Winsidr Power Rankings: Volume 1 – Preseason

This Friday, the WNBA is back. Of course, that means we’re back, too, with this year’s first set of Power Rankings! 

If this is your first time reading our rankings, welcome; if it’s not, welcome back! As a refresher for how this works, you’re not just reading my takes, but the averages of where the entire Winsidr staff believe the teams shake out. Throughout the season, we will periodically poll our staff to aggregate where we think each team currently stands in comparison to how they’ve performed since our last check-in. For this first edition, we’ll add a parenthetical with a reminder of where each team finished in our final Power Rankings last season, which came at the tail end of the regular season. Of course, in the interim, we’ve had the playoffs, free agency, and the draft, so many teams are not where they were at our last check-in.

This season, we have beat writers repping the W’s dozen franchises, and each of those reporters have given their brief updates on their respective squads below. Make sure you’re following the writer that covers your beat. Better yet, follow us all! With teams ready to tip off this Friday, let’s see where they all stand before the race starts.

 

12. Indiana Fever (No. 11 last rankings, 6-26 in 2021)

Tristan Tucker, @TristanRTucker: At this time last year, the Indiana Fever were firmly in last place in our power rankings, with little reason for optimism after handing out some egregious contracts, and the young talent on the team diminishing. Entering 2022, the Fever may still be in last place, but the outlook is quite different.

After landing the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 draft, the Fever selected NaLyssa Smith, a potential future All-Star and a player worth building around. With some maneuvering, the Fever found themselves in a position to draft three more first-rounders: Emily Engstler from Louisville (#4), Lexie Hull from Stanford (#6), and Queen Egbo from Baylor (#10). The team then went out and selected the potential steal of the draft in South Carolina’s Destanni Henderson (#20). At this rate, five rookies would comprise 42 percent of the roster.

Indiana was also able to get off Jantel Lavender’s roster spot while trading for Bria Hartley, who, while on a big contract, averaged 14.6 points per game (PPG) and 4.5 assists per game (APG) across 13 games during the 2020 season.

The Fever’s blend of young talent with existing veterans is going to be fun to watch, which is already an improvement over last season. Indiana did just about everything right this offseason and could win a few more games than expected.

 

11. Atlanta Dream (No. 12 last rankings, 8-24 in 2021)

Jon Bird, @jonbird333: It’s the start of an exciting era for the Atlanta Dream with the addition of new head coach Tanisha Wright, General Manager Dan Padover, No.1 overall pick Rhyne Howard, and 2019 All-Star Game MVP Erica Wheeler. That being said, the Dream, who return just four players from their 2021 roster, may take some time to mesh. Splitting preseason games 1-1, the Dream enter the season with lots of potential, but with so many fresh faces, only time will tell how their season will unfold.

The young Dream look to see productivity from second-year point guard and 2021 lottery pick Aari McDonald, who showed growth in the latest preseason game. McDonald went 5-of-6 from the floor, including 2-of-3 from three and leading Atlanta in scoring. The addition of 6’2” shooting guard Rhyne Howard, the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, and fellow 2022 draftee Naz Hillmon give the Dream a solid young core that should develop throughout the season. An exciting time in Atlanta—we look forward to seeing what these rookies will be able to do this season.

 

10. Dallas Wings (No. 7 last rankings, 14-18 in 2021)

Jasmine Harper, @harperxxwrites: The Wings are loading up, cleaning house, and creating a whole new identity. Still one of the youngest teams in the W, Dallas is taking a new approach to how things are done on the court. For one, head coach Vickie Johnson is putting her defensive roots down with an emphasis on limiting opponents’ points. 

The additions of rookie Veronica Burton and center Teaira McCowan are sure to disrupt the competition with their defense-first mindset. On top of that, the team has a renewed level of confidence and trust in one another, which speaks to the 20+ assists in both preseason matchups. All in all, the Wings have a few more roster decisions to make, but it’s all about execution this season, and the Take Flight crew is quickly preparing for take off.

 

9. New York Liberty (No. 9 last rankings, 12-20 in 2021)

Myles Ehrlich, @mylesehrlich: The margin for error is suffocatingly slim in the WNBA, and the New York Liberty were a terrific case study in exactly that last season. A hot 5-1 start had expectations through the roof, before a second-half collapse all but buried their playoff hopes. A series of eleventh-hour tiebreakers fell their way to help them advance to the postseason for the first time since 2017. Even though they were defeated in a thriller by the eventual runners-up in Phoenix, this postseason experience set the baseline for this year’s expectations.

Reigning Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere stated that this year’s goals are concrete. “[We want] to get more wins than we did last year,” she said, “and make it past the first round of the playoffs. We don’t want to just be happy with what we did.” Onyenwere noted that new coach Sandy Brondello, who patrolled the opposite sideline in that playoff game, brings a level of experience to the locker room that can help New York take a leap. 

