The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, February 26, 2020

Some WNBA moves you'll care about in October — Interview with Dawn Staley — Must-click women's basketball links

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The quieter, but clutch WNBA moves

When we think back on this WNBA offseason, the big changes will be what jump out at us. DeWanna Bonner to Connecticut. Skylar Diggins-Smith to Dallas. Courtney Williams to Atlanta. Even Seimone Augustus to Los Angeles, for symbolic reasons, will be long-remembered.

But there were some follow-up moves that you shouldn’t ignore, things that will shape the hyper-competitive 2020 WNBA season.

Let’s get to the one I’ve been obsessing over since free agency started, the move that I wanted to see happen, and has: Rachel Banham to the Minnesota Lynx.

This isn’t just a feel-good story, though it is very much that, with Banham getting to go home. This is about a shooter getting to shoot.

Rachel Banham has a career-high of 11 shots in a game. It came in her debut with the Connecticut Sun in 2016. Since then, she’s gotten 10 shots in a game twice. All 107 games, three times she’s gotten double-figures in shot attempts.

Contrast that with her senior year at Minnesota: 20 times she got more than 20 shots.

Well, the Lynx probably won’t have her take 20+ shots per game, but they will get her regular playing time and the chance to find a rhythm on the floor. One of the finest scorers in NCAA history has an opportunity to be a floor spacer in a Sylvia Fowles-centered offense. It’s going to be a chance to really find out what Rachel Banham can be at the highest level. And this made the Lynx significantly better. Pairing her with Lexie Brown is an opportunity for Cheryl Reeve to tap into some potential that hasn’t yet been realized in the WNBA. But it’s there.

And the cost — $100,000 this year, $103,000 next season, no protection, plus dealing a second round pick to Connecticut — means giving up assets Minnesota had plenty of, cap space, and a draft pick that falls squarely in the middle of the crop of 2021 players. It is harder and harder to squeeze the new talent into the 144 roster spots, and that isn’t likely to be any different a year from now — if anything, it’ll be even harder.

Then there’s the acquisition of Marina Mabrey by the Dallas Wings. Like Banham, Mabrey was acquired for a 2021 second round pick, but if anything, Dallas has too many draft picks right now.

Here’s the reason I’m highest on this pickup, of many reasons: Mabrey is going to a team that can pair her with Arike Ogunbowale. Not sure if you remember, but Mabrey/Ogunbowale combined for just a bit of success in college at Notre Dame, and their skills complement one another extremely well. Mabrey will get loads of open shots from Ogunbowale’s dribble penetration, and Mabrey’s defensive skill and size will allow her to take some of the bigger opposing guards.

Mabrey always graded out better on the defensive end at Notre Dame than her reputation would suggest, and the same was true as a rookie in the WNBA, an exceedingly difficult thing to do. She allowed 0.757 points per possession on the defensive end, per Synergy. That ranked her 14th of 105 eligible WNBA players last year. The company she kept? Just below Ariel Atkins, just above Kayla McBride and Kayla Thornton. Yeah, that good.

(It is not an accident that a Brian Agler team traded for her.)

And Mabrey, just a year in the league, is on a rookie scale contract with that kind of production. Bravo, Greg Bibb.

Then there’s Marine Johannès, re-signed by the Liberty. At $68,000 this year, $70,040 next year, Jonathan Kolb got himself an elite perimeter shooter (37.9 percent from three as a rookie) who is likely to get more playing time, meaning more rhythm (see also Banham, Rachel) in 2020.

Johannès was devastating from multiple levels in 2019, though, 23rd in the league among 111 qualifiers with at least 100 possessions in O-PPP, per Synergy. That included an elite 0.896 as pick-and-roll ball handler, which the Liberty can utilize her in next to Sabrina Ionescu when they want Ionescu off the ball, and 1.393 points per possession on spot up shots. The crazy part is, she only got 28 of those possessions last year, even as she finished ahead of Allie Quigley (who got 73 such possessions) in spot up efficiency.

Expect that number to go up. And Johannès is making roughly a third of what Quigley is in 2020.

This Week in Women’s Basketball

Michelle Smith on Kiana Williams.

Charlotte Carroll on what UConn needs to do to make a deep NCAA run.

Holly Rowe talks to Satou Sabally on her decision to enter the WNBA Draft.

Shannon Ryan profiles DePaul’s Marisa Warren, future pilot.

Loved Bria Felicien on Seimone Augustus leaving the Lynx.

I wrote about Augustus’ link to the Lynx by the numbers.

A must-read from Aishwarya Kumar on Tiana Mangakahia’s recovery.

Lovely story from Alexa Philippou on Batouly Camara.

Every word of this Mike Jensen story, live at Harry Parretta’s home finale, is delicious.

Is Abi Scheid on your WNBA draft board yet? She should be!

So should Stella Johnson!

