Last season, I put together a ranking of the young cores in the WNBA, from the team that I saw as having the worst young core (the Connecticut Sun, a take I was very much wrong about because I wasn’t giving Brionna Jones enough credit) to the team with the best young core (the Aces, because of A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young.)
It was a fun exercise, so let’s do it again.
This year, we’re looking only at players who were born after May 6, 1996—so, players who are 25 years old or younger when the 2022 season tipped off.
So with that out of the way, let’s rank some young cores.
- Connecticut Sun
The Sun were last in these rankings last season, which was a mistake because Brionna Jones single-handedly should have pushed them up the list. They’re last again this year, but only because Jones has aged out of these “young core” parameters. That’s not to say there’s not a lot of young talent on this team, but that talent—DiJonai Carrington, Nia Clouden, and Natisha Hiedeman—lacks the kind of star potential that other teams have.
- Chicago Sky
The Sky are in the same situation as Connecticut, essentially: a good team that’s built around a veteran core and is missing a star-caliber young player. I give Chicago a slight nod over Connecticut, though, because of Julie Allemand, whose one WNBA season back in 2020 saw her average 8.5 points (PPG) and 5.8 assists per game (APG) for the Fever. Allemand has the potential to be one of the league’s best non-star PG players; plus, this team has Dana Evans and Ruthy Hebard.
- Phoenix Mercury
Brianna Turner is one of the best defensive players in the league, but the young talent dries up quickly beyond that. The only young player who is a lock to make the roster beyond Turner is Sophie Cunningham, who has had her moments but isn’t going to be more than a role player.
- Indiana Fever
This is a case where quantity can’t take the place of quality. No. 2 overall pick NaLyssa Smith could be a star, but with Kelsey Mitchell having aged off of this list, the rest of the Fever young players are untested rookies who project to be rotation players at best. I’m still not even sold on some of those rookies being in the W in a couple of years.
- Los Angeles Sparks
There is one player on the Sparks roster that lifts this team from the bottom of these rankings to the middle and that’s Chennedy Carter. The former Texas A&M star has played 27 games over her first two seasons, averaging 16.1 PPG and 3.4 APG on 46.6 percent shooting. You’d like some more consistency from deep, but Carter should be one of the better guards in the league for a long time. I see upside in players like Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Jasmine Walker; plus the Sparks have Katie Lou Samuelson’s shooting.
- Seattle Storm
I want to see it with Ezi Magbegor. I know a lot of smart people who do and she’s only entering her age-22 season. She’s going to be a really good player, but I don’t necessarily think she’ll be a star. But I’m building in some “Justin could be wrong” into this ranking. Seattle also has Gabby Williams, though she feels like someone who still has a leap to make.
- Atlanta Dream
Atlanta has Rhyne Howard, the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, and Aari McDonald, who didn’t play enough as a rookie but showed a lot of good flashes. There’s also Naz Hillmon, who was extremely productive in college but whose offensive profile is really worrying at this level. Overall, Atlanta has some good young talent, but there’s really just not enough of it.
- New York Liberty
Let’s have the Sabrina Ionescu conversation.
Ionescu’s rookie year ended after just three games. 2021 was essentially her first WNBA season, and there was a lot of good (she averaged 6.1 APG and 5.7 rebounds per game [RPG], shot over 90 percent from the charity stripe, and had a 26/10/12 triple double against Minnesota.
The bad: turnovers remain an issue, and she shot just 37.9 percent from the floor. There are questions about what Ionescu’s ceiling is and if she doesn’t have the athleticism to meet the hype that surrounded her.
My take: she’s a very talented scorer and passer who should cut down on the turnovers as the supporting cast around her improves. She can be a perennial All-Star, which is enough to lift this Liberty team to fifth in these rankings. There’s also some solid rotation pieces here like Michaela Onyenwere, DiDi Richards, and Jocelyn Willoughby, plus interesting international players Han Xu and Sika Koné, who won’t appear this season.
- Minnesota Lynx*
The Lynx get an asterisk here because of Napheesa Collier, who might not play this year. If this was solely a “ranking the young cores based on what they’ll do in 2022” article, I would have stuck this team last, because while I like Bridget Carleton, the team is in a weird position where they’re in desperate need of youth, especially after cutting Crystal Dangerfield and Rennia Davis. But as long as the Lynx have Collier on the roster, the team gets to be ranked this high, even if we likely won’t see her until 2023. The team also signed Evina Westbrook, who showed promise at UConn. While her WNBA debut saw her struggle with her shot, there’s at least additional young talent in the Lynx system now, which is always a plus.
- Washington Mystics
The Mystics don’t have a young player who could win an MVP, but they do have two young players who have already shown the world they can be high-end contributors in Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen; in addition, they have the No. 3 pick from this year’s draft, Shakira Austin. Maybe this team could have pushed a spot higher if it had stayed at No. 1 and taken Rhyne Howard, but Austin should still turn out to be a very good pro.
- Dallas Wings
The Wings are so interesting. They have a lot of young players because they’ve been amassing youth over the last few seasons. Some of those young players are very good. Arike Ogunbowale is arguably the best pure scorer in the league, though the rest of her game is still developing. Satou Sabally has a chance to be one of the W’s best wings. Teaira McCowan is a double-double machine, though conditioning and versatility are concerns. Then there are the top two picks in last year’s draft, Charli Collier and Awak Kuier, who didn’t show much in 2021 but could still turn out to be solid pros. Then there’s Ty Harris and Veronica Burton, who could both be solid WNBA guards. And there’s also Marina Mabrey, who’s already a great bench scoring threat.
- Las Vegas Aces
Stars matter in the WNBA, so when one of your young players is former MVP A’ja Wilson, you’re going to be at the top of these rankings, especially when you also add in that the Aces have Jackie Young, who finally delivered on some of the promise that made her the No. 1 pick a few years back.
Unless otherwise noted, stats are courtesy of WNBA.com/stats.