Are you new to the WNBA? Looking for a new team? Getting excited about the season tipping off? The answer is Y E S)
As the season begins, it feels pertinent to run through the smattering of the reasons to be amped about this year! Let Ari sum it up.
This league is amazing: the play, the personality, the pregame fits. Things changed up a great deal across the league in the off-season with new coaches stepping in, sizable trades, and free agency movement.
In one word to set the tone of “why should I be a fan of ____ this season,” let’s get cracking.
Atlanta Dream: Direction
The Dream have a new front office, a new coach, new vets in the locker room, and Rhyne Howard, the number one pick in the W draft. Atlanta is seeking a new direction, this season is all about finding one, creating a better culture, and fostering development. Longtime guard Tanisha Wright takes over her first head coaching job after multiple years coaching collegiately in the W off-season before coaching for the Las Vegas Aces as an assistant after retiring in 2019.
Erica Wheeler, Kia Vaughn, and Nia Coffey are all new additions to the roster and provide a stabilizing presence.
Wheeler and Tiffany Hayes make for a fun starting guard tandem, and 2018 second-round pick Kristy Wallace is coming over to the W for her first season after an NBL season that saw her win Sixth Woman of the Year.
The frontcourt is a little thin and undersized, but there’s talent on this team. Second-round pick Naz Hillmon had a fantastic career at Michigan and looks to factor in early. Does Monique Billings take another step? Despite a smaller role last season, she made sizable jumps in her offensive efficiency. Cheyenne Parker had a career year during the bubble and had her season cut short due to her pregnancy, but should be a bright spot entering her 8th season in the W!
Watching the number one pick find her way on the court will be a delight. Howard’s positional versatility and overwhelming talent are so tantalizing. It’ll be awesome to watch her adapt to the W game, test her game in varying ways, and assert herself as a pro. Watching talent grow is always special, but watching someone as gifted as Howard grab the reins early is going to be an enticing storyline all season.
Chicago Sky: Re-Up
The 2021 WNBA champions are coming back with a vengeance. Candace Parker recently told SB Nation “where I’m getting motivation from is that like we sucked during the regular season last year. We sucked.”
While I probably wouldn’t go as far as sucked, the Sky were pretty lukewarm much of last season, never really finding a rhythm during the regular season due to inconsistency and health (or lack thereof). Thennnn the playoffs happened and they developed into an absolute juggernaut.
Kahleah Copper went from bench player, to breakout bubble starter, to All-Star, to Finals MVP in a two-year span, and that’s insane. She just won EuroLeague MVP this past season averaging 21 points, 6 boards, and 2 assists. The growth curve she’s on has put the league on notice, but she keeps upping the ante.
Azura Stevens took over as a starter to close the year and flourished. Her defensive mobility and length were essential for the Sky and she dominated on the offensive glass as well. Does her stretch game continue to develop this season?
A pair of Belgian national teammates join the fray as Emma Meesseman and Julie Allemand made their way to Chicago via free agency and trade.
Did you recognize how much talent we talked about without even mentioning Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley???
Expectations are of course high coming off of a title, but this team doesn’t seem to be in a championship hangover. They’re eager to prove it wasn’t just a hot run, and that should make for a wild regular season. I can’t wait. Also, I’d like to stake my claim that the Sky have the best jersey in the W. Pinstripes are awesome.
Connecticut Sun: Vindication
There are good defenses, there are great defenses, and there’s the 2021 Connecticut Sun. Their 90.1 defensive rating led the league and was the best regular-season defense since the 2015 New York Liberty, and the 5th best defense by defensive rating since 2005.
Yet, they lost in their first-round series to the eventual champion Sky.
Their halfcourt offense really struggled and bogged down as the Sky ramped up the pressure (shoutout to Candace Parker’s defense in that series, because wow). While Briann January is a key loss, bringing back Courtney Williams, who just made her first All-Star team with the Dream, should be huge. Williams has a verve about her both in transition and in the halfcourt that the Sun really lacked last season.