And in five years, Paige Bueckers will be atop it.

Wonderful Sabrina Ionescu state of the season story.

Natalie Weiner captured the macro view of Ionescu’s greatness so well.

I hope I cover Diana Taurasi playing basketball when she’s 50.

Rebecca Allen wrote about Australia’s Olympic journey.

Jackie Powell explains why Marine Johannès is such a good fit in New York.

PJ Brown explains why Arizona is far more than just Aari McDonald.

Ava Wallace makes us all love Kaila Charles’ mom.

Did you know Jia Perkins and Chennedy Carter are cousins?

Carl Adamec has a theory about Olivia Nelson-Ododa’s surge.

The Lindsay Whalen-Rachel Banham parallels are amazing.

Wonderful Bria Felicien work on Nell Fortner’s season at Georgia Tech.

Five at The IX: Dawn Staley

(I focused on South Carolina for this one, though I hear Dawn also coaches another prominent team.)

HOWARD MEGDAL: This year, it seems like there’s almost more overlap with the 2015 team, then with the team that won at all in 2017 and I’m wondering how you see it.

DAWN STALEY: It is a little bit of the 2015 and the 2017. The 2015 team was a team in which we had great guard play. Obviously, great guard play and great big play. We were fairly young in the big department. But then we had an all American guard in Tiffany Mitchell and then we had a point guard that was very similar to Ty, in Khadijah Sessions who just ran our basketball team. Ty [Harris] is probably a little bit more aggressive offensively and probably could score a little bit more, but I think that’s a fair comparison. When you look at like the talent level, 2017 was a little bit different in that we had experienced players with no experience playing together.

So we’re similar in that we had talent and this talent hadn’t played together. So it was always a question mark about if this team could really lay down their egos and come together. And I would say this year’s team’s chemistry, it was there from the very beginning. There were no issues.

Once they figured out who was the leader, everybody just followed. And that leader being Ty Harris. But also in the whole development of this team, Kiki [Herbert-Harrigan] started to become a leader in her own right. I guess they are at two ends of the spectrum. So Ty is the smooth operator and then Kiki’s the fire, the inner energy and she’s physical and she’s the one that has a temper. So you got Ty who’s cool and Kiki with the temper who can take it up a few notches. That’s something that our young players really have taken to in each of those dynamics, if you will. I hope it ends the way the 2017 ended, for sure!

HOWARD MEGDAL: Well, what’s interesting to me, if you look at just the offensive efficiency that you guys put up and you guys were a top 10 offensive efficiency team through 2017 but then when you got to the tournament, you were putting up numbers comparable to the best of anyone. You’re doing that essentially since November. You’re fourth in the country in points per 100 possessions already, to go along with the defendants being six. So it almost feels like you guys are ahead of where you were in 2017 offensively, you figured out some things now that in some ways you didn’t get to the destination until March when you guys won it all.

DAWN STALEY: Mm-hmm (affirmative). True. That’s true. That’s very true because if you look at the dynamics of that 2017 team, you got Kaela Davis who was used to having that ball in her hands like 80% of the time for Georgia Tech. You look at Allisha Gray, she didn’t get it a whole lot, but she probably got a lot more than she got it with us. But she was almost like the journeyman who was going to impact the game regardless. If she didn’t touch the ball, she was going to go get a steal to finish it at the other end with a the layup. She’s going to get an offensive rebound, put back. She really didn’t care whether we ran sets for her, because she was a go-getter.

Ty is Ty, but Ty is much more mature. Ty knows when it’s her time to really take over. Ty never really took over in 2017 and that was just because of her youth. And that was just because of, quite frankly, the older players didn’t trust her yet until we got to our deep run in March. Then A’ja was A’ja and then we had to deal with some adversity with Alaina Coates going down.

And it was almost a blessing in disguise because it forced us to get tighter. It forced the chemistry to happen because once she went down, nobody really thought we could make the adjustment to compete and to make long run.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Did you learn, you think, from that experience? The reason why I ask is that you’ve run more perimeter oriented often isn’t the way to put it, but you’ve been… Team’s less eager to run a lot of like two big sets on a regular basis. I guess I wonder how much that experience played a part.

DAWN STALEY: Each year I come into a season pretty much with the slate clean. I just look at how well the team practices, what information they can take in and process and execute. Not just take it in and process. You got to be able to execute. As the young kids say, nowadays, this team allows me to go in my bag of… You really get stale as a coach when you’re just constantly trying to figure out what best for your team. What gives you the best opportunity and the best chances of winning? We had to play the way that we played because we didn’t have the talent level from all positions. Like all positions couldn’t score!

In 2015, they couldn’t. We had the run sets for A’ja, we had to run sets for Mitchell. Those were the two that we ran sets where everybody else just fed off of what they did. This particular year everybody can score. I never knew the beauty of it, really.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
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.