On paper, this roster looks more balanced, thanks to offseason additions to the frontcourt that came in a variety of ways: Stef Dolson left the champs as a free agency signing, Han Xu returns after missing the past two seasons, and Lorela Cubaj arrives as a second-round draft selection. Add to that two more players that have worked back from injury in AD and Jocelyn Willoughby, and the Liberty’s depth chart looks formidable from the starting unit to the end of the bench. In a league that’s so parity-driven (read: chaotic), New York will need to find its cohesiveness early if they’re to build on last year’s playoff appearance.

 

8. Los Angeles Sparks (No. 10 last rankings, 12-20 in 2021)

Adam Miller, @ajmil0: The Los Angeles Sparks had one of their busiest offseasons in recent memory, which coach and general manager Derek Fisher recognizes will bring plenty of intrigue. It’s more than the fact that the Sparks signed one of the biggest free agent names of the offseason in Liz Cambage, but they also traded for Chennedy Carter, whose early sample size indicates a potential star that never quite fit in Atlanta. LA also added Katie Lou Samuelson—a sharpshooter hoping to find the consistency she had at UConn and overseas—and Jordin Canada, a defense-oriented guard that will provide a veteran presence off the bench.

With all these additions, the biggest question for the Sparks is: do they have enough to make the playoffs? On paper, it looks like the answer is yes, but that will depend on LA’s ability to mesh and buy in when it comes to making sacrifices for the team. One thing is certain, though—the Sparks will be a lot of fun to watch.

 

7. Washington Mystics (No. 8 last rankings, 12-20 in 2021)

Matt Cohen, @mccohen5: The Mystics come into 2022 looking to rebound after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Put simply, this team had its issues last year, especially defensively. Head Coach/GM Mike Thibault aims to fix that, adding center Elizabeth Williams and 2019 champion and Athletes Unlimited scoring champ Tianna Hawkins into the mix. Those two should help fix a defense that often lacked the size and toughness last season. However, one could argue the biggest additions coming into the season are actually returns. 

The returns of franchise cornerstone Elena Delle Donne and last offseason’s prized pickup Alysha Clark will be huge for this team. Should they be anywhere close to 100 percent (a big should, as back and foot injuries are notoriously difficult to work back from), this team could be title contenders, especially if all the pieces of this team can accept their roles. Also new to the team is Japanese import Rui Machida, who’s an exciting talent that can dish and handle the ball with aplomb. Look for her to hold down the backup point guard spot behind incumbent and team spark plug Natasha Cloud. The biggest x-factor will be what 2022 third-overall pick Shakira Austin can bring to the table. We know she can defend, but her ability to provide enough scoring will be key to her development this year, and will help determine if this team can go from playoff contender to champion. 

 

6. Minnesota Lynx (No. 3 last rankings, 22-10 in 2021)

Mitchell Hansen, @M_Hansen13: The Lynx are in an interesting spot entering the 2022 season, as they try to send Sylvia Fowles out on top in what will be her last year before retiring. With Napheesa Collier out all or most of the year due to her pregnancy, Minnesota signed veteran Angel McCoughtry in free agency to add to the mix along with role players returning to fill the void left by Collier. With McCoughtry subbing in for Collier in the rotation, the Lynx will return the rest of their core from 2021 of Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, Damiris Dantas, and Fowles.

Minnesota could see a slower start to the regular season, similar to last year when it went 0-4 to start the summer, mainly due to some players banged up or arriving late to the team. Dantas is still working to fully recover from injuries suffered last year, while McBride is once again arriving late to the team following overseas competition. A surprise series of cuts, including Layshia Clarendon and Crystal Dangerfield, caused a stir on Tuesday, even within the context of league-wide roster cutdowns. Even though some early season road bumps wouldn’t be surprising, the Lynx should be a top-five team and a championship contender again in 2022, as they build off of a third-place finish a year ago.

 

5. Phoenix Mercury (No. 5 last rankings, 19-13 in 2021)

Kevin Forch, @kevinforch: “Our mentality has been championship or bust.” Skylar Diggins-Smith made clear in a preseason press conference that last season’s runner-up not only has the ambition to make it back to this year’s WNBA Finals, they want to be hoisting a trophy. This time around, the Mercury will be making their run with a handful of new faces, including head coach Vanessa Nygaard and notable players Tina Charles and Diamond DeShields. 

They join a well-established cast, including fan-voted WNBA GOAT Diana Taurasi, who stated emphatically that she intends to keep playing for “a while,” despite injuries that have derailed her last few seasons in the league. The team’s offense will continue to be orchestrated by Diggins-Smith, who was top ten last season in both points and assists, according to Basketball Reference, and supplemented by a reliable set of role players, including Shey Peddy and Brianna Turner.

