With the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game completed on Sunday, players' focus returns to the stretch run of the next month, as regular-season play resumes Tuesday. A lot has been learned, but even more is still to be decided. In this week's WNBA Power Rankings, we look at each team's key for success the rest of the way.
In our preseason rankings in May, Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird predicted there wouldn't be a dominant favorite this year, but instead, several teams would have a good chance to win the title, including Seattle. That has proved true: Five teams have winning records and are within three games of one another in the standings.
The Chicago Sky lead the way, but Sky center/forward Candace Parker said, "It's not how you start; it's how you finish. We learned that last year. It's fantastic the way that we've played, but we're still capable of so much more."
The Las Vegas Aces, who got off to the hottest start but have cooled down of late, drop in this week's rankings. But coach Becky Hammon, guard Kelsey Plum and forwards A'ja Wilson and Dearica Hamby can take back their winning Team Wilson All-Star vibe to Las Vegas, just in time for the Aces' big upcoming week, with three games on the East Coast.
"We get so caught up in doing so well at the beginning and then hitting a bump in road," Wilson said. "And it's like, 'Oh! All of our hard work is out the door.' But you've got to realize it's a long season and you'll have these times when adversity hits. How do you get over that hump?"
1. Chicago Sky
Previous ranking: 1
On Wednesday, the Sky lost to a motivated Minnesota team, which ended a five-game winning streak; but then they bounced back with a victory over Indiana. It's hard to find very much wrong with the Sky; their six losses all have been by single digits, four by three points or less. Their biggest key will be playing well the rest of the way with a target on their backs. They entered the playoffs last year with a .500 record and got hot at the right time. This year, they need to sustain who they have been so far: a consistently good team that has been competitive in every game.
This week: vs. Atlanta (Tuesday), at Los Angeles (Thursday), at Dallas (Saturday)
2. Seattle Storm
Previous ranking: 4
The Storm ascend to their highest spot in the Power Rankings since being No. 3 in the preseason. They went 2-0 last week, beating Indiana and Los Angeles. The Storm's D has been terrific, leading the league in defensive rating, steals and blocked shots and allowing their opponents the fewest points off turnovers and fewest fast-break points. But in seven of their eight losses, they've scored 77 points or less. Offensive consistency is Seattle's biggest concern going forward; the recent addition of center Tina Charles should help.
This week: vs. Dallas (Tuesday), vs. Indiana (Sunday)
3. Connecticut Sun
Previous ranking: 3
Connecticut lost at Dallas last week, and the Sun are 2-4 in their past six. But they held their spot in the Power Rankings because the two teams currently right below them also have had their struggles in recent weeks. The Sun's frontcourt is one of the league's best, with Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones. However, the loss of Jasmine Thomas to a right ACL injury early in the season changed the guard equation, which is Connecticut's biggest concern the rest of the way. The Sun have made the second-fewest 3-pointers of any team (136), and they are in the bottom third of the league in 3-point rate (34.1%), as well.
This week: at Indiana (Wednesday), at Atlanta (Friday), vs. Las Vegas (Sunday)
4. Washington Mystics
Previous ranking: 5
The Mystics, who beat Atlanta last week, are two different teams this season: 11-4 with Elena Delle Donne in the lineup and 3-6 without her when she is resting/recovering. They knew they needed to play it smart and safe with her back issues, and they won't deviate from that plan. The health of the two-time MVP is paramount. She wasn't named an All-Star, which irritated her. But Delle Donne remains one of the league's premier players, and if she can get through to the playoffs in relatively good shape, it will make all the difference for Washington.
This week: at Los Angeles (Tuesday), at Phoenix (Thursday), vs. Minnesota (Sunday)
5. Las Vegas Aces
Previous ranking: 2
The Aces got off to a 13-2 start, but it has been rocky since then. They have lost five of their past seven, three of them at home. And the most recent -- a 116-107 decision to New York -- pointed out Las Vegas' defensive concerns, as it was a franchise-record offensive performance by the Liberty. Depth is Las Vegas' biggest issue. Las Vegas gets 89% of its points from the starting five, and it relies heavily on them for everything. Hammon must be strategic in balancing the risk/reward of resting starters enough to be in the best shape for a long playoff run.
This week: at New York (Tuesday), at New York (Thursday), at Connecticut (Sunday)
6. Minnesota Lynx
Previous ranking: 8
The Lynx got a big win last week versus Chicago, and they seem like a different team now, as they have won five of their past seven. They lead the league in rebounds per game and are second in rebounding percentage, so we know center Sylvia Fowles is doing her job in her final WNBA season. But to get the best out of themselves, the Lynx need consistent scoring punch from Aerial Powers and Kayla McBride, both of whom are capable of taking over games. They don't always need to do that, but they have to make their presence felt.
