After capturing their first career WNBA title, Katie Douglas and Tamika Catchings look to lead the Indiana Fever back to the mountaintop. But with the competition better than ever, can the Fever repeat as champions?
Fresh off a new television deal with ESPN that extends through the 2022 season, the WNBA is headed into its 17th season with plenty of promise and bubbling anticipation.
Much of the intrigue can be attributed to the arrival of the highly-touted “3 to see”—Brittany Griner, Elana Della Donne, and Skylar Diggins.
The headlined draft class adds to the sense of “newness” that is beginning to permeate throughout the league.
New logo. New players. New coaches. New storylines. New television exposure.
But what remains the same is the fierce competition for individual and team accolades en route to the ultimate prize–the WNBA championship trophy.
So which team will hoist the trophy? Can Tina Charles win her second consecutive MVP award? Will one of the “3 to see” be the rookie of the year, or will someone else steal the spotlight? Is Mike Thibault going to change the culture for the Mystics? How will Seattle fare without Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson? Will Maya Moore complete her year of victory? Are Candace Parker and the Los Angeles Sparks ready to win it all?
We shall soon find out…
Until then, let’s preview each team.
Record Last Season: 19-15 (3rd place in the Eastern Conference)
Admist much internal controversy, the Dream finished the 2012 season in the middle of the pack, but still managed to make the playoffs. Atlanta was bounced from the postseason in the first round by the eventual champion Fever.
Key Additions: Jasmine Thomas (Guard)–via trade, Sydney Carter (Guard)–signed in free agency, Lecoe Willingham (Forward)–signed in free agency, Alex Bentley (Guard)–No. 13 overall pick, Anna Marie Armstrong (Guard)—No.31 overall pick
Key Losses: Lindsey Harding (signed with the LA Sparks) averaged 12.3 points per game and 4.5 assists per game last season
Biggest Question Mark: Can Angel McCoughtry effectively lead her team now that Lindsey Harding is no longer running the point? We all know Angel is a very capable scorer as evidenced by her 19.1 career scoring output, but the issue with her game has always been her propensity to look for her own shot and perceived “selfish” attitude. Angel’s issues with former Head Coach Marynell Meadors also don’t help her image as a leader.
Outlook: Even without Harding, the Atlanta Dream still remain a talented team with Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza down low and Angel McCoughtry on the perimeter.But the key will be the production of Jasmine Thomas and company the guard spot. Playoffs? No Playoffs. The loss of Lindsey Harding, the fragile chemistry, and the presence of a new coach is a bit too much for the Dream to overcome, in my opinion. The talent is there, though, so I wouldn’t be shocked if Dream did find a way into the postseason.
Record Last Season: 14-20 (5th place in the Eastern Conference)
Last season, the Chicago Sky missed the playoffs for the 7th straight season, finishing only above the Washington Mystics in the East. The team did, however, get to pick second in the 2013 WNBA draft, selecting Elena Della Donne .
Key Additions: Elena Della Donne (Guard-Forward)–2nd overall pick
Biggest Question Mark: Will the addition of Elena Della Donne help spur a Sky playoff push? Epipheny Prince and Cynthia Fowles produced well for the Sky last season, averaging 18.1 ad 16.2 points per game, respectively. Swin Cash also pitched in despite her production not being the best of her career. Cash’s numbers are declining as she is entering the twilight of her WNBA career, but she is still cable of occupying a solid role on the team. With the versatile scoring skill of Della Donne, the Sky should have a more diversified offense than last season.
Outlook: If there is to be improvement, Courtney Vandersloot will have to play solid at the point guard position. If not, the Sky will flounder. Playoffs? Playoffs. With very little roster changes, and the added talent of Della Donne, I expect the Sky to make it to the postseason after missing it by one game last time around.
Record Last Season: 25-9 (1st place in the Eastern Conference)
Finishing with the best record in the East, the Connecticut Sun were the favorite to get to the WNBA Finals out of the Easr. However, their season unfortunately came to an end at the hands of the Indiana Fever, as the Suns lost the series 2-1.
Key Additions: Kelly Faris (Guard)–No. 11 overall pick
Biggest Question Mark: Is there a player(s) who can consistently fill the void left by Asjha Jones’ absence? Even as reigning MVP, Tina Charles can only do so much after accounting for almost 30% of the teams total rebounds last season while logging 33.2 minutes. The Sun can’t afford another one of their frontcourt stars to go down with injury because of overuse. Another question that remains to be answered is whether the Sun can acclimate to a new system now that their former coach, Mike Thaubalt, is in Washington coaching the Mystics?
