The Phoenix Mercury take on the Connecticut Sun in a single elimination round 2 of the 2018 WNBA Playoffs! Check out my video preview of tonight’s matchup!
Here is a quick rundown of what is happening around the league right now at the start of Week 3.
#1. The Connecticut Sun are #1. They are #1 in points, rebounds, assists, field goal %, 3 point field goal %, and they are doing it as a team. No one player is dominating this team. Everyone is simply playing together very, very well.
#2. The Minnesota Lynx are struggling early. They are sitting at 2-5 and have a net rating of -3.2. They are 10th in points per game. They simply look out of it at the moment. But they have the personnel and the talent to turn things around. With that said, this could be an early season sign of the end of one of the best dynasties in league history.
#3. Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd are the best duo in the league, and two of its best players right now. In the immortal words of MF Doom, “Check them stats, then you’ll know where I’m at,” Stewart and Loyd are 2nd and 3rd in points per game behind Tina Charles. They are showing the league exactly what everyone thought they could become when they were drafted #1 and won Rookie of the Year in back to back years.
#4. Liz Cambage is back and she is as good, if not better than advertised. Cambage could be the Wings new savior. If she can continue to average 20 points and 11 rebounds like she is doing, along with leading the league in blocks, she can best players like Tina Charles, Jonquel Jones, Brittney Griner, Nneka Ogwumike, and Sylvia Fowles in the post and compete for MVP while she does so.
#5. This Rookie class is looking really good. Las Vegas’ #1 pick A’ja Wilson is playing well despite her team’s record, averaging 21 points per game which is tops among all rookies, and is pulling down 7.7 rebounds per game. New York’s Kia Nurse is the second best player for the Liberty at the moment, averaging 18 points per game after scoring a huge 34 points her last game. Indiana’s Kelsey Mitchell is averaging 18 points a game and is shooting 43.5% from the 3-point line. Chicago’s Diamond DeShields is also playing well, and is averaging 15 points and 5 rebounds per game. Indiana’s Victoria Vivians and Seattle’s Jordin Canada aren’t putting up as impressive as the players above, but they are still getting in pretty good minutes and will look to improve as the season progresses.
All things considered, the start of the 2018 has been a very good one. Excitement around and about the league certainly feels to be on rise, and there are a myriad of story lines that make each team interesting in different ways. Let’s hope for great a June with some fun basketball!
Photo by MontyLov on Unsplash
A team’s hashtag on twitter should not be difficult to figure out. A fan of the team should be able to see it used often enough by the official Twitter account of a team that it is obvious that that is the hashtag the team has chosen to use throughout the season. You need something fans can remember, but you also need something that makes sense, and isn’t going to be used by a bunch of random people that have nothing to do with your team. With that said, some teams did well with choosing their hashtags for this season, while others didn’t do so hot. Let’s break it down team by team.
Chicgao Sky is #Skytown
This is a good hashtag, that is unique and localised, and is fairly recognisable as it also contains the team’s name. Thumbs up to Chicago!
Indiana Fever is #GoFever
This is simple, to the point, unique to the team, and easy to remember. This should just be the default Indiana Fever hashtag every year. Thumbs up to Indiana!
Las Vegas Aces are #ALLIN
This is an example of where a team tried to use a hashtag that fits the general idea of the team, but is too broad and used too often elsewhere on Twitter to stand out as unique to the team. I have to hope they come up with something more unique next season. Sorry Aces!
Connecticut Sun is #OrangeInvasion (They also are using #GetSun)
The Sun have done the best job of really promoting this hashtag often and in fun ways, going around town and getting the mascot involved with fans around town, and the fans themselves have caught on and are using the hashtag. The Sun win the award for best job promoting a fun, unique hashtag the fans have embraced!
New York Liberty is #ShowUp
At first glance, this is not a great hashtag, as a few other random people are using it, as would be expected. But the Liberty have got a fun feature that when you use #ShowUp, show and up capitalised, a little Statue of Liberty emoticon gets added to the end. That is a smart move and the Liberty get a thumbs up for using the hashtag often so far this season.
