Kaitlin Clark’s debut and excerpts from WNBA opening night

The 2024 WNBA season has arrived. Caitlin Clark’s professional era has officially begun. The defending champions, the Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut Sun, New York Liberty and Minnesota Lynx, opened with victories on Tuesday.

Clark and the Indiana Heat finished the season on the road, falling 92-71 at Connecticut, where perennial Sun Player of the Year candidate Alyssa Thomas recorded a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists.

Clark, the No. 1 pick in April’s WNBA draft and the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I, had 20 points, 3 assists and 2 steals in her WNBA debut. But she struggled most of the night, committing 10 turnovers and shooting 5-for-15 from the field and 4-for-11 on 3-pointers. In the first half, she had five turnovers and seven points.

Clark’s 20 points rank second in franchise history behind Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings (23 in 2002) for a Fever player’s debut. Candace Parker had the highest point total of any WNBA player in her debut, with 34 points in 2008. Among No. 1 picks in the past decade, Clarke is second only to Brianna Stewart (23 points) in 2016.

How did the Aces, Liberty, Lynx and Sun start the season in the win column? How did the absence of injured midfielder Brittney Griner from the Phoenix Mercury and goalkeeper Chelsea Gray from Las Vegas affect their teams’ games? And what did the Storm look like with Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith making their Seattle debuts?

ESPN breaks down opening night.

After a slow start, Clark’s performance improved late in the game but struggled overall. Which areas were most exposed? What is the most promising thing about her professional debut?

Vobel: It says something about how far expectations have been exceeded for Clarke to have taken 20 points in her professional debut but the performance will be defined by many as a ‘struggle’ primarily for turnovers.

This is to be expected, for any rookie goalkeeper, considering how fast and experienced the defense is at this level.

However, turnovers had to be what bothered Clarke the most in her first game, as they prevented potential scoring opportunities for the Fever. Connecticut guard Dejonai Carrington made things difficult for Clark, who racked up eight of her turnovers against the fourth-year pro. Clark was also shooting Carrington 2-of-10.

However, Clark does not appear to have lost confidence or aggression. This is the key. Clarke – who played 31 minutes – knew there would be a learning curve, as everything comes to young players very quickly, especially for players who will handle the ball as much as she wants. Clarke will figure out how to better calibrate her death.

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Kaitlyn Clark criticizes her WNBA debut: ‘I should be more fragile’

Caitlin Clark speaks to the media after her first WNBA game in which she suffered 10 turnovers.

It’s only one game, but what are the realistic expectations for Fever?

Vobel: Things went better for Indiana in the second and third quarters, when the Fever was able to hold its own with Connecticut. The Sun pulled away in the fourth quarter, and that’s something Fever coach Christy Sides will stress to her team.

There were some real positives about how the Fever connected when they ran their attack well – but with 25 turnovers, there were times when they didn’t happen.

So, realistically, they have shown they can perform at a high level against a veteran team expected to finish the season in the top four in the league. The Fever has a chance to hold its own against teams that aren’t quite at the same level as the sun.

What do the Aces take away from their opener as they launch their triple-A campaign?

Vobel: Gray’s absence — the Aces did not say how long they expected him to be out with a foot injury — was evident in moments, especially when Las Vegas didn’t attack the Phoenix zone like it wanted to in the 89-80 win. .

“I think we have to get used to switching defenses as long as Chelsea is not there,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “They will apply pressure [us] To make readings constantly. It’s really a great growth opportunity for the rest of the team – whether it’s for our organization or our reading.”

However, guard Jackie Young and Kelsey Bloom scored 42 points and dished out 11 assists with just three turnovers. A’ja Wilson – who looked the best despite criticizing herself for shooting 10-of-22 from the field – showed off her leadership on the court along with her big stats (30 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks).

“My message was I think we lost sight of who we were because it was the first game,” Wilson said. “I feel like we’re all just trying to put on the Superman mantle. So I helped my teammates understand that we can do this and we can still make each other better.”

