Sat. Jul 2nd, 2022

The WNBA teaching carousel has seen fairly the exercise during the last eight months, with three first-time WNBA head coaches getting nods to steer franchises, one main West-to-East changeover and, because the 2022 marketing campaign tipped, two midseason firings inside underperforming squads.

With the season nearing its midway level and separation between tiers of groups starting to materialize, we provide a take a look at the early front-runners for WNBA Coach of the Year. All three of the picks are, coincidentally, former WNBA gamers, together with two first-time head coaches who’ve surpassed expectations of their first season.

First-year juggernaut: Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces

People weren’t positive what to make of the Aces earlier than the season. Gone had been Liz Cambage, Angel McCoughtry and Bill Laimbeer, and in got here a first-year head coach in WNBA legend Becky Hammon, returning to the league after serving as a longtime assistant within the NBA.

Fast ahead six weeks into the 2022 marketing campaign, and Hammon has propelled the WNBA-best 13-3 Aces into the staff to beat this summer time due to her high-octane offense predicated on tempo and house. She inserted Kelsey Plum and Dearica Hamby into the beginning 5 — for the primary time in 4 years, Sixth Woman of the Year will not go to a member of the Aces! — the place each have thrived, whereas additionally shifting A’ja Wilson to the 5, the place she has had an MVP-caliber season. Jackie Young won’t have had a lot of a 3-point shot her first three years as a professional, however she’s now main the staff with 45.7% accuracy from deep.

Along the way in which, Hammon earned the most effective 10-game begin to a head-coaching profession in WNBA historical past, going 9-1 in May.

A typical counterpoint to Hammon’s case is that the Aces’ core 5 had already been taking part in collectively for years — advancing to not less than the semifinals every of the final three seasons — and that that chemistry helps gas their 2022 success. Still, Hammon deserves credit score for unlocking these gamers in a special system plus, in some instances, new roles, and for turning the Aces right into a juggernaut all through a season in any other case formed by parity.

Best turnaround: Tanisha Wright, Atlanta Dream

Expectations had been low for the Atlanta Dream coming into 2022: After a franchise overhaul from possession down during the last year-plus, in addition to a bunch of off-court drama that marred the 2021 season, the Dream had simply 4 holdover gamers from final season. Atlanta seemed to be constructing for the long run, too, when it determined to commerce up and choose Rhyne Howard with the No. 1 total decide in April’s draft.

Fresh off a two-season stint as an assistant for the Aces, Wright steered the Dream to a 4-1 begin, exhibiting from the get-go that Atlanta wasn’t going to be toiling on the backside of the standings this summer time. Following Tuesday’s win over the Dallas Wings, Wright has the Dream at .500, their eight wins so far tying their 2021 win whole, and if the season ended at present, they’d earn the No. 6 seed and attain the playoffs for the primary time since 2018. What’s extra, Wright has managed to do it with out the luxurious of leaning on Dream franchise stalwart Tiffany Hayes, who continues to be recovering from a knee harm.

As she did as a participant and an assistant within the league, Wright established a gritty defensive identification in Atlanta that has made the Dream a headache for groups to face — they’re at present first in defensive score after by no means ending higher than eighth of their earlier three seasons. And whereas Howard has been glorious, the first-year coach has additionally gotten nice play out of Aari McDonald, Cheyenne Parker and even AD Durr — who solely joined the staff two weeks in the past after a muted begin in New York — as of late, serving to Atlanta catapult from afterthought to possible playoff contender.

Dark horse: Sandy Brondello, New York Liberty

Don’t cement Brondello — who’s in her first season in Brooklyn after spending the earlier eight with the Phoenix Mercury — on this dialog simply but; although the Liberty have received six of their final 9 video games, together with an enormous one Wednesday over the Connecticut Sun, it is robust to put aside their 1-7 begin. But she’s included right here as a result of if New York continues on this trajectory, it has a powerful shot at making the playoffs and coming away with its greatest season in years.

Marine Johannes and Han Xu have been game-changers. Sabrina Ionescu has thrived since Brondello began taking part in her alongside Crystal Dangerfield and, extra not too long ago, Johannes. Natasha Howard and Stefanie Dolson have helped spearhead a greater defensive effort, and on the opposite facet of the ground are more and more settling into Brondello’s system. Across their final 9 video games, the Liberty are No. 2 within the league in internet score; their on-court chemistry, capability to make in-game changes and ball motion have taken large leaps in current weeks.