Questions exist, however, about frontcourt depth without Brittney Griner this season. Tina Charles, last year’s leading scorer, according to Basketball Reference, is as good a replacement as there is for a franchise player like Griner, but she dealt with a number of injuries in 2021, and, behind her, the Mercury don’t have any established options. Another aspect of Griner’s detention in Russia is the media attention the team has to deal with, as well as the concern for their friend and teammate the entire franchise is experiencing. 

Phoenix has the talent needed to make another run at a WNBA title, but injuries and the cloud surrounding the absence of Griner threaten to derail an otherwise promising season.

 

4. Las Vegas Aces (No. 2 last rankings, 24-8 in 2021)

Amaka Thistle, @amakaothistle: The Las Vegas Aces are this season’s dark horse contender. The team had big decisions to make this offseason and has done so with bravery and nous. The Aces are returning the core of last year’s team with a new, exciting head coach and a modern system of play. However, the loss of Liz Cambage, and figuring out the new system, could result in losing a step on the league’s elite.

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The Aces will still be formidable opponents for anyone in the league. If they’re able to mesh together and work out the kinks of the new system in time, they could replicate what the sixth-seed Chicago Sky pulled off last season. I just don’t feel confident they can maintain last season’s level. I expect them to be in the mix for the top three seeds, but fall short.

 

3. Seattle Storm (No. 4 last rankings, 21-11 in 2021)

Owen Pence, @OwenPence:  The Storm have reloaded, a clause that should terrify the other 11 teams in the WNBA. Jewell Loyd is back on a two-year contract; Breanna Stewart returns on a one-year deal; Sue Bird, who decided to give it one more go, may have been the catalyst for this continuity.

The core remains intact, but it’s Seattle’s other offseason additions that strike fear into the rest of the league. Gabby Williams and Briann January will buttress a defense that already finished fifth in efficiency last season. Draft picks Evina Westbrook and Elissa Cunane may struggle to find playing time, but the two will help strengthen the Storm bench. Westbrook has shown flashes of brilliance in Seattle’s preseason action. The Storm aren’t entering 2022 as title favorites, but anything short of a championship will be a disappointment for this roster.

 

2. Connecticut Sun (No. 1 last rankings, 26-6 in 2021)

Colleen Couture, @Colleen18292381: Despite finishing a league-best 20 games over .500 last season, there were a few bumps on the road for Connecticut. The problem is that these hiccups came in high-profile moments that marred an otherwise consistent level of excellence. The Connecticut Sun were blown out by the Seattle Storm in the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup, and, following a 14-game win streak, their season ended in a semifinal loss to the Chicago Sky. They’ve returned a majority of their core, including MVP Jonquel Jones, a now-healthy Alyssa Thomas, and All-Stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner. 

They lost a large part of their perimeter defensive identity in free agency, when Briann January went west to the Storm, but a reunion with guard Courtney Williams will provide some much-needed firepower for a team that will look to turn up the pace in 2022. Williams played a large part in their run to the championship in 2019, though they fell there to the Mystics. This roster might be Curt Miller’s most complete yet, and it could finally bring a championship to Connecticut.

 

1. Chicago Sky (No. 6 last rankings, 16-16 in 2021)

Dani Bar-Lavi, @dblfluidity: After claiming last season’s title, James Wade and the Chicago Sky entered free agency with expired contracts for five players who played a key role in the rotation on their championship run. The challenge for Wade this offseason: reassemble the most important pieces of Chicago’s core—built around Candace Parker—and reload for another run.

Wade, as the teens say, understood the assignment—and more. The Sky bring back their Finals MVP Kahleah Copper, as well as franchise cornerstones/fandom darlings Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot. While the departures of Stef Dolson and Diamond DeShields will be felt on the court and off, it’s offset by the arriving reinforcements from Belgium: Julie Allemand and Emma Meesseman. Allemand brings the Sky an extremely capable back up at point guard, the one position they lacked significant depth in last season. Meesseman, a Finals MVP for the Mystics in 2019, will slot phenomenally into the outlet-passing, floor-spacing center role left open by Dolson, while adding her ability to make plays off the dribble and create her own shot.

The Sky enter the season having not only reassembled their championship core, but having improved upon it. This reloaded Sky team adds new dynamic pieces, broader bench depth, and increased championship pedigree to its already championship-level rotation. It’s been 20 years since the last WNBA championship repeat, and only two franchises have ever done it… but this Chicago team is extremely well poised to join those ranks this season. Watch this space.

 

 

Largest Climb: Chicago Sky (+5 spots)

Largest Fall: Dallas Wings, Minnesota Lynx (-3 spots)

Hyped about where your team ranked? Disagree with the sum of our opinions? Sound off on Twitter, and let us know! 

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