Wednesday night the Lynx will host the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm.
The Lynx likely will be without Seimone Augustus again, and possibly Karima Christmas-Kelly; this on a roster that already looks so different from years past.
The Storm will be without veteran All-Star Sue Bird and last season’s MVP Breanna Stewart, both out because of injuries.
So fans can expect the game to be …
Skilled and athletic.
More than perhaps ever, the WNBA is less about its big stars and more about the improved level of play that the combination of a steadily improving talent flow and a league with just 12 teams has created.
“I think this is a chance for fans to see that depth and get themselves attached to somebody new,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said.
She was talking about a spring, a new WNBA season, that has begun with so many big-name players out of action, either because of injury or personal decisions. Included among them: Bird, Stewart, Angel McCoughtry, Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker are all injured. Skylar Diggins-Smith recently had a baby, while Maya Moore is taking a year off.
Certainly the absences will affect certain teams’ chances of a championship. But don’t expect the quality of play in the league to suffer.
Much has been made recently of the need for the WNBA to expand, citing the quality of players who have been unable to make rosters.
A recent article on fivethirtyeight.com showed the talent pool’s depth, considering the number of girls and young women playing the sport and the fact that the league only has 144 jobs each year.
According to the article, in the 2018 season, 157 players total suited up for at least one game in the league. Compare that to the 412,407 girls’ basketball players in the country at the same time. That means one job for every 2,627 high school players. Compare that to the NBA, where there was one job for every 1,021 high school players.
That shows how hard it is to be on a WNBA roster and how many good players each of the 12 teams have.
“You’d rather have your stars, your faces of the league,” Reeve said. “But I don’t think you’ll see a drop-off in the quality of play. Yeah, obviously, we’ll prepare for Seattle in a different way. But if you think it will be easy without Bird or Stewart, you’re going to be making a huge mistake.”
The talent at the top of the draft goes up and down each year. But the big pipeline created by having more women playing the sport continues to elevate the league’s level of play. It wasn’t long ago that some first-round draft picks struggled to make a roster, not to mention a second-round pick. This season eight of the 12 second-round picks made a roster — including Minnesota’s Jessica Shepard, who had 13 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Chicago, the most by a league player in her rookie debut.
Lynx center Sylvia Fowles said the depth of talent in the league is the most impressive she’s seen in her decade-plus career.
“Most definitely,” she said. “I think these young ladies are getting faster, they’re more athletic. The 5s are stepping out beyond the three-point line. But yes, this is the most talent I’ve seen in my 12 years in the league.”
At the same time, a player such as Megan Gustafson — the Iowa star who was the Division I player of the year last season — was unable to make Dallas’ opening day roster.
Seattle won its season-opening game against Phoenix thanks in large part to the play of Jordin Canada, a second-year player. The Lynx routed Chicago thanks to Shepard and rookie first-rounder Napheesa Collier, whose 27 points is the second most in league history for a rookie debut.
“You’ve seen it for a while in our league where, when a player goes down, another player steps up,” Reeve said. “We’ve had that. But now, with this depth of talent? Each team has multiple talented people.”