Getting the ball to MVP Jonquel Jones was a struggle at times given how Chicago’s defense covered her and smothered the perimeter.
The frontcourt is still setting the tone and then some for the Sun. While it’s difficult to narrow down to one player, Jones is in the mix for the best player in the league. The jump she made last season was legitimately absurd.
Brionna Jones won most improved player last season and has just about the cleanest and polished array of post moves and footwork in basketball. She took and made a three in pre-season… I’m just saying!
One of the more intriguing storylines in the W is Alyssa Thomas being fully healthy. She only played six games last season including the playoff series and didn’t start, which makes sense given she was coming off of an achilles injury. The trio of Thomas and Jones^2 just really don’t have a ton of experience playing all three together. There’s a lot of talent, but the spacing is also interesting.
DeWanna Bonner is still playing in the Turkish league and will miss the start of the season, which could be a good chance to get the trio more run.
The talent of this team is undeniable. Watching them recapture some of last year’s magic while also adding a spin to it in a positive direction will be worth keeping up with.
Dallas Wings: Potential
This feels like it has to be the year for the Dallas Wings. This group is loaded with young talent, brimming with potential, and has just four players on the roster with more than 3 years of W experience.
Arike Ogunbowale has already developed into one of the very best in the league, having been named All-W twice and a first-time All-Star last season. Her shot-making and ability to punish a defense with her pull-up game is one of the premier offensive skills in the league.
What is Dallas’ identity though? What sets them apart?
The Wings hovered right at league average last season on both ends and that felt about right. A team with a lot of intrigues, but nothing quite set on either end to a degree that made them a true playoff team.
Satou Sabally’s health should play a significant part in this team’s gelling. Her play on either end along with her overall versatility is irreplaceable. Her activism off the court and outspoken voice for equality always stand out (read this piece!).
Teaira McCowan came over in a trade with the Fever and the 2019 third overall pick adds even more upside and youth to a team chock full of it. I love adding McCowan alongside Satou to allow for both double big and downsized lineups. The Wings really lacked that ability to scale up and down with size in the frontcourt last season.
What steps can the 4th-year guard/wing Marina Mabrey take as a scorer and facilitator next year? Does her shot balance back out towards where it was in 2020, slightly above 40%?
Isabelle Harrison and Allisha Gray both played well off the bench last season. Veronica Burton comes in via the draft as a high-level defensive guard.
There are so many players on this team still developing their games and feeling out who they are as players. How does this team come together and find a way to crack the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2015? The Wings have my eye due to their talent, but I have so many questions that I’ll be tuning in with regularity to seek answers to.
Indiana Fever: Ambition
The Fever enter tonight’s game with 4 players on the roster who played minutes for the team last season, one player (Danielle Robinson) with a temporarily suspended contract due to still finishing up play overseas. They set a W record by drafting 4 players in the first round of a single draft. Tamika Catchings stepped down in February and former Fever title-winning coach Lin Dunn stepped in as interim GM. This team is VASTLY different than it was even 3 months ago.
Star guard Kelsey Mitchell was the lone player who wasn’t a rookie to start in the final pre-season game for the Fever, which was a wild anomaly. To say I have no idea what to expect from this team is an understatement, but also punctuates what expectations should maybe be.
This team is young, they’re inexperienced, but they’re brimming with potential. Finding their way through inconsistency will be the story of their season. How will they play? What will their defense look like? They haven’t been a league average defense since 2016.
Can Mitchell take steps as a playmaker to raise the floor of the offense?
How will NaLyssa Smith’s scoring translate immediately and what strides can she make defensively? How do she and Emily Engstler pair in a frontcourt? Do their shots come along and maintain at the pro level?
Can Queen Egbo help solidify a defensive foundation? How does Destanni Henderson fit as a lead ball-handler alongside Mitchell?
