2020 Preseason Preview

We are just days away from the 2020 WNBA season to tipoff in Florida at the IMG Academy, and things have never looked so different and surreal for the WNBA. And before any games have even been played, many things have changed, but some things it seems, have stayed the same.

The biggest change is of course the COVID-19 pandemic moving the timeline of the start of the season from May all the way until this weekend, on July 25th. The other biggest change of course the league physically moving every team into what as been dubbed the “Wubble”, the bubble of housing, training camps, and courts where the season will play out in Bradenton, Florida.

Several players have moved teams, Angel McCoughtry has joined the Aces, Seimone Augustus has moved to the Sparks, Skylar Diggins-Smith moved to the Mercury, DeWanna Bonner moved to the Sun, Tina Charles moved to the Mystics, and Jessica Breland went to Phoenix, along with many other players finding new homes.

But with just as many players being traded to or signing with new teams, it seems just as many have opted out of playing due to the pandemic. Renee Montgomery, Liz Cambage, Tiffany Hayes, Natasha Cloud, LaToya Sanders, Chiney Ogwumike, Jonquel Jones, Marine Johannes, and more will all be missing in action this season.

That opens the door for any number of teams to make a run during a shortened but compacted year in which, in my mind, anything could happen. If we look back on the last several years of player development that has occurred, and I have talked about this before, there is a ton of talent on every single roster in the WNBA. The fact the the league only has twelve teams, roster spots are limited and that means every year in the draft very good players get cut and left behind.

At the start of each WNBA season I am somewhat uncertain as to what team is going to step up and make a deep run in the playoffs or actually win a title, all thanks to every team having plenty of talent and potential. And this year could prove to be the most unpredictable of all, thanks to not only the many big names that won’t be playing, but the uncertain nature of the short and compact schedule. With that said, the difference between teams that rise above the others at the end of the season and in the playoffs and those that don’t, would seem to come down coaching staffs, training staffs, front offices, team chemistry and team culture and management. Teams that have played together for several years like the Sun can get to playoffs not only because of their talent, but their experience playing together, and the system put in place by their excellent coaching staff. Other teams are struggling with transitions, like the Lynx and Liberty, and such teams will likely struggle to win games, with younger and less experienced rosters or new coaching staffs.

And thanks to all the uncertainty this season has to offer, I think that there are plenty of storylines to watch this summer and fall.

With the return of Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, can the Seattle Storm can catch lightning in the bottle twice in three season? Most everyone sees them as the pre-season favorite.

Can the Chicago Sky overcome the heartbreak of last year’s botched call exit to the Aces?

Can the Las Vegas Aces themselves win big without Kelsey Plum and Liz Cambage, possibly thanks to the addition of 3 time Finals runner up and former rookie of the year Angel McCoughtry?

Can the L.A. Sparks get back to the Finals thanks to most of their championship winning roster still in place?

Can the Mystics defend their title with most of their starting lineup missing?

Can the Phoenix Mercury get back to winning ways with the addition of Diggins-Smith and a healthy Diana Taurasi?

Can the Dallas Wings become more than a one woman show beyond Arike Ogunbowale?

All these questions have me excited for what no doubt will be a very memorable 2020 WNBA season, and you should be too!

Slightly Too Early Season Awards

Ok, so there are still several games left in the 2019 regular season, but that isn’t going to keep me from saying who I think have been the best players in 2019. All the awards have been tightly contested this year, and the debates on social media concerning MVP, Rookie of the Year, etc. have all been fascinating, enlightening, and fun. With that said, let’s look at who I believe will win each award:

MVP: Elena Delle Donne, F Mystics

Delle Donne, like in her previous MVP winning season in 2015, has been the “do it all, every game” MVP in 2019. She has lifted the Mystics to a higher plane than ever before, and thus far, has proved to be the best player on the best team night after night. And even though it’s not just Delle Donne doing all the work, the entire team is playing insanely well offensively, she is the unquestionable leader of this Washington squad, and simply the best player in the league right now.

Most Improved: Leilani Mitchell, G Mercury

An absolute bounce back of a season for a player that has always been slightly underrated in my opinion, and this is even taking into consideration that she won this same award nearly a decade ago in 2010. The resurgence is due in part to Mitchell’s much larger role with the absence of Diana Taurasi. But the numbers don’t lie, and Mitchell’s stats from last year and this year are the most impressive out of any other potential winners. Averaging nearly ten more points per game than last season, and doubling her averages in nearly every other category, Mitchell is clearly the most improved player this season.

