Happy opening day, everybody! Just under the wire, we polled our Winsidr staff to aggregate where we think each of the WNBA’s dozen teams shake out before tonight’s games tip off. This season, we’ll have beat writers for each franchise, and each of those reporters previewed their respective squad below. Make sure you’re following the writer(s) that correspond(s) to your favorite team(s)!
Indiana Fever (Average position, 11.63)
Tristan Tucker, @TristanRTucker: After missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year and losing several players in the offseason, it’s clear the Indiana Fever are still in the midst of a rebuild. Despite this, the team has several exciting new additions, along with one of the youngest teams in the WNBA, and have the potential to subvert expectations.
At the forefront for the Fever is returning guard Kelsey Mitchell, scoring 17.9 points per game (ppg) last season, good for sixth in the league. One of the most promising aspects of the team is the fact that Mitchell hit a career-high 38.9 percent from three last season, and is now partnered with a willing and able rookie shooter in the backcourt in Kysre Gondrezick, who hit 36.4 percent from deep last year at West Virginia. Then there’s Indiana’s frontcourt led by third-year Teaira McCowan and second-year Lauren Cox. If both players can stay healthy, there’s a good chance both will make huge strides.
The Fever’s defense will still take time to develop, and they’ll need to vastly improve their turnover differential, but there’s a fun team in the making. Add Victoria Vivians to the equation, who was limited to just six games last season, and the Fever could be a team that competes on any given night.
Atlanta Dream (Average position, 9.94)
B. Terrell, @itsBTerrell: The Atlanta Dream head into the WNBA’s 25th season with a completely different look. Equipped with new ownership, several new roster additions, and even an interim head coach, there are mixed feelings about the expectations of this squad. One thing that’s not lacking in Atlanta is personality—there’s a LOAD to go around. There are so many questions, but how it’ll all mesh on the court is the most important one. After opting out of the 2020 season, former All-WNBA First-Teamer Tiffany Hayes returns. During the free agency period, they signed veterans in former All-Star Odyssey Sims, WNBA champ Tianna Hawkins, and Cheyenne Parker (though Parker will get a late start to the season after contracting COVID-19). This is a team that can absolutely make some noise, looking to clinch their first playoff spot since 2018.
Dallas Wings (Average position, 9.81)
Jasmine Harper, @harperxxwrites: The Dallas Wings will fly as high as their stars can carry them. Last year, Arike Ogunbowale was a standout in the bubble. Averaging 22.8 ppg, Ogunbowale won the 2020 WNBA Peak Performer Awards after leading the league in scoring. The addition of then-rookie forward Satou Sabally, who made the WNBA All-Rookie team with 13.9 ppg and 7.8 rebounds per game, cemented another building block for the franchise.
If they’re to soar, the team will need to withstand some early season turbulence with the (hopefully) short-term absences of Sabally (overseas commitments) and Awak Kuier (visa issues). Alongside top draft selection Charli Collier, they’ll roster fifth overall pick Chelsea Dungee and second-rounder Dana Evans. Dallas secured three of the top five picks and were just out of playoff range last season. With four rookies looking to impact their team, Dallas adds height and versatility to the team, although they lack experience. They will need veterans Moriah Jefferson, Isabelle Harrison, and Kayla Thornton to step up and lead this season. Though they can succeed if their chemistry sparks early on, the Dallas Wings are an absolute wildcard.
New York Liberty (Average position, 9.00)
Geoff Magliocchetti, @GeoffJMags: It’s hard to explain exactly where the Liberty stand entering their landmark 25th season…but that’s par for the course in recent New York basketball endeavors, no?
Even with a new home to call their own—Brooklyn’s Barclays Center—the Liberty are beset by lingering questions.. They brought in Natasha Howard to plug up a porous defense. Rebecca Allen, a player seemingly lab-grown to play in Walt Hopkins’ system (defense-obsessed, complemented by fearless shooting), is set to return. Sabrina Ionescu is also due back, after suffering a devastating ankle injury in just her third pro game. But, this being the modern Liberty, uncertainty reigns. No one knows when Howard, Allen, or Kiah Stokes will make their debuts. According to the coaching staff, Ionescu is “close” to 100 percent, though we’ll find out exactly what that means once things tip-off tonight. Second-year breakout candidate Jocelyn Willoughby has already been lost for the year due to an injury, and former second overall pick Asia Durr will sit out her second straight season as she attempts to recover from long hauler COVID-19 symptoms.