Again, the upside is so so intriguing, but I could play 21 questions all day when racking my brain about this team. But, that’s kind of the point! Embarking on a rebuild (I guess a rebuild within a rebuild?) is about finding direction, and the Fever aim to answer as many questions about their prospective future as possible this season. They may not win many games, but watching the development and growth of a team composed of youth (in some of the sickest alternates in the league, you know the ones) is a great way to just enjoy the game and bask in the process.
Las Vegas Aces: Refreshed
How does this team look different with a new system? Does the lineup change?
Becky Hammon is back in the W!!! After a long stint as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs after retiring from her playing career, Hammon is back in the league after the Aces and head coach Bill Laimbeer parted ways.
This is one of the more fascinating stories of the season! One of the all-time greats is back and coaching the team she played for much of her career (then the San Antonio Stars, and that team is L O A D E D.
In spite of how good the team was offensively last season, they were the 12th ranked team in three-point attempt rate, a constant gripe of Aces fans. They have good shooters! There are players on this roster that are probably capable of being good shooters as well if encouraged!
Take the offense they were last year, mix in even better spacing, and maybe even leaning into smaller lineups more (they did quite a bit last year, but I’m talking MORE more) now without a true starting center.
A’ja Wilson, Dearica Hamby, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Chelsea Gray, Riquna Williams: This team is stacked with. Sydney Colson is back with the Aces and provides a veteran ball-handler off the bench and one of the funniest twitter presences in the league.
Rookie Kierstan Bell has a real chance to pop with this roster as well.
If you don’t already, do yourself a favor and follow pretty much everyone on the team on IG, because I’m not sure there’s a team that has fun quite like they do. They feel primed to double down and capitalize off of their recent stretch of success with a refreshed atmosphere.
Los Angeles Sparks: Hollywood
The Los Angeles Sparks are an absolute enigma to me.
Like sixty percent of the roster is six feet or taller and operates best at the 4 and 5, and then the rest of the roster is guards.
Don’t get me wrong; the talent is kinda wild! Star center Liz Cambage is in LA now. Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike enter the season healthy after both missed significant time last season. Kristi Toliver is still coaching during the NBA playoffs, but will be with the team, once Dallas’ run is over. Jordin Canada and Katie Lou Samuelson should play vital roles coming over from Seattle via free agency and trade.
Swapping Erica Wheeler for Chennedy Carter was a really intriguing move to get younger and add one of the brighter young prospects in the sport to a veteran-laden roster.
GM/Coach Derek Fisher traded for Lexie Brown from the Sky as well (The man was busy this off-season), who absolutely killed it at Athletes Unlimited.
The Sparks selected Rae Burrell out of Tennessee 9th overall in the draft and fellow rookies Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Amy Atwell made the final roster cut as well.
I have absolutely zero idea how to even contemplate what this team looks like on the court which is what makes them so endearing. They have absurd size and a lot of ball-handling; what is this spacing going to look like? We’re gonna find out!
The personality they bring can’t be hit on enough. They’ll be an immaculate media availability and quote team without a doubt. They’re star-studded, they’re thoughtful and outspoken, they’re media stars (Chiney), DJ’s and models (Liz), the President of the W Player’s association (Nneka). Every team in the league has personality, but the Sparks are star power incarnate on and off the court.
Minnesota Lynx: Sylvia Fowles
One of the all-time greats in the sport is going out on her own terms at the end of this season. Sylvia Fowles is just a marvel to me. She won her fourth Defensive Player of the Year of her career last season while absolution dominating still at age 35. Fowles averaged 3.6 stocks (blocks and steals), led the league in field goal and two-point percentage, and dominated all season.
In spite of her stellar play, the Lynx fell in their first playoff game to the Sky, unfortunately ending a stellar season.
Veteran guard and multi-time all-star Angel McCoughtry signed with the Lynx this off-season after a two-year stint with the Aces. She missed all but one game last season due to a knee injury, and all but one game in 2019 for the same reason. Her play in between during the 2020 bubble was stellar and returning to form as she eases back into game reps would be huge for the Lynx.
Former Lynx guard Odyssey Sims re-signed with the club this off-season as well, seeking to find some of the more fruitful play that made her an All-Star during her first season in Minnesota in 2019.
