The 2019 WNBAis in the books, and after a fun couple of days out in Las Vegas, it's now time to move on to the second half of the season, which should be thrilling given the crowded playoff picture. But first, a quick recap of the weekend that was.
For the first time since 2006, the league brought back All-Star Friday Night, and it was a whole lot of fun. Diamond DeShields got the action started by winning the Skills Challenge in comeback fashion over Jonquel Jones. Then, Shekinna Stricklen took down the hometown favorite Kayla McBride in the Three-Point Contest, beating her by just one point, 23-22. If there was any criticism to be made, it was that the night felt a bit rushed as they tried to wrap everything up in the one hour of TV time they were allotted. Perhaps in the future the event could be expanded and include other events such as H-O-R-S-E or another shooting competition.
From there, we moved on to the actual All-Star Game, which once again featured a pick-up style format with Elena Delle Donne and A'ja Wilson serving as captains. There were also a few experimental rules introduced, with the shot clock shortened to 20 seconds and teams allowed one live, hockey-style substitution per quarter on the offensive end. It's hard to really say they impacted the game, though, as both teams were flying up and down the floor regardless of the shot clock, and the live subs were used sparingly.
Wilson wasn't able to play due to an ankle injury, but she showed good judgement in putting together the winning squad. Team Wilson used some lights out 3-point shooting to get the victory, 129-126. Erica Wheeler led the way, tying an All-Star Game record with seven triples en route to a game-high 25 points and seven assists., making history as the first undrafted player to win the award, and provided the moment of the weekend with her emotional interview afterwards.
Ahead of the second half of the season, here's a look at one big question each team must answer.
1. Las Vegas Aces (13-6) -- last week No. 1
Big Question: Can they figure things out on the offensive end?
The Aces finished the first half of the season tied for first place with the Sun at 13-6, which was fantastic considering their youth and all of the new pieces they had to integrate. But nearly half of their wins were by five points or less, and they relied heavily on their league-leading defense. To remain in the top tier with the other title contenders, they'll need to start figuring things out on offense, where they've been far too inconsistent.
2. Connecticut Sun (13-6) -- last week No. 2
Big Question: Can they secure a top-two seed?
In each of the past two seasons, the Sun have won 21 games, earned a bye to the second round, then been eliminated by the Phoenix Mercury in a single-elimination game. That should give them plenty of motivation to finish the second half of the season strong and claim a top-two seed that will send them straight to the best-of-five semifinals. They're on the right path, exiting the All-Star break tied for first place with the Aces at 13-6.
3. Washington Mystics (12-6) -- last week No. 3
Big Question: Will Elena Delle Donne stay healthy?
With a top-two seed guaranteeing a bye to the semifinal series, and everyone else forced to play at least one single-elimination game, WNBA teams are forced to make difficult decisions down the stretch. No team will feel that harder than the Mystics, who absolutely must keep Elena Delle Donne healthy. Washington is 11-2 when Delle Donne plays this season, and 0-4 when she doesn't. If they can keep her on the floor, they just might be the favorite to win it all.
4. Chicago Sky (11-8) -- last week No. 5
Big Question: Can they figure out how to play on the road?
The Sky have been one of the best surprises this season, and sit in fourth place, thanks to their current four-game winning streak. But if they want to remain there and make the playoffs for the first time since 2016, they'll have to learn to play on the road. They're 8-3 at home, and just 3-5 on the road, the worst mark among teams in playoff position. The biggest reason for that disparity? Defense. At home, their defensive rating is 92.0, but on the road it jumps to 105.3.
5. Los Angeles Sparks (11-8) -- last week No. 6
Big Question: Will we ever see them at full strength?
In a season in which the entire league has been beset by injuries, few teams have been more affected than the Sparks, who have spent much of the season playing without Candace Parker, Alana Beard, Maria Vadeeva and Alexis Jones. Plus, Riquana Williams is now suspended 10 games due to a domestic violence incident. As a result, we've never gotten a true glimpse at this Sparks team at full strength, and it's hard to know just what to make of them.
6. Seattle Storm (12-9) -- last week No. 4
Big Question: Can they get enough production from their supporting cast?
Despite losing Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird, the Storm are still right there in the playoff chase, just two games out of first place. The likes of Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark and Jordin Canada have stepped up to stabilize things, but the key injuries have shifted players up in the depth chart, leaving the Storm quite thin. As a result, their bench units have largely been a disaster. If they can't find consistent production from the supporting cast, it's hard to see how they make a deep playoff run.
7. Phoenix Mercury (10-8) -- last week No. 8
Big Question: What version of Diana Taurasi will they get when she finally starts playing?
The Mercury have been one of the most disappointing teams this season, even taking Taurasi's injury into account. Back surgery has limited the legend to just one game, and it's unclear when she'll take the court again. They still have plenty of talent, and have managed to battle their way to a 10-8 record, which leaves them just 2 1/2 games out of first place. If Taurasi returns soon and is at something close to the level she was at last season, they could still make some noise.
8. Minnesota Lynx (10-10) -- last week No. 7
Big Question: Can they find any consistency on offense?
The new-look Lynx are without the entirety of their legendary "Core-Four" this season, but have still managed to put together a respectable first half, thanks to a stout defense which ranks fourth in the league. Their main issue is that they haven't been able to complement their efforts on the defensive end with any sort of consistency on offense. Aside from lacking a real go-to lead scorer, they also don't shoot the ball well from outside, and lead the league in turnovers.
9. New York Liberty (8-11) -- last week No. 9
Big Question: Will Katie Smith be able to find lineups that work?
The Liberty have some talented players, but frequent shakeups to the roster due to injuries and overseas commitments have made it hard for them to find any consistency. The Wings are the only other team in the league without a lineup that's played at least 100 minutes together. If the Liberty can stay healthy and Katie Smith can unlock some productive lineups, the Liberty still have a decent chance to sneak into the playoffs.
10. Indiana Fever (6-15) -- last week No. 10
Big Question: Can they turn some of these solid performances into wins?
The season started out promising for the Fever, but after opening up with three wins in their first four games, they've gone just 3-12 since. Despite the poor record, there have been promising signs that Indiana is building something real. They've had one of the best offenses all season long, and have been competitive in just about every game, with 10 of their losses coming by eight points or less. It would be nice to see them turn these solid performances into actual victories in the second half and not just moral ones.
11. Dallas Wings (5-14) -- last week No. 11
Big Question: Who belongs on this team moving forward?
With Liz Cambage forcing her way out via trade, and Skylar Diggins-Smith's pregnancy, this has been a lost season for the Wings. They lost five in a row heading into the All-Star break and barring some sort of miracle turnaround, the playoffs are out of the question. Still, the second half of the season will be useful for new head coach Brian Agler to assess the plethora of young players on the roster and figure out who he believes can be key members of the team going forward.
12. Atlanta Dream (5-15) -- last week No. 12
Big Question: Will they tank or make a push for the playoffs?
Though a few teams have given them a run for their money, the Dream have been by far the most disappointing team this season. After being one game from the Finals they have the worst record in the league coming out of the All-Star break, their league-best defense from last season has been nowhere to be found and their offense is historically bad. There's been no indication that they have a playoff push in them, but given the league uses the last cumulative record of the past two seasons for lottery odds, they don't have much incentive to tank either.