The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, September 4, 2019

Two elite teams — Interview with Brittney Sykes — Must-click women's basketball links

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‘A rhetorical question’

Courtney Williams plays fast, and she answers fast. So a few weeks ago, when I asked her postgame whether the Connecticut Sun are going to win the WNBA title, she turned to Jonquel Jones with a smile and responded, “That’s a rhetorical question.”

I asked her again last Friday night, after she dominated the game at key moments against the New York Liberty, and this was her updated answer. “That’s a fact. That’s a big fact. Yes sir.”

So it’s safe to say she’s standing by her answer, and why not? The Sun are 22-9, in control of their own destiny for earning that vital double bye and with it, an automatic passage to the WNBA semifinals. Truly, the Sun look like a team capable of winning it all, and would be the obvious favorite if not for…

…the Washington Mystics, who are 24-8, and came in to New York Tuesday night to dominate the Liberty the way they’ve been destroying most of the league this season. I asked Elena Delle Donne about Williams’ comments, and this was her response:

“Obviously, we’re the greatest team, and we’re going to win it all,” Delle Donne said, smiling more than smack-talking. She added, “Every team going into the playoffs is going to say that. If you go in with a losing mindset, why even go?”

That said, belief must be easier when you’re the 6’5 do-everything league MVP-to-be, and the fashionable CW is that this is Washington’s to lose. There is a tricky path, though, that involves the reintegration of Kristi Toliver, the team’s off-guard (she’s not the point guard, that is Natasha Cloud, people need to stop saying Kristi is the PG!) and the team’s second-most prolific shooter.

What’s interesting about Toliver’s game is how it exists almost next to what the rest of the Mystics do, a seamlessly integrated, positionless attack. Delle Donne is an incredible ISO player, but that’s not the way she’s been most utilized this year, to everyone’s benefit. Toliver, though, doesn’t necessarily take the highest-percentage shots. It’s that she makes so many tough ones that has made her an elite player in this league for so long.

Finding that balance, in real time, is very hard, especially come playoff time. I asked Mystics coach Mike Thibault about what that on-ramp looks like, and he made it clear that as of now, the Mystics don’t really know. It won’t involve any playoff games until a WNBA semifinal, a Game 1 of a five-game set, and if the Mystics struggle to make it all work, they could suddenly find themselves without the home court advantage they spent a season building.

That’s before we include the need to reincorporate Aerial Powers, a vital cog in the DC machine, and Tianna Hawkins, just rewarded with a contract extension. Both missed Tuesday night’s game. That’s a significant portion of Washington’s rotation.

The Sun, meanwhile, are healthy, and like Delle Donne, they have a winning mindset (not to mention a Delle Donne-sized counter to her in Jonquel Jones).

Both these teams were built with 2019 in mind. A collision course between these two in the finals is the series we all deserve.

But could one of the six other excellent playoff teams get in the way?

That, my friends, is a rhetorical question.

Announcing The IX’s Civil Boost!

We’re extremely honored that Civil chose us for its first Boost, a fundraising pathway to help fund vital newsroom projects. This one is straightforward: travel costs to send me to the WNBA Finals. You’ll get daily podcasts, behind-the-scenes extras and both original reporting and the amplifying of others doing the good work on the scene. More details, and how to give, are available by clicking on this drawing of me here:

This week in women’s basketball

I spoke to new Princeton head coach Carla Berube.

Jenn Hatfield looked at what EuroBasket meant to WNBA players and coaches in retrospect.

Stacey Abrams is solving the two vital issues of our time, voter suppression and WNBA salaries.

Dare Ogunbowale relies on his sister, Arike.

Enjoyed this Jonquel Jones Players’ Tribune article.

Person pointed out to me that all the Napheesa Collier, next face of the franchise stuff really makes it sound like Maya Moore isn’t coming back. We’ll see.

Alexa Phillippou is the new Courant UConn WBB writer!!!

Loved this BBC historical deep dive into Ryneldi Becenti.

The NYT Mag sent a reporter to spend a lot of time with the Atlanta Dream. Here’s what she got.

I went all “tastes great, less filling” on the Cheryl Reeve Coach of the Year/Executive of the Year discussion.

Sabreena Merchant on Derek Fisher is customarily excellent.

Also enjoyed Dylan Hernandez on Fisher and the Sparks.

Matt Ellentuck breaks down the DC offense.

When Natalie Achonwa turns into an elite coach, thank Muffet McGraw.

The Athletic WNBA player poll left me with some questions. Candace Parker is overrated? Diana Taurasi, 37, is who to start a team with? I don’t know, you guys.

Princeton should be in this way-too-early Top 25.

Jackie Powell explores what the Liberty identity is beyond Tina Charles.

Stat of the week

There are some surprises on this three-point accuracy leaderboard. Alysha Clark? Damiras Dantas? Elena Delle Donne? (Okay, okay, not all surprises)

Five at The IX: Brittney Sykes, Atlanta Dream

I spoke to the guard when she came through town. She is delightful, as ever. Click on her picture to listen.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.