been in what feels like chaos all season, including the surprising decision to release Lauren Cox. At this point, a playoff push seems unlikely, but the Fever rebuild will benefit from the team improving on both ends; Indiana has the second-worst offensive and defensive ratings in the league.

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