One of the most pressing questions for the Lynx; how do they handle Napheesa Collier’s absence? Collier is due to have her baby this month (congrats Phee!) and has stated that she hopes to make it back later this season to help the team and play with Fowles.
After cutting (to manys surprise) guards Layshia Clarendon and Crystal Dangerfield, the former Rookie of the Year in 2020, the Lynx are down to 10 roster spots. Given that Kayla McBride’s contract is on temporary suspension due to finishing overseas play and Damiris Dantas is currently out with a foot injury, we get a forecast of some of the struggles facing this team.
They have really good top-end talent and solid depth, but health and availability is an unfortunate issue already. Can Aerial Powers take another step as a primary scorer and develop more as a playmaker as well? This team is worth watching solely for Sylvia Fowles dominating the pain on either end in her last go around, but the distance they can go as a team feels very up in the air.
New York Liberty: Identity
The New York Liberty came in hot last season. Betnijah Laney was on a freaking tear. They began the year 5-1 and started to give hints that the rebuild was nearing an end for them. Injuries and inconsistency played a part in their struggles last year, often jumping out to leads and squandering them as the game wore on. They were a very clearly young and inexperienced team.
They were also maybe the most entertaining team in the league. They led the league in pace, took every three under the sun, and just have a lot of fun and intriguing young players.
AD is now back (read this from Ben Pickman) and ready to play this season after struggling with the effects of long-term COVID. To see them back in any capacity on court and able to play is just awesome.
Sandy Brondello comes over to New York after leaving her longtime position in Phoenix, and I’m really excited to see how she molds this group. They have a lot of versatility and offensive strengths throughout the roster. Finding ways to mesh them while also establishing a defensive identity will be key, and watching the Liberty take that on as they seek to become a winning team will be fun to track all season.
Natasha Howard brought this team an element that they really struggled to replicate without her in the lineup. The pick and roll duo she and Sabrina Ionescu form is tantalizing, and her rim protection is significant for this team’s defense. Adding Stefanie Dolson also shores up the frontcourt and adds new elements of a pick and pop and high post/DHO game that I’m excited to see develop.
Sabrina taking the next step is essential for this team, and it feels palpable. The growing pains of adapting to the W last year were apparent, but the bright flashes were so encouraging. Laney is easily the best player on the team, but a lack of other forms of halfcourt shot creation hurt them in late-game scenarios last season, and watching to see if Ionescu can grow into that role (I’d bet on it) is significant in Liberty optimism this season!
Rebecca Allen is back!!! She always deserves more mention. Her off-ball movement and movement shooting are exquisite. Here defensive rotations off the ball and activity in passing lanes and as a weak-side rim protector are ethereal. Sami Whitcomb adds flare as a ball-handler and shooter as well off the bench along with vital secondary playmaking.
What does Michaela Onyenwere look like this season? The 2021 Rookie of the Year impressed last season and there were so many flashes of different little aspects of her game that made me wonder how she’ll develop.
Watch out for Lorela Cubaj by the way! Her defense at Georgia Tech was stellar and her size and skill make me really intrigued by what she can do in New York’s frontcourt.
This team has energy and vigor that I really enjoy, and I can’t wait to see how they pop this season after some tweaks, and experience from a massive learning curve in 2021. They’re extremely moldable right now and finding out what exactly their identity as a team is is what this season is all about for the Liberty.
Phoenix Mercury: Retooled
Brittney Griner is still currently in Russian custody and has recently been reclassified by the United States government as “wrongfully detained,” indicating an adjustment in how the State Department is handling trying to get Griner released from custody and brought home. The WNBA announced that they’ll honor Griner with a floor decal on the sideline of every court with her number and initials as they work with the government to bring her home safely and “as quickly as we can,” said Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.
Until Griner’s return, the Mercury will lean heavily on Tina Charles, W scoring leader last season. Charles brings a wealth of versatility as a playmaker and stretch game at the 5-spot that teams actually have to respect due to her volume and accuracy.