Rookie of the Year: Napheesa Collier, F Lynx

This award has been the most talked about an argued over award all season long. But if I am redoing the 2019 draft, I’m taking Collier as the first pick. Does that mean she has the same year with the Aces as she has had with the Lynx? No, but with time travel logic is the first thing that gets thrown out the window, and I’m telling you, no matter who I am I want Napheesa Collier on my team right now and for the future. She is another all around fantastic player who has the potential to lead Minnesota to a new dynasty.

6th Woman: Dearica Hamby, F Aces

Hamby has been absolutely crucial to Bill Laimbeer’s rotation in 2019, and she has relished her role off the bench and as a part time starter when A’ja Wilson was out. She is one of the candidates for Most Improved, but I like her winning this award more, because she provided the minutes and scoring, as well as rebounding that every team needs off the bench to win games.

Defensive Player: Jonquel Jones, F Sun

Jonquel Jones will win this award, but
If I’m being honest, Natasha Howard is just as likely to take home the MVP as she is to win Defensve Player of the Year. But despite having the exact same defensive rating according to the league website, I give Jones the slightest of edges due to her better defensive rebounding over Howard, as well a her better block percentage. Is Howard getting more steals? Yes. But I think the controversy surrounding her off the court issues, right or wrong, guilty or innocent costs her this award this year.

Coach of the Year: James Wade, Sky

This award is harder to pick than any other award this year. Cheryl Reeve, as always, has done an amazing job this season with an almost completely new group of young players. Dan Hughes has also taken a team that shouldn’t have played anywhere as well as they have this year and kept them in the playoffs. Mike Thibault has pushed his Mystics to even greater heights and has them on the cusp of the #1 seed and another Finals berth. Bill Laimbeer, another long time WNBA head coach has turned this Aces team into one that just barely missed the playoffs to one of the best, scariest and toughest teams in the league. But James Wade showed up to his first head coaching job and proved that he can absolutely coach in this league for years to come. He has motivated, pushed, driven, and willed his team to more wins than they have had in several years. He has changed the mentality of the Chicago Sky from underachievers to down right winners in 2019. I love what he’s done for this incredible group of players.

The Wrap Up

This was a weird season. With so many of the league’s top stars out with injuries and other commitments, we had no idea what to expect. I think the same can be said about the awards that will be handed out this year. I really have no idea what voters will decide to do in just about every category. It will be very interesting to see what ultimately transpires. Here’s wishing good luck to every candidate out there in 2019!

2019 WNBA Pre-Season Power Rankings

The 2019 WNBA Season is underway this week with our first group of preseason games featuring the Liberty taking on China, the Mystics taking on the Lynx, and the Sparks taking on the Mercury. Now that the draft is over and moves and roster cuts continue to happen, let’s rank each team as they head into what looks to be a very interesting and uncertain WNBA season. This is a tough list because almost every team should be ranked in a tie for 4th place given all the talent and potential each roster has going into the season.

1. Washington Mystics

The Mystics are looking to make back to back trips to the WNBA Finals in 2019 after being swept last year by Seattle. With Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver, LaToya Sanders, Emma Meesseman, Natasha Cloud, and plenty of other young talent, I expect them to get there. Delle Donne has to stay healthy, and Meesseman has to contribute off the bench immediately. The team needs to rebound better and get more assists, and they have to continue to be the best free throw shooting team in the league. If they can do everything they were doing at the end of the last year, they will be a strong contender to make the Finals once again.

2. Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks got Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike on the same team. They traded Odyssey Sims for Alexis Jones. They got Tierra Ruffin-Pratt in free agency. They lost Essence Carson to Phoenix. They probably won’t get Liz Cambage. But this roster is still one of the most talented in the league. Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray, who they just re-signed, Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike, the newly drafted Kalani Brown, Alana Beard, and Jantel Lavender look to bounce back from a somewhat disappointing season in 2018 and get back to the WNBA Finals. They have a new head coach in long time NBA star Derek Fisher. They made have some ups and downs as they adjust to a new coach, but I believe with this roster, they have a great chance this year at another title run.

3. Connecticut Sun

Still young and full of talent with a great coaching staff, the Sun are also looking to bounce back from a frustrating 2018 season. Jonquel Jones has to return to form, and the team will need to continue to be the fastest offense in the league. If they can continue where they left off in 2017, they will be back in the playoff hunt, hopeful to get over their past playoff disappointment.