This week: vs. Phoenix (Tuesday), vs. Dallas (Thursday), at Indiana (Friday), at Washington (Sunday)
7. Los Angeles Sparks
Previous ranking: 6
Last week, the Sparks beat Phoenix but then were short-handed against Seattle and got blown out. Forward Nneka Ogwumike is doing everything she can. Los Angeles needs a bit more, especially on defense, from center Liz Cambage. But the biggest key for the Sparks the rest of the way is their guards' health. Brittney Sykes and Jordin Canada each have missed four games, while Chennedy Carter has missed five. Kristi Toliver has been limited to seven games. Ogwumike can carry her weight, and more, on the interior, but the Sparks' perimeter play could be the difference in them making the playoffs.
This week: vs. Washington (Tuesday), vs. Chicago (Thursday)
8. Atlanta Dream
Previous ranking: 7
The Dream lost to Washington last week, but they should be happy with their season thus far. Very few outside the organization expected them to even be near playoff contention. That they have done it mostly without longtime Dream standout Tiffany Hayes -- who recently returned from injury -- also is impressive. Rhyne Howard is Atlanta's key to making its first postseason appearance since 2018. It might sound like a lot to put on a rookie, but this is how No. 1 picks distinguish themselves: They are franchise-changers. Howard made the All-Star Game, is the front-runner for WNBA Rookie of the Year and leads Atlanta in scoring (15.1 points per game). She doesn't have to do it all herself -- no one can -- but instead should maintain the load she has carried so far.
This week: at Chicago (Tuesday), vs. Connecticut (Friday), at Phoenix (Sunday)
9. Phoenix Mercury
Previous ranking: 9
Phoenix went 1-1 last week, losing to Los Angeles and beating New York, and stood pat in the Power Rankings. There has been, as All-Star guard Skylar Diggins-Smith put it, a lot of "new" for the Mercury to deal with. A bizarre new normal, as hard as it has been to get used to, of center Brittney Griner being detained overseas. A new head coach in Vanessa Nygaard, who is still settling in to all that job entails. There also was a new big-name player for 16 games in Tina Charles, until she wanted out of the franchise and went to Seattle. The guard-heavy Mercury still have two standouts in Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi. But leading rebounder and shot-blocker Brianna Turner will be the key to grabbing a playoff spot. Turner needs to continue to play a lot of minutes and avoid foul trouble.
This week: at Minnesota (Tuesday), vs. Washington (Thursday), vs. Atlanta (Sunday)
10. New York Liberty
Previous ranking: 10
It feels like the Liberty are too low here, especially after their record-setting 116-point performance in beating Las Vegas on Wednesday. However, that was followed by a loss at Phoenix. And dropping three of their past four kept the Liberty in the same spot as last week. Sabrina Ionescu has looked the part of a No. 1 pick this season; New York can count on the All-Star guard's consistency. What could help the Liberty is the return of guard/forward Betnijah Laney. She had knee surgery on June 1, with a projected return in eight weeks. If the Liberty are in playoff contention then and Laney is healthy enough to come back, she will help on both ends of the court.
This week: vs. Las Vegas (Tuesday), vs. Las Vegas (Thursday)
11. Dallas Wings
Previous ranking: 11
The Wings seem like as much of a wild card as any of the teams currently with a losing record. Will they make the playoffs or end up in the draft lottery? Both seem about equally likely. A few weeks ago, Dallas moved into the top six in the Power Rankings and won three of four. Since then, the Wings have lost three of four, including a 28-point blowout at Minnesota. Still, their victory in that stretch was against Connecticut just before the All-Star Game, led by All-Star guard Arike Ogunbowale's 20 points. The key for Dallas having a strong finish is post play, particularly that of forward Satou Sabally. She returned to the lineup on July 1 after being out since June 12 with a knee injury. If the Wings can be more consistently impactful inside, it can make their guards even more lethal.
This week: at Seattle (Tuesday), at Minnesota (Thursday), vs. Chicago (Saturday)
12. Indiana Fever
Previous ranking: 12
The Fever players might not be thinking about next year, but management has to be. On a six-game losing streak with the league's worst record, Indiana might inspire some optimism for next season with the play of rookie duo NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo, who were teammates at Baylor. They are Indiana's top two rebounders and could be an important part of whatever the team builds for 2023 with possibly the No. 1 pick if the lottery balls go the Fever's way. In the meantime, the Fever have to hope the young players, in particular, believe in the process.
This week: vs. Connecticut (Wednesday), vs. Minnesota (Friday), at Seattle (Sunday)