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WNBA Weekly Rundown: August Awards Handed Out

Though there are a couple WNBA teams that are technically still in the playoff hunt, at this point in the summer it’s more about where the teams who’ve already qualified will be situated when the postseason begins. This begs the perennial playoff question: Should your team rest its starters for the remainder of the regular season and risk home-court advantage or shoot for that top seed?

We’ll look at a team in that predicament, as well as what the best the WNBA had to offer during August, in the penultimate Weekly Rundown.

Monthly Awards

The WNBA handed out its Player of the Month awards for August this past Thursday, with New York Liberty guard Epiphanny Prince earning Eastern Conference honors and Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker representing the best of the West.

Prince has been a revelation for the Liberty, helping the team transform its identity midseason from a slow, grind-it-out squad to one that’s much more balanced in its overall attack. New York’s defense and rebounding are still the primary reasons for its success, but they’re a completely different team with the ball while Prince is on the floor. Her superb ball handling and scoring ability has opened up countless looks for Tina Charles (whose shooting percentage on the season has skyrocketed since Prince’s arrival in July) and given head coach Bill Laimbeer the offensive bail-out option that his team was previously lacking. In August, Prince was magnificent in this area, scoring 17.8 points per game (on a highly efficient 62 TS%) while also leading her team in assists (4.2 per game). It’s no coincidence that the Liberty were 8-2 on the month.

Parker, meanwhile, was a no-brainer recipient of the monthly award. She’s been playing at an all-world level since joining the team midseason, and has been able to sustain this dominance in every game she’s played. In 12 August games, Parker recorded 11 double-doubles, but it’s her passing that’s taken the Sparks to another level: She was the team’s leading distributor in August with 6.3 assists per game, handing out at least nine of them four times. This facet of Parker’s game has turned the Sparks into quite the matchup problem. Starting alongside Jantel Lavender and Nneka Ogwumike, Parker’s presence gives LA the biggest starting lineup in the WNBA, and her court vision and passing ability allows the Sparks to take maximum advantage of this. It’s because of Parker that the Sparks are a team no one wants to face in the playoffs.

Lynx Limping into Playoffs

Even though the Minnesota Lynx are close to clinching home-court advantage throughout the playoffs (they own the best record in the West at 21-10 and are a half-game behind the Liberty for best record in the WNBA), the team they’re currently fielding isn’t nearly as intimidating as it should be. Seimone Augustus remains sidelined with an injured foot, and Lindsay Whalen is now also day-to-day, suffering from bursitis.

Obviously, any time a team is missing their starting backcourt, it’s going to be a big deal (if those two players are Olympians, then all the bigger), but the injury problems don’t stop there for Minnesota. During Friday’s game against the Indiana Fever, Maya Moore was on the unfriendly end of an errant Sylvia Fowles elbow, resulting in a bloody nose and forcing her to leave the contest early. While it’s unlikely that Moore is seriously injured, the WNBA usually errs on the side of caution regarding head injuries, and if anyone suspects she’s suffering from concussion-like symptoms, the Lynx will be without quite a formidable trio for at least a game or two.

While the Lynx frontcourt stepped up big time on Friday (both Rebekkah Brunson and Sylvia Fowles finished with double-doubles), Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve isn’t typically one to go deep into her bench, and leaning too heavily on her remaining starters when the team has already clinched home-court advantage might not be too well-received among the Lynx faithful. With both Augustus’s and Whalen’s injuries of the “nagging” variety, one might rather see the pair sit out for a few more games, just to ensure that they’re as healthy as possible when it counts. The question will then be how quickly Reeve can get her guards back into the swing of things. While Moore is certainly a tremendous player, a one-woman show would make Minnesota ripe for a first-round upset, something that Reeve and her aging core of superstars can’t afford to fall victim to.

Rookie Report

Chelsea Gray was magnificent in the Sun’s upset win in Chicago this past Sunday. The point guard finished with an impressive stat line of 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but it was her play down the stretch that really turned heads. Gray led the short-handed Sun back from an eight-point deficit, nailing a pair of clutch long jumpers and asserting herself as the dominant floor general while playing almost the entire fourth quarter. She also had a game-high plus/minus of +13, made significant by the fact that the game was only won by four points.