4. Seattle Storm

The Seattle Storm surprised everyone by jumping leaps and bounds forward in the play of their young stars Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart. They won the off-season by trading for Natasha Howard who turned into the Most Improved player of the year along side Stewart. Key players like Alysha Clark and rookie Jordin Canada played important roles starting and coming off the bench. And leading the Storm was the always amazing, ageless wonder Sue Bird. Her play during the regular season and heroics and leadership in playoffs were some of the most important factors in bringing Seattle it’s third WNBA title. Unfortunately Breanna Stewart got hurt overseas and will miss all of 2019. Without her, the Storm will really need to conjure up something special to repeat what they did last year.

5. Phoenix Mercury

No Taurasi? No problem. DeWanna Bonner, Yvonne Turner, Briann January, and rookie Sophie Cunningham can step up with Griner in the post to continue to be a force in the Western Conference. Taurasi will be back just in time to continue to push the Mercury into yet another playoff run. Maybe….

6. Atlanta Dream

Another team loaded with talent yet missing their best player, the Dream hope they can continue to improve and win games without Angel McCoughtry. With a roster of Elizabeth Williams, Brittney Sykes, Renee Montgomery, Tiffany Hayes, and Alex Bentley, the Dream should be able to continue to find ways to win with transition play and hard defense.

7. Chicago Sky

Like the rest of the league, the talent is there on the roster for the Sky. The question is whether or not it translates to wins in 2019. Cheyenne Parker is breaking out, as is Diamond DeShields. Recent addition Kahleah Copper, last year’s other rookie Gabby Williams, and veteran post Stefanie Dolson should all be ready to help their two backcourt leaders in always underrated Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley improve and get back into playoff contention. Alaina Coates could be another important young player to have a breakout season for Chicago, as could rookie Katie Lou Samuelson from Connecticut. Rookie Chloe Jackson could see minutes behind Vandersloot or Quigley, but only time will tell.

8. Las Vegas Aces

A’ja Wilson, Kayla McBride, Kelsey Plum, Moriah Jefferson, and new #1 draft pick Jackie Young. The Aces are another team with a really good looking young roster brimming with potential. But like the Sky, the Sun, and even the Dream, Las Vegas is a team that can really go either way this season. Veterans like Dearica Hamby, Tamera Young, and new trade addition Sugar Rodgers will look to provide leadership on and off the court for a team that missed the playoffs by just a few moments in the final game against the Wings last season.

9. Minnesota Lynx

Yet another team that will miss their star player with Maya Moore sitting out the season, the Lynx dynasty looks headed for a rebuild. Brunson may or may not be back, and Lindsey Whalen has retired. Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus are, as Kelsey Plum so succinctly put it “old”. But you can’t buy wisdom and experience, and youthful additions Lexie Brown from the Sun and Odyssey Sims from the Sparks are looking good in training camp. The Lynx Dynasty as we knew it may be close to over, but with this front office and coaching staff, you cannot count this team completely out.

10. Dallas Wings

New head coach Brian Agler has question marks staring at him in his first season in Dallas. The biggest one is will Liz Cambage ever play for the Wings again, and second when will Skylar Diggins-Smith be back after giving birth in the off-season? Beyond that, that still have the veteran strength of Glory Johnson and young stars like Allisha Gray and Azura Stevens to continue to make progress towards winning in the regular season and winning in the playoffs. Rookies Arike Ogunbowale and Megan Gustafson will also help to add depth to a team that needs help on both ends of the floor.

11. Indiana Fever

Ever since Tamika Catchings retired, the Fever have been in a continuing rebuild. With last year’s rookie standout Victoria Vivian’s out with an ACL injury, the Fever are going to need a boost of offense if they want to try to turn things around this season. Rookie Teaira McCowan from Mississippi State should be the answer for the size under the basket they have been desperately needing the past couple of years, while Kelsey Mitchell and Tiffany Mitchell will need to continue to develop and grow in the backcourt. The future is there for the Fever, but it is still in the future. Playoff hopes are dim at the start of this year.

12. New York Liberty

A new owner in Joseph Tsai certainly seems to brighten the future for the New York Liberty. After last season’s dismal performance however, any news seems like good news. The Liberty will continue to play home games at the unfit Westchester County Center , which drove down attendance and only made things worse for a team seemingly at the beginning of a real transition under new Coach Katie Smith. Last year’s rookie gem Kia Nurse will now team up with fellow guard Asia Durr, and Tina Charles will only hope that Durr can take some of the offensive load of of her back. No team in the league depends on a single player more than the Liberty do with Tina Charles. But it’s not just Durr she’ll be hoping to have contribute more; rookie Megan Huff and other young players Kiah Stokes, Bria Hartley, Amanda Zahui B, and Brittany Boyd will all need to step up their games if they want to start winning more games and get back to the top of the Eastern Conference.