Nonetheless, the reasons for hope go far beyond Ionescu, as the Liberty also brought in Betnijah Laney, the Bradenton bubble’s Most Improved Player. All-Rookie team nominee Jazmine Jones returns, while new rookies Michaela Onyenwere and DiDi Richards have opened eyes and brought enthusiasm to training camp. If anything, the Liberty should be well worth watching—there’s finally some momentum in New York’s corner, and, as Jones herself admitted, the only pressure they feel is in beating last year’s two-win tally.
Los Angeles Sparks (Average position, 7.69)
John W. Davis, @johnwdavis: For some, the 2021 version of the Los Angeles Sparks will be unrecognizable. It will be the first time in Sparks history that neither Lisa Leslie nor Candace Parker will be on the team’s roster. It will take some time to adjust.
However, I believe analytics will be kind to the new era of Sparks basketball. That’s because 2016 MVP Nneka Ogwumike is one of the most efficient players in league history. Entering her tenth season, Nneka boasts a career 55.2 percent from the field. Her younger sister, Chiney, has a slight edge on that shooting efficiency, with her career mark at 55.5 percent. However, both Ogwumikes will be tasked with expanding their games to include a barrage of three-pointers.
Veteran newcomers Kristi Toliver, Erica Wheeler, and Amanda Zahui B are all willing and able to shoot from three. That’s something that every single player on the team’s 12-person roster will have to do if the Sparks want to exceed preseason expectations.
In addition to the departure of the illustrious Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray, Riquna Williams, and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt are also no longer in LA. But if all goes according to General Manager / Head Coach Derek Fisher’s plan to play basketball at a faster offensive pace, coupled with more versatility on defense, the LA Sparks should return to the playoffs in 2021, despite losing two All-WNBA talents in Parker and Gray.
Connecticut Sun (Average position, 7.31)
Myles Ehrlich, @mylesehrlich: The Connecticut Sun are again out to prove doubters wrong. They’re coming off a string of postseason success, having made the finals in 2019 and the semis in 2020, all while embracing a tough underdog mentality. For the second straight year, fans will be robbed of seeing the big three of Alyssa Thomas, Jonquel Jones, and DeWanna Bonner take the floor together. Jones opted out last season but is back and already making an impact. Unfortunately, Thomas tore her Achilles tendon while overseas this past offseason, sidelining her for the entirety of the 2021 campaign and denting what could have been enticing championship odds.
Still, with Jasmine Thomas running point, Brionna Jones ready to take another leap, and a bench squad deep with vets (as well as exciting rookie DiJonai Carrington), this team is absorbing all the disrespeCT and channeling it into motivation.
Phoenix Mercury (Average position, 5.50)
Adam Miller, @ajmil0: The Phoenix Mercury reloaded this offseason, acquiring Kia Nurse and Megan Walker while re-signing Diana Taurasi and Kia Vaughn. Though the Mercury may not be a trendy pick to win it all, they are very much in the running, assuming the health of Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and Skylar Diggins-Smith holds up. Phoenix finished 2020 with a 13-9 record before losing to Minnesota in the quarterfinals, and they sorely missed Griner’s interior presence in the bubble. But with a fresh Griner and retooled roster, they are ready to make some noise in the playoffs this summer.
Washington Mystics (Average position, 4.44)
Jon Bird, @jonbird333: The Mystics are back, and they’re ready to “repeat” as WNBA champions, seeing how they fielded a very different group in the Wubble and effectively missed out on their chance to retain the crown. After a bubble year that saw the Mystics without stars like Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud, DC has shuffled the deck, returning EDD and Cloud while adding Tina Charles, a former MVP, into the fold. Washington will be without some key pieces to start the season: EDD is expected to miss six games as she works back from offseason back surgery; Bradenton standout Myisha Hines-Allen is expected to miss three or four games; and 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman’s status after her international competitions is unknown. But once the whole team reports, they will be a force to be reckoned with—featuring a mix of veteran talent like EDD, Cloud, Charles, Leilani Mitchell, Shavonte Zellous, and Theresa Plaisance, as well as young stars Hines-Allen, Ariel Atkins, and the newly added sharpshooter Sydney Wiese, who has connected on 39.5 percent of her career three-point attempts. Despite the Mystics losing major offseason addition Alysha Clark for the season to a foot injury, expect to see some exciting basketball from a team out to prove that their 2019 championship was the start of something big in DC!
