The 2020 WNBA season is here, and it’s going to be a weird one.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic is happening, the league’s taking place in Florida this year. Almost every team is missing players, the season is shorter, and the defending champion Mystics are without the defending MVP, Elena Delle Donne.
To make some sense of everything, I’ve decided to look at what the ceiling for each team is, as well as what their floor is. And to make things a little more controversial, I’m discussing the teams in the order I have them in my personal power rankings, because why not court some controversy while we’re at it? Think of the rankings as where every team would finish if no one hit their ceiling or sunk to their floor — how would each squad rank if things went as close to normal as possible.
Alright, let’s talk some basketball.
1. Seattle Storm
Yes, the team that has Breanna Stewart has the highest ceiling in the league.
The best-case scenario for the Storm is that Stewart returns to the court and is playing at the level she was before her Achilles injury. Add in a healthy Sue Bird to sharpshoot from deep and a great supporting cast with Jewell Loyd and Natasha Howard. There’s also third-year guard Jordin Canada, who’ll look to continue her rise towards being one of the best defensive guards in the game. Seattle potentially runs away with this season.
The Storm made the playoffs in 2019 and they’ll do it again in 2020. But there have to be some worries about Stewart and Bird returning to form, especially when Bird is 39 years old. If Stewart’s Achilles injury limits her effectiveness, it’s very possible that the 2020 Storm wind up being the sixth-best team in the league, with Howard taking the lead as the team’s best player for the second consecutive season.
2. Los Angeles Sparks
Even without Kristi Toliver and Chiney Ogwumike, the Sparks are one of the league’s best teams. How could you really argue against a core that features Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker, and Chelsea Gray? This is a team with championship aspirations and the personnel to get there. Gray will look to tilt the “who’s the best point guard in the league” conversation with Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot in her favor, and the team will also get underrated contributions from another Gray: former New York Liberty big Reshanda Gray.
Look, losing Chiney and Toliver isn’t good. Neither player would have determined how far the team can go, but both would have contributed heavy minutes and impacted the win/loss record in the regular season. The Sparks need players like Riquna Williams to step up this year, and concerns about depth could cause the Sparks to struggle at times. I don’t think we see them having to play in the first round of the playoffs, but stranger things have happened.
3. Chicago Sky
Ranking three through five was definitely the hardest part of this, but the Sky could easily be the 2020 WNBA champions, something that’s slightly harder to say about the next two teams.
How that happens: Diamond DeShields continues to get better, Allie Quigley continues to be the league’s best shooter, and Courtney Vandersloot continues to be the league’s best point guard.
They’d also need to get some production from role players like Gabby Williams, Azurá Stevens, and rookie Ruthy Hebard.
The Sky are making the playoffs. I don’t see any non-injury reason why they’d miss it. But if DeShields doesn’t take that next step, the role players don’t step up like expected, and we potentially start to see Quigley and Vandersloot have age-related dips, this team could fall as far back as sixth or seventh. Still, the Sky have a high floor and an exciting team.
4. Las Vegas Aces
The Aces are without two key players this year in Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum, but they also added five-time All-Star Angel McCoughtry, have an MVP candidate in A’ja Wilson, and can replace some of Cambage’s production with Dearica Hamby. Remember that the Aces struggled at times in 2019 to make the frontcourt pairing of Cambage and Wilson work due to some spacing issues, but Hamby’s versatility can eliminate some of those concerns. Kayla McBride remains a great shooting threat as well.
Well, Wilson’s currently got a foot injury based on videos of her with a boot on her foot, so that’s a major concern. And McCoughtry is coming off a season in which she didn’t play and she doesn’t really help the team’s lack of shooting as much as you’d like. Jackie Young’s going to have to take a big step forward with Plum out.
The shooting is the big concern. We know at this point that Bill Laimbeer’s teams don’t shoot a lot of threes, and losing Plum and not bringing in a new shooter to replace her just amplifies those issues. This team has the talent to win, but will they put lineups out that best accentuate that talent?
