<
>

Early impressions: Sun on the rise in WNBA

play
McCoughtry drains game winner for the Dream (0:40)

Angel McCoughtry hits a corner 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds remaining to give the Dream a win over the Lynx. (0:40)

Connecticut headed into the fourth quarter against Los Angeles last Thursday looking like a team that knew it had another gear, but hadn't been able to reach it. The Sun trailed the post-thin Sparks by nine points.

Then it was time for Sun fans to buckle up, because the thrill ride was just beginning. Connecticut scored 37 points in the final 10 minutes and won 102-94. Was it too early in the WNBA season to use the term "statement game" for the Sun's victory? Maybe, but maybe not.

Same goes for Atlanta's 76-74 victory over defending champion Minnesota on Tuesday. The Dream also saved their best for the last quarter, outscoring the Lynx 26-18 in the final period, including a 13-4 run to end the game. Angel McCoughtry, back after resting last WNBA season, hit the winning 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left. The league's worst 3-point shooting team in 2017 beat the mighty Lynx with a dagger trey.

Those are two of the more intriguing games we've seen so far. What are some overall takeaways early in this 2018 WNBA summer, now that each team has had a chance to jump into the pool and splash around a little bit?

Sun are a championship contender

Connecticut (3-0) is averaging 96.3 points, has a 115.6 offensive rating and is shooting 52.2 percent from the field, with a true shooting percentage of 60.9. Those are all league-bests. It's a big boost, of course, to have forward Chiney Ogwumike after the Achilles injury that cost her last season. And forward/center Jonquel Jones coming off the bench has worked. But forward Alyssa Thomas is the player who's really surging so far, leading the Sun by averaging 16.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots, while shooting 62.5 percent from the field. She's also averaging 4.3 assists; much of what the Sun do offensively goes through Thomas.

Actually, it goes through both Thomases -- point guard Jasmine Thomas leads the Sun in assists at 6.0 per game, while also averaging 12.0 points and being a steadying presence at all times on the floor.

Lynx have some concerns

The number 23 has been magical for the Lynx; it's Maya Moore's jersey, and they've won four WNBA championships in her seven seasons. But the numbers "2-3" represent something altogether foreign: That's the Lynx's current record. They had never been below .500 in the Moore era, which started when she was the No. 1 draft pick in 2011.

Admittedly, Minnesota is two last-second shots away from being 4-1. Chelsea Gray's buzzer-beater gave the Sparks a 77-76 win in the teams' opener on May 20, and McCoughtry's aforementioned 3-pointer snatched away another victory from the Lynx. Minnesota's other loss was 90-78 Sunday at Washington, when the Lynx were outscored 24-10 in the fourth quarter.

Thus far, Minnesota is 10th in the league in scoring (74.6 PPG) and ninth in offensive rating (94.7). This is unfamiliar territory for the Lynx. Moore (15.8 PPG) is shooting just 38.5 percent from the field. Her career low for a season is 42 percent, which came in 2015 as the Lynx adjusted to the midseason addition of center Sylvia Fowles but won a championship. The past two seasons, Moore had shot around 44 percent.

It's too early for Lynx fans to panic, but there are things to worry about -- including the fact that their next four games are against the Mercury (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET Friday), Sparks, Mystics and Sun, with the latter three on the road.

Storm: Dynamic duo and then some

Back-to-back No. 1 draft picks Jewell Loyd (2015) and Breanna Stewart (2016) have been very good players since they entered the league. But in this, their third season playing together, they really appear to be clicking. The Storm (4-1) have the WNBA's second-best offensive rating (108.4) and true shooting percentage (57.6). Loyd (23.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 4.0 APG) is across-the-board better thus far, including a 41.9 percentage from behind the arc. Stewart (21.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.6 BPG) is also getting it done on both ends of the floor.

But a big contribution also has come from Natasha Howard, obtained via trade from the Lynx. The 6-foot-2 forward was a backup the past two seasons for Minnesota, and mostly came off the bench her first two years in the league with Indiana. The Lynx dealt Howard for a 2018 second-round draft pick and the right to exchange first-round draft slots with the Storm in 2019. So far, so good for Seattle, where Howard has moved into a starting role. She's averaging career highs in points (14.2), rebounds (6.2) and field goal percentage (65.1), and also helps strengthen the Storm's defense.

Sparks holding their own

Los Angeles (3-1) started the season with one true post, Nneka Ogwumike, as Candace Parker was injured, Jantel Lavender was still playing overseas and rookie Maria Vadeeva of Russia wasn't in the United States yet. The Sparks still won two of their first three. Then Parker returned for the home opener, an 80-70 victory Sunday. Lavender has since rejoined the team, so the Sparks should be close to full strength when they meet the Lynx again, on Sunday in Los Angeles. Coach Brian Agler said Vadeeva's visa appointment was June 1, so she seems likely to join the Sparks soon, too.

Ogwumike, the 2016 league MVP, is leading the team at 20.3 PPG and 7.8 RPG. We've come to expect consistent big numbers from her. But the Sparks' guard play has been really strong, led by Gray (18.5 PPG, 7.3 APG) and Odyssey Sims (18.0 PPG, 3.5 APG). The Sparks' lone loss came when they ran out of gas in the fourth quarter at Connecticut. But once this team has all its weapons in place, the Sparks should be what the league's GMs predicted they'd be: the WNBA's favorite. The mentality they play with -- to never take anything for granted -- will help them keep their edge, along with the fact that there are dangerous challengers.

About those other potential challengers

One might be Washington (4-1). The Mystics' loss came Tuesday in Seattle, 81-77. But it was that close without Mystics star Elena Delle Donne, who was ill and missed the game. She is averaging a team-high 16.5 PPG, but is shooting just 28.6 percent from 3-point range. Rookie guard Ariel Atkins has been solid so far, averaging 11.0 points off the bench for Washington.

Phoenix is 2-2, with the losses to the Storm and the Sparks. The Mercury have to be concerned they're averaging 78.5 points (that needs to go up) and are being outrebounded by almost nine per game.

The Dream are 2-2 and averaging just 76.3 PPG, but Atlanta is trying to put more emphasis on defense this season under new coach Nicki Collen. The Dream have the Mercury and Sun coming up next at home, and we'll see if they can build off their big win over the Lynx.