After an off-day for Memorial Day, the WNBA is back in full force with four games on the card for Tuesday, May 31. My picks went 18-14 for +15 units so far this season, including a perfect 5-0 record on three-unit plays, and I have another big play on tonight's slate.
Indiana Fever vs. Washington Mystics
The Indiana Fever earned an outright win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Friday and gave interim coach Carlos Knox his first win. Indiana released forward Alanna Smith following the game, but that might actually help the Fever in this matchup.
In addition to opening up more minutes for starting forwards NaLyssa Smith and Victoria Vivians, who each scored 17 points in the victory over L.A., rookie forward Emily Engstler should also benefit from the roster shakeup as she posted 13 points and nine boards in 27 minutes off the bench on Friday. Indiana put up a -14.36 net rating in 116 minutes with Alanna Smith playing, nearly 10 points per 100 possessions worse than the team's net rating with her on the bench.
Indiana opening up more playing time for the young players on the roster could be helpful against Washington, the slowest paced team in the league so far this season. Washington ranks just 10th in fast-break points per game this season while Indiana ranks in the top three.
When the game slows down, Washington also may struggle to protect the rim against the strong interior play of rookies NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo, as the Mystics are the only defense with under 10 blocked shots at the rim so far this season according to PBP Stats.
In 108 minute with both members of the rookie frontcourt on the floor, the Fever outscored opponents by 14.29 points per 100 possessions while holding opposing offenses to under 56% accuracy at the rim, a mark that would rank in the WNBA's top three. In contrast, the Mystics allowed the lowest opponent rim frequency this season but conceded the highest opposing field-goal percentage at the rim. While part of that can be explained by Washington's low opponent free throw rate, Indiana should have opportunities to finish inside if the offense can make it to the rim with good positioning.
No team scored a higher proportion of total points from the mid-range than Indiana, and Washington allowed the third-most mid-range points per game so far this year. Kelsey Mitchell and Vivians each rank among the top-10 mid-range scorers in the league this season, with NaLyssa Smith close behind in the top-15.
If Indiana can continue to knock down shots from the mid-range against the Mystics, that should force Washington's defenders to stay up near the ballhandler on screens and open up opportunities in the paint.
I think this could be an upset spot with Indiana's moneyline worth a play, but my best bet on this game is the Fever to cover the spread. I took the line at +8.5 last night and even after some line movement in my direction, I still like the Fever at the current spread of +7.5.
EDGE: Indiana Fever +8.5 (3 Units)
Connecticut Sun at Las Vegas Aces
The Connecticut Sun lost a key piece when veteran guard Jasmine Thomas went down with a knee injury, but I think the Sun still have enough firepower to hang with an Aces squad that ran through the league during a red-hot 8-1 start to the year.
This matchup pits the top-two three-point shooting teams in the league against each other, but I think the second-place Sun might have an advantage in that area. While Las Vegas held teams to the lowest opponent three-point accuracy, that may be due in part to early-season shooting variance. No team allowed more three-point attempts per game than Las Vegas and Connecticut has enough shooting firepower to make the Aces pay for allowing open threes.
Las Vegas also allowed opposing offenses to score the third-most mid-range points per game, and that's where Courtney Williams will need to step up. Williams is the only player averaging more than two mid-range points per game this year, continuing her mid-range dominance from last season. Williams became the first player in the PBP Stats database (since 2009) to make more than 100 long mid-range field goals in a single season, as her 119 makes last year surpassed Deanna Nolan's 98 long mid-rangers from the 2009 season. Connecticut brought in the record-setting guard to give the team's offense another dynamic scorer that can operate in the mid-range, and Williams should have plenty of opportunity to get buckets with Thomas out.
According to Positive Residual, Connecticut posted a horrendous 130.8 defensive rating on possessions following a live-ball turnover, but the Sun held opponents below 1 point per possession following a dead ball, missed shot or made shot, and ranked among the top-two defenses in those situations. The Sun may have the best halfcourt defense in the league and if Connecticut can limit turnovers, I think Las Vegas could struggle to get clean looks when playing halfcourt offense in this game.
The Sun also experimented with larger lineups following Thomas's injury, including playing DeWanna Bonner at shooting guard alongside three traditional bigs. This matchup will be a significant indicator as to whether or not A'ja Wilson, who played power forward most of her career prior to Las Vegas losing Liz Cambage in free agency this offseason, is able to hang in the post against so many bigs. The Aces allowed the third-highest opponent field-goal percentage at the rim so this might be a perfect matchup for Connecticut to roll out a big lineup.
I think this line should be closer to a Pick-em, and the spread already started to move in my favor after I grabbed the Sun at +4.5 last night. I'd put two units on Connecticut up to +4 and would consider sprinkling on the moneyline if you can't get a good line for the spread.
EDGE: Connecticut Sun +4.5 (2 Units)