LAS VEGAS -- One word came up again and again when WNBA players were asked at All-Star Weekend what their teams most needed in the second half of this season: consistency. But it's the ultimate "easier said than done" in a 12-team league with so much competitive balance.
The Las Vegas Aces are the rock-solid first-place team again in this week's ESPN WNBA Power Rankings, and it doesn't seem likely they will be shaken from that perch. But no other spot in the league standings, good or bad, is close to being locked in just yet.
The New York Liberty and Connecticut Sun appear to be the best bets to round out the league's top three. The Liberty are 2-0 against the Sun, with two more meetings between the teams coming in the regular season. However, it's also notable that Connecticut is done playing Las Vegas -- the Sun went 1-2 -- while New York still has three more matchups with the Aces, all in August.
Fourth place could be a revolving door; five teams have been in that slot in our 2023 Power Rankings.
And at the bottom, which teams will end up in the potentially franchise-changing 2024 draft lottery? The Indiana Fever (four) and Phoenix Mercury (three) have spent the most weeks in last place in our rankings, while the Seattle Storm start the season's second half with the league's worst record (4-16).
Consistency is so tough to attain because the league has so much parity. The difference in any given game might be which team is at home and/or has had the more arduous schedule that week. Not to mention the ups and downs that come with injuries, including what seems like the most common malady this season: sprained ankles.
With relatively few games a week ago, there isn't much movement in the Week 9 Power Rankings. But let's look at what each team needs the most to be successful the rest of this season.
Previous ranking: 1
This week: at Seattle (Thursday), at Minnesota (Saturday)
Las Vegas hosted a successful All-Star Weekend, even though Team A'ja Wilson -- which had all four Aces all-stars -- lost the game. Now it's back to trying to dominate for the Aces. Coach Becky Hammon continues to stress the team's capacity for improvement on defense, a frightening thought for the rest of the league that can't slow down the Aces' offense.
But while the Aces look to fuel their offense even more by upgrading their defense, let's highlight another key: playing well on the road. The Aces' only losses thus far are both away from Michelob Ultra Arena: at Connecticut and at Dallas. They open the second half with a three-game road trip and then have a four-game road swing in August.
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Dallas (Wednesday), at Washington (Friday), vs. Indiana (Sunday)
Team Breanna Stewart won the All-Star Game, while guard Sabrina Ionescu won the 3-point contest with a show-stopping performance that might not ever be topped: missing just two shots. Ionescu said that although that victory was just in an exhibition, she can take a lot of confidence from it into the season's second half.
And Ionescu also got straight to the point when asked what she thought was New York's biggest key the rest of the way.
"Keeping a lead," Ionescu said, in reference to how the Liberty struggled to close out their last three games before the All-Star break, despite going against bottom-tier teams Phoenix, Seattle and Indiana. New York won all three but didn't look like the dominant team it can be.
"We're just continuing how to play well with one another, but not using that as an excuse when things aren't going well," Ionescu said. "It's a big factor into why some of our games end up the way they do. But we understand it's happened one too many times, and we have to look inward and continue to build that chemistry. I think we will."
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at Phoenix (Tuesday), vs. Atlanta (Thursday), at Atlanta (Saturday)
Getting consistent scoring from Tiffany Hayes is the biggest thing Connecticut needs now. In her 11th season in the WNBA and first with the Sun, Hayes is coming off a 22-point performance last Wednesday in a win over Chicago. It tied her season high and is exactly what Connecticut needs from her.
In coming to the Sun after 10 seasons in Atlanta, Hayes probably expected to be the fourth or fifth option. But with Jones out, the Sun need more from everyone else. Hayes can lead the way.
4. Dallas Wings
Previous ranking: 4
This week: at New York (Wednesday), vs. Los Angeles (Saturday)
All-Star Arike Ogunbowale thinks a top-four finish in the league is attainable, and the Wings' performance over the past few weeks supports that. Dallas has won five of its past six games; the only loss was to Las Vegas, but the Wings also beat the Aces in that stretch.
Ogunbowale, fellow All-Star Satou Sabally and Natasha Howard have been Dallas' big three in scoring, and that should continue. So should the Wings' dominance on the glass: Add in center Teaira McCowan with forwards Sabally and Howard, and it's clear why Dallas leads the league in rebounding.
But Dallas must be better on the road to stay in the top quarter of the standings. The Wings are 4-7 there, 7-2 at home. It could be the sign of a good trend for the Wings that half of their four road wins came in Dallas' last two games before the All-Star break: at Indiana and at Minnesota.
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. Minnesota (Tuesday), at Connecticut (Thursday), vs. Connecticut (Saturday)
The Dream have won six in a row and appear on track to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2018. Allisha Gray, Cheyenne Parker and Rhyne Howard were All-Stars and lead Atlanta in scoring and rebounding. The continued development of rookie Haley Jones is a key in the second half. She is averaging 3.2 assists per game, and her ability as a playmaker is essential to her getting as much court time as possible the rest of the season. Rookies can get weary in August, but that's when Jones needs to flourish.
