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WNBA Season Preview

Basketball

Two newsletters in one day because we’re just too excited for the WNBA regular season to start tomorrow. It’s time to getcha head in the game.

May 13, 2021
Source: WNBA/Giphy
Source: WNBA/Giphy

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“To be honest, I just want to educate more people about the WNBA, women in sports… empowering women in general…Especially educating other women on how to empower women.”

—Los Angeles Sparks superstar and president of the W’s players association (WNBPA) Nneka Ogwumike (pronounced NEH-kuh oh-gwoo-MIH-kay). Honestly, same.

🏀 The set-up

SOURCE: SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL/TWITTER

The WNBA’s 25th season is set to be spectacular. Though we loved last year's "Wubble," it was without fans, hosted in Bradenton, Florida (no shade) and ran for just 11 weeks, from July to October, with each team playing only 22 games.

  • But we’re back to the good stuff this year. The season has been shortened a bit, down to 32 games instead of 36, but teams are playing in their home arenas again, and some will even play in front of fans. Hello normalcy, our old friend!

Twelve teams — six in the Eastern Conference and six in the Western Conference — will compete for the WNBA Championship. They’ll play until September 19th, ahead of a month-long postseason, and will take an Olympic break from July 15th to August 11th. Check out the full schedule here.

But wait, there’s more. For the first time ever, the WNBA is hosting a Commissioner’s Cup — an in-season competition with a prize pool of $500K (!!!) at stake. How does it work? Ten games — the first home and first road game each team plays against its five conference rivals — will count toward Commissioner’s Cup play.

  • The team from each conference with the highest winning percentage during the Cup games will play in a one-game Cup Championship on August 12th. The spiciest season yet.

🏆 The teams to beat

SOURCE: SEATTLE STORM/TWITTER

Seattle Storm: The reigning WNBA champions have everything they need to go back-to-back: 2020 Finals MVP Breanna Stewart, the legendary Sue Bird, a stellar offense and a shiny new logo. They lost some key defensive pieces in the offseason, including veteran Natasha Howard, but that just means we’ll probably see a lot more scoring to make up for it.

Washington Mystics: Last season’s eighth-place finish was an anomaly. Natasha Cloud and two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne are back after opting out of the 2020 season (though Delle Donne could miss the first few games as she recovers from back surgery), and despite a rusty preseason, the 2019 WNBA champs should be back in fighting form to lead the Eastern Conference in no time.

Las Vegas Aces: The Aces won the 2020 regular season and power forward A’ja Wilsonwon the season MVP title. Though they lost to the Storm in the finals, that was without two of their top players: Liz Cambage (who opted out and won a championship in Australia) and Kelsey Plum (who was injured). They’re both back this season, and the Aces will be firing on all cylinders. 

💪 The underdogs

SOURCE: CHICAGO SKY/TWITTER

Chicago Sky: The Sky finished atop of the Eastern Conference last season, but sixth in the league. Although the West is best in the W, the Sky picked up a not-so-secret weapon from the Western Conference during the offseason: one of the best players of all time, Candace Parker, who left her longtime LA Sparks to join her hometown team in the Windy City.

Minnesota Lynx: The Lynx finished fourth in the Western Conference for two of the last three seasons, and though the competition is tough this year, they have 2020 Coach of the Year Cheryl Reeve and 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield to move them back up to the league’s top tier.

New York Liberty: Last season, if we may be so blunt, sucked for the Liberty. They only won two games and their first overall draft pick, Sabrina Ionescu (pronounced YO-nesc-ooo), played just three games before a season-ending ankle injury. And to make matters worse, they lost Canadian Kia Nurse in the offseason.

  • But great news: Ionescu is back, the aforementioned Howard has joined the roster from the Seattle Storm, and things are looking way up for last year’s last-place team. Zero to hero?

⭐️ The star players

SOURCE: PHELAN M. EBENHACK/AP PHOTO

Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury: A three-time WNBA Champion, two-time WNBA Finals MVP, and nine-time All Star. The league’s all-time leading scorer. The biggest, brightest star. The GOAT. A constant on this list.

Brittney Griner, Mercury: After leaving the Wubble halfway through the 2020 season, Griner is fresh off a EuroLeague title with UMMC Ekaterinburg in the offseason. Now she’s back with her W team in Phoenix, and between her, Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and the previously mentioned Nurse the Mercs will be fun to watch this season.

Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun: The Sun likely won’t shine in 2021 (they finished a ho-hum seventh in the league in 2020), but that won’t stop one of the league’s best players from giving her all. Jones is an MVP contender, and has championship experience after winning the EuroLeague title with Griner. 

Aari McDonald, Atlanta Dream: Pronounced AIR-e, she’s more of a rising star in the WNBA than a full-fledged one, but she was the player to watch during the Arizona Wildcats NCAA Tournament run. And as the No. 3 pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft, we can’t wait to see more of her in the W.

🤝 The purpose

SOURCE: PHELAN M. EBENHACK/AP PHOTO

The name of the game last season was social justice. Multiple players opted out of the season to fight for social justice and justice reform, and those who stayed and played, did it with messages of support on their jerseys, t-shirts and sneakers. 

  • The W proved they walk the talk when Atlanta Dream owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican senator who opposed the Black Lives Matter Movement, was basically forced to sell her share of the team after the Dream’s players repeatedly spoke out against her.
  • There’s still work to be done, and no one knows it better than the players of the WNBA. We don’t expect anything less from them this year.

👀 How to watch

SOURCE: CHRIS O'MEARA/AP PHOTO

It all gets started tomorrow with the opening game between the Indiana Fever and New York Liberty at 7 p.m. ET. For the first time ever, 100 games will be broadcast nationally and you can subscribe to the WNBA League Pass for coverage of every match-up. Here we go!