I’m so intrigued and excited by what Diamond DeShields could bring to this group. The former All-Star was brought in via trade after playing a part in taking the Mercury out in the finals. DeShields has an immense swagger on the court (goggles have literally never failed), but the consistency and efficiency have never quite come along. I’d consider her just about the best athlete in the league and her ability to get to the rim and D up on the perimeter always flash through, but at times her shot selection and overaggressiveness on defense can bite her. Diamond is a really darned good player, but in this Phoenix system with a more defined role, does she take that next step? Phoenix bet on that happening.
Brianna Turner just makes this team work. Her defense is vital, she flows really well in the offense as a DHO partner and high post passer. She just glues this team together, her rotations on defense that have earned her back-to-back All-Defensive team nods are a delight, and her Twitter presence is golden.
Kia Nurse is back after tearing her ACL during the series with the Las Vegas Aces, and should play an integral part on the wings.
With Diana Taurasi’s shot-making and a refined roster, it’ll be so interesting to see how they look with a new coach, as longtime bench boss Sandy Brondello is now with the Liberty. Do they stick with what’s been so effective in past year’s, or does Vanessa Nygaard look to drastically shift the offense? Yet another team worth following that had so many parts moved in the off-season!
Seattle Storm: The Last Dance
As you may have heard just a few times, this is Sue Bird’s last season! The Storm re-upped most of last year’s roster on short term deals and prioritized one last run at a title with Bird this season.
Briann January is in Seattle now and is a welcome defender for a team that really struggled to contain the ball on the perimeter as the season wore on in 2021.
Gabby Williams is back! After missing last season due to contract suspension, the former 4th overall pick is back in action and will provide valuable versatility for the Storm. Especially with Mercedes Russell missing substantial time to start the year, her defensive ability in the frontcourt will be key.
Jewell Loyd is one of the best players in basketball and don’t you forget that! Loyd finished off the season in strong fashion, with a 37 point outing in Seattle’s lone playoff game against the Mercury. Her ability to get to her spots with both her handle and off-ball movement is special.
When this offense is clicking, it’s poetry in motion, but the halfcourt shot-making of Loyd and Breanna Stewart makes them ridiculously potent. Stewart suffered an achilles injury late last season, dashing Seattle’ postseason hopes, but with a renewed roster and good health, this team is locked in for a great season.
Important reminder as well; Ezi Magbegor is coming! With Russell unfortunately out, Magbegor is going to have a wealth of opportunities to build off of her late season flashes.
Washington Mystics: Whole
While I’m irrationally excited for every team in the league, the Mystics in particular tug at the strings of my heart. Their 2019 playoff run en route to a championship was my first real experience with the W and that was just awesome. Emma Meesseman was absolutely on one. Elena Delle Donne has played just three games since due to pre-existing COVID risks and injury, but enters the 2022 season healthy again.
To see one of the best players in the game and in women’s basketball history back on court is worth tuning in every game. Watching her footwork and fluidity across the court is joyous.
Also part of that title team; Natasha Cloud! She’s an activist off the court and has even mentioned running for office someday (this podcast was awesome, strong recommend). On the court, she spearheads the Mystics offense with her playmaking, and has made it known for the season “I’m a shooter.”
Cloud and Ariel Atkins makeup one of the most synergistic defensive backcourts in the league. Watching them pester opposing perimeter players is going to be a blast this season!
In spite of rostering multiple All-Defensive team candidates, the Mystics have been a fairly average defensive team when fully healthy. Adding dynamic rookie Shakira Austin at the five spot feels like a great bet to raise the bar in coming years. Myisha Hines-Allen is pretty darned good as well folks!
Longtime Storm starter Alysha Clark also reenters the fold this year after missing last season in entirety with a Lisfranc injury.
This team has the potential to develop into a title contender throughout the season if health permits. Watching the Mystics gel and formulate as a team that’s finally whole again should make them a league pass darling!
Newly hired WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on WNBA.com throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.