Power Rankings: Lynx Start Where They Left Off

Note: WNBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Tuesday during the season, are the opinion of this writer and do not reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.

It has been nearly seven months since the Minnesota Lynx hoisted the WNBA championship trophy after winning a decisive Game 5 of the WNBA Finals over the Indiana Fever.

The defending champs have won three of the last five WNBA titles and all signs point to them being in championship contention once again this season. With a core that includes one-third of the U.S. Olympic team, the Lynx have the talent, chemistry and experience to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since 2002.

But there will be plenty of competition for them to face as well as a new playoff system that will seed teams regardless of conference, which should make things interesting. The Western Conference representative has won six of the past seven WNBA titles over the top team in the East. But this year, it could be two teams from the same conference fighting for a championship.

It is a pair of West teams – the league’s two most recent champions – that open this season ranked 1-2 in the power rankings. But with four months of competition (including a one-month Olympic hiatus) set to tip off on Saturday, the question is whether or not they can stay at the top or will new contenders emerge to knock them off.

1. Minnesota Lynx
2015 Record: 22-12; won WNBA Finals

The defending champion Lynx enter 2016 with a roster loaded with talent and goals of becoming the first WNBA team to repeat as champions since the L.A. Sparks back in 2002. The Olympic break in August won’t be much of a break for the Lynx, as four of their players are headed to Rio with the U.S. Women’s National Team.

2. Phoenix Mercury
2015 Record: 20-14; Lost in Conference Finals

The Mercury advanced to the West Finals last year without Diana Taurasi. Imagine what they will do now with perhaps the best women’s basketball player ever back on the court. And don’t forget about Penny Taylor, who also missed 2015, to go with All-WNBA First Teamer DeWanna Bonner and Defensive Player of the Year Brittney Griner.

3. Chicago Sky
2015 Record: 21-13; Lost in Conference Semifinals

What does reigning MVP Elena Delle Donne have in store for an encore to her historically great 2015 season? The league’s top scorer (23.4 ppg) led the league’s top-scoring offense (82.9 ppg) a year ago, but the Sky also allowed the second-most points (78.8). Their defense must improve for the Sky to return to the Finals, where they lost in 2014.

4. Indiana Fever
2015 Record: 20-14; Lost in WNBA Finals

The Tamika Catchings farewell tour officially begins on Saturday when the Fever open the 2016 season against the Dallas Wings. After a surprising run to the Finals last season, can the Fever put it all together this year and send Catchings off into the sunset with a championship? Briann January’s recovery from offseason microfracture knee surgery will be an X-factor to watch.

5. New York Liberty
2015 Record: 23-11; Lost in Conference Finals

The Liberty are coming off a season in which they won a franchise-record 23 games; in fact, their 23-11 mark earned them the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs. The league’s stingiest defense (71.1 ppg allowed) and double-double machine Tina Charles make New York a force to be reckoned with. However, the loss of Epiphanny Prince, who will miss much of the season after offseason ACL surgery, is a concern.

6. Dallas Wings
2015 Record: 18-16; Lost in Conference Semifinals

The team formerly known as the Tulsa Shock gets a new city and a new identity for 2016. They also get back a star guard in Skylar Diggins, who missed all but nine games last year with a torn ACL. The team ended a five-year playoff drought without Diggins. Now that she’s back and reunited with Odyssey Sims in the backcourt, the Wings should make a great first impression in Dallas.

7. Los Angeles Sparks
2015 Record:
14-20; Lost in Conference Semifinals

The Sparks’ roster features six former All-Stars: Alana Beard, Essence Carson, Jantel Lavender, Nneka Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver and two-time MVP Candace Parker, who put up phenomenal numbers (19.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.9 SPG and 1.8 BPG) in 16 games in the second half of last season to lift the Sparks into the playoffs. A full season of Candace to go with the rest of the talent in L.A. points to another playoff run.

8. Seattle Storm
2015 Record: 10-24; 5th in Western Conference

After missing the playoffs for the second straight year, the Storm won the lottery and selected Breanna Stewart with the first pick in the 2016 Draft. Stewart joins last year’s top pick and Rookie of the Year Jewell Loyd as the new dynamic duo in Seattle with veterans like Sue Bird and Crystal Langhorne to help usher in the new era of Storm basketball.

9. Washington Mystics
2015 Record:
18-16; Lost in Conference Semifinals

The Mystics return much of the same roster from last season — a roster that reached the playoffs, but was eliminated in the first round for the third straight season. Washington features a young and talented frontcourt in Stefanie Dolson and Emma Meesseman. However, the team will be without All-Star guard Ivory Latta for at least the opening games of the season following an April knee surgery.

10. Atlanta Dream
2015 Record:
15-19; T-5th in Eastern Conference

Atlanta is coming off its first sub-.500 season (15-19) and first missed playoffs since the team’s inaugural campaign in 2008. In order to get back into the playoff picture, coach Michael Cooper’s squad will have to improve its defense, which allowed a league-high 79.8 points per game and had the fourth-worst defensive rating (102.1 pts./100 poss.).

11. Connecticut Sun
2015 Record:
15-19; T-5th in Eastern Conference

The Sun have a new coach (former Sparks assistant Curt Miller), a trio of first-round draft picks (No. 3 Morgan Tuck, No. 4 Rachel Banham, No. 6 Jonquel Jones) and a returning former No. 1 pick in Chiney Ogwumike, who missed all of last season after having microfracture knee surgery. With so much change and just a short preseason to put it all together, the Sun may be a work in progress for the early part of this season.

12. San Antonio Stars
2015 Record:
8-26; 6th in Western Conference

Another team undergoing a series of changes, the Stars announced last month that longtime coach/GM Dan Hughes would step down at the end of the 2016 campaign. Ruth Riley is the new GM and No. 2 overall pick Moriah Jefferson is the new point guard with All-Star Danielle Robinson lost for the season after undergoing Achilles surgery. Jefferson joins sharpshooter Kayla McBride in the backcourt as part of a young core that will try to improve on last season’s 8-26 record.