Early Season Check-In for new WNBA Coaches
Analyzing the Start of the Season for all New WNBA Coaches
Prior to the start of the 2022 season, four organizations welcomed new head WNBA coaches. Vanessa Nygaard took over for the Phoenix Mercury, Becky Hammon for the Las Vegas Aces, Sandy Brondello for the New York Liberty, and Tanisha Wright for the Atlanta Dream. All four WNBA coaches played in the league themselves while Nygaard, Hammon, and Wright made their women’s NBA coaching debuts this season.
There have also already been two new head coaching changes in the early half of the season. The Indiana Fever fired Marianne Stanley and the Los Angeles Sparks parted ways with Derrick Fisher.
With half of the league’s teams under new leadership; let’s take a look at each organization’s start to the season and if they are a team worth betting on moving forward.
Vanessa Nygaard took over as the 10th head coach in Phoenix Mercury franchise history after the organization decided not to renew the contract of longtime head coach Sandy Brondello. The change came despite Brondello leading the Mercury to the 2021 WNBA finals and playoff appearances in each of her eight seasons in The Valley.
After a 2-1 start to this season, things took a turn for the worse for Nygaard and company. The Mercury lost their next seven games, including two big blowout losses to the Las Vegas Aces and the Atlanta Dream. They found themselves with a 2-8 record SU and 4-6 ATS nearly a month into the season.
As with any new coaching change, it takes time for a team to learn and feel comfortable in a new system, especially with the roster changes the team has had to make. The Mercury has started the season without star center Brittney Griner, who is being wrongfully detained in Russia. They also added veteran center Tina Charles and guard Diamond DeShields, both of whom are starters this season.
Throughout that 7-game losing streak, Nygaard’s Mercury did not look like a very cohesive unit. Their offense was league average, with an offensive rating of 98, but their defense ranked dead last for much of that period, with a defensive rating of 107. Phoenix snapped that losing streak with a win over the Los Angeles Sparks on June 5 and have gone 3-2 since. Injuries forced Nygaard to have to toy with lineups a bit, but it’s worked to the team’s advantage because over those 5 games, their offensive rating jumped to 103.6 while their defensive rating dropped to 99.5.
While bettors need to see a bit more sustained success before they’re comfortable playing on Phoenix consistently, it seems as if the Mercury is beginning to find their identity within Nygaard’s system.
New York Liberty
Of the WNBA coaches hired this season, Sandy Brondello is the most experienced, however, similar to her former team, Brondello’s current team, the New York Liberty, got off to an equally rough start. The Liberty started the season in the league’s cellar, going 1-7 during the opening month of the season. Yet, since the beginning of June, Brondello’s squad has posted a 5-3 record and looks to be turning their season around.
The early struggles are not so much a result of a new coaching staff, but more so players adjusting to new roles, getting healthy, and growing into their own. For starters, guard Sabrina Ionescu is finally close to feeling 100% after missing all but three games her rookie season and struggling through injury last season. She is averaging 20.7 points in the month of June, which is a significant increase from the 12.6 she averaged in May. Ionescu has also benefited from Brondello’s decision to move guard Crystal Dangerfield into the starting lineup.
Backup center Han Xu is another player that is starting to shine. At 6’10” she creates a mismatch for opponents on a nightly basis and is giving New York quality minutes off the bench. Despite their rough start, we see things continuing to trend in the right direction for New York. With DiDi Richards coming back from injury and Betnijah Laney expected back in August, this team has a lot of upsides.
Las Vegas Aces
Unlike the previous two teams, the Las Vegas Aces’ start to the season has been anything but rough. With a 13-2 record midway through June, first-year WNBA head coach Becky Hammon has led the Aces to the league’s best record thus far.
The Aces also own the top WNBA betting odds to win this year’s title. Hammon’s starting lineup of A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Dearica Hamby, Kelsey Plum, and Jackie Young is as dangerous as we’ve seen in a long time. Plum is playing some of the best basketball of her career right now, averaging 20.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. Both she and Dearica Hamby have stepped into their starting roles quite nicely thus far after the two combined to win the last three Sixth Player of the Year awards.
The only concern for Vegas right now is their depth. Currently, their bench is contributing a league-low 11.4 PPG this season and Hammon only seems comfortable playing eight deep. Nonetheless, the Aces are 9-6 ATS and are a team you should look to play on.
One of the three first-year WNBA coaches, Tanisha Wright earned her first head coaching job when the Atlanta Dream hired her this past offseason. Wright brings with her 14 years of WNBA playing experience and two years of assistant coaching experience with the Las Vegas Aces. She has had her work cut out for her from the jump, inheriting a team that went through three head coaching changes last season and quite a bit of turmoil amongst players both on and off the court.
The expectations for the Dream this season were far from high as they also welcomed a new ownership group this year and are in the midst of re-establishing a new culture. Prior to the season, Atlanta acquired veterans Erica Wheeler and Tiffany Hayes, which was a bright spot for the organization and provided Wright with a strong backcourt.
The Dream also has the No. 3 pick in next year’s WNBA draft and will look to bring in a talented rookie. Sitting around .500 midway through June and 5-5 ATS over their last 10 games, the Dream is a team that we are keeping an eye on, but not overly eager to play on.
It only took the Indiana Fever nine games before firing head coach Marianne Stanley, who was in the final year of her contract and naming assistant coach Carlos Knox interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The change came as a result of a 2-7 start to the season and a 14-49 record during Stanley’s tenure with the organization.
The Fever is a young team with a lot of growing to do. They put all their cards into the 2022 draft, receiving four of the top 10 picks which they used to draft Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo, Syracuse’s Emily Engstler, and Stanford’s Lexie Hull. Indiana hasn’t finished better than .400 or made the playoffs since 2016 and something tells us, it is going to be a few years until they see the postseason.
The Fever went 3-7 both SU and ATS in their first 10 games following Stanley’s departure, making Indiana a team that we don’t trust early.
Los Angeles Sparks
The second mid-season coaching change of 2022 took place just 12 games in when the Los Angeles Sparks parted ways with head coach and general manager Derrick Fisher. The former NBA player was hired by the Sparks prior to the start of the 2019 season and finished his coaching career in Los Angeles with a score of 54-46 overall record. The organization promoted assistant coach Fred Williams as interim head coach and announced it will begin its search for a new general manager immediately.
The Sparks were looking to get back to their winning ways after posting a 12-20 record last season and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Despite playing just three of their first 12 games of the season at home, Fisher had the team at 5-7 and in 8th place at the time of his firing.
With four-time All-Star Liz Cambage and Chennedy Carter, who was the fourth overall pick in 2020, Los Angeles has the talent to turn their season around and make a strong playoff push; however, teams that go through early-season coaching changes often struggle immediately following the change. The Sparks dropped their first two games after Fisher’s firing by double digits and failed to cover the spread in both games. This is a team that should be played against in the short term.Follow us on Twitter