5. Connecticut Sun
You can never count a team with DeWanna Bonner out.
The problem is that this team doesn’t have three key players from last year anymore. Courtney Williams and Shekinna Stricklen are in Atlanta. Jonquel Jones — maybe my pick for MVP this year if we’d gotten a normal season — isn’t playing. Curt Miller’s a great coach. Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas are still here. But without Jones, this team is going to find it much harder to live up to the standard they set last year when they made the WNBA Finals.
6. Phoenix Mercury
I know, I know — this is a really low ranking for a team that added Skylar Diggins-Smith in the offseason. And I do think Phoenix rounds out the six-team tier of potential championship contenders this year because if things go right, this team could emerge from the fracas by the end of the year.
The big three here comes with question marks, but if all three play up to the level we know they can, a core of Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner, and Diana Taurasi can make a lot of noise. You can also argue — as I did earlier this offseason — that all of their offseason acquisitions are being underrated.
Still, I lean more towards the floor side here with the Mercury. It’s hard to see them falling out of the postseason because the top six feels a step above all the teams under them, but the number of questions I have about this team continues to grow and they could drop a spot or two if things don’t go right.
Will Taurasi be some semblance of her pre-2019 self, or will we get a Taurasi who looks like the one who struggled mightily in six games coming off an injury last season? Will Diggins-Smith be able to hit the ground running after a season off? Will the bench — now without Jessica Breland, who received a medical opt out — be able to keep this team in games? I think this is a fairly deep team — though one that’ll likely have just 10 players on it — but is also a team that’s missing that middle tier of players you want behind your stars. Breland was the fourth-most important player on this roster in my head before she opted out. Phoenix is really going to miss what she would have brought to the court.
7. Washington Mystics
There’s a new advanced stat for the WNBA called Estimated Contribution. Last season, five of the top 10 players by Estimated Contribution played for the Washington Mystics. That team, led by Elena Delle Donne, was a force.
This year, only two of those five players will be on the roster, as Delle Donne, LaToya Sanders, and Natasha Cloud will sit out, but the other two — Ariel Atkins and Emma Meesseman — are playing. Washington doesn’t feel like a title contender, but if Atkins can take the next step forward in her play and Meesseman can be as effective as she was last year, Washington has an outside shot at a top four finish.
This team could miss the playoffs.
There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about Washington and their depth with three of their best players from last year sitting, as well as their big offseason splash addition, former MVP Tina Charles, sitting too. Add in that Kristi Toliver left in the offseason (though I like her replacement, Leilani Mitchell, a lot), there’s a good chance Washington just doesn’t have the firepower and the bench production to weather this season. They also don’t own their own first-round pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft, so there’s not even a lottery-tinted light at the end of the tunnel.
8. Indiana Fever
I really wanted to put the Fever higher. I think Teaira McCowan is going to take some huge strides forward this season, and when rookie Lauren Cox is cleared to play after entering the bubble late, a McCowan/Cox/Natalie Achonwa frontcourt rotation is really nice.
There are also a lot of other good pieces at guard and on the wing. Kelsey Mitchell still has room to grow to become an excellent WNBA player. Victoria Vivians missed all of last season with injury but had a promising rookie year in 2018. Julie Allemand and Kathleen Doyle both have promise and one of them could emerge as the team’s point guard of the future.
I only have the Fever at eight, but I firmly believe they can win a playoff game.
That said, a lot of questions remain about the guards and if Vivians’ return from a torn ACL will go well. Mitchell stepped up as a scorer last year, but is the team still planning to use her as a point guard? Just in general, how comfortable will this team be with their point guard options? And can a McCowan/Cox front court work? Cox isn’t known for her shooting, though her numbers at Baylor are encouraging in that regard. I think these two work long term, but it might take a little bit to make everything fit together.
