We’ve finally arrived, basketball pundits, at the long awaited WNBL playoffs. If you’ve been doing your homework, you’ll know that nothing is certain in the series looming ahead. Though the Southside Flyers and University of Canberra Capitals are figured by many to be the last two teams standing, neither the Melbourne Boomers nor the Adelaide Lightning will simply throw their hands up and admit defeat.
My esteemed colleague Chris Sermeno expertly broke down what to expect in the WNBL postseason, and if you’re unfamiliar with the four teams vying for the gold, it’s an excellent way to get up to speed. He based his statements on facts, research and intuition.
As for me, I'm much more prone to impulsive, snap decisions. The kind that look brilliant if they pan out, and if I’m wrong, I pretend they never happened. Like that time I said Andrew Bogut might bail on the NBL. Or that time I anointed Ryan Broekhoff as the heir apparent in Dallas. Or even this controversial opinion right here.
So let’s talk ball. Women's ball.
The issue with trying to prognosticate WNBL results is that, despite what the standings might tell you, the gap between worst and first is not always so consistent, particularly this late in the year when injuries begin piling up.
The Southside Flyers are presumptive favourites to claim the title this season, as their bold strategy of ‘sign the best players and hire the best coach’ has paid off. If you feel like they came out of nowhere, it’s because they hardly resemble last season’s edition, retooling the starting five and going through a complete re-brand. Wait, they are in fact a new team!
The Dandenong Rangers are no more, may they rest in peace — long live the queens of Southside, headlined by the soul devouring presence of Mercedes Russell. The way she commands the key is absolutely fearsome, on both sides of the ball. She simply overwhelms opponents with her presence, and the only recourse seems to be either frustrating her with length (the likes of which only a few possess, perhaps such as Boomers’ centre Ezi Magbegor) or kicking her firmly in the shins.
Nobody has tried that last one, but you’d have to think it’s worth a shot.
The reason she’s able to roam with such freedom however, is because of the wealth of shooters that surround her. Both Russell and Rebecca Cole scored in double digits in every single game this season. Leilani Mitchell missed that mark by two contests, but is always a scoring threat from deep, while also serving up more dimes than a wishing fountain.
The issue with the Flyers remains their depth, especially now that Jenna O’Hea is potentially sidelined throughout the playoffs. But in a tragic display of symmetry, Adelaide’s Nicole Seekamp is likely down and out as well. Her 8 assists per game kept Adelaide chugging, and her heroics in last year’s Finals series proved exactly how critical she is under the biggest spotlight.
If the Lightning hope to have any chance of pulling off this upset, they’ll have to capitalise on every single mistake the Flyers make on the court. Maybe they can lean on Crystal Langhorne, who has a 100% 3-point percentage, plus the highest rebound per game average in the WNBL this season? Sure, she only played one game, but dammit she got a lot of rebounds and hit every three in that game so it’s a totally legitimate measurement.
Over on the other side of town, the Boomers are perhaps coming together at exactly the right time. The return of Lindsay Allen could have only proven more fortuitous if she had suddenly been inexplicably coated in a layer of solid gold, but I still feel as if the aforementioned Magbegor will prove to be a critical piece in Melbourne’s postseason puzzle.
I guess I just like bigs? Bigs are good.
I fear that they’re about to run into a buzz saw in the form of the reigning champion Capitals, however. If I were a betting man (and my crippling debt suggests that I am), I’ll point to decorated import Kia Nurse as being the facilitator towards Canberra’s success in these Finals. There are three distinct reasons:
She is the WNBL leader in both points per game (21.3) and minutes per game (36.9), capable of logging serious game time and putting constant pressure on opponents.
At age 23, she is entering the prime of her career, dazzling at every level she plays at, whether it’s the WNBL, WNBA, or Olympic competition.
She is Canadian, and so am I, and nepotism is a very real thing.
Meanwhile, Olivia Epoupa does a bit of everything, confounding teams with her passing and crafty defence, and Kelsey Griffin, in case you forgot, is a 3x WNBL champion and 3x WNBL Grand Final MVP. She was a little quiet to close out the season, but there’s no reason to believe she won’t be able to kick it up another gear in the playoffs.
The Capitals lack the momentum of some of their competitors, but their formula is as potent as ever. They’re just built for success, and as such, I can’t see them faltering here.
Yes, I am predicting a Finals matchup of the Flyers and the Capitals, and I’m very ashamed of myself for choosing the top two seeds, for it is distinctly unambitious. Beyond that, however — and here’s the twist — the Caps are my pick to go the distance over Southside, with their superior depth and superior Canadian proving to be the difference.
Capitals to repeat, Nurse for MVP, I win $1,000,000.
If at least two of those things happen, I will be very happy.