Washington Mystics is #SticsSZN
Washington has embraced the awful yet timely SZN Twitter trend, and they are using it fairly often. It is unique to the team, although a bit confusing if you aren’t already familiar with the team name. All in all a pretty good team hashtag for this season.
Phoenix Mercury is #BeHeard
Another example of a hashtag that at first seems to generic to work, but the Mercury have promoted it enough that the word is out and the team account and fans are using it regularly. It is a good, strong message, so the Mercury get a thumbs up!
Seattle Storm is #WeRepSeattle
Unique, local, and something the team and its fans can rally behind. This is an example of a great hashtag! Thumbs up to the Storm!
Los Angeles Sparks is #GoSparks and #All4LA
Like the Fever’s hashtag the #GoSparks is simple and unique, to the point, while the #All4LA is unique, but unless they promote it really well, won’t quite catch on. I think the Sparks did well by seemingly going with more than one hashtag at the beginning of the season.
Dallas Wings is basically #WatchMeWork or #LetsFly
One fan claimed the Wings hashtag for the season is #LetsFly, and Liz Cambage is the only real tweet I can find with the #LetsFly hashtag being used. Dallas’ latest tweets seem to have no real hashtags used, but occasional they do use the WNBA’s hashtag of “WatchMeWork which has evolved into #WatchUsWork. Either way, Dallas should have done better in picking a unique hashtag coming into this exciting new season for the team.
Atlanta Dream is #OneDream
Atlanta has done a good job promoting this hashtag, but so have a lot of other random sports teams on Twitter. If they keep promoting and using it, they will do okay, but something a bit more specific to the team would have been better.
Minnesota Lynx is #GetUp
The Lynx win the award for the most generic hashtag possible. And despite doing a press release telling everyone that this is in fact the hashtag for the Lynx this season, it has not caught on, and is being used by anyone and everyone across twitter, and they are not promoting the Minnesota Lynx when they use it, unfortunately. Despite promoting it well so far, I have to give this hashtag a thumbs down for being too generic and overused.
Who are the best players in the WNBA at the moment? Who, based on last season’s statistics and the outlook towards the beginning of the 2018 season, are the top individuals in the league? I looked at the top ten players in each of the following categories: points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, blocks per game, 3 point %, true shooting %, offensive rating, defensive rating, and PERs. I made a spreadsheet of all the categories, then determined how many total categories each player had been in the top ten last year. I didn’t give a weighted bias towards any category, but I did do side by side comparison when two players were in multiple different categories, and tried to judge fairly based on overall importance. There were certainly surprises, while other players obviously did well in many categories. With that said, there are a couple of players who did not play at all last season, but merit mention and consideration: Angel McCoughtry and Chiney Ogwumike. Do they make the list? Scroll down to find out!
20. Alyssa Thomas – 6’2′ Forward, Connecticut Sun
Alyssa Thomas was an important part of the young and talented Connecticut Sun that had a breakout season last year. She was in the top ten in assists and steals per game, but was also 9th and 10th respectively in defensive and total rebounds. She averaged a career high 14.8 ppg last season, but one thing she’ll have to work on is her turnovers. She more than anyone else in the league last year at 98.
19. Allie Quigley – 5’10” Guard, Chicago Sky
Allie Quigley is a sharpshooter. She was in the top ten of both true shooting percentage and 3 point shooting percentage, and she also won last year’s 3 point contest at her first All-Star Game appearance. A two-time 6th woman of the year, she continues to help lead a Chicago team that is looking to get back to the playoffs in 2018.
18. Elizabeth Williams – 6’3″ Center/Forward, Atlanta Dream
Elizabeth Williams was one of the Dream’s 3 All-Stars last season, and she was in the top ten in both rebounds per game and blocks per game. If she can continue to rebound and block well, she may not need to improve all that much in the scoring department because she will have plenty of other scoring options around her on a Dream team loaded with A LOT of talent this upcoming season.
