The story of the 2020 WNBA season will be written in the “bubble” or “wubble” in Bradenton, Florida. Its chapters will be crafted in a gym without fans and without some of the league’s biggest stars. The ending will be settled after a sprint of a schedule that will reward depth, stamina, chemistry and consistency. And the tale of 2020 will surely be one that’s told for years and years to come.
A season like no other in the history of the league begins Saturday and Sunday with a back-to-back national TV triple-header of intriguing matchups. With that alone, it is guaranteed to be memorable. But like every other season, there are storylines and themes, predictions and previews of what is to come.
This is what you should be looking for.
Storming the Bubble. The Seattle Storm start this season as the favorite to win the title thanks to the return of 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart, point guard legend Sue Bird and the fact that most of the roster returns intact. The Storm should be deep where other teams aren’t. They should be cohesive where other teams aren’t. They will be balanced where other teams aren’t. In a short season, a quick start can decide so much. The Storm are in a strong position to start strong out of the gate.
Doing without. Three of the four teams that appeared in last year’s WNBA semifinals are without some of their key talent in 2020. The defending champion Mystics will be playing without Tina Charles (medically excused) and likely Elena Delle Donne, not to mention starters Natasha Cloud (opted out, social justice reform) and LaToya Sanders (opted out, health precaution). The Connecticut Sun, who faced the Mystics in last year’s WNBA Finals, will play this season without All-Star post Jonquel Jones (opted out, health precaution). And the Las Vegas Aces will play this season without star center Liz Cambage (opted out, health precaution) and guard Kelsey Plum, who tore her Achilles tendon in June and will miss the season. In addition, the Los Angeles Sparks will move forward without guard Kristi Toliver and forward Chiney Ogwumike, who both opted out due to health precautions.
Hot Mercury? The Phoenix Mercury got the player they wanted in the offseason in Skylar Diggins-Smith. They got an All-Star caliber player who has been a reliable scorer and play-maker during her six seasons in the league. They got a complement to Diana Taurasi, who says she is feeling as good as she has in a long while after missing most of the 2019 season with hamstring and back injuries. With this, they got yet another guard (including another new addition in Bria Hartley) who can effectively take the heat off of Brittney Griner in the paint, and someone who can feed her the ball. They got what they hope is the final piece of a championship puzzle. Phoenix will have valuable backcourt depth, experience inside and they will look to challenge Seattle come fall.
The Rook look. The number of impact players in this 2020 Draft class has the potential to be quite long. It starts of course with No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu, the New York Liberty’s new centerpiece, who will suit up in her first pro season on a team with six other rookies under new head coach Walt Hopkins. Ionescu’s college teammate Satou Sabally landed in Dallas, where she also finds herself on a young team in which seven players are in either their first or second seasons in the league. Sabally is joined by rookie teammate Bella Alarie, the former Princeton star full of upside. Indiana will add former Baylor star Lauren Cox to the frontcourt alongside Teaira McCowan to make up one of the league’s most up-and-coming post tandems. And Atlanta will be leaning heavily on guard Chennedy Carter, a player who will provide them a lot of offensive punch. And don’t sleep on Ruthy Hebard at Chicago, the pick-and-roll master who will be getting hand-deliveries from Courtney Vandersloot.
Change of scenery. There is probably no bigger change of scenery than being in Florida, but a few of the league’s most stalwart players find themselves in new uniforms this season. Angel McCoughtry spent a decade in Atlanta as that franchise’s defining player. After sitting out the 2019 season with injury, she will suit up this season with the Las Vegas Aces. DeWanna Bonner moves from the Mercury to the Sun, bringing her athleticism and versatility to Connecticut after 10 years in Phoenix. And Seimone Augustus, drafted in 2006 by Minnesota, is a member of the Los Angeles Sparks after 14 years and four WNBA titles with the Lynx.
Diamond DeShields, Chicago. Dynamic and explosive, DeShields’ time has come for a Chicago team that looks to keep pace with the league’s front-runners.
Arike Ogunbowale, Dallas. Having already established herself as one of the WNBA’s most exciting offensive players, it’s time to lead a young team to a playoff spot.
Kia Nurse, New York. On a young team, Nurse, in her third WNBA season has a chance to establish herself as veteran presence and a true WNBA star.
Victoria Vivians, Indiana. Having missed the 2019 season with a knee injury sustained overseas, Vivians is back to bring a 3-point shooting threat to the Fever’s offensive gameplan. She made 65 threes in 2018.
Health check. The biggest unknown as this season begins is how teams will be able to hold their rosters together through both injury and any potential health issues. Teams like Seattle and Chicago, who have depth and a core group returning, will be better positioned to weather roster upheaval.
Breanna Stewart, Seattle. Back and ready to pick up where she left off.
Brittney Griner, Phoenix. Lots of guards to help her score big inside.
A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas. Picking up the slack in Cambage’s absence.
Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles. The “Prez” is still one of the most active, athletic players in the league.
Courtney Vandersloot, Chicago. More than an assist queen, Vandersloot is the engine for a Sky team that’s ready to make a long postseason run.
Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.