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Jackie Young for MVP, how the Sun can survive another injury and a fresh start for the Sparks

The Las Vegas Aces have been probably the most dominant staff to this point within the 2022 season, topping the WNBA standings with a 7-1 document and league-best internet ranking of 15.4. First-year head coach Becky Hammon’s flashy pace-and-space offense and a few personnel shifts — comparable to A’ja Wilson enjoying middle and Kelsey Plum and Dearica Hamby not coming off the bench — have the staff capturing extra 3-pointers than ever earlier than and thriving with extra freedom and house by which to function.

Plum and teammate Jackie Younger have significantly thrived underneath Hammon’s extra perimeter-oriented offense, taking probably the most pictures per recreation on the roster. Whereas there’s little doubt that Younger, who averaged 12.2 factors per recreation in 2021 (plus 11.0 in 2020 and 6.6 as a rookie in 2019) is a frontrunner for Most Improved Participant, her title deserves to be included on the shortlist in early MVP conversations, too.

Younger is scoring a league-best 19.3 factors per recreation on 56.4% capturing, that are career-best marks. She can also be one in every of three gamers within the league capturing 50% from each the sphere and 3-point arc (minimal two 3-point makes an attempt per contest). Whereas her mid-range recreation and skill to get to the rim have lengthy been her robust fits, Younger has expanded her versatility this season by changing into a knockdown menace from deep. The previous Notre Dame standout and No. 1 total decide is taking extra 3s than ever earlier than and hitting them at a 50% clip after simply 25% accuracy final season; she has made extra treys (12) in eight video games this summer season than within the 2020 and 2021 seasons mixed (eight). She’s additionally attending to the road extra typically than in earlier seasons, averaging 5.1 free throw makes an attempt per recreation this season vs. 2.8 in 2021.

What makes Younger particular is not simply her rising offensive prowess, however that it is paired together with her positional versatility and defensive affect, as she’s typically assigned to protect an opponent’s hardest perimeter participant.

“Her ceiling is, there is no such thing as a ceiling,” Hammon mentioned Sunday of Younger. “She’s simply coming into her personal. That is her time and I believe she’s been elite, actually, actually elite, on each ends of the ground.”

The superior metrics showcase her immense worth as nicely: Younger’s 2.2 win shares tempo the league (with 1.8 approaching the offensive finish), with teammate Wilson coming in second at 1.7. Younger can also be prime 5 in Kevin Pelton’s wins above substitute participant per recreation rankings via Tuesday’s competitors, simply narrowly behind Alyssa Thomas, Candace Parker, Rhyne Howard, and Elena Delle Donne.

No WNBA participant has ever received Most Improved Participant and MVP in the identical season; in 2021, the Connecticut Solar’s Jonquel Jones grew to become the primary MIP to win MVP in a later 12 months.

For higher or for worse, WNBA MVPs of late are likely to boil all the way down to one of the best participant on one of the best staff, and Younger may match that mildew for the time being. However with the Aces’ steadiness — all 5 starters rating in double figures and 4 shoot above 45% from the sphere — it may be tough for Younger to face out when she shares the court docket with the likes of Wilson (the 2020 MVP) and Plum, and it is doable the staff’s scorching capturing begin, or her personal, will regress to the imply. Nonetheless, a thriving, more and more multifaceted Younger bodes nicely for the Aces as they appear to compete for a WNBA championship.

Younger can bolster her case this weekend, beginning towards the Chicago Sky (4-2) on Saturday (midday ET, ABC) in what could possibly be a WNBA Finals preview, and subsequent week in back-to-back conferences towards the Connecticut Solar (4-2), beginning Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Because the Sky head into their matchup with the Aces, keep watch over how Kahleah Copper continues to settle into issues in Chicago. The reigning Finals MVP, who simply wrapped up an impressive abroad season with Perfumerias Avenida, is averaging 12 factors throughout her first two video games of the season on 8-for-22 capturing from the sphere. The Sky’s scoring steadiness — six gamers common double figures, not together with Allie Quigley — takes the stress off Copper to be “on” each evening for Chicago to win, however the extra she finds her rhythm on each ends, the extra threatening the Sky look as they search to repeat.

With Copper re-inserted into the beginning lineup, coach James Wade has been bringing in Azurá Stevens off the bench whereas beginning his three former Finals MVPs within the frontcourt, and that is not even considering the addition of the 6-foot-7 rookie Li Yueruc, who simply arrived in Chicago from China — fairly the posh!

How should the Solar alter after Jasmine Thomas’ season-ending harm?

The Connecticut Solar acquired devastating information this week when it was confirmed that Jasmine Thomas suffered an ACL tear within the staff’s win over the Fever over the weekend. Not solely is Thomas the second-longest tenured participant in Uncasville and their longtime start line guard, however she’s a five-time WNBA all-defensive decide who has established herself as among the best perimeter defenders within the league.

Furthermore, this was purported to be the 12 months that the Solar, who have been with out Jonquel Jones in 2020 (choose out) and Alyssa Thomas for many of 2021 (Achilles harm), have been lastly wholesome, giving them their greatest shot of bringing dwelling the franchise’s first championship.