17. Sue Bird – 5’9″ Guard, Seattle Storm
Bird is a legend of the game, but even at the age of 37 she continues to play very well. She was in the top ten in both assists per game and 3 point percentage last season, and any team in the league would take her for skills at running the point, finding open players, shooting well, and overall leadership.
16. Diana Taurasi – 5′ 11′ Guard, Phoenix Mercury
Taurasi, like Bird, is one of the best to ever play in the WNBA. Last season was not her best, but she was still in the top ten in points per game, and is capable of completely taking over any single game at any time. Has she lost a step with age, like Sue Bird? Yes, but not enough that Phoenix would ever think of trading her. The Mercury need her experience and her leadership every game, especially come playoff time.
15. Jewell Loyd – 5’10” Guard, Seattle Storm
Loyd was Rookie of the Year in 2014-15, and she continues to grow as one of the best guards and overall players in the league. She was in the top ten in points per game last year, and she had a PER of 19.1. She was also in the top ten in total points and total 3 point field goals. She has improved year by year in her early career, and looks to only get better this season as well.
14. Jasmine Thomas – 5’9″ Guard, Connecticut Sun
Another integral piece of the Connecticut Sun’s great season last year, she was top ten in assists per game, steals per game, and 3 point percentage. She was also 3rd in minutes played and 6th in minutes per game, and she averaged a good 14.1 points per game. Another young talented guard, she plays well on both ends of the floor for a young, uptempo team that is really looking forward to being one of the top teams in the league once again this season.
13. Stefanie Dolson – 6’5″ Center, Chicago Sky
Dolson was part of the blockbuster trade that sent Elena Delle Donne to the Mystics and moved Dolson and Kahleah Copper (and the 2nd pick which was Alaina Coates) to Chicago. Dolson is one of the best young centers in the game, and her top tens in blocks per game, true shooting percentage, and 3 point shooting percentage means she can play inside and out. She is quite a versatile big, and if she can continue to increase her scoring, as well as improve her rebounding, she will really be a force to be reckoned with not only this season, but in years to come.
12. Chelsea Gray – 5’11” Guard, Los Angeles Sparks
Runner-up for last year’s Most Improved Player award, Chelsea Gray is thriving in Los Angeles since her trade from Connecticut in 2016. She was top ten last year in assists, 3 point percentage (she ranked first at 48%), true shooting percentage, and offensive rating. She has come into her own as the new starting point guard on arguably the most individually talented team in the league. After Kristi Toliver left for Washington, Gray stepped into the role as the Sparks floor general, and has really improved, especially in her scoring, where she went from 5.9 off the bench in 2016, to 14.8 as a starter last season. She passes well, she shoots the 3 as well as anyone, and she has great court vision.
11. Angel McCoughtry – 6’1″ Forward, Atlanta Dream
A former Rookie of the Year in 2009, McCoughtry will look to continue to lead the Atlanta Dream as a two way player who can score as well as very few others in the league can. She is a perennial MVP candidate, and she was top ten in points per game and steals per game in her most recent season in 2016. She sat out 2017 to rest, but the team made big strides last year and during this offseason. She will certainly come back to the Dream this season ready to get back to the Finals for a 4th time, and ready to battle anyone else in the league.
10. Tina Charles – 6’4″ Center, New York Liberty
Tina Charles at age 29 has been one of the most consistent players during her 8 years in the WNBA. Rookie of the Year in 2010 and MVP in 2012, she continued her excellent play in 2017 as she was 3rd in points per game, and 4th in rebounds per game. Her blocking ability has steadily declined since she first arrived in the league. But her assists have improved over the years, which will need to continue as her usage percentage was 1st in the league. She scored more total points than anyone else last year, but in reality that means that the offence relies too heavily on her and her alone. She will need another star or two on her team before she breaks through to the Finals or a championship.
9. Skylar Diggins-Smith – 5’9″ Guard, Dallas Wings
Skylar Diggins-Smith is a player that continues to lead as a classic point guard, with top tens in points per game, assists per game, offensive rating, and PER last season. She heads a Dallas Wings full of young and veteran talent, and as a leader on this team, will look to get back to the playoffs as she got to play in her first playoff game just last year. She has overcome a tough rookie season to become Most Improved Player in 2014, and an ACL tear in 2015 that has seen her bounce back and grow into possibly the best point guard in the league.
