In the NBA, NHL, and MLB, we often hear about teams making midseason trades to prepare for a late push or a deeper playoff run. In the WNBA, player movement is much more restricted, so trades are much less frequent. However, two midsummer trades this season could affect multiple teams’ playoff chances. On July 9, 2-seed Atlanta traded guard Layshia Clarendon to 4-seed Connecticut for guard Alex Bentley. Bentley has helped the Dream fill the scoring void created when All-Star Angel McCoughtry tore her ACL, while Clarendon’s passing and defense have been a great fit for the Sun’s transition game. Two weeks later, 3-seed Washington sent guard Tayler Hill to 8-seed Dallas for wing Aerial Powers, a classic case of each team easing a glut at one position and adding depth at another.
Which of the four players mentioned will have the greatest impact in this year’s postseason? Perhaps Hill will help Dallas pull the upset in its first-round winner-take-all game Tuesday night, or Clarendon or Powers will push Connecticut or Washington to a semifinal appearance. Maybe Bentley will be the X-factor in a semifinal series, sending the Dream to their first WNBA Finals since 2013. For more insight on their potential postseason roles, let’s look at how the newcomers have adjusted to the change in teams and how they’ve fared in previous postseasons.
The case for Bentley: She was having the strongest season of the four players before the trade in a variety of statistical categories. With Connecticut, Bentley was scoring 10 points in almost 22 minutes per game, tops among the four players. She also had the best Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 14.3, slightly below the league average of 15, and was the only player with positive win shares.
With the Dream, Bentley has hit a bit of a slump. Her scoring has dropped to just 0.89 points per scoring attempt and her PER is only 10.2. However, her past playoff experience, highlighted by an 8-game run to the WNBA Finals in her first stint with the Dream back in 2013, could help her return to form this postseason.
The case for Clarendon: As the saying goes, defense wins championships, and Clarendon is known for her defense. However, with Connecticut, she’s also having one of the more effective offensive stretches of her career. She’s scoring 1.11 points per shot attempt since the trade, which essentially matches her career best from 2016. Extended over a full season, Clarendon’s PER and win shares per 40 minutes with Connecticut would both exceed her previous career highs.
Clarendon has also been a part of deep playoff runs in the past and leads this group with 20 postseason games played in her career. Put it all together and she’s poised to play a key role on a Sun team that has a real chance at a title.
The case for Hill: Hill is still rounding into form after tearing her ACL partway through the 2017 season. She hasn’t been particularly efficient since joining the Wings, averaging just 0.76 points per shot attempt with a PER of only 3.7. Still, she’s playing nearly 8 more minutes per game with Dallas than she was with Washington, and in time it’s reasonable to expect her to return to her career averages (0.99 points per scoring attempt, 14.2 PER). In a one-game playoff, if Hill gets hot shooting the ball, she could be the difference-maker. She had the two best statistical seasons of her career in 2016 and 2017 (pre-injury), averaging 15.4 and 13.3 points per game, respectively. If you need more convincing, just look at her first game back from injury with the Mystics: she hit a 3-pointer 18 seconds into her time on the court.
The case for Powers: Like Clarendon, Powers is on a hot streak, but Powers has been even hotter in limited minutes for the Mystics. She is scoring 1.21 points per shot attempt for Washington, up from 0.96 before the trade. Her PER has more than doubled to a whopping 21.7 with Washington. She’s only played in one playoff game in her three-year career, a first-round loss last year, but the Mystics would be thrilled if she replicated her 21-point effort in that game this postseason.
Pick ’em: I expect Alex Bentley to have the biggest impact of the mid-season acquisitions in this year’s playoffs. The Dream have the best defensive rating in the league, which bodes well for their ability to make a deep playoff run, but they’ll have to score, too. With McCoughtry out, Bentley needs to help All-Star snub Tiffany Hayes shoulder the load for Atlanta. That’s entirely possible if Bentley plays like she did in the last two games of the season (24 points, 6 assists, 6–8 3-point shooting against Phoenix; 12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists versus Las Vegas).
Agree or disagree, I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments and on Twitter. You can tweet at me @jennhatfield1 and @herhoopstats.