WNBA Power Rankings: Here come the Minnesota Lynx

ByAlexa Philippou ESPN logo
Monday, July 31, 2023

The Las Vegas Aces are still running rampant over their competition and remain No. 1 in ESPN's WNBA Power Rankings. But no WNBA team impressed more this week than the Minnesota Lynx, who despite starting the season 0-6 have showed 2023 will be far from a rebuilding year for one of the league's most storied franchises.

That Minnesota would have its most impressive stretch of the season with three-time All-Star Napheesa Collier sidelined would have seemed far-fetched even a week or two ago. Collier suffered a sprained ankle Wednesday toward the end of the Lynx's win over the Washington Mystics, and she is expected to miss 7-10 days. With Collier on the bench, Minnesota managed to beat the second-place New York Liberty on Friday and the third-place Connecticut Sun on Sunday -- both games on the road, no less. Through Sunday, which saw all 12 teams play, the Lynx (13-13) climbed to sixth place in the standings, a half-game ahead of the Mystics and 1 games behind the Dallas Wings and Atlanta Dream.

This year -- the first following the retirement of Sylvia Fowles, the sole remaining piece of Minnesota's 2010s dynasty -- was bound to be a fascinating one for the Lynx. Collier was set to be back in full swing after missing the majority of the 2022 campaign because of maternity leave, with expectations that she'd embrace superstardom. The Lynx went on to draft Diamond Miller No. 2 overall in April, reiterating their goals of building for the future. Not to be overlooked, a number of players -- Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, Rachel Banham, among others -- have contracts up after this season, meaning the Lynx roster in 2024 could look vastly different.

Now as we turn to August, Collier has emerged as a superstar, young draftees Miller and Dorka Juhász have shined bright and, even without Collier this week, the team has come into its own. Coach Cheryl Reeve credited her players' emotional maturity and ability to respond -- or as she put it, "to compete against the teams that are in position to compete for championships, the understanding of the physical output, how hard you have to play, that you have to physically compete in the games. So I know that sounds like, 'Well, yeah, of course,' but it's not something that we on the regular have done and that we continue to implore them [to do]."

The Lynx might have entered this season facing low expectations, with Reeve saying ahead of the season the focus was on building blocks and player development. Now her team is on track to make the playoffs, and they have shown success against top teams in the league. Regardless of the end result come fall, the Lynx are one of the more intriguing franchises to watch in the second half of the season, as their new future led by Collier and Miller unfolds.

The Lynx were among the movers in the Week 11 rankings. A look at our updated top 12.

1. Las Vegas Aces

Record: 23-2

Previous ranking: 1

This week: vs. Atlanta (Tuesday), at New York (Sunday)

Each victory in the Aces' seven-game winning streak, which was extended with dubs over Chicago and Dallas, has been by double figures, tied for the second-longest such streak in league history. Becky Hammon's squad improved to 23-2, a mark only one other WNBA team ever achieved: the 1998 Houston Comets, which went on to win their second of four consecutive titles.

Off the court, things were rockier. On Tuesday, Las Vegas announced two-time league MVP Candace Parker is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured foot. A day later, it became public that guard Riquna Williams had been arrested for domestic violence charges, and the Aces barred her from team activities while gathering more information on the situation. Williams hadn't appeared for the team this season because of a back injury.

The Aces' already limited depth will be tested without Parker and Williams, although that hasn't seemed to matter much for Las Vegas up to this point, with Kelsey Plum pointing out this week that having an established culture and system makes it easier to adjust to absences. Time will tell whether that's sustainable in the long term, but in the meantime, a matchup against the (notably deeper) Liberty on Sunday in their second meeting of the season should be a fun one.

2. New York Liberty

Record: 19-6

Previous ranking: 2

This week: at Los Angeles (Tuesday), at Minnesota (Friday), vs. Las Vegas (Sunday)

The Liberty's recent schedule has been grueling: five games in eight days featuring a back-to-back, followed by a cross-country flight for a game in Los Angeles. And so a 3-1 record this past week -- with their only loss coming to a surging Lynx team, when they were without Courtney Vandersloot (rest) -- is more than respectable. Among the highlights were Sabrina Ionescu's fourth career triple-double Tuesday, six consecutive 10-plus-rebound games from Jonquel Jones and a 33-point, 12-rebound, five-assist and zero-turnover performance from Breanna Stewart against the Atlanta Dream.

New York still struggles with consistency, though. Against Seattle on Tuesday, the Liberty fell behind by 18 before rallying late to win. But giving up double-digit leads has been the more common problem (the Liberty also led by 27 before Los Angeles pulled within seven late Sunday). Playing a full 40 minutes will be pivotal for the Liberty to reach their championship goals, especially against a team as dominant as the Aces.