8. Candace Parker – 6’4″ Forward, Los Angeles Sparks
Rookie of the Year and 2 time MVP Candace Parker continued to prove why she is one of the best players in the league. She was 11th in points per game, and in the top ten in assists per game, steals per game, blocks per game, defensive rating, and PER. Like Tina Charles, she has been consistently excellent throughout her career. She has more talent around than probably anyone else in the league right now, but she works hard every game to be her best and make her teammates better. Much like the rest of the players on the list, any team would absolutely love to have Parker starting for them.
7. Breanna Stewart – 6’4 Forward, Seattle Storm
Breanna Stewart is easily one of the most exciting and exceptional players the league has had in some time. She unanimously won Rookie of the Year and was Defensive Player of the Year runner up in 2016. She continued to meet and exceed expectations in her sophomore season in 2017. She made the All-Star team and was 2nd in the league in points per game, and 6th in both blocks and rebounds per game. She has a real opportunity to continue her young partnership with Jewell Loyd, much like Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson did in Seattle before her, to create a title winning franchise in the Emerald City.
6. Jonquel Jones – 6’6″, Forward/Center, Connecticut Sun
Jonquel Jones did some incredible things last season as a second year player. She won the Most Improved Player award, set three single season rebounding records, and was top ten in rebounds per game, blocks per game, 3 point shooting, true shooting percentage, offensive rating, defensive rating, and last but not least (or maybe least depending on your opinion of it) PER. Like Stewart, she is one of the best young talents in the league who has shown that she can really stack up against anyone else in the WNBA. She can shoot the 3, score in the paint, is probably already the best rebounder in the league. She has a ton of talent around her, has a great head coach in Curt Miller, and I hope she continues to play even better in 2018. I honestly debated whether or not to put her first on this list. Maybe next year!
5. Brittney Griner – 6’8″ Center, Phoenix Mercury
Two time Defensive Player of the Year Brittney Griner is another really amazing talent. She was in the top ten in 6 categories last year: points per game, rebounds per game, blocks per game, true shooting percentage, offensive rating, and PER. She battle the injury bug last season, but I expect her to come back even hungrier than ever. She is, like the forwards and centers before and after her on this list, simply outstanding offensively and defensively in the paint. She commands respect, and she earns respect with every block and every post move that leads to an easy two points. Watch out for BG in 2018.
4. Elena Delle Donne – 6’5″ Guard/Forward, Washington Mystics
Rookie of the Year in 2013 and MVP in 2015, Elena Delle Donne is the most versatile player in the league. At 6’5″, she can play any position on the court, and she can score from anywhere on the court as well. She was top ten last year in points per game, blocks per game, 3 point percentage, true shooting percentage, offensive rating, and PER. Her move to the Mystics got her closer to her home state of Delaware in a system that seems to fit well so far. And though she has battled Lyme disease, and a spell of other injuries, when she is healthy she is the biggest threat offensively in the league. She was also tied for 12th in rebounds with Alyssa Thomas, which goes to show that along with her other top ten finishes, she really is the complete package. Look to see her push this Mystics team harder and further in 2018.
3. Maya Moore – 6’0″ Forward, Minnesota Lynx
Maya Moore has been the best player in the league most of her career. Rookie of the Year in 2011 and MVP in 2014, she had bit of and down year, but in reality, that means she was still better than most everyone else in the league. And that’s why I also expect her to bounce back this season and as good or better than ever before. Maya Moore does it all on both ends of the floor, and like the rest of the top ten, knows how to lead a team, how to make her teammates better, and how to take over a game in a flash. Winning her 4th title with the Lynx last season, she was top ten in points per game, steals per game, 3 point percentage, offensive and defensive ratings, and PER. Crazy to think there was actually a better player on her own team last season…
2. Nneka Ogwumike, 6’2″ Forward, Los Angeles Sparks
What can I say about Nneka Ogwumike that hasn’t already been said? She is another player that truly excels on both ends of the floor, every single game. She was top ten in points per game, rebounds per game, steals per game, true shooting percentage, offensive and defensive rating, and PER. She had one of the most efficient shooting seasons in basketball history in her MVP and title winning season in 2016. At 27 she is in her prime, and she is playing along side some of the best talent in the league. She has been to back to back Finals the past two seasons, and no one will be surprised if they are back for a third time in 2018. Ogwumike has to be as motivated as ever to win more championships, and I believe she will continue to be one of the best, if not the best player in the league this next season.