Why did the Storm struggle offensively after adding All-Stars Diggins-Smith and Ogwumike?

Belton: In an 83-70 loss at home to Minnesota that saw them outscored 20-10 in the fourth quarter, the Storm looked like a team that only had two weeks of practice together. Seattle committed 17 turnovers and shot just 37% from the field — 31% after halftime.

“I think overall, offensively, we just didn’t have any flow,” Seattle coach Noelle Quinn said after the game. “We didn’t have any turnovers. We made it easy for Minnesota to defend us. I was going to start there. Offensively, we were out of sync.”

The result was too many tough shots for Storm guard Jewell Lloyd, whose 3-of-19 shooting (16%) was the worst accuracy in franchise history by a player who took at least 15 shots, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

According to Second Spectrum’s tracking, Loyd’s 34% shot quality — the effective field goal percentage we expect based on the location and type of shots made and distance to nearby defenders — was the lowest of any player with at least five attempts on Tuesday.

After Loyd set a WNBA single-season record for total points last season (on a Storm team that finished 11-29), the arrival of Diggins-Smith and Ogwumike was supposed to change that. But Quinn felt her team came back under pressure from the Lynx and the opening night crowd.

“It surprised me, but then it made sense to me because that’s the atmosphere of the first game, all that stuff,” Quinn said. “You fall back into your habit, and we have some habits that need to happen, and some habits are hard to break in a week and a half.”

One particular long-term concern: Seattle is generating more three-point attempts. The Storm’s hat-trick was the fewest since the 2016 season opener (a 96-66 loss to Los Angeles in Stewart’s WNBA debut) and their nine attempts were the fewest since 2019. Minnesota — which got 42 points and 20 rebounds from Naphesa Collier and Alana Smith hold a 21-3 advantage in scoring beyond the arc.

After losing their home opener, the Storm now head to a three-game road trip starting Friday in Minneapolis. Ten of the team’s first 16 games will come outside Seattle, something coach Noelle Quinn said she likes before the game.

“For this group in particular, I think it’s great because we need to work out some kinks and I love the fact that we can do that in a difficult environment,” Quinn said.

Who was featured in the Connecticut Sun?

Vobel: Both the Sun (48.5%) and Fever (48.0%) shot about the same percentage from the field, but Connecticut had 16 more shots and had 10 fewer turnovers. While we expect the ageless Dewanna Bonner (20 points, six rebounds) and Thomas to play well every game, it’s also great to see the Sun introducing Tyasha Harris and Carrington in the backcourt. They combined for 32 points, plus Sun backup guard Rachel Banham had 10 points. Add Carrington’s offense on Tuesday to her exceptional job on defense, and she really stood out on opening night.

Then there was the return of Breonna Jones, who suffered a right Achilles tendon injury last June. She had eight points and three rebounds, and Sun is thrilled to have them back.

New York won the opener but needed a fourth-quarter rebound. What worked for freedom?

Vobel: The Liberty benefited from a stronger defensive performance in the fourth quarter as well as the fact that Jonquel Jones and Betnijah Laney-Hamilton had already played. They combined for 45 points and 12 rebounds and were at the forefront of Liberty’s defense in an 85-80 win.

Last year, Jones wasn’t quite healthy at the start of the season, and it took her a while to get up to full speed. This year, she’s ready now.

“Who I was last year versus where I am this year — I don’t take it for granted,” said Jones, who is in her second season in New York. “I appreciate these moments and I love going out and playing hard.”

This wasn’t necessarily a strong offensive start for Stewart, who went 3-of-9 from the field for 8 points, but she did grab 8 rebounds.

“It wasn’t a pretty game and I thought Washington threw too much at us,” New York coach Sandy Brondello said. “We found some rhythm.”

For Washington, Shakira Austin looked strong after being limited to 19 games last season due to injury. She scored 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots. She berated herself for missing a late putback, but there was a lot to like about the way Austin played.

“It’s amazing to be there,” Austin said. “I was very prepared and felt like I played to my strengths. Going into this year, I wanted to expand on that.”

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