Clark's debut struggles and everything we learned from the WNBA's opening night

The 2024 WNBA season is here. Caitlin Clark’s pro era is officially underway. And the Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty opened with victories Tuesday.

Clark and the Indiana Fever tipped off the season on the road, falling 92-71 at Connecticut, as Alyssa Thomas, the Sun’s perennial MVP candidate, tallied a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists.

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

New York, last season’s runner-up, used a big fourth quarter to win at the Washington Mystics 85-80. Jonquel Jones led the way with 25 points, and teammate Betnijah Laney-Hamilton added 20.

The two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces host the Phoenix Mercury (live on ESPN2) and the Seattle Storm host the Minnesota Lynx to round out opening night. But here are early takeaways.

After a slow start, Clark heated up late in the game but struggled overall. In which areas was she most exposed? And what was most promising about her pro debut?

It says something about how over-the-top the expectations are for Clark that she had a team-high 20 points in her professional debut but the performance will be defined by many as a “struggle,” primarily for the turnovers. That’s to be expected, though, for any rookie point guard, considering just how much quicker and experienced the defense is at this level.

Still, the turnovers have to be what will bother Clark most about her first game, because they prevented possible scoring opportunities for the Fever. Connecticut guard DiJonai Carrington made things hard on Clark, who had eight of her turnovers against the fourth-year pro. Clark was also 2 of 10 shooting against Carrington.

Still, Clark didn’t seem to lose confidence or aggression. That’s key. Clark — who played a team-high 31 minutes — knew there was going to be a learning curve, as everything comes at young players very fast, especially for one who will be handling the ball as much as she will. Clark will figure out how to better calibrate her passing.

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Caitlin Clark critiques her WNBA debut: ‘I have to be crisper’

Caitlin Clark speaks to the media after her first WNBA game where she struggled with 10 turnovers.

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

Things worked best for Indiana in the second and third quarters, where they were able to hang with Connecticut. The Sun pulled away in the fourth quarter and that’s something Fever coach Christie Sides will emphasize to her team.

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

So realistically, they showed they could execute at a high level against a veteran squad that is expected to finish in the top four in the league. The Fever have a chance to hold their own against teams that aren’t quite at the level of the Sun.

What stood out for the Connecticut Sun?

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

And then there was the return of Brionna Jones, who suffered an Achilles injury last June. She had eight points and three rebounds, and the Sun are thrilled to have her back.

New York won its opener, but needed a fourth-quarter rally. What worked for the Liberty?

Voepel: The Liberty took advantage of a stronger defensive performance in the fourth quarter, but also the fact that Jonquel Jones and Betnijah Laney-Hamilton really came to play. They combined for 45 points and 12 rebounds and were at the forefront of the Liberty defense.

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

“Where I was last year vs. 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 love going out there and playing hard.”

It wasn’t necessarily a strong debut offensively for Breanna Stewart, who was 3 of 9 from the field for 8 points, but she had 8 rebounds.

“It wasn’t a pretty game, and I thought Washington threw a lot 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 had 13 points, 5 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. She chastised herself for missing a late putback, but there was a lot the Mystics had to like about how Austin played.

“It’s amazing just to be out there,” Austin said. “I was pretty poised and felt like I played to my strengths. Coming into this year, I wanted to expand that.”

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