1. Sylvia Fowles, 6’6″ Center, Minnesota Lynx
I really debated with myself for a long time on who to put first on this list. Nneka and Sylvia are both just about equals in mind. They have both absolutely dominated the league the past couple of seasons. But I put Sylvia first because I believe that as hungry and Nneka is for her 2nd championship, Sylvia Fowles is just as hungry for her 3rd. She was astounding last season, in the regular season and in the playoffs, winning MVP and Finals MVP. Not unlike many of the great centers the WNBA, Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie, and Yolanda Griffith, Fowles uses her size and ability inside to destroy opponents on both ends of the floor. She was top ten in points per game, rebounds per game, blocks per game, true shooting, offensive and defensive ratings, and had the best PER out of anyone else in the league. As far as her top tens go, she was 1st in blocks per, rebounds per, defensive rating, and of course PER. She was also 1st in offensive win shares, defensive win shares, overall win shares, win shares per 48 minutes, offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, effective field goal percentage, field goal percentage, 2 point field goal percentage, and total offensive rebounds. That is a lot of firsts in a lot of categories, and Sylvia Fowles proved that any way you look at it, she was the best player in the league, both offensively and defensively in 2017. And I am betting, even at age 32, she is ready to prove that once again in 2018.
So, Angel McCoughtry made the list, but Chiney, along with a host of other players, did not. Am I crazy? Was this list great, good, bad, or just plain wrong? Does Layshia Clarendon, Kayla McBride, Lindsay Whalen or anyone belong on this list instead? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know, and thanks for reading!
With a little over a month of basketball already played including preseason, the league is starting to take shape, and there are certainly a few surprises that I doubt many folks saw coming. And of course a few not so surprising things to take into consideration as well. I want to look simply at teams as whole, rather than individual players.
First, most surprising of all is the Los Angeles Sparks. They are still tied with the other best team in the league, Minnesota at 8-0. The Sparks are team that looks like they are loving playing together, and have some of the best all around talent in the league. Despite their youth, I won’t be surprised if they keep up with the Lynx and contend for a Finals appearance, or at least battle in the Conference Finals. Another interesting surprise is that no other team in the West has a winning record. Maybe that is because of how well the Lynx and Sparks are playing, but we should also consider how inter-conference play, new this season, is affecting both conferences. Sure, the West has only two winning teams, but in the East only the Dream have a winning record, while the Sky, Liberty and Fever sit at 4-4. I would honestly venture to say that inter-conference play is separating the contenders from the non-contenders sooner than expected, but it is also still early in the season. Nevertheless, the fact that Minnesota is 8-0 does not surprise at all, while that fact that the Sun are 1-7 does. The Sun, with the talent they already had, as well as the talent they drafted, look like a team with a lot more growing and learning to do.
So, Connecticut is disappointing, but the Mercury and the Mystics are as well. If any of these three teams can really turn it around, I’d say it’s Phoenix, but it simply may not be their year. Their biggest rival Minnesota looks so good, and so does Los Angeles, that it appears to be another two-horse race in the West like last season, only it’s the Sparks instead of the Mercury. The rest of the West, although maybe unable to keep up with Lynx or Sparks, still look to provide some very entertaining moments this year. The Storm look promising with a VERY dynamic duo in Lloyd and Stewart, the Wings look like they could possibly do some damage if they can get Skylar Diggins healthy this season, but once again San Antonio looks destined for another single digit number of wins season.
