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WNBA 2019 Season Preview: Four Tiers

The season is upon us!

The WNBA’s 23rd season tips off on Friday. The headlines leading into the summer surround the myriad of star players who will miss at least a portion the 2019 campaign. Another major story that will loom over this entire season is the ongoing CBA negations. The players association opted out of the deal in the fall of 2018 and have until October to rework the agreement.

Fortunately there is real basketball to be played and with only 12 teams, the WNBA is chock full of all world talent. With so many legacy all star players missing time this year, young players across the league can use the season an opportunity to step into the limelight and make a name for themselves. The 2019 playoff picture appears to be wide open. Half of the WNBA’s teams could realistically find themselves in the Finals.

To help you prepare for the upcoming season I’ve broken the league’s 12 teams into four tiers. How do you think this will go? Leave your comments and we will discuss!

Tier 1: Best Bets

Las Vegas Aces

The Liz Cambage trade saga is over and Las Vegas are the big winners. We’re about to find out what happens when one of the league’s youngest teams makes a trade to bring in the most dominant player in the WNBA. The Aces are primed to make a big leap this season. They’ll be expected to vault from the lottery to championship contender status after bringing in Cambage as well as selecting Jackie Young from UConn with the number one overall pick in the 2019 draft. The only question surrounds their ability to transform a young core into a consistent, high-level winner. That’s extremely difficult in the WNBA.

Why you should watch: The most exciting team in the league added last year’s scoring champion AND the number one pick in the draft!

Washington Mystics

Last year’s runner-up has re-loaded and will be vying for the title once again in 2019. They were swept out of the semi-finals in 2017 and in the Finals in 2018, will this season be the year they get over the hump? With Elena Delle Donne on the team, anything is possible. She’ll re-join essentially the same super-deep team that made the Finals run just a year ago. Emma Meesseman returns giving them another front court option that can space the floor. The Belgian will be tasked with stepping into a larger role after Tierra Ruffin Pratt departed for LA. In the WNBA, its safe to bet on continuity and veterans. The Mystics have both in spades.

Why you should watch: The continued ascent of the young Ariel Atkins.

Connecticut Sun

In a league full of deep teams, the Sun might be the deepest. Connecticut has been a fantastic regular season team that has struggled to emerge from the early rounds of the playoffs in recent history. They’ll rely on a returning core full of players ripe for internal improvement. This is a similar squad to what they’ve fielded in the past which is a good thing for a team that has won 21 games each of the last two seasons. Their starting lineup is long and terrifying. This could be the year they put it all together and finally make it to the Finals.

Why you should watch: Jonquel Jones is a freaky, futuristic stretch five.

Phoenix Mercury

Diana Taurasi’s back surgery will likely keep her out until August. How the team fares in her absence could determine the Mercury’s championship hopes. The Phoenix big three (which also includes Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner) will have extra help this season with the addition of “3-and-D” guard Essence Carson. The Mercury have the pieces to compete with anyone on both ends of the floor this season. If they can stay above .500 while Taurasi (and backup center Sancho Lyttle) is out they will be in position to make a run at their fourth WNBA title.

Why you should watch: At full strength they could be the best team in the WNBA.

Tier 2: Fringe Contenders

Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks missed out on Cambage despite allegedly being her preferred destination. Instead they traded their 2020 first round pick to Connecticut for all star Chiney Ogwumike, pairing her with her superstar sister Nneka. That’s a pretty good consolation prize. The churn is very real for LA this year, they lost Odyssey Sims, Essence Carson, and Jantel Lavender while adding Ogwumike, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, former Lynx Alexis Jones and first round draft pick Kalani Brown. Also new in the fold this season is their head coach Derek Fisher. The former Lakers point guard replaces longtime Sparks coach Brian Agler who departed for Dallas. Candace Parker is still one of the best three players in the world and their high end talent is very real. LA totally blew it with the Cambage situation but their starting five makes a force to be reckoned with. Their lack of depth bumped them down into this tier.

Why you should watch: Ogwumike sisters unite!