The 2019 WNBA Off-Season

There are simply too many story lines, players, and teams to be excited about heading into the 2019 WNBA off-season. But let’s take a quick dive into some of the recent headlines and look ahead to January when teams can start to trade and sign new players.

1. Who can the Dallas Wings add in Free Agency?

With the signing of new head coach Brian Agler, the questions surrounding this talented Wings team begin to really mount. Will Liz Cambage return? She has stated it isn’t a priority, so it looks as though we will all be in another wait and see mode for the next weeks or months to find out if she will actually return to the Wings or not. But with or without Cambage, the Wings will need to add more star power to the lineup if they want to compete with the rest of the league. My thought is that they need to sign a high quality player like Tina Charles. If they can’t sign someone significant, they are going to have to draft smart at the #5 pick.

2. Can the Aces step forward and get into the playoffs?

The Las Vegas Aces missed the playoffs by a single loss to the Wings at the end of last season. They once again have the #1 pick in the draft and will need to add a real starting center or someone who can score on the wing. I still like this team to take a step forward and beat another team to the final playoff spot, likely Chicago.

3. Will Emma Meesseman come back to the Mystics?

Meesseman missed all of 2018 with Belgium international duty. She will likely miss a big part of the season for Euros in July. Will she come back mid-season to Washington to try to help them get back to the Finals? I would love to see her and Delle Donne on the floor together next season just to see exactly what they could do, especially late in the season and into the playoffs. But I am not sure how committed the Mystics will be to her, or vice-versa.

4. Can Minnesota re-tool and win again with their aging core?

The window for another WNBA title is likely still open as long and Fowles and Maya Moore can play at a high level. They both had down years last season, but if they can make some moves in free agency and really pick the right player at #6, I say anything is possible.

5. Will the Seattle Storm repeat in 2019?

With the best player in the WNBA last season in Breanna Stewart, the best trade in Most Improved Player Natasha Howard, and with the outstanding play of Jewell Lloyd, Sue Bird, Alysha Clark, and the rookie Jordin Canada, the Storm have the starting players to continue to win games in 2019. But so many other teams have plenty of amazing talent as well. Teams like the Lynx, Sparks, and Mercury could easily bounce back and retake the WNBA throne. Up and coming teams like Dallas, Connecticut, or the Mystics could also breakout, just like Seattle did last season to win it all. It will be a very tough task for the Storm to repeat as WNBA Champions in 2019, just ask the Lynx how tough it is to repeat…

Those are just a few of the storylines I wanted to briefly look at heading into free-agency in January. As free-agency heats up I will update with another look at some more exciting WNBA storylines.

WNBA 2018 Season T-Shirt Twitter Giveaway

I will be giving away one (1) WNBA Logo T-shirt from WNBAStore.com, and all you need to do is follow me on Twitter @wnbahoops and retweet the tweet announcing the contest, which will run from Friday evening, May 18, 2018 until it ends Monday morning May 21, 2018 at 11: am Eastern Daylight Time. I will then use a random retweet picker online to choose the winner. I will then get your details via direct message on Twitter on sizing and whether you would prefer a men’s or women’s Tshirt.

2017 WNBA Playoffs Predictions Part 1

The 2017 WNBA Playoffs start tomorrow, and fans should be gearing up for a very exciting postseason.

The first game tomorrow at 8 pm eastern on ESPN is the #7 seed Dallas Wings facing off against the #6 seed Washington Mystics. My prediction? Dallas takes this game because the Mystics are not a cohesive unit just yet. They have had too many injuries and Dallas has been bringing it all together late in the season.

The second game tomorrow night is at 10 pm eastern also on ESPN 2 is the match up between the #8 seed Seattle Storm and the #5 seed Phoenix Mercury. My prediction? Phoenix, although this team is getting older, they still have enough in Taurasi and Griner, a possible MVP this year, to win against the Storm. Seattle have really struggled this year to find a lot of production from anyone outside Lloyd, Stewart, and Bird.

I will update after this first round with more predictions with rounds 2 and 3.