3. Connecticut Sun

Record: 18-7

Previous ranking: 4

This week: vs. Minnesota (Tuesday), at Indiana (Friday)

It was a mixed bag for the Sun, who snapped the Wings' five-game win streak on Tuesday but had trouble slowing down the Lynx at Mohegan Sun on Sunday, allowing 87 points on 57.4% shooting from the field. A silver lining for the latter, though, was Alyssa Thomas securing her league-leading eighth career triple-double, and her fourth of the 2023 season.

DeWanna Bonner's 66 points over the past two games -- good for the first consecutive 30-point games of her career -- highlight her outstanding play this summer; in fact, that Bonner is having a career renaissance in Year 14 (her fourth in Connecticut after a prolonged stint in Phoenix) is nothing short of remarkable. She has now joined the likes of all-time greats Diana Taurasi and Cynthia Cooper with multiple 30-point games in a season at age 35 or older, and more importantly for the Sun, it's difficult to imagine where this new-look squad would be without her heroics.

Connecticut has the chance to get back on track with a rematch against the Lynx on Tuesday and then a road game at the struggling Fever. The Sun are 17-3 against teams aside from the Aces or Liberty this season.

4. Dallas Wings

Record: 14-11

Previous ranking: 3

This week: : at Seattle (Wednesday), vs. Chicago (Friday), vs. Chicago (Sunday)

The Wings went 1-2 on the week. Their five-game win streak was finally snapped by the Sun on Tuesday before their 28-point dub over the Mystics (their second-largest victory margin of the season). Dallas then made things interesting in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Aces before the reigning champs pulled away for good, but given how their first three regular-season matchups have gone, Wings-Aces would be a highly entertaining series to see come postseason. Latricia Trammel's squad continues to be a difficult matchup for Las Vegas, handily beating the Aces in points in the paint and in rebounding Sunday, but Las Vegas earned an edge behind 13 3-pointers to the Wings' seven.

Against Washington, Satou Sabally -- a candidate for Most Improved Player and, depending on who you talk to, MVP as well -- recorded the Wings' first triple-double in a contest in which five of her teammates also reached double figures. It was one of their more complete games of the season, with young reserves Awak Kuier and Maddy Siegrist having big nights -- added depth that can only help the Wings' long-term trajectory. With wins in this week's slate featuring sub-.500 opponents, Dallas can help solidify its status as a top-four team.

5. Atlanta Dream

Record: 14-11

Previous ranking: 5

This week: at Las Vegas (Tuesday), at Phoenix (Thursday), vs. Indiana (Sunday)

The Dream have won nine of their past 12 games after going 2-1 last week. They haven't totally broken through against the upper echelon of teams this season, falling to 1-3 versus the Liberty on the year, but gladly took Sunday's victory over the Mystics, which could come in handy as both teams battle for not just playoff spots but seeding. Nia Coffey came up clutch in that game with 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

After Sunday's win, the Dream recorded their 14th win of the season, as many as they had in all of 2022, and with their next victory, the franchise will earn its most wins in a season since 2018, also the last time it made the postseason.

The standout play of Allisha Gray -- whom they acquired in a trade with Dallas this offseason and have since locked into a multiyear contract extension -- is a big reason why they've turned that corner. Gray is known for impacting the game in multitude ways, but looking at her scoring specifically, she has managed to record back-to-back games with 25 points (Thursday versus the Liberty and Sunday against the Mystics). She has six 25-point games this summer after recording just one in her previous six seasons in the league, underscoring her impact with the Dream in Year 1 and how great of a marriage it has been so far.

6. Minnesota Lynx

Record: 13-13

Previous ranking: 7

This week: at Connecticut (Tuesday), vs. New York (Friday)

How everyone has stepped up in Collier's absence is part of what has been so impressive. Rookie Miller had back-to-back 20-point games, while McBride shot 8-for-14 on 3-pointers the past two games. Jessica Shepard, who on Wednesday made her return after missing over a month with a non-COVID illness, managed a 12-point, 14-rebound double-double on Sunday, adding much-needed frontcourt depth with Collier out. Aerial Powers hasn't made a huge impact this season but chipped in 14 points off the bench against the Sun, and Minnesota will only thrive if it can get the best out of her.

Juhász had some ups and downs playing back in Connecticut but came through with the win-sealing block against DeWanna Bonner on the final play of Sunday's victory. Her unwavering confidence, Reeve said, is a quality that separates Juhász from other burgeoning talent.

All that depth, and growth both individually and collectively, should only help the Lynx once Collier returns, as well as this week in their rematches against the Sun and Liberty.

7. Washington Mystics

Record: 12-13

Previous ranking: 6

This week: vs. Los Angeles (Friday), vs. Los Angeles (Sunday)

The Mystics -- who are still without Elena Delle Donne, Shakira Austin, Ariel Atkins and Kristi Toliver because of injuries -- had a tough week with losses to the Lynx, Wings and Dream, and dropped below .500 for the first time since their 1-2 season start. They also have lost seven consecutive road games, their longest road losing streak since 2012 (nine). And it doesn't seem like any of their injured players are close to coming back.

