Following an offseason that saw plenty of player movement and talent shift, the start to the WNBA season hasn’t gone exactly the way many expected it to go coming into the new year. Not in a disappointing way, but rather the complete opposite.
Through the first few weeks of the regular season, the level of competition and the wide-spread talent throughout the league has made for one of the more entertaining starts to a year, which has been nothing but great for the WNBA and its fans.
From the unexpected rise of some teams and the early struggles from others, to an unfortunate growing list of injuries now flooding the league, among other topics, there have been plenty of storylines and things to talk about in the WNBA.
Let’s take a look at just a few of the biggest surprises and storylines that have taken over the league to this point, with teams now entering the month of June.
Top Five Teams So Far
Coming into the 2021 campaign, many viewed the top five in the WNBA to consist of teams such as the Seattle Storm, Las Vegas Aces, Chicago Sky, Minnesota Lynx, and Washington Mystics. In our pre-season power rankings here at Winsidr, those are the same teams we selected as a staff to fill out the top five.
With every team in the league now having about a half-dozen games under their belt, the top five teams filling out the standings as of now have been one of the biggest surprises. And it also speaks to the level of talent–and the spread of that talent–throughout the WNBA right now.
Going into the third week of the regular season schedule, Seattle (5-1) sits atop the standings, followed by the Connecticut Sun (6-2), Las Vegas (5-2), New York Liberty (5-2), and Atlanta Dream (4-2). I don’t think anyone predicted the standings would look like that through two weeks, but it’s been a fun surprise.
Connecticut, New York, and Atlanta have arguably been the biggest storylines early on in the new year, providing a few additional teams to make the standings and race to the postseason that much more interesting this summer.
When it comes to the Sun, they started the year red-hot, tallying an undefeated record through five games while remaining atop the standings to this point. Jonquel Jones has been outstanding for Connecticut, averaging 20.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists through eight games. DeWanna Bonner and others throughout the starting lineup have been solid as well to lift the Sun. Connecticut has done this against some of the top talents in the league, grabbing wins against teams like Phoenix (twice), Las Vegas, and Washington.
The Liberty has been one of the most fun teams to watch so far this regular season, already surpassing their win mark of two victories during the 2020 campaign. Sabrina Ionescu, who missed most of last season due to injury, has been a star right out of the gate, while Betnijah Laney has been phenomenal to this point for New York as well. That duo, mixed with Natasha Howard once she returns from injury, could be poised for a nice bounce-back year this summer.
Outside of Connecticut and New York, the Dream has also been surprisingly solid to begin the new year, especially considering they lost head coach Nicki Collen right before starting the regular season when she took the head job at Baylor University. After an 0-2 start to the season, Atlanta has gone on a run as of late to climb up the league standings quickly and has looked impressive thus far. It’s still early in the regular season, but I don’t think anyone thought the Dream would get off to this type of start in 2021.
Teams Who Have Had Early Struggles
As surprising as it has been to see some teams climb up the standings to begin the year, it has been equally as surprising to witness the teams who have struggled through two weeks of games.
Most notably, teams like Chicago (2-4), Minnesota (1-4), and the Los Angeles Sparks (2-2) have been some of the top storylines when it comes to struggling squads about a half-dozen games into the 32-game schedule.
For the Sky, they got off to a nice undefeated start to the year at 2-0 and saw the insertion of Candace Parker already paying off with a beefed-up roster. Lately, James Wade’s squad has dropped off while going on a losing streak, and the absences of Parker and Allie Quigley certainly haven’t helped during those struggles.
When it comes to the Lynx, many around the WNBA thought they would be poised to emerge as one of the top 3-4 teams in the league this season after bringing in free agents Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, and Natalie Achonwa this offseason. Unfortunately for Minnesota, it experienced a slower start to the year than hoped, kicking off the regular season with an 0-4 record before finally cracking the win column over the weekend against Connecticut.
Now onto the Sparks, who obviously saw key departures of Parker and Chelsea Gray this offseason while having to undergo a bit of an identity search without her in 2021. Los Angeles has been playing better as of late, winning a few in a row to move back to the .500 mark through four games, but the reason the Sparks’ start to the year is surprising is the way they have been performing thus far. Although losing players like Parker and Gray would be tough for any team to overcome and bounce back from, Los Angeles has ranked near the bottom of the league in multiple statistical categories, even with the likes of Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Amanda Zahui B., Nia Coffey and others still filling the roster.
Of course, there is still plenty of time for Chicago, Minnesota, Los Angeles, and other teams that have gotten off to slow starts and early struggles to bounce back. But the extent of those early struggles by those three teams, in particular, has been surprising.
Injuries Already a Big Storyline
Outside of team performance, perhaps one of the other surprises and storylines of the season thus far, unfortunately, has been injuries piling up on rosters throughout the WNBA.
Just over two weeks into the season, basically all 12 teams deal with a player or more who has suffered an injury or is expected to be sidelined for an extended period. Last week, we saw the list of injured players continue to grow.
Already this season, the WNBA has seen players such as Chicago’s Parker (ankle) and Quigley (hamstring), Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas (Achilles), Los Angeles’ Jasmine Walker (knee), Las Vegas’ Angel McCoughtry (knee), Minnesota’s Powers (hamstring) and Rennia Davis (foot), New York’s Howard (MCL), Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi (sternum) and Bria Hartley (knee), and Washington’s Elena Delle Donne (back) and Alysha Clark (foot), among others, miss time or set to miss some time due to injuries. Those are some big-name players on a suddenly growing list.
Obviously, it’s never a good thing for the league or its fans to see some of the biggest names on various teams missing extended periods in the heart of the season. Heck, it’s not fun seeing any player, no matter what their popularity status is, getting hurt.
Injuries, to whatever extent, are the worst. And the WNBA is dealing with some of its biggest stars getting injured all at once early on in the season.
There have been plenty of surprises and storylines to begin the 2021 season, but those are just a few that have stood out from the rest. What are some of your early surprises and storylines? Let me know on Twitter at @M_Hansen13.
I'm curious, though, what are your guys' biggest surprises and storylines from the first few weeks of the year? #WNBATwitter
— Mitchell Hansen (@M_Hansen13) May 31, 2021