Outlook: New coach, injuries, and trying to get to the finals after missing the mark in the previous season never sounds easy for any team. But Tina Charles makes the difference. Playoffs? Playoffs. I just don’t think that Kara Lawson, Tina Charles, and Renee Montgomery, all who have winning in their DNA will allow this team to miss the postseason.
Record Last Season: 22-11(2nd place in the Eastern Conference)
The Fever ended the regular season three games behind the Connecticut Sun, and lost the season series 3-1. However, when it counted, Tamika Catchings and the Fever were able to beat the Sun in the Eastern Conference Finals and went on to win the WNBA championship, defeating the Minnesota Lynx 3 games to 1.
Key Additions: Layshia Clarendon (Guard)–No. 9 overall pick
Biggest Question Marks: Will the pressure to repeat doom this team? Considering their best players have been in the league for a long time, I don’t anticipate a let down of any sort. But you have to wonder,heading into her 12th season, is this the one when Tamika Catchings starts to decline? I doubt it.
Outlook: By mid-season, I expect this team to be in full stride despite the early season injuries. Playoffs? Playoffs. Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas are hungry for more titles. The team is too solid offensively and defensively to not make a playoff run. I’m not sure whether they will repeat.
New York Liberty (My favorite team)
Record Last Season: 15-19 (4th place in the Eastern Conference)
The Liberty failed to make the noise in last seasons playoffs after being swept by the Connecticut Sun. This came as no surprise considering how inconsistent their play was all of last season.
Key Additions: New Head Coach Bill Laimbeer! Toni Young (Guard)–No. 7 overall pick, Kelsey Bone (Center)–No. 5 overall pick, Katie Smith and Cheryl Ford
Key Losses: Nicole Powell (Forward)–averaged 7 pts off the bench last year and was a good 3pt shooter. Kia Vaughn (Center)–averaged 5 rebounds off the bench.
Biggest Question Mark: Can the Liberty play well under new coach Bill Laimbeer? It’s no secret that Laimbeer had success with the former Detroit Shock, but it still remains to be seen whether this pairing will be a good one.
Outlook: Even Laimbeer’s worst Detroit Shock teams (and there weren’t many) were good-to-great on the defensive end. If he can keep this group solid on that side of the floor, this team will be very good. The offense should never be a concern particularly when Cappie is on the floor. Playoffs? Playoffs. Last year, the Liberty were a brutal two-way team. With Laimbeer coming in, there’s hope in Liberty Land.
Record Last Season: 5-29 (6th place in the Eastern Conference)
Simply put, the Washington Mystics were a very bad team last year, finishing with the worst record in the WNBA. And to make matters worse they didn’t get a chance at drafting Griner, Della Done, or Diggins, after being slotted 4th in the lottery.
Key Additions: Mike Thibault (Coach), Kia Vaughn (Center), Tayler Hill (Guard)–No. 4 overall pick, Emma Meesseman (Center)–No. 19 overall pick
Key Losses: Noelle Quinn (Guard), Jasmine Thomas (Guard)
Biggest Question Mark: Is Mike Thibault the difference between a 5-29 team and a fringe playoff team?
Outlook: Crystal Langhorne is poised to do some heavy lifting for this team. Playoffs? No Playoffs. I don’t think this is the year for the Mystics. Once their core players develop more and adjust to Thibault’s system in the team’s then that’s when I think the Mystics will be in the postseason.
Los Angeles Sparks
Record Last Season: 24-10 (2nd place in the Western Conference)
For the first in the Candace Parker-era, things appeared to be coming together for Sparks. They finished the season with a good enough record to place them as the second seed. But they were sorely dissappointed after being swept by the Minnesota Lynx in the Western Conference Finals.
Key Additions: Lindsey Harding (Guard)
Key Losses: DeLisha Milton-Jones (Forward)–averaged 10.1 pts and 4.4 rpg
Biggest Question Mark: Will there enough bench production? The starting five is very strong with Parker, Beard, Toliver, Harding, and Ogwumike, but other than that, the team is very young and not much are known as WNBA scorers. A’dia Mathies (#BBN), though, is one person that can help on offense by doing what she does best–score!
Outlook: Playoffs? Playoffs. On paper, the Sparks should be better–record wise and in the playoffs– than they were last season now that Harding is in the fold. I am fully confident in their ability to score the ball, but can than they defend at a high enough level to be legitimate championship contender?
Record Last Season: 27-7 (1st place in the Western Conference)
Only losing 7 games all year, the Minnesota Lynx had the best record in the WNBA. They were poised to win it all for the second consecutive season, but unfortunately, they lost in the WNBA finals to the Indiana Fever.
