Welcome to The W Is It, a weekly column about all the stuff that freakin’ rules in the WNBA. Have any tips of topics to cover? Find me @mellentuck on Twitter.
On June 2, an exhausted Los Angeles Sparks team flew across the country to New York without an injured Candace Parker for an 11 a.m. east coast time game against the Liberty. L.A. was also down center Maria Vadeeva, who scored 24 points in the season opener before returning to Russia for EuroBasket commitments, and back-to-back reigning Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard. That combination created a recipe for disaster ... until they still won, 78-73.
That happened because Chelsea Gray is the best active point guard in the world, and her touch only gets smoother when the pressure is dialed to the max.
Settle down, I said “active.” She’s no Sue Bird or Diana Taurasi yet, both of whom are sidelined for weeks to come. But it’s time to look at the 2014 No. 11 pick who came back from two major knee injuries as the successor to those two Point Gods.
To close out the Sparks’ comeback against the Liberty, Gray went on a 12-4 run herself in the final two minutes and 32 seconds. She drained two of the three 3-pointers she attempted, plus a layup and four free throws. Without Parker and Vadeeva, Gray had to become L.A.’s all-around All-Star, playing around teammates who aren’t known to create their own looks.
Despite those absences, L.A. is 3-2, with a signature win over a bitter rival thanks to — who else — Gray. In an 89-85 road win on national television against the Minnesota Lynx, Gray scored the Sparks’ final three buckets from the field to secure another win. The final shot came on a fadeaway from the baseline with just eight seconds to play to ice the game. She totaled 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
There are levels to Gray’s command over the floor. At 5’11, she is far from the tallest, but she’s strong enough to defend those who tower over her. She’s nimble too, which is how she’s become one of the league leaders in steals.
On the offensive end, she’s a wrecking ball of controlled dominance. She bounces off defenders, lets threes fly with a one-handed follow through, and flips passes behind her head.
Above all else, she’s one of the game’s best and most consistent closers. Lynx fans remember her well from Game 1 of the 2017 Finals, when she swished home the game-winner in Minnesota. They also remember her from the season opener in 2018, when she drove to the cup and flipped in a left-handed layup at the buzzer to slay the Lynx again.
Gray has reinforcements coming when Parker, Vadeeva, and Beard come back, but she’s used the beginning of this season to show that she’s her own star ready to lead a winning team.
The W has plenty of other great point guards, like Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot, Connecticut’s Courtney Williams, and Las Vegas’ Kelsey Plum. But Gray has become the standout next-best after Taurasi and Bird. She’s the future of the position, and the absences of Parker and Vadeeva are only allowing us to see it sooner.
Here are a few other things to celebrate from the first few weeks of the season.
Never forget Teaira McCowan really hit a buzzer-beater in her first game EVER
The biggest critique against the No. 3 pick in the 2019 draft was that she couldn’t score well. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Kalani Brown bringing light to WNBA walk-ins deserves a round of applause
We stan this!
Seimone Augustus has worn her OWN jerseys to three games so far
The Lynx legend is sitting out after undergoing a knee scope, but the fits are still READY.
Here she is walking in in her rookie jersey:
Then her college jersey:
And then her own high school jersey:
Brittney Sykes signing autographs for this kid rules
THE WNBA MATTERS !! @BrittBundlez GIVES ATLANTA DREAM FAN HER SNEAKERS AND THE LITTLE FAN IMMEDIATELY BREAKS DOWN!!!! @ariivory @AtlantaDream @WNBA @HighPostHoops @TheWinsidr @jemelehill @LaChinaRobinson @TheAthleticWNBA pic.twitter.com/afbypGwRAW— lwproductions (@lwproductions4) June 7, 2019
The best type of crying.
WNBA Stan of the Week - Donovan Mitchell
Former Louisville Cardinal and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell showed up to a New York Liberty game with two phones and his sister to watch his friend and college basketball co-star, Asia Durr, in action.
Louisville really had these two at the same damn time. Sheesh.
This week’s Wrigley Delle Donne update
Elena Delle Donne’s biggest dog, Wrigley, is doing just fine after recovering from ACL surgery. As of June 1, he was wearing a cone on his head but it’s just temporary. She promised she’d let him know I asked about him.