In the East, the Dream are the pleasant surprise that many in Atlanta have been hoping for. Like Los Angeles, Atlanta looks like a team with chemistry and a real desire to win now rather than hope for a success later. Angel McCoughtry continues to lead her team and has a good group of players around her that are contributing well and having fun doing so. The other team of note is the Liberty. They have shown flashes of last year’s regular season toughness and ability, but are going to have to find answers fast if they want to stick around come playoff time. The same could be said for Chicago and Indiana, but it will be interesting if anyone will really compete with the Lynx the rest of the season. They are so talented, so deep, and have so much experience these past several seasons, I think only major injuries are going to stop them from winning another title this year. As for the rest of the East, the Mystics and Sun look like almost wrecked ships even well before the All-Star Game. But can Atlanta, New York, or the Sparks get close to an upset like Indiana last year, or even do the Fever one better and topple the league’s best team? My advice is to simply stay tuned and above all else, enjoy some great basketball.
After last night’s draft, the question is, “Who won and who lost?” Well, I can say without question the long term winners of the draft are the Connecticut Sun. Not only did they already have a chance at winning the draft with picks 3 and 4, with which they took UConn Forward Morgan Tuck and Minnesota Guard Rachel Banham, they worked a trade with the Sparks and got George Washington Forward Jonquel Jones as the 6th pick. They also got Oregon State Guard Jamie Weisner and St. John’s guard Aliyyah Handford in 2nd and 3rd rounds. Sure, Seattle comes away with Breanna Stewart, consensus #1 and a possible league MVP in the coming years, but you have to admit that with with the picks the Sun got in this draft, as well as years past, they are officially stacked with talent, not to mention a promising new head coach in Curt Miller.
So who were the losers in this year’s draft? Honestly, I don’t think any single team lost out this year. The Sparks were the team I thought missed out on a great player in Jones, but they traded for Chelsea Gray, one of the best young point guards in the league. All in all I think every team league wide added depth and talent, and every young team looking to make the playoffs continued to bolster their rosters. I have to say that is what may be the most intriguing thing about the league this year: the parity of young talent that every single team seems to have right now. This draft was a deep one and in my mind only helped to continue to grow the talent around the WNBA. Every fan base in the the league should be excited about the players they now have thanks to not only this year’s draft but the past few drafts as well.
With the draft just a couple of weeks away, I wanted to highlight a player from each team that everyone should be watching, whether it be sophomores, veterans, players contributing off the bench, whoever should be interesting to keep an eye on this season. Since we don’t quite yet know who drafts who yet, rookies will be excluded, and I will probably do a Rookie Watch post after the draft. Nevertheless, the recurring theme here is youth and talent, and if that youth and talent can translate to not only continued growth and success as individual players, but for their respective teams as well. We’ll start in the Eastern Conference.
Schoni Schimmel – Guard, Atlanta Dream
Schimmel is a skilled player on a team with a real mix of young and veteran players. Along side Angel McCoughtry, Schimmel is a standout young guard on a team desperate for less turnovers and better defense. If Schimmel can harness the talent she has into more consistent play on both ends of the floor, including the welcome addition of her 3 point shooting, Atlanta has a chance to get back to being a real contender come playoff time. It goes without saying that you should keep an eye on Schimmel for her flashy behind the back and no look passing that can happen at any moment in the game.
Erika de Souza – Center, Chicago Sky
Erika de Souza resigned with the Sky in February after coming from Atlanta mid season last year in a 3 way trade that sent Sylvia Fowles to Minnesota. With the loss of Fowles, the Sky struggled with interior defense all season long, and de Souza will have to continue to lead the defense for the Sky this year as well. She has to make her presence felt on the defensive boards as much or more than she has on the offensive end, where she placed 3rd on offensive rebounds but out of the top 10 at 16th in defensive rebounds in 2015. She has to be one of several veteran leaders that offers as much on defense as the whole team does on offense. Without that, the Sky will continue to fall short come playoff time. Watch her and see how her presence influences Chicago’s mindset this year.