Key Additions: Janel McCarville (Forward)
Key Losses: Taj McWilliams-Franklin (Forward)–averaged 8.4 pts and 5.4 rpg last season
Biggest Question Mark: Not much has changed for the Lynx, being able to keep their core star players together. But can we realistically expect them to make it back to their third consecutive WNBA Finals with a revamped Western Conference? I’d say yes they certainly can make it to their third consecutive finals, rivaling the past feats of the Houston Comets, Los Angeles Sparks, and Detroit Shock. Another concern should be how much can the Lynx expect out of Janel McCarville after she has been out of the league for a couple years now.
Outlook: Playoffs? Playoffs. Without hesitation I say that this Lynx team will not only make the playoffs, but also contend for a championship. They are so balanced on both ends of the floor, and should have no trouble scoring against the best in the West.
Record Last Season: 7-27 (6th place in the Western Conference)
The Phoenix Mercury had their worst season in franchise history last season, failing to win more than a quarter of their games. Some people believe that the team tanked to get a shot at the potential top slot in the lottery, but let’s just leave that to history. The Mercury did indeed receive the top pick which and opted to select Baylor-standout Brittany Griner. Since then, many are in agreement that the Mercury are a legitimate WNBA championship contender.
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: None
Biggest Question Mark: Is Brittany Griner’s presence going to improve the Mercury’s team defense, which has been the worst in the WNBA for four of the past five seasons? Griner had the most blocks in Division 1 women’s college basketball and has the shot-blocking ability that is easily translatable to the WNBA game, so I expect her to anchor Phoenix’s defense.
Outlook: Playoffs? Playoffs. This is a veteran team that is familiar with one another. Virtually every player is back from last year and hungry to get back to the top of the standings.
San Antonio Silver Stars
Record Last Season: 21-13 (3rd place in the Western Conference)
The shooting stars had a solid winning record despite not boasting the top-flight talent that other teams in the West possessed. However, they were swept by the Los Angeles Sparks in the first round, bringing to end a good season.
Key Additions: Kayla Alexander (Center)-9th overall pick, DeLisha Milton-Jones (Forward), Davellyn Whyte (Guard)–16th overall pick
Key Losses: Injury: Sophia Young (Forward)–16,3 ppg and 7.2 rbs
Biggest Question Mark: Can the shooting stars get back to the playoffs without Sophia Young? Milton Jones and rookie Kayla Anderson have the ability to make up for some of the lost production, but how much and is it enough?
Outlook: Playoffs? Playoffs. The West is stacked with very good teams, but Becky Hammon will find a way to get the shooting stars to at least the 4th seed. That being said, team management needs to find way to salvage Becky Hammon’s prime years. She’s now 33 years old and hasn’t had a chance to experience the joy of winning a championship.And with the west reloading with talent every year, nothing will come easy.
Record Last Season: 16-18 (4th place in the Western Conference)
Until last season, the Seattle Storm hadn’t experienced a losing season since 2001. Despite being under .500, the Storm still finished 4th and made the playoffs. They won one game against the Lynx but ultimately lost the series 2-1.
Key Additions: Tameka Johnson (Guard)-12.2 ppg and 4.7 apg
Key Losses: Ann Wauters –9.6ppg and 5.8 rpg Injury: Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson
Biggest Question Mark: Can the Storm tread water without the Bird-Jackson tandem(one of the greatest pairings in WNBA history)? Shekinna Stricklen and Camille Little are viable options to step up in the absence of Jackson and Bird, but how much will that improve the team? I have the utmost respect for Tina Thompson, but even she’ll be the first to admit that carrying the scoring load is no longer her bread and butter.
Outlook: Playoffs? No Playoffs. The injuries to Bird and Jackson simply do not bode well for the Storm. I do not think they will get to the post season this year.
Record Last Season: 9-25 (5th place in the Western Conference)
Going 3-31 in 2011, the Tulsa couldn’t go anywhere except up. In 2012, they weren’t world-beaters, but the team finished the season with a respectable 9 wins. Subsequently the Shock were slotted to select third in the draft and chose Skylar Diggins from Notre Dame.
Key Additions: Nicole Powell (Forward) 10.5 ppg and 4.3 rpg, Candice Wiggins (Forward)–6.8 ppg, Liz Cambage (Center) is back–11.5ppg and 4.7 rpg
Key Losses: Ivory Latta (Guard)–14.3 ppg, Tameka Johnson (guard)
Biggest Question Mark: Will the revamped Tulsa Shock “Shock the world?” Things are brand new in Tulsa and expectations are high, but will they live up to them?
Outlook: Playoffs? No Playoffs. I think the Shock will fall just short of the playoffs. They have a pretty young team yet talented team that will be here to stay in the foreseeable future. I just think they will have to endure growing pains until their time comes.