9. Minnesota Lynx
Odyssey Sims returns soon, Napheesa Collier builds on her Rookie of the Year season, Sylvia Fowles is Sylvia Fowles, and I feel silly for picking the Lynx to miss the playoffs. Am I really counting a Cheryl Reeve coached team out?
Until Sims returns, the guard rotation here — Lexie Brown, Rachel Banham, Crystal Dangerfield, and Shenise Johnson — is filled with question marks. All of those players can be solid contributors to this team, but I don’t feel particularly confident in them as starters on a 2020 playoff team. There are some really good teams who Minnesota will be facing off with for one of the final playoff spots!
I think “solid” is a good word for this team. I have them ranked ninth in my power rankings, and they might be the only team (not counting the one ranked 12th) who I can’t really see finishing below where I have them ranked (barring, of course, injuries.) This team should be pretty consistent this year and contend for a playoff spot, but I like the upside of a couple other teams more than the upside of the Lynx.
(I feel like I’m talking myself into changing my rankings, but it’s too late in the process for that now. Lynx at nine. They could get as high as…fifth? Let’s move on.)
10. Atlanta Dream
Atlanta is the toughest team to figure out in the league.
After having the worst record in the WNBA last season, the Dream added some veteran talents in Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen, and Courtney Williams, plus second-year center Kalani Brown. They followed that up by drafting Chennedy Carter, as well as Texas Tech product Brittany Brewer, one of my favorite players in this draft class.
The Dream have the talent to make the playoffs, though they lack the top-end talent to make a serious run at the title. But if Carter can shake off the shooting woes that plagued her in her final season at Texas A&M, Brown can be the player many expected when she was drafted. And if the veteran newcomers figure out this system quickly, the Dream could be a major surprise.
Well, as of the writing of this, we still don’t know if Courtney Williams is playing, and Brown announced on Friday that she’d tested positive for COVID-19. And the team lost a lot of their veteran savvy with Angel McCoughtry going to Vegas and Renee Montgomery opting out. Carter has all the talent in the world but is coming off a college season where her shot just consistently didn’t drop. The talent upgrade is too much for Atlanta to have the same floor as the teams below them in the rankings — and Minnesota and Indiana might also have lower floors — but there’s a pretty good chance that this team is still a year away from contending to regularly be a playoff team.
11. Dallas Wings
Now we’re getting into the two teams who are hardest to project.
Dallas has plenty of talent on this roster. Arike Ogunbowale. Astou Ndour. Allisha Gray. Kayla Thornton. Moriah Jefferson. They also added three rookies who all have a tremendous upside in Satou Sabally, Bella Alarie, and Tyasha Harris.
The future core of a winning Wings team is here. Maybe they’re still a player or two away from realizing all of that promise, but you can see the makings of a very good team. And in what’s bound to be a strange season with a lot of teams not at 100%, Dallas is basically the Dallas team that they were expected to be before the season was delayed. There’s a chance it all comes together a year early and this team makes it to the postseason.
Rookie adjustments, the league figuring out Ogunbowale in her second season, and Jefferson not being back to full strength after missing 2019 with a knee injury would mean that Dallas finishes with the league’s worst record. Young teams — CEO Greg Bibb used the phrase “painfully young” a few months back to describe the team’s approach — struggle to win games.
12. New York Liberty
Speaking of young teams, New York has seven rookies on their roster!
One of those rookies is a potentially transcendent talent in former Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu, though if Ionescu can be the same force she was all over the court for the Ducks, New York can find early success. Head coach Walt Hopkins is also gearing this team up to run and shoot a lot, a style of play that can create a lot of variances.
Of course, variance goes both ways. Cold shooting from a team that will expect every single player to be capable of shooting will doom this team’s win/loss record. Slow development from the plethora of rookies could too. This is a rebuilding year in New York. They could be the league’s worst team, but the real floor would be if the talented rookies don’t show off development by the end of the 2020 season.