Minnesota Lynx (Average position, 3.63)
Dani Bar-Lavi, @dblfluidity: The Minnesota Lynx come into this season having pulled off one of the swiftest and most effective retoolings in league history. With team captain Sylvia Fowles the only remaining player on the roster from the Lynx’s four-title run, head coach/general manager Cheryl Reeve has maintained that championship culture in Minnesota while building around her future Hall of Famer. The Lynx have drafted excellently over the past several seasons, picking up back-to-back Rookie-of-the-Year centerpieces: scoring prodigy Crystal Dangerfield and fringe (maybe not so fringe?) MVP candidate Napheesa Collier. Also returning to the team is forward Damiris Dantas, who has emerged over the past two seasons as a solid two-way starter.
This offseason, Reeve brought in some excellent free agent additions, surrounding this promising core with much-needed depth on the wing and in the post. Kayla “McBuckets” McBride gives the Lynx another backcourt player who can both create her own offense off the dribble and score reliably off the catch-and-shoot. Aerial Powers—who started tremendously last season before injury forced her from the bubble—brings the team another shooter on the wing, as well as a capable defender who has experience guarding elite players deep into the playoffs. Finally, Natalie Achonwa will play valuable back-up post minutes behind Sylvia Fowles, offering defense, rebounding, and veteran leadership. Fowles missed all but seven games last season with a calf strain; Reeve managing her minutes and keeping her healthy is paramount to the Lynx building on the success they had last year and fighting for yet another deep playoff run. If Fowles stays healthy, and all the new pieces fit, another banner could be on its way.
Seattle Storm (Average position, 3.31)
Katie Babino, @katiebabs23: Seattle is poised to defend their title, though with an extremely different roster than last season. The Storm lost five of their 12 players from last year’s championship run, including starters Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark. Seattle plugged those holes in their roster, trading for Katie Lou Samuelson and landing veteran Candice Dupree in free agency, though the outgoing players will be difficult to replace.
Though the Storm excel on offense, they will need to mitigate the defensive loss of Clark and Howard if they hope to bring home their third championship in four seasons. It will be interesting to see how Seattle handles big center duos like A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage of the Las Vegas Aces. The Storm will need Ezi Magbegor to show continued growth in a much larger role, after her impressive rookie season last year in Bradenton.
Chicago Sky (Average position, 2.31)
James Kay, @James_M_Kay: Candace Parker’s homecoming has been the story of the offseason, but it’s the pieces surrounding the former MVP who are going to make or break the Sky’s 2021 campaign. Courtney Vandersloot earned All-WNBA honors last season, while Kahleah Copper, who the team has raved about so far in training camp, averaged a career-high 14.8 ppg.
The question the team will have to answer is whether it can stay healthy for 32 games. 2019 All-Star Diamond DeShields is back after battling injuries in 2020, while Azurá Stevens is going to be on a minutes restriction to start the season. Health concerns aside, a potential closing lineup of Vandersloot, three-time All-Star Allie Quigley, DeShields, Stevens, and Parker is a great reason to be excited for the Sky, a franchise looking for its first WNBA championship.
Las Vegas Aces (Average position, 1.56)
Owen Pence, @OwenPence: The Aces are your prohibitive favorites for the 2021 season. A’ja Wilson is coming off an MVP season and continues to add to her game. Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum are back, helping ease Wilson’s workload while improving Las Vegas’s spacing. Chelsea Gray fills a void at point guard that sunk the team in the 2020 WNBA Finals. Adding Riquna Williams was a sneaky pick up, giving the Aces a much-needed scoring spark off the bench. There was nothing but sunshine on the horizon until Angel McCoughtry tore her ACL in preseason. Now, McCoughtry will miss the 2021 season. While Las Vegas remains the favorite, the margins just got a whole lot thinner.
Hyped about where your team ranked? Disagree with the sum of our opinions? Sound off on Twitter and let us know—and then carry that energy straight into the 2021 WNBA season!