That New York has managed to compile this streak — which additionally contains two wins over the Mystics and shut losses to the Storm and Sky — with out 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney and Jocelyn Willoughby and as DiDi Richards, Rebecca Allen and Lorela Cubaj additionally missed time attributable to accidents, makes the run all of the extra spectacular.

There’s lots of floor to be made up, and so they’d have to shut out tight video games in opposition to nice groups, equivalent to how they did Wednesday in opposition to Connecticut, higher than they must date. But it is not completely infeasible for Brondello to information the Liberty to a .500 or higher end for the primary time since 2017, when Bill Laimbeer was the coach.

Stat of the week

It cannot be something apart from the Aces scoring a WNBA-record 41 first-quarter factors in opposition to the defending champs Tuesday evening solely to surrender a 28-point lead because the Sky put collectively the biggest comeback in league historical past to return away with the 104-95 victory.

“That first quarter was one of the crucial good quarters I’ve ever seen of basketball,” Hammon stated. “Basically after that, they kicked our ass.”

Game of the week: Washington Mystics at Seattle Storm

The first assembly this summer time between the 2019 and 2018/20 champs occurs Thursday (10 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network). Elena Delle Donne (relaxation, again) didn’t play within the Mystics’ loss to the Los Angeles Sparks on Tuesday, however is anticipated to rejoin the staff in Seattle. Washington is 8-3 with its two-time MVP and 3-5 with out her

Both groups have struggled to determine consistency with gamers out and in of the lineup attributable to harm, sickness, and so on., however are nonetheless within the dialog of title contenders and will be harmful in the event that they peak on the proper time.

How will the Storm’s offense, which at occasions has struggled to get a lot manufacturing exterior of Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Ezi Magbegor, fare in opposition to the Mystics’ stingy protection? Can Washington bounce again after a disappointing loss to the Sparks and channel the hassle it got here out with in its decisive victory (with Delle Donne) this previous weekend over Connecticut?


Don’t miss Katie Barnes’ ESPN story on 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and who will get to be the face of the WNBA.

“I need it to have the ability to get to the purpose the place we are able to simply share these tales and permit ladies of our league to only actually thrive and flourish,” Jones advised Barnes. “And so, if me sitting up right here telling my fact and being open and sincere goes to do this, then I actually do hope it’s higher for girls sooner or later.”

Fantasy ladies’s basketball picks

Who to start out: New York’s Johannes has lit the WNBA world on hearth since arriving in Brooklyn from France together with her flashy facilitating and, much more not too long ago, her scorching capturing (she’s 8-of-15 on 3-pointers her previous two video games). She could possibly be a very good pickup.

Allisha Gray has been among the many vivid spots for the Dallas Wings this summer time, her 14.9 factors and 5.8 rebounds per recreation each career-best marks. The 6-foot-0 guard, who has a powerful case for an All-Star reserve bid, was No. 20 in ESPN’s most up-to-date fantasy rankings.

Emma Meesseman is an effective individual to start out this upcoming week because the Sky face the struggling Sparks and Minnesota Lynx. Her 38.2 fantasy factors per recreation during the last 5 video games are tied for third-best within the league.

Who to sit down: The Sparks have a tough stretch developing with video games in opposition to the Sky, Storm and Aces. Chennedy Carter performed simply two minutes within the Sparks’ upset over the Mystics, and interim head coach Fred Williams warned that her minutes could go down with the return of Kristi Toliver.

Washington’s Myisha Hines-Allen has struggled in current video games, and Thursday’s matchup in opposition to the defensive-minded Storm, a unit led by the likes of Gabby Williams, Stewart and Magbegor, could possibly be a troublesome one.

Diamond DeShields scored a season-low 5 factors in opposition to Minnesota earlier this week and scored a meager 14 in opposition to Dallas after they performed final week. In normal, her utilization has gone down as of late. The Mercury have rematches in opposition to these squads this week, so it is perhaps value contemplating sitting DeShields for these matchups when you have stronger choices to play.

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