Washington isn't in imminent danger of falling out of the top eight, but it also wants to get the best seed possible to avoid a tough first-round matchup in the playoffs. This week's pair of games versus the Sparks could have huge implications on that front.

The Mystics, when healthy, are better than their current record. But that's not their reality right now. They desperately need some of their core back, and until that happens, they need to find a way to win games with the bodies they have.

8. Los Angeles Sparks

Record: 9-16

Previous ranking: 11

This week: vs. New York (Tuesday), at Washington (Friday), at Washington (Sunday)

The Sparks had about as solid a week as one can expect given their injury woes (which include Lexie Brown being sidelined once more with a non-COVID illness following a brief return). They beat the Fever twice before clawing back to give the Liberty a tough game Sunday at Crypto.com Arena. Their back-to-back wins over Indiana snapped an eight-game losing streak, tied for the longest in franchise history. They currently sit only one game back of Chicago for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Nneka Ogwumike came up big with 30- and 25-point outings in their two wins, but veteran point guard Jordin Canada really stood out with consecutive 20-point games (not to mention the game-winning 3 on Tuesday) plus a combined 17 assists in that stretch. Already well respected as a perimeter defender, she's a Most Improved Player candidate as she thrives in this new role in Los Angeles.

The Sparks get a second shot at New York later this week, but snagging one or two wins over the similarly short-handed Mystics would be huge as they look to avoid an unprecedented three consecutive years of missing the postseason.

9. Chicago Sky

Record: 10-15

Previous ranking: 10

This week: at Dallas (Friday), at Dallas (Sunday)

July has been tough for the Sky, who started the month losing head coach/general manager James Wade to the NBA and went 3-6, their .333 winning percentage their worst of any month this season. Allowing the last-place Storm to beat them in Chicago was hardly the result fans were hoping for as the Sky fight to secure a postseason bid, although the team took care of business Sunday against the Mercury, breaking the 100-point threshold in regulation for the first time this season.

All-Star Kahleah Copper followed up her 29-point performance (matching a career high) on July 22 against Seattle with 37 points on 12-for-18 shooting in Chicago's loss to the Aces on Tuesday. The feat was all the more impressive given Las Vegas boasts the best defense in the league.

This week could be a real gut-check moment for the Sky, who have a pair of road games against the Wings, one of the hottest teams in the league in July.

10. Seattle Storm

Record: 6-19

Previous ranking: 12

This week: vs. Dallas (Wednesday), at Phoenix (Saturday)

It has been a tough summer for the Storm as they adjust to a new era without Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, but Seattle finally saw signs of life last week. After nearly taking down Stewart and the second-place Liberty -- they led by 18 before New York rallied for the win -- the Storm beat the Sky and Fever in consecutive games to snap a franchise-record 10-game losing streak. It marked their first back-to-back wins this season, something every other WNBA team had achieved up to that point.

Sami Whitcomb has started at point guard the past three games, which seems to be helping things offensively for the Storm, and on Friday against the Sky the Aussie even recorded her first career double-double. The next goal will be trying to put it all together on the offensive end, where All-Star Jewell Loyd has recently gotten more help from her teammates, as well as defensively.

11. Phoenix Mercury

Record: 6-18

Previous ranking: 9

This week: at Indiana (Tuesday), vs. Atlanta (Thursday), vs. Seattle (Saturday)

After a step in the right direction with a pair of victories last week, the Phoenix Mercury struggled with consecutive losses to the Dream and Sky, marking three straight defeats by at least 13 points and nine consecutive road losses. They are a putrid 1-12 on the road this season, with their sole win coming at Indiana on June 11. The good news for the Mercury is they're playing at Indiana once again this week, and then begin a four-game homestand.

While Taurasi is back after missing three games with a quad contusion and big toe injury, All-Star Brittney Griner didn't make the Mercury's current trip because of mental health reasons. It is unclear when she'll return. Taurasi and Griner have missed seven and four games, respectively, this season, mostly because of injury. Five of Phoenix's six wins on the season came with both all-time greats in the lineup.

12. Indiana Fever

Record: 6-19

Previous ranking: 8

This week: vs. Phoenix (Tuesday), vs. Connecticut (Friday), at Atlanta (Sunday)

The Fever's early-season excitement has been supplanted by a rut that has them tumbling down the standings and at risk of getting relegated once more to the lottery. After snapping their eight-game losing streak last week, they've since lost another four straight, with the Sparks (twice) and Storm -- teams well below .500 -- handing them defeats. The closest result came Tuesday, a one-point loss to the Sparks courtesy of Canada's game-winning 3 with 3.2 seconds to play. They then struggled mightily on both ends Sunday, managing just 62 points against the Storm, which hit 53.4% of their shots.

NaLyssa Smith, who has been out since July 9 with a foot injury, has been sorely missed, her absence allowing defenses to key in more on Rookie of the Year front-runner and All-Star Aliyah Boston down low. For Indiana to return to the postseason for the first time since 2016, it'll need a surge behind its young star duo of Boston and a healthy Smith.

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