Meanwhile, Seattle guard Jewell Loyd continues building her case for Rookie of the Year. While her shooting from the field wasn’t as hot as it had been in the previous week, she made up for it by getting to the free throw line, breaking Lauren Jackson’s Storm record for free throw makes in a game with 14. It was Loyd’s second time breaking double-digit FTA, and it certainly won’t be the last.

The top rookie honors go to Kiah Stokes, however, as the New York center brought home the Rookie of the Month award for August. In a come-from-behind win against Atlanta, Stokes stuffed the stat sheet with seven points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and four steals, shutting down the paint against Angel McCoughtry in critical moments to seal the victory from New York.

Other Notes

The Indiana Fever clinched a WNBA-record 11th straight playoff appearance after beating the Sun on Tuesday. They’ve made the playoffs every season since 2005, breaking the previous consecutive playoff appearance record held by the Seattle Storm (who made the postseason in every season from 2004 to 2013).

Liberty rookie Brittany Boyd will be out approximately five-to-six weeks after fracturing her wrist on Thursday. Even in the case of a quick recovery and a deep playoff run, it’s likely that Boyd will still miss all remaining WNBA action in 2015.

The Fever will also be missing an explosive guard in Briann January, though her timetable is unknown. January has been battling a knee injury for a few days now and is listed as day-to-day. It hasn’t soured the Fever on her long-term status any, though, as they re-signed her to a multi-year contract on Friday. It’s a wise move and one that’s probably not surprising, as the athletic January has long been a staple of the Indiana powerhouse and figures to have plenty more good basketball left in her.

The Atlanta Dream are down to their last bullet, but technically aren’t eliminated from playoff contention yet. A late-season surge (fueled by the return of forward Sancho Lyttle, who missed significant time with a plantar fascia injury) has kept the Dream hanging on. However, they have to both win their remaining four games and hope the Washington Mystics lose their remaining four in order to swipe the  No. 4 seed in the East.

Top Performers

Sunday

Tamika Catchings: 22 points (7-10 FG, 2-2 3P), 13 rebounds vs Tulsa Shock

Odyssey Sims: 30 points (8-15 FG, 12-12 FG), 5 assists vs Indiana Fever

Jantel Lavender: 24 points (8-15 FG, 8-8 FT), 9 rebounds vs San Antonio Stars

Kelsey Bone: 25 points (11-17 FG), 8 rebounds vs Chicago Sky

Chelsea Gray: 15 points (5-9 FG, 2-3 3P), 9 rebounds, 6 assists vs Chicago Sky

Maya Moore: 28 points (9-28 FG, 8-8 FT), 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals vs Phoenix Mercury

Tuesday

Angel McCoughtry: 25 points (9-16 FG, 6-6 FT), 4 rebounds, 4 steals vs New York Liberty

Sugar Rodgers: 23 points (5-12 3P, 6-6 FT), 3 rebounds, 4 assists vs Atlanta Dream

Wednesday

Candice Dupree: 18 points (8-9 FG), 6 rebounds, +21 (21 minutes) vs Washington Mystics

Thursday

Courtney Vandersloot: 21 points (8-12 FG, 5-5 3P), 5 rebounds, 5 assists vs New York Liberty

Odyssey Sims: 24 points (8-17 FG), 4 assists vs Seattle Storm

Candace Parker: 26 points (9-16 FG), 11 rebounds, 6 assists vs Washington Mystics

Nneka Ogwumike: 24 points (5-6 FG, 14-15 FT), 10 rebounds vs Washington Mystics

Friday

Rebekkah Brunson: 14 points (7-10 FG), 11 rebounds vs Indiana Fever

Sylvia Fowles: 18 points (7-15 FG), 14 rebounds, 2 blocks vs Indiana Fever

Saturday

Brittney Griner: 22 points (8-9 FG), 5 rebounds, 2 blocks vs San Antonio Stars

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