Back in October, the Minnesota Lynx hoisted the WNBA championship trophy for the fourth time in seven seasons, defeating the Los Angeles Sparks in a thrilling five-game series. The WNBA’s 22nd season tips off on Friday with a league full of teams who have reloaded and reshuffled their rosters. A condensed schedule due to the 2018 FIBA World Cup should boost the parity this season. Also 2018’s draft class is considered one of the WNBA’s best ever, meaning even a few bottom feeder teams could vault into the playoff picture. All of this should lead to a very fun summer of basketball. Let’s try to make sense of where each team stands and predict this season’s awards:
Tier 1- Contenders: Two of these teams will meet in the Finals.
Minnesota Lynx (last season: 27-7, 1st)
The league’s model franchise for the better part of the last decade will continue their sustained dominance again in 2018. Their combination of talent, coaching and continuity is unmatched in the WNBA. The bench features many new faces yet again, but with two of the league’s seven best players (Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles), its another championship or bust for the Lynx. Full Lynx season preview coming Friday.
Los Angeles Sparks (last season: 26-8, 2nd)
This absolutely loaded roster somehow found a way to become even more dangerous on offense by adding seven-time all star Cappie Pondexter. She’s the latest veteran free agent signed by LA to supplement WNBA superstars Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. The last two season’s have ended with a Finals matchup between the Lynx and Sparks and 2018 projects to be no different.
Connecticut Sun (last season: 21-14, 4th)
The breakout team of 2017 returns with higher hopes and new expectations this season. Coach/GM Curt Miller brings back essentially his entire roster this summer with one exception, the return of 2014 first overall draft pick Chiney Ogwumike. After a season away from the league due to injury, her fit with this team could determine whether the Sun can compete for their first title in franchise history.
Phoenix Mercury (last season: 18-16, 5th)
Ever since they won the 2014 WNBA title, the Mercury have been searching for the right combination of players to bring them back to the Finals. Phoenix did well this winter to bring in Dewanna Bonner, Briann January and Sancho Little for the 2018 campaign. Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi are Mercury mainstays and should have fantastic seasons. Griner could have challenged Fowles for MVP last year had she not been gone down with injury, and Taurasi is well-rested after choosing not to play overseas this offseason.
Tier 2- Murky Middle: Too talented to be the lottery, but no chance at a championship.
New York Liberty (last season: 22-12, 3rd)
After former Timberwolves assistant coach Bill Laimbeer left the Liberty for Las Vegas, former Lynx guard Katie Smith will take over head coaching duties. That’s about where the changes end this season. With perennial MVP candidate Tina Charles and a roster full of willing defenders still on the team, they’ll be a tough squad to face every night. Unfortunately New York has made regular season success and early playoff exits their ‘thing.’ This year will likely be no different.
Washington Mystics (last season: 18-16, 6th)
Following a disappointing 2017 campaign that saw their three best players (Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver and Emma Meessemen) deal with injuries or inconsistent play, the Mystics have to be ready to start over this summer. Meessemen will miss the season to prepare for September’s World Cup, but Washington has plenty of talent to fill in for her. Delle Donne is such an efficient and dominant scorer that she can carry this team to the semifinals on her own.
Seattle Storm (last season: 15-19, 8th)
Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd are two of the brightest young stars in the WNBA today, but have not figured out how to translate their individual talent into team success. Seattle added a third young player in Jordin Canada as their PG of the future this summer furthering the Sue Bird succession plan. The Storm finished with a below .500 record in 2017 despite having the fourth best offense (by offensive rating) in the league. Obviously they will need to tighten up their defense to improve this summer.
Dallas Wings (last season: 16-18, 7th)
This is another team that did not defend last season. Their DefRtg number of 107.4 was the second worst in the WNBA. They’ll remedy that with the return of 6’8” Liz Cambage. She’s a defensive force who has bounced between the WNBA and overseas league’s for the last few years. With all WNBA first team selection in Skylar Diggins-Smith, rookie of the year Allisha Gray, and a fantastic coach in Fred Williams, the Wings should be on the rise and super fun to watch in 2018.
Tier 3: Rebuilders: Low in the standings, high on young prospects.
Atlanta Dream (last season: 12-24, 10th)
This team probably has the most variance in how their season will go. They could be a semifinal playoff team or they could really struggle to put it together. There are a lot of moving pieces here including a new head coach (Nicki Collen), a returning former all star (Angel McCoughtry), and a rotation player free agent (Renee Montgomery). How will those elements mesh with a young and talented yet unproved roster?
Las Vegas Aces (last season: 8-26. 12th)
In five months this franchise has relocated from San Antonio, changed its name to the Aces, hired Bill Laimbeer as their POBO/head coach, and drafted A’ja Wilson who is by all accounts the next transcendent WNBA post player. This team was putrid to watch last summer, but the franchise refresh and adding Wilson to their already sizable stockpile of young and potentially great players makes them fascinating.
Chicago Sky (last season: 12-22, 9th)
There are two exciting things about the Chicago Sky’s upcoming season. First, they are moving out of highway I-90 eyesore Allstate Arena in Rosemount, IL, and into the lovely Wintrust Arena which is actually in Chicago! Second, the development opportunities of rookies Diamond Deshields and Gabby Williams. After that, there isn’t a lot to like on this roster as the team transitions to their younger players.
Indiana Fever (last season: 9-25, 11th)
The Fever, much like the Sky are deep into a rebuild as they enter their second year of the post-Catchings era. All Star Candice Dupree is back, so is head coach Pokey Chatman, but this season should be about the youth movement. Kelsey Mitchell and Victoria Vivians will get all the rope they can handle this year.
2018 Awards Predictions:
MVP: Brittney Griner - PHX
Rookie: A’ja Wilson - LVA
Sixth Woman: Cappie Pondexter - LAS
Defensive: Sylvia Fowles - MIN
Most Improved: Liz Cambage - DAL
Coach: Cheryl Reeve - MIN