WNBA Season Preview 2021
The WNBA’s 25th season is here! The league continues to grow at an exponential rate. Every summer seems to bring more and more momentum to the best women’s basketball league in the world.
After a bizarre, yet successful bubble season last year in Bradenton Florida, the WNBA will get back to playing something closer to a “normal” season here in 2021. Each team will play 32 games with a one month break from early-July to early-August for the hypothetical Tokyo Olympic games. Once again the league is chock-full of talented ballers. The WNBA needs expansion in a bad way, but that’s a topic for the future.
This year could be one of the most wide-open seasons in recent memory. Up to six teams (half the league) appear to have legitimate expectations to bring home the championship. Let’s take a brief look at each team and see where they stack up against the rest of the league.
The Front Runner
1. Las Vegas Aces
Even after losing Angel McCoughtry for the season due to a knee injury, the Aces are the most talented team in the WNBA. Las Vegas is headlined by 2020 MVP A’ja Wilson and the return of one of the league’s best post players: Liz Cambage. After missing the bubble season, the Aces reintegration of Cambage is of the upmost importance. While they lost Kayla McBride to Minnesota over the winter, they’re replacing her with Chelsea Gray. An all-star guard swap! There are many title hopefuls this season, but if you’re only picking one, it has to be Vegas.
2. Washington Mystics
This might be high for a team that went 9-13 last year. But compare this year’s roster to last’s and it makes more sense. When healthy, the Mystics have the high-end talent to approximate most of the sublime offensive heights seen by their 2019 championship team. A reoccurring theme this season will be underestimated players who did not play in Bradenton last summer. Elena Delle Donne is an offensive force and it will be fascinating to see how head coach Mike Thibault pairs her with Tina Charles.
3. Minnesota Lynx
Last season’s biggest surprise team was the Minnesota Lynx. With Sylvia Fowles only playing six games due to injury, they used huge performances from their young players to reach the semifinals of the playoffs. With Fowles healthy and the addition of fantastic two-way players like Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers, The Lynx should have the best defense in the WNBA. If they can consistently generate efficient half court offense they will be a scary team. Add in the elite coaching and leadership Cheryl Reeve brings to the table and it could be a special year in Minnesota.
4. Chicago Sky
The Chicago Sky have had the same issue the last two summers: plenty of offense, not enough defense. They’re trying to change that by bringing in reigning defensive player of the year, and Chicago-native Candace Parker. It’s the biggest free agency signing in the history of their franchise and the team (already sporting the league’s best PG in Courtney Vandersloot) seems primed to make a run at their first ever WNBA title. Chicago is super-deep and coach James Wade has won championships overseas. Is this the year it all comes together for the Sky?
5. Seattle Storm
The champs had a rough offseason. They lost two starters and their entire defensive identity with Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark flying the coop to New York and Washington respectively. Despite having the best player in the league in Breanna Stewart and a quality supporting cast of veterans around her, the Storm don’t appear as bulletproof as they were in the past. The pedigree, experience and coaching staff will have them competing at a very high level, but the days of cakewalking to the Finals are over.
6. Phoenix Mercury
Diana Taurasi is the second oldest player in the WNBA (shoutout to Sue Bird who tops the list at age 40). She’s played every game of her incredible 16 year career in a Mercury jersey. The franchise has done a nice job of surrounding her with talent and keeping Phoenix in contention throughout Taurasi’s career. 2021 is no different. In addition to front court stalwart Brittney Griner, the Mercury might have the league’s best four-player backcourt in Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kia Nurse and Bria Hartley. While the team looks good on paper, and should be solid all-around, you have to wonder if Phoenix has the ceiling to be elite.
The Murky Middle
7. Connecticut Sun
Just a few years ago the Sun looked primed to become a team who could contend for multiple championships. Instead they’ve been snake-bit by injuries and availability. For the second straight season they will be unable to put together their best roster due to the absence of Alyssa Thomas, arguably their most important player. This team will be feisty. They have one of the best coaches in the WNBA and a ton of veteran talent, but they’re unlikely to contend for a championship without Thomas.
8. Los Angeles Sparks
Much like Seattle, the Sparks lost two of their best players. But for Los Angeles the departures of Candace Parker (the best player in franchise history) and Chelsea Gray (an All-Star and Olympian) are more consequential. Outside of the Ogwumike sisters the talent here is underwhelming. To make matters worse head coach Derek Fisher has not proven that he has what it takes to get the best out of his players. Los Angeles would be smart to bottom-out and rebuilt, but they have a few too many quality pieces to allow that to happen. Stuck in the middle. The worst place to be!
9. New York Liberty
The Liberty were barely a WNBA team last season as they went 2-20 in the bubble. Everything will be different this year as they add Natasha Howard and Betnijah Laney, two players who are better than anyone who suited up for New York last season. Also they will (hopefully) be getting a full season out of 2020 number one overall draft pick Sabrina Ionescu after she only played two games in Bradenton. That trio alone should be enough to vault the Liberty into the playoff picture, but just how high is anyone’s guess.
10. Atlanta Dream
Unfortunately the Dream had a wrench thrown into their gears less than a week before the regular season tipped off when their head coach Nicki Collen left the team to become the new coach at Baylor University. Atlanta’s roster has a number of intriguing players who have been in the league for a long time, plus one very special young scorer in Chennedy Carter. Without the abrupt coaching change this team may have been a shoe-in for the playoffs, but now all bets are off this season.
11. Dallas Wings
After selecting three of the first five players drafted this year, the Wings are the youngest team in the league. They already have two fantastic building blocks for the future in Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally and now they have six first or second year players to develop around their budding stars. This season might be rough under new head coach Vickie Johnson, but the future is bright in Dallas.
12. Indiana Fever
The post-Catchings era for the Indiana Fever has been unkind. The team has been the WNBA’s punching bag for the last few years. It’s going to be another brutal season for the least talented roster in the WNBA. In order for them to climb out of the basement of the league they’ll need huge steps forward from at least a few of their young players. Meaningful development from Teaira McCowan, Lauren Cox and Victoria Vivians would help ensure that the Fever aren’t here at the bottom again in 2022.
If you disagree with the rankings let me know in the comments! It should be a fun summer!