The Season So Far At the All-Star Break

This year’s All Star Game looks like it is going to be a lot of fun, with 9 first time All-Stars making the rosters, ranging from 8 year vet Allie Quigley and 5 year vet Sugar Rodgers, to some of the newest, youngest stars in the league like Seattle’s Breanna Stewart and this season’s breakout player: Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones. This year’s All-Star game is going to be tough to call but I am going with the West to win it. They have the better starting five, especially with Delle Donne out. Either way the game goes though, it’s going to be great seeing all the young players enjoying their first All-Star Game.

And now that the All-Star Game is finally here, let’s look at how the season is going so far for teams and players around the league.

First let’s talk about the Minnesota Lynx. They are an incredible team. They have a net combined offense and defense rating of 13.9. The second best team in terms of net rating, the Sparks have a rating of 7.9. They are leading the league in points per game and assists per game, and are 4th in rebounds per game. They could very easily be one their way to a 4th WNBA title. Sylvia Fowles is going to win the MVP. NOT MAYA MOORE, but SYLVIA FOWLES. Let that sink in. In short, the Lynx have 3 All-Stars and the most talented team in the league. They also have arguably the best coach in the league in Cheryl Reeve. She knows how to get the best out of everyone on the team every game.

What else is big news this season? The Connecticut Sun. They are really showing their collective potential this year and are really impressive with their pace and overall playing this year. Jonquel Jones is most improved and Curt Miller has this team going back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

But what about the Washington Mystics? Well, they are also vastly improved and have one of the best starting fives in the league. However, Tayler Hill is now out for the season with an ACL injury to her right knee, and Delle Donne is out for a bit with an ankle sprain. They also really need to step it up in the assists dept, but that isn’t surprising given the makeup of the roster.

Speaking of injuries, Brittney Griner is out for a month with a left knee bone bruise that she suffered on July 14th vs. the Lynx. The injury effectively wipes out her chances for surpassing Fowles for the MVP award and hurts the Mercury’s chances come playoff time, even if she’s back in time to play.

Teams around the league that are seeing improvement as of late are the Dallas Wings and the Chicago Sky. Although the Sky still sit second to last in front of the Stars, they not far out of playoff contention. The Liberty and Mercury look like two pretty good teams, but teams that simply won’t have enough come playoff time.

The Seattle Storm continue to grow and improve, pretty much on schedule, but when Sue Bird leaves, they are going to need more than Stewart and Lloyd to lead the team back to WNBA titles.

The Sparks, once again, look like the team most likely to challenge the Lynx in the Finals, and could, with luck like last year, repeat as WNBA champs.

Overall, the league is looking pretty good. There are players of talent and potential on every roster, even if it doesn’t pan out in the standings
. The league needs to promote better, market better, and do a better job on Twitter, but the #WNBALive games are certainly a step in the right direction. Here’s to hoping for a second half of the season just as good as the first.

What makes a WNBA “All-Star”?

The voting has started this week for this year’s WNBA All-Star Game in Seattle on July 22. It’s always an exciting time of the year, as the season is well under way, and teams’ fortunes are starting to take shape. The All-Star Game always has it’s share of players who, according to public opinion, seemingly should or should not have made the ASG roster.  And as I made my first 10 picks yesterday, I had to ask myself, “What makes an ‘All-Star”? Who really deserves to be picked to play in an All-Star Game? Is it really simply the “stars” of the game that I should be voting for?

One of the best examples of the uncertainty of who does or does not belong on an ASG roster this year is Maya Moore. Do I have to vote for her simply because of name recognition? Or do I leave her out because she is not shooting nearly as well as seasons past? She is in the top ten in steals, assists, and 3 point percentage, but beyond that, her teammate Sylvia Fowles is having a far better season, and the best season of her career. She is also doing it by shooting a clear 30 percent better than Moore is.

But does Maya Moore get left out because a player like Kayla McBride or Tiffany Hayes is averaging 3 or 4 points more per game? Does stardom come down to a career of excellence or should it come down to season by season performance?  I think from a traditional sense, Maya Moore should be an All-Star this year, because she is one of the biggest, if not the biggest star the league has.  And in the end, my opinion doesn’t really matter, because Maya Moore will no doubt be in the All-Star Game this year simply because of that fact. But as I start looking at this season’s stats, as I look over this year’s league leaders, I still have to really think about whether I should pick someone who’s having a better year individually than Moore, even when her team is clearly far and away the best team in the league. But at the end of the day, that’s the fun and excitement of All-Star voting. You get to have your say about who you think deserves to play in All-Star Game, whether the stats back you up or not.