Atlanta Dream

The Dream defended their way to the second best record in the WNBA last season with their league leading defense. Atlanta’s “D” starts at the point of attack with the impossible length and athleticism of Tiffany Hayes and Brittney Skyes. Opponents lucky enough to get past those two are then met by the rim protection of Elizabeth Williams and Jessica Breland. They were impressive all last summer. Their aging franchise centerpiece Angel McCoughtry will miss most of the year with a knee injury. Luckily they have Hayes, one of the most dynamic, unstoppable, underrated players in the WNBA. Much like Phoenix, if they can maintain a winning record until August, they’ll be in great position for a long playoff run.

Why you should watch: Tiffany Hayes is a basketball player that you need to know about.

Tier 3: Playoff Hopefuls

Minnesota Lynx

Your Minnesota Lynx are about to embark on a very different type of season. They’ve shaken up the roster as much as any team in the league. Lindsay Whalen has retired. Maya Moore is sitting out. Rebekkah Brunson is dealing with symptoms from her August concussion. Instead of rebuilding GM Cheryl Reeve has reloaded with a new group of veteran players. Karima Christmas-Kelley, Odyssey Sims, Damiris Dantas will be heavily relied on this summer. The Lynx always have one of the best defenses in the league and this year should be no different. Sylvia Fowles is still the gold standard when it comes to protecting the rim. The big question for this group is how they will score, especially from the perimeter. If they can cobble together a league-average offense, they will have a nice year. If not, the team could find themselves missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Why you should watch: Napheesa Collier is the Lynx’s first blue chip rookie since Maya Moore in 2011.

Much more on Minnesota coming tomorrow!

Chicago Sky

Former Lynx assistant coach James Wade has taken the helm in Chicago and is looking to turn things around. The Sky are a tough team to predict. On one hand they have fantastic mix of talented players. First of all they have solid, dependable veterans like Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot, Stef Dolson and Jantel Lavender. Also Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams give them a younger, more athletic shot in the arm when they need it. They have a bevy of wonderful shooter who need to be guarded all over the floor. On the other hand they were the absolute worst defense in the WNBA in 2018 and did not do a single thing to address that glaring weakness. Chicago will expect to get back into the playoffs this summer. But that will only happen if they can consistently get stops.

Why you should watch: Diamond DeShields is the future of the league.

Seattle Storm

After a blissful 2018 season where they ran through the entire league fairly easily, Seattle will have to defend its title without their two best players. Breanna Stewart will miss the all of, and Sue Bird will miss most of this year’s action due to injury. The team is still ripe with veteran talent and a few burgeoning youths. To make matters worse, their head coach Dan Hughes will miss time this year as he battles cancer. They wont fall into the league’s basement, but this will be a very different season for the Storm.

Why you should watch: Time for Jewell Loyd and Jordin Canada to step up.

Tier 4: Still Rebuilding

Dallas Wings

Some believe that the Wings could make another visit to the postseason but I don’t see it. Their best player (Cambage) forced herself out. The leader and heartbeat of the team Skyler Diggins-Smith will miss time due to her recent pregnancy. This is a team in flux. They have way more going for them than the two teams that will follow here. Allisha Gray will need to take a step forward again this season. New head coach Brian Agler is the wild card here. His teams in LA were always toward the top of the league standings. Can he work his magic with less talent?

Why you should watch: This team will look, and play entirely different this season.

New York Liberty

The most depressing team situation in the WNBA. They will return to the worst home court in basketball this season - the 2,500 seat Westchester County Center. Thankfully there is some good news, James Dolan sold the team to Joe Tsai, a minority owner with the Brooklyn Nets. The team is hoping that they can someday find their new home at the idyllic Barclays Center in Brooklyn. On the court things aren’t much better. Tina Charles is still trapped here. New York had the third worst offense AND defense last season. Can either of those jump up to league average? It’s doesn’t seem likely. Another tough year in the big apple.

Why you should watch: Second overall pick Asia Durr and Chinese sensation Han Xu

Indiana Fever

Indiana won only 6 games in 2018. That hurts, but what hurts more is that this year won’t be much better. Victoria Vivians, the 8th overall pick a year ago will miss the entire season due to knee surgery. She wouldn’t have moved the needle much as far as wins and losses go this summer, but losing an entire season of development is tough. The Fever need help just about everywhere on the floor. The good news is they have a foundational future-star player in Kelsey Mitchell. How she progresses will be this team’s bell weather for years to come.

Why you should watch: Kelsey Mitchell. Learn about her.