WNBA Notebook: Rookies impact early, Lynx cut down roster

Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard reacts to hitting a three pointer against Los Angeles Sparks guard Brittney Sykes during during a WNBA basketball game. (Curtis Compton/AP

The WNBA is back and there is no shortage of news from the league despite being just over a week into the league’s 26th season.

With players being waived, catching COVID, and making a splash in their rookie debuts, the first week of the WNBA season brought everything and more to the table as they continue to grow.

Not all rookies are built equal

Fresh in the league but already making their impact are the WNBA’s 2022 rookie class, headlined by first overall pick Rhyne Howard who has all but confirmed for the Atlanta Dream that their rebuilding strategy is working.

Though they may only be 2-0, the Dream have been a team that has seen chaos more than triumph and lost their 2020 No. 3 pick, Chennedy Carter, after issues with playing time and other teammates, with the Dream failing to make the postseason for the last four seasons.

With Howard on their squad they finally get a chance to put the missing piece of their ever changing puzzle together – off-season acquisitions from Los Angeles, a new young core, and when she returns, leadership from Tiffany Hayes, turning the team from a dead-last projection to a winning record in hopefully a year.

Yet Atlanta already looked like a team who had been in that mid-rebuild stage for years, with Howard already leading the team in scoring with 18.5 points per game, able to shoot effortlessly on a dime and also crash the boards to get on the rebounding side.

While two games is just the beginning of a new 36 game long season, and the Dream play the Aces next, they look better than anyone could’ve imagined thanks to a transformative generational talent.

Destanni Henderson of the Indiana Fever is another rookie to watch out for despite not being one of their multiple first round picks – already averaging 10.3 points in 22.3 minutes per game, trailing only No. 2 pick NaLyssa Smith in her explosive play.

Lynx going out with a bang

In what will be Sylvia Fowles’ final season in the WNBA, it doesn’t seem the Minnesota Lynx will be giving her the championship send-off that most hoped she would receive.

The Lynx announced they were buying out veteran Angel McCoughtry’s contract – a player they only acquired in February as a free agent, after she averaged six points in two games after missing the whole 2021 season due to injury.

Minnesota also waived guard Odyssey Sims, the No. 2 draft pick in 2014 by who played for the Lynx in both 2019 and 2020. She signed with the team to return just three days before the season started.

Other notable moves are the waiving of their 2021 first round pick Rennia Davis, who missed last season due to a foot injury and played in just one game in 2022. The Lynx however did pick up Evina Westbrook, who was originally drafted by the Seattle Storm.

With Westbrook’s arrival the Lynx are still down to just nine active players on the roster with star Napheesa Collier out due to her pregnancy and Damiris Dantas and Canadian Natalie Achonwa both out with injuries. Kayla McBride is also still out due to her overseas commitments as the Lynx are currently 0-3 to start the season.

Catching flights and COVID

It’s no secret that the WNBA’s travel conditions are less than ideal for players, and it’s even less than ideal that when the New York Liberty’s owners tried to provide them with a better solution they were fined $500K, but the WNBA’s travel has landed them in hot water once again.

Despite implementing home and away series to limit travel for teams so they are on the road less, players still ran into issues on charter flights in the first week of the season that led many players to have to miss games.

Seattle players Breanna Stewart and Epiphanny Prince both missed the Storm’s game in Phoenix because they entered the league’s health and safety protocols, an indication that they had tested positive for COVID-19, which Stewart claimed she caught from her flight.

Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud ran into the same problem and also contracted COVID-19 from flying on a charter flight.

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert had previously stated it would cost the league $20 million to have charter flights for the whole season, but players are still left with no answer to their lack of safe travel to and from games that have impacted some teams’ best players.

Who is looking like a title contender?

It’s pretty hard to say when it’s not even 10 per cent through the season, and teams have crashed out hard after looking good early in prior years, while other teams who looked like they didn’t stand a chance ended up in the WNBA Finals.

The Washington Mystics look great early considering all their absences, cruising to a 3-0 record in a division with the reigning champion Chicago Sky, while the Los Angeles Sparks are the story of the West as they sit second in a division with Phoenix and Seattle.

Of course, most teams are dealing with injury, illness, international duty and all the other adjustments that come at the beginning of the five-month long WNBA season, but considering both teams missed the playoffs last year, having a strong start could save them from any mid-season lulls they run into that seem to be a trend.

Jordin Canada and Liz Cambage have been treats to watch in L.A., both in their first season with the team, as both players are averaging 16.7 points per game in three games played, while the Mystics have already seen great output from their 2022 No. 3 pick Shakira Austin who contributed a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds against Minnesota.

The Las Vegas Aces still have their solid core of A’ja Wilson, Dearica Hamby, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young, now with revamped coaching in Becky Hammon, and will look to close the job on the WNBA title that they missed out on in 2020.

A lot can change over the summer of play, but a lot of teams seemed to have made the right moves in the off-season that can help them reach the playoffs and become serious competitors in a league with only 12 teams full of top talent.

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