Should Bird, Taurasi’s final meeting have gotten more hype? Answering your WNBA questions


Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi met Friday night for the final time in a regular-season game. Though the two legends could face each other again if the Phoenix Mercury slide into the playoffs, it signaled a bittersweet end of an era. There will be more on-court friendships and rivalries between players and teams to enjoy in the years to come. But a friendship like Bird and Taurasi is one for the ages — college teammates, both members of the US Olympic team, and fierce WNBA competitors. We may not see something like that again. What we will see, however, is more WNBA action, drama and storylines unfold as we head into the last few weeks of the regular season.

So, let’s get into it. You know the drill for my 12 Questions column: I address questions about the WNBA, teams and individual players while providing the best possible answers based on stats, game results, individual and team play, and gut feelings. Agree. Disagree. Discuss. That’s what makes talking about the WNBA so much fun. If you have questions you’d like me to address in the next column, drop them in the comments.

1. What can the Indiana Fever build on for next season?

The Fever came into the season with a handful of rookies and high aspirations. The overall goal was to move up in the standings and contend for a playoff spot. Unfortunately for the Fever, that didn’t happen as Indiana was eliminated from the playoffs over the weekend. The Fever are currently on a 12-game losing streak and haven’t been able to turn the tide. They are last in defensive and offensive ratings, and they rank near the bottom in a variety of other statistical categories. But there’s a bright side. Kelsey Mitchell is at the top of her game, and she’s locked up until 2024. NaLyssa Smith is the real deal, and Emily Engstler has shown flashes of the kind of utility player she can be. And believe it or not, the Fever lead the league in offensive rebounding with 10 per game. They also have the opportunity to surpass their win total from last season (six) if they can earn two more wins.

2. What teams have already clinched playoff spots?

The Chicago Sky and the Las Vegas Aces locked up playoff spots over the weekend, and the Connecticut Sun and Seattle Storm are not far behind. It will be a tight race among these top four teams for the top two spots. Barring a substantial losing streak, the Washington Mystics also appears playoff-bound. As for the rest of the league, the last three playoff spots are up for grabs. The Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Atlanta Dream and Dallas Wings all have 12 wins each, and the New York Liberty and Minnesota Lynx have 10. With less than a month of basketball left to play, anything can happen.

3. Which team could drop out of playoff contention?

The Dream started off the season better than expected, and they led the league in defense for a while. Rhyne Howard has been everything Atlanta could have asked for and more. But the Dream are averaging 16.9 turnover per game — the most in the WNBA — and have the lowest points per game with 77.9. That’s a poor combination for winning. The Dream’s remaining regular-season schedule is easier than others, as they play only one of the top five teams in their next seven games. Still, with the Lynx, Mercury and Liberty all looking to make a strong playoff push, Atlanta’s postseason hopes might be slipping away.

4. Who is most likely to work their way into the playoffs: the Mercury, Liberty or Lynx?

I would have said the Lynx last week, but a lot can change in seven days when it comes to the WNBA. Minnesota has lost three games in a row, but two were back-to-back losses against the Sun. If the Lynx can rack up some wins against opponents with similar records, they have a legitimate chance. The Liberty recently snapped a five-game losing streak with an impressive 83-80 win over the Sky. But they’ll need to be consistent if they want to sneak into the playoffs. I really like what I saw out of the Mercury in their 94-78 win against Seattle last Friday. They shared the ball well on offense and were hitting shots, but their defense — which has been lacking all season — was the highlight. If they continue to play that way, a playoff spot is well within reach.

5. What did you think about the Taurasi-Bird regular-season finale?

It’s the end of an era, and I wish it would have gotten more attention. Knowing this is Bird’s last official season for the Storm, the WNBA had plenty of time to market and promote this particular game on the schedule. Yes, there were articles, videos and tributes on the day of the game by a variety of media outlets, The Athletic included. But with a 10 pm tipoff and the game airing on NBA TV, it felt antilimactic. The game itself was a classic Storm-Mercury affair, with both teams battling back and forth. It was close up until the fourth quarter, when Phoenix outscored Seattle 34-13 thanks to a barrage of 3s and a stout defensive effort. I only wish more people would have gotten to see it.


