Welcome to the third-annual WNBA young core rankings, a yearly look at what teams have the best collection of young talent. For the purposes of defining “young,” we’re looking at players who were 25 or younger at the time the 2023 WNBA preseason tipped off (players born on or after May 5, 1997).
Last year, the Las Vegas Aces topped this list, but with A’ja Wilson aging out of consideration, a new team will find itself atop this season’s rankings. Who will that team be?
Keep reading to find out.
A note on my methodology here: I value high-quality youth over having a lot of youth. A young player with MVP potential helps your ranking more than three young players with rotation potential, for example.
12. Los Angeles Sparks
The Sparks got a boost to their young core this year by adding Zia Cooke in the draft, who averaged 15.4 points per game (PPG) for South Carolina last year. And Katie Lou Samuelson is on the roster and provides some good shooting, but Samuelson is currently pregnant, so it’s unlikely we see her this season.
11. Chicago Sky
The Sky don’t have a lot of young talent, but Dana Evans still has a lot of upside as she enters her third year in the WNBA, and we should get to see more of her this season now that the Sky don’t have Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley. Evans saw her minutes dwindle down the stretch last season, but she did open the 2022 campaign with 24 points and four steals in 35 minutes, the most minutes she played all season. Could we see more numbers like that if Evans gets more playing time in 2023?
10. Phoenix Mercury
The 2023 season has a lot of promise in Phoenix, with the return of Brittney Griner highlighting things. With their star center back, the Mercury should be a threat to win every night.
But when it comes to youth, there’s just not much here. Michaela Onyenwere was Rookie of the Year in 2021, but she saw her playing time fall off big time last season for the Liberty, averaging only 13.7 minutes per game (MPG). She’s a good depth piece for the Mercury, but it’s hard to really see what her role is unless she can improve on her 31.9 percent mark from three for her career.
The team did get a little boost by signing Evina Westbrook after she was waived by the Mystics, but it’s hard to know what Westbrook’s upside is after she struggled as a rookie last year.
9. Connecticut Sun
The Sun were last in these rankings the last two years, but they move up to nine this year because I’m becoming increasingly impressed by DiJonai Carrington, who doubled her playing time last season and improved her shooting across the board.
The team also added former Wings point guard Tyasha Harris this offseason, someone who has shown some good playmaking skills. Could a fresh start help Harris reach new heights?
I also think Olivia Nelson-Ododa has a shot to be a key rotation piece. In her six starts for the Sparks last season, ONO averaged 6.7 PPG and 4.5 rebounds per game (RPG).
8. Washington Mystics
If this article was separated into tiers, this is where a new one would start, as the Mystics are the first team to have a potentially elite young player with Shakira Austin. The team also added Emily Engstler after the Fever waived her.
Austin looked like a future star last season, averaging 8.7 PPG and 6.5 RPG for Washington. She started 32 games and was named to the All-Rookie Team. She also finished the season seventh in the league in defensive win shares.
The problem for the Mystics when it comes to young players is that there’s not much there after Austin. Maybe Engstler makes the roster and provides some bench contributions. Maybe former South Florida star Elena Tsineke gets a chance—she shot 38.3 percent from three last season for the Bulls. But overall, things dry up pretty quickly after Austin.
7. Minnesota Lynx
The Lynx fall down this list a little from last year because Napheesa Collier has aged out of consideration. But they got a big boost by drafting Diamond Miller with the No. 2 overall pick. Miller averaged 19.7 PPG on 47.6 percent shooting for the Terps last season while also adding 6.4 RPG, 2.9 assists per game (APG), 2.1 steals per game (SPG), and 1.3 blocks per game (BPG). She turns the ball over a little too much and needs to improve her three-point shooting, but overall, Miller’s a great prospect.
The Lynx also already have Bridget Carleton. Carleton isn’t going to ever be a star, but she’s proven over the last three seasons that she’s a good rotation piece who can knock down open shots and provide solid minutes. That kind of player is hard to find.
The team also made arguably the two best picks in the second round of this year’s draft, adding UConn forward Dorka Juhász and South Carolina guard Brea Beal. Obviously, it’s tough for second rounders to even make a roster, but both of those players bring a lot of good things to the floor.
6. Las Vegas Aces
This is the last of the three teams that I’m loosely referring to as the “one good young player” teams. For Vegas, that player is former No. 1 pick Jackie Young, and the reason that Young elevates the Aces over the Mystics and Lynx is simply that we’ve seen Young perform at a high level longer than we’ve seen it from Austin, and she’s more of a sure thing than Diamond Miller because Young already has experience putting on strong performances at the pro level. She averaged 15.9 PPG, 3.9 APG, and 1.4 SPG last season.
There really isn’t any young talent in Las Vegas to speak of beyond Young, but I’m high enough on her for the Aces to grab the sixth spot.