“We have carried out such an excellent job at enjoying via starter accidents since 2017. However I am frankly uninterested in that narrative,” coach Curt Miller mentioned previous to Tuesday’s 85-77 loss to the Dallas Wings. “I am indignant. I am annoyed that we’ve to pivot once more. And we are going to, and we are going to compete and can compete onerous. Not sufficient credit score has gone to this group via the pivoting.”

The Solar have certainly demonstrated that they’ll alter via key participant absences. They superior to the semifinals with out Jones in 2020 and completed with a league-best 26-6 document in 2021 with Alyssa Thomas out all however two regular-season video games. What is going to they should do to maintain alive their hopes to win a title?

Miller mentioned that Natisha Hiedeman and Yvonne Anderson will assume level guard duties with Jasmine Thomas sidelined, the previous a key fixture off the bench for the Solar the final three seasons, and the latter a 32-year-old WNBA rookie who has had some good moments since Thomas went down. DiJonai Carrington’s minutes may even improve with the backcourt depth having taken successful; she has shined to this point her sophomore season (averaging 8.7 PPG), significantly when DeWanna Bonner was nonetheless away from the staff.

Anticipate, too, to see Alyssa Thomas enjoying the purpose — sure, it is occurring, people. Thomas has been identified to facilitate the offense regardless of sometimes enjoying the “4,” typically bringing the ball up the ground after grabbing a defensive rebound. However Miller mentioned Thomas may slide to the “1” alongside a lineup of Courtney Williams, Bonner, Jonquel Jones and Brionna Jones — a grouping the teaching workers mentioned rolling out previous to the season however hasn’t had time to tinker with in apply (and that has solely performed three minutes collectively in video games).

It is perhaps harder to compensate for Jasmine Thomas’ absence on the defensive facet. Miller mentioned the Solar must take a by-committee method and scheme otherwise, however it will not be simple contemplating they already took successful on the perimeter protection entrance with the departure of Briann January this offseason. Whereas it helps to have the likes of the Joneses and Alyssa Thomas on the court docket to cowl any deficiencies, Hiedeman and Carrington might want to step up as stable, disciplined defenders.

If there’s one factor working of their favor, it is that the Solar have time to determine how they’ll greatest succeed with out Jasmine Thomas — and the expertise to know that they’ll nonetheless win with out key items.

Sparks finish skid, however prolong Mercury’s shedding streak

The Los Angeles Sparks lastly acquired within the win column Wednesday with a 99-94 victory over the Phoenix Mercury, snapping a five-game shedding streak. Whereas the Mercury are depleted personnel-wise (Shey Peddy and Sophie Cunningham have been dominated out, on prime of Kia Nurse and Brittney Griner) and struggling defensively with the items they do have, Los Angeles nonetheless got here out like a extra cohesive offensive unit that may damage you in several methods than we have seen a lot of late.

It helped that Katie Lou Samuelson, in her first begin together with her new staff, acquired going from the arc, the place she made a career-high 4 3-pointers and completed with 17 factors, additionally a career-best. The Sparks positively want Samuelson as a menace from deep who can house the ground, which solely helps the likes of Liz Cambage and Nneka Ogwumike function inside plus get Jordin Canada and Chennedy Carter to the rim. After seeing restricted day without work the bench, Carter scored 12 factors in 17 minutes Wednesday, her second-highest mark of the season; how she continues to carve out a job for herself on a staff nonetheless trying to solidify its identification can be one thing to observe.

The Sparks nonetheless have lots to show, significantly towards higher groups within the league, however they’ll make some floor within the standings with wins over the 2-7 Fever on Friday and 2-6 Lynx on Sunday.

The Mercury face what seems like a must-win recreation towards the Dream on Sunday, the place they’ll attempt to keep away from a fifth consecutive loss. Whereas Phoenix has handled a swath of absences this season attributable to harm, sickness or different extenuating circumstances, its sole wins to this point came visiting a Seattle Storm staff that was lacking Breanna Stewart, Mercedes Russell and Epiphanny Prince — which is not an excellent distinction a fifth of the way in which into the season.

Fantasy picks

Who to begin: Phoenix’s Skylar Diggins-Smith returned Wednesday after lacking the 2 earlier video games attributable to a non-COVID-19 sickness. She was a top-five participant in ESPN’s newest fantasy rankings, and is a no brainer to re-insert into your lineup.

Breanna Stewart (No. 1 in ESPN’s fantasy rankings) was again in tow for the Seattle Storm final Wednesday, exploding for 28 factors of their win over Los Angeles on Friday. As she regains her rhythm following her bout with COVID, anticipate her to have large nights this week towards the struggling Liberty, who’re with out a number of defensive anchors.

A less-obvious participant to begin: With Jasmine Thomas out for the 12 months, Hiedeman — the 2 introduced their engagement final September — will see an outsized position working the purpose. She has scored no less than 9 factors for Connecticut in every of its final 4 video games.

Who to bench: Betnijah Laney (knee) and Lorela Cubaj (concussion protocol) are the most recent gamers impacted by New York’s harm bug and look like out for the foreseeable future.

Indiana Fever rookie NaLyssa Smith has missed 4 consecutive video games and is day-to-day with an ankle harm, whereas teammate Bria Hartley (hamstring) and Atlanta Dream guard Tiffany Hayes (relaxation) have but to go well with up since getting back from abroad. It is unclear when they’ll take the court docket; it is in all probability greatest to maintain these three on the bench in the interim.

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