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July 22 2016: Washington Mystics center Stefanie Dolson (31) defends against Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike (30) during a WNBA game at Verizon Center in Washington D.C. The Los Angeles Sparks defeated the Washington Mystics 95-75. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire)

WNBA Weekly Rundown: Back to work

Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire

It’s September, the Rio Olympics are over, and the best in the business are back in the US to continue the 2016 WNBA season.

In a way, it’s as if there wasn’t any time off at all. The Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx are still in a fierce battle for the No. 1 playoff seed: they share a 24-5 record and will meet for the final time in the regular season this coming Tuesday. 

Superstars Maya Moore and Nneka Ogwumike continue to put up dazzling performances in their personal race for the league MVP award, but don’t overlook Tina Charles or last season’s MVP Elena Delle Donne. Like the Sparks’ and Lynx quest for excellent, the case for the WNBA’s most coveted individual award is likely going down to the wire.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, longtime general manager Chris Sienko announced he’d be stepping down from his position, giving full control of the team to current head coach Curt Miller. It’s a position Miller has earned, as he’s led the young Sun back from a disastrous start to a potential No. 8 playoff seed, and there’s still plenty of room for them to improve even more. While they’ve unfortunately lost both of their 2016 lottery picks (Rachel Banham and Morgan Tuck) to knee injuries, the Sun continue to grind away at their deficit, and might just sneak into that last postseason spot.

As much as teams like the Sun and Sky are making late-season pushes for the postseason, there are major struggles elsewhere. The disappointing inaugural season for the Dallas Wings continues: They’ve lost 11 games in a row, franchise guard Skylar Diggins still doesn’t look like herself after returning from last season’s ACL injury, and it seems as if they’ve become less cohesive as the season’s worn on, rather than more so. 

San Antonio is going through similar motions, being the first team eliminated from playoff contention and losing many key players such as Kayla Alexander and Alex Montgomery, as well as Dearica Hamby, who is pregnant with her first child.

Rookie Report

While the Stars have had a rough go of it this year, it was a good week for young wing player Jazmon Gwathmey. Acquired for veteran and fan favorite Jia Perkins on draft day, Gwathmey didn’t see much playing time before the Olympic break, she averaged well over 20 minutes per game this week, and rewarded her team with a career-high 16 points last Sunday.

The Mystics’ Kahleah Copper also set a career high in points scored, dropping 17 points in just 16 minutes against Indiana. Copper, a guard/forward from Rutgers, isn’t going to attempt many shots (as a function of Washington’s balanced offensive system), but her athleticism and ability to get the free throw line helps her make the most of her opportunities; her free throw rate of .398 ranks fifth among rookies who have played at least 500 possessions.

Other Notes

It was a good week to be a veteran power forward. Candice Dupree, who has been a model of consistency throughout her career, surpassed 5,000 points in the Mercury’s game against Dallas. Incidentally, Wings forward Plenette Pierson scored her 4,000th point in the same game. There’s a lot of experience between the two of those players, and despite their age, neither of them look to be slowing down anytime soon.

Even more impressive was Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson’s big accomplishment: in grabbing her 1,023rd career offensive rebound, Brunson set a new record, passing former Lynx teammate Taj McWilliams-Franklin in the process. 

Like Dupree and Pierson, Brunson isn’t finished playing, either, and her record figures to stand for quite a while; the active players with the next most offensive rebounds-Tamika Catchings (904) and Swin Cash (770)-not only aren’t even close to Brunson’s total, but they’re both retiring at the end of the season.

Finally, Tina Charles also flew past the 4,000 point milestone, and at just 27 years old, she’s the third-fastest player to reach this mark in WNBA history. Charles currently sits 2nd in the WNBA in scoring at 21.1 points per game, and hasn’t averaged fewer than 17 since her sophomore season, so there are undoubtedly plenty more buckets in her future.

Top Performers

  1. Nneka Ogwumike: 28 points (12-18 FG), 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks vs Dallas Wings
  2. Candace Parker: 25 points (10-18 FG), 13 rebounds, 7 assists vs Phoenix Mercury
  3. Elena Delle Donne: 34 points (9-20 FG, 14-14 FT), 8 rebounds, 5 assists vs Atlanta Dream
  4. Brittney Griner: 29 points (10-15 FG), 9 rebounds, 2 blocks vs Connecticut Sun
  5. Breanna Stewart: 23 points (8-13 FG), 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks vs Atlanta Dream
WNBA Weekly Rundown: Back to work

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