5. Dallas Wings
The Wings might not have a future MVP among their young players, but they’ve got Satou Sabally, a versatile player who could be a perennial All-Star if she can just stay healthy. Sabally also shot the ball really well in Europe this past season, so if she can bring that to the W and play a full season, she’ll skyrocket up the list of best players in the league.
The Wings’ starting point guard will either be Veronica Burton or Crystal Dangerfield, who both fit the criteria for this list. And there’s Maddy Siegrist, the leading scorer in college basketball last season. And there’s Lou Lopez Sénéchal, who averaged 15.5 PPG for UConn. And there’s Awak Kuier, the former No. 2 overall pick who still has time to put everything together.
So yeah—maybe there’s no one who can win a WNBA MVP award here among the young players, but there are several rotation-caliber pieces. And Sabally can still be one of the league’s better players.
4. Seattle Storm
The Storm lost Breanna Stewart this offseason, capping off a multi-year run of losing key players. Stewart’s gone. Natasha Howard’s gone. Alysha Clark’s gone. This team is now Jewell Loyd, Ezi Magbegor, and an assortment of pieces.
When it comes to young players, Magbegor is one of the most intriguing in the WNBA. She played a career-high 24.8 MPG last year, averaging 9.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 1.8 BPG. And if we isolate her 23 starts, that jumps to 11.3 PPG and 6.5 RPG. She should have a larger role this season than we have seen in the past.
Beyond Magbegor, there’s Jordan Horston, who a lot of people I know thought should have been a top-four pick in this past draft but who fell to ninth. She’s a versatile wing who should have a lot of chances to showcase her ability this season.
I also think Arella Guirantes could surprise people. A star at Rutgers, her WNBA career hasn’t really picked up yet. She averaged just 11.6 MPG for the Sparks in 2021 and then didn’t play in the league last year. But she was the breakout star of the Women’s World Cup, averaging 18.2 PPG for Puerto Rico. In EuroLeague this past season, she put up 14.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 4.9 APG. Guirantes could be a late bloomer in the W, someone who breaks out as a key rotation piece in her third year following being drafted.
3. New York Liberty
The Liberty added three major veterans this offseason, but that doesn’t mean the team doesn’t still have some really good young talent, headlined by Sabrina Ionescu. Ionescu showed last season why she was such a highly-touted player at Oregon. She averaged 17.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, and 6.3 APG last season. A threat to record a triple-double at any time, she’s already had three of the 20 triple-doubles in league history, including the only 30-point triple-double. Ionescu is going to be a star in this league for a long time.
The Liberty don’t necessarily have a marquee young player other than Ionescu, but Han Xu is one of the league’s most intriguing players, and there’s some young depth here as well, depending on how final roster cuts go.
2. Indiana Fever
Honestly, I flip-flopped back and forth between Indiana and Atlanta for the top spot. I think you can make a good argument that Aliyah Boston has the highest ceiling of any player on either team.
With that said, I settled with putting the Fever at No. 2. I love the potential of an Aliyah Boston and NaLyssa Smith frontcourt, especially after Smith added a three-pointer to her game last season. She shot 38.1 percent from deep on 3.0 attempts per game. And there are plenty of really good role players here: Grace Berger, Queen Egbo, Destanni Henderson, Lexie Hull, Taylor Mikesell, and Victaria Saxton could all stick around this league for a long time.
In fact, I’ve got nothing negative to say here about the young talent. Putting this team second really has nothing to do with the Fever. It’s just about how I feel there’s a little more upside overall with Atlanta’s youth.
1. Atlanta Dream
Let’s talk about that Atlanta youth. The headliner is last year’s Rookie of the Year, Rhyne Howard. I think Aliyah Boston can be a better player long term than Howard, but the fact we’ve already seen Howard average 16.2 PPG as a rookie is a big plus in her favor. Proof you can produce in the W goes a long way.
The team also has three players who have the potential to be All-Stars. I might catch some flak for including Naz Hillmon in this group, but her plus Haley Jones and Aari McDonald is such a good young core.
I was admittedly suspicious of Hillmon last year, as she’s a little undersized for the way she plays basketball. But in her 12 games as a starter, she averaged 6.3 PPG and 7.3 RPG. If she can shoot more like she did in August (53.6 percent from the floor) than June and July (under 46.0 percent both months), then Hillmon can be a really productive player. Again, maybe I’m stretching by calling her a potential All-Star, but she’s really talented.
I’m not stretching to say Jones and McDonald can be All-Stars. Jones, a rookie out of Stanford, will need to improve her shooting, as she shot a pretty abysmal 9.4 percent from three last season. But she can score at all the other levels and is a good rebounder, defender, and playmaker. If she shot even 25.0 percent from three, I think she would have been the No. 2 pick this year.
And finally, there’s McDonald. Entering her third WNBA season, McDonald will finally get a chance to be the starting point guard in Atlanta. In six starts last season, McDonald averaged 16.0 PPG and 4.7 APG. Like Jones, she needs to improve on her shooting, but she brings a ton of energy to the floor.