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Indiana (Wednesday), vs. New York (Friday), vs. Phoenix (Sunday)
Elena Delle Donne was the Mystics' only All-Star, but she couldn't play in the game because of an ankle injury. With Ariel Atkins suffering an ankle injury in last week's victory over Seattle, Brittney Sykes is the only Washington starter who has escaped the injury bug.
Washington's biggest second-half key is having all its starters -- that includes Shakira Austin and Natasha Cloud, along with Delle Donne, Atkins and Sykes -- as healthy as possible for the stretch run of the season and heading into the playoffs. While the Mystics don't necessarily want to take the postseason for granted, they should be there unless the bottom falls out. So they don't want to rush anyone back for short-term gain. The Mystics have veterans such as Tianna Hawkins and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough who are good at helping hold things together.
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Atlanta (Tuesday), vs. Los Angeles (Thursday), vs. Las Vegas (Saturday)
Despite an 0-6 start to the season, the Lynx have put themselves in the playoff picture, led by All-Star Napheesa Collier. Minnesota didn't have the best week before the All-Star Game, getting clobbered first by Las Vegas last Sunday (113-89) and then by Dallas on Wednesday (107-67). Both games were at Target Center, which brings up a second-half key: The Lynx have to play better at home.
They have been more successful on the road (5-4) than at home (4-7). Last year, Minnesota missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010, and had identical records at home (7-11) and away (7-11). The rest of this season, the Lynx have to cash in more at Target Center.
8. Chicago Sky
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at Phoenix (Thursday), at Seattle (Saturday)
It would be a big accomplishment for the Sky to make the playoffs this year considering their personnel losses in the offseason and coach James Wade's departure for the NBA in late June. All-Star Kahleah Copper will keep doing her thing; she leads Chicago at 17.3 PPG. But veterans Courtney Williams and Elizabeth Williams, both in their first season in Chicago, could play key roles the rest of the way.
They are second and third on the team in rebounding, behind Alanna Smith, who is having her breakthrough season in the WNBA. And they are fourth and fifth for the Sky in scoring. They are also really good communicators. Courtney Williams talks more -- teammates rely on her constant upbeat chatter -- but both have a lot of experience and a strong understanding of the game.
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. Connecticut (Tuesday), vs. Chicago (Thursday), at Washington (Sunday)
Phoenix's All-Star, Brittney Griner, summed up the Mercury's second-half need succinctly: "Get more dubs!" Indeed, the Mercury have been short on wins, and they have not defeated any team currently in the top six in the standings. It's too early to say, "Wait until next year," because with players such as Griner and Diana Taurasi, it still might be possible to get into the playoffs. Stranger things have happened.
But the continued development of forward Michaela Onyenwere is one of the most important aspects of the Mercury's second half. She was Rookie of the Year in 2021 after being the No. 6 pick by New York and one of the few bright spots in a bad draft. Part of a multiteam trade in February, her third WNBA season has been her best. She's averaging 10.6 PPG this season, 14.2 over the last five games.
Previous ranking: 10
This week: at Minnesota (Thursday), at Dallas (Saturday)
The Sparks are another team that just can't seem to catch many breaks when it comes to health. Only two players have appeared in every game: Dearica Hamby, who gave birth in March, and rookie Zia Cooke. The Sparks' best player is All-Star Nneka Ogwumike, who has missed just one game and is averaging nearly a double-double (19.8 PPG, 9.6 RPG).
While the Sparks don't want to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive year -- that would be unprecedented for the franchise -- they are on a six-game losing streak that has put them in the lottery for now. That wouldn't be the worst thing for Los Angeles, but a second-half key is teammates helping Ogwumike more. She is having great season, but she can't do it all for Los Angeles.
11. Seattle Storm
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. Las Vegas (Thursday), vs. Chicago (Saturday)
Like Ogwumike, the Storm's Jewell Loyd is having an outstanding individual season in a difficult year for her team. This was expected after Sue Bird's retirement and Breanna Stewart's departure in free agency. The Storm are likely to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2015, and Loyd is a free agent in 2024.
The most important aspect of the second half of this season is more about looking at the franchise's future than the results of this particular team. How well the Storm's younger players -- including All-Star Ezi Magbegor -- continue to develop might impact Loyd's free agency decision.
12. Indiana Fever
Previous ranking: 12
This week: at Washington (Wednesday), at New York (Sunday)
The Fever had two All-Stars, Kelsey Mitchell and Aliyah Boston, but now have the league's longest losing streak at eight in a row. Indiana got bad news last week that NaLyssa Smith, its second-leading scorer and top rebounder, would be out at least two weeks because of a stress fracture in her left foot. Could the Fever be back in the lottery for a seventh year in a row?
The Fever have also shown signs of being good team. Or, at least, not a bad one. The key in the season's second half is to not let things snowball as they did last season, when Indiana went 5-31 and lost its last 18 games.