Candace Parker, along with Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson, is having an MVP-caliber season. (David Banks / USA Today)

6. Who are the top three players in the MVP race?

I’ve been high on A’ja Wilson for the majority of the season (19.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game). But right now, the MVP could go to Wilson, Breanna Stewart or Candance Parker. All three players are enjoying incredible seasons, both on and off the stat sheet. Wilson’s defensive effort combined with her offensive output has been a joy to watch. Stewart (21.3 points and 7.4 rebounds) is having another great all-around season across the board. And it can’t be overlooked that Parker (13.6 points and 8.9 rebounds) is having one of the best seasons of her career… at age 36. But depending on how the rest of the season plays out, I think it’s going to come down to Wilson and Stewart.

7. What’s with all the triple-doubles this season?

Alyssa Thomas secured her first career triple-double Friday in the Sun’s 94-84 win over the Lynx. Thomas had 15 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists, making her the 11th player in WNBA history to record a triple-double and the sixth to do it this season alone. Sabrina Ionescu (two), Candace Parker (two) and Moriah Jefferson round out the list. Last season, there were two total — one by Courtney Vandersloot in the playoffs and the other by Ionescu. So why the jump? Position-less basketball and the movement away from pounding the ball inside the lane has given multiple players the ability to have the ball in their hands more, score from different spots on the floor and spread around the ball. The rise in assists is evident in the numbers, as teams are averaging 20 per game. The pace of the game is also faster, with more teams relying on fast-break points and uptempo offenses instead of slowing the game down and getting the ball in the paint. A faster game means more shots, and more shots mean more rebounding opportunities. These are just a few of the factors that have played a role in the rise of triple-doubles this season. And it’s a trend that most likely will continue.

8. Who are your top five teams?

1. Sky

They’re 8-2 in their last 10 games and don’t look like they’re slowing down anytime soon.

2. Sun

They’ve won three games in a row, and the addition of Bria Hartley was a good move.

3. Storm

Stewart is making yet another case for MVP.

4. Aces

When they’re off, they’re off (92-76 loss against Atlanta). But when they’re on … yikes.

5. Mystics

Still quietly hanging around in that fifth spot.

9. What’s your game of the week?

Las Vegas at Chicago Sky
8:30 pm (ET) Tuesday, Amazon Prime

Bragging rights and a prize pool of $500,000 on the line. The Commissioner’s Cup game could also be a preview of the WNBA Finals.

Reader Questions

10. Am I doomed in my fantasy league to the person who has Sabrina Ionescu on their team?

Doomed is a bit of a stretch because it takes more than one player to impact a fantasy game. Still, Inonescu is third in fantasy points with 966 (ESPN.com) and is averaging 35.8 points per game. So, she’s going to produce a good amount of points for her team owner night after night. But I’d also be concerned about Stewart and Wilson. Wilson leads all fantasy scorers with 1,077 total fantasy points while averaging 38.5 points per game. Stewart has 1,014 total fantasy points and is averaging 39 points per game. If you have either one of these players on your team, you have a decent shot against Ionescu.

11. Sixth player of the year thoughts?

There’s not a bench player with more value than Brionna Jones, and it’s been that way all season. Jones is the third-best player on HerHoopStats.com’s top 10 player list. She’s averaging 14 points, five rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. Her PER is 22.9 and she has the third-best Win Share in the league with 5.1. A Sixth Woman of the Year doesn’t get more valuable than that.

12. Is relocation an option for the Indiana Fever?

Indiana draws fewer than 2,000 fans a game. Others are also low. When it comes to growing the WNBA, nothing should be off the table. If relocation makes sense and would provide an opportunity for more fan support and turnout, why not? The issue is the owner(s) need to want to move or sell the team, and there needs to be a viable buyer in the mix. Indiana is a basketball haven, and to be fair, the Fever haven’t been great the past few seasons. I’ll be interested in what the numbers look like in the next couple of seasons, especially with a young team that has the ability to turn things around.

(Top photo of Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi: Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

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