Chelsea Gray – Guard, Connecticut Sun
Chelsea Gray is one of the best young point guards in the WNBA, and had a great rookie season in 2015. She was 5th assist percentage, shot well at times from the 3 point line, and can only look to improve in 2016 in every facet of her game. She was a real asset off the bench for the Sun, and she will continue to provide valuable minutes for a team that looked very good at the start of last season, but faltered as it went on. I expect the Sun to bounce back this season and they are my sleeper pick to make the playoffs in the East. Gray should be an important contributor to that kind of success of the Sun in 2016.
Tamika Catchings – Forward, Indiana Fever
I don’t need to say anything more about Catchings than has already be said. She is one of the best players to ever play in the WNBA, and the reason I picked her as the player to watch on the Fever for her final season is for the influence on the game and on her teammates. She continues to push for excellence from herself and her team, so much so that the Fever made a surprise run to the WNBA Finals last year. I expect Catchings to continue to lead and put her team first this season. She wants to win another title, and with her leadership and skills, anything could happen. Watch Catchings and see just what happens. Whether the Fever make it back to the Finals again or not, it has been an incredible career for Tamika Catchings, and I hope it will be another great season, even though it is her last.
Kiah Stokes – Center, New York Liberty
Kiah Stokes is a central piece of the Liberty’s future. She finished second in rookie of the year voting last year, and is a defensive machine. She is a rebounding and blocking monster, and has plenty of talent around her to continue to succeed in New York in the years ahead. She was a bit of a surprise coming out of UConn because not many expected her to succeed at the WNBA, but she quickly proved her doubters wrong as a rookie for a surprisingly strong Liberty last year. Sometimes players get overlooked, or people think they are drafted too high. In the case of Stokes, she proved that she probably should have been taken a lot sooner than 11th in the draft. Watch and see if she continues to evolve, strengthen her game and her team, and prove that she belongs in the WNBA.
Emma Meesseman – Center, Washington Mystics
Meesseman is another breakout center for a team that can really go either way this season. The Mystics, like many teams in the league, have plenty of talented young players that have an opportunity to win not only now, but in the future. Meesseman had a standout season in 2015, her third season after being picked 19th in the draft in 2013. Along with Stefanie Dolson, Meesseman has created a formidable frontcourt for Washington. She had the 2nd best field goal percentage and effective field goal percentange in the league last season, as well as posted top ten ratings in total blocks, rebounds, blocks per game,
Skylar Diggins – Guard, Dallas Wings
Diggins’ ACL injury in the middle of last season absolutely crushed the Tulsa Shock. Not only did the season ending injury completely change the team for the rest of the season, but it must have been a major blow the for Tulsa Shock fanbase, especially coming only months before finding out they would be losing the team when it moved to Dallas to become the Wings. Tulsa was, in my opinion the best or second best team in that first part of the season last year. They looked like the team that was finally going to breakthrough again and make a deep run in the playoffs. But with both Odyssey Sims and Diggins out for much of the season, the team simply fell apart. They still took the 3rd seed in the playoffs, but got booted out in the first round by Phoenix. With a new home in Dallas and a lot of talent around her, I expect Diggins and the rest of the Wings to be very competitive this year. It will be exciting to see what she can do in bouncing back from her ACL injury last year, continuing to lead and make plays, and continuing to develop into one the league’s best players.
Nneka Ogwumike – Forward, Los Angeles Sparks
Can Ogwumike continue to grow? Can she improve her scoring to say, 20 points a game? Can she get more blocks per game? More importantly, will she continue to learn to lead a young and talented Sparks team back to not just making the playoffs, but winning a series? Even if they don’t win a series, Ogwumike can still continue to develop into one of best young talents in the league this season.
Anna Cruz – Guard, Minnesota Lynx
Anna Cruz is a young international player on arguably the most talented team in the league. Injuries to Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus, as well as backup Monica Wright last season, meant a lot more minutes than she expected coming over in a trade from the Liberty. The intriguing thing about 2016 for Cruz is the question of whether or not she will be as effective if she gets to start less this year and has to come off the bench instead. It will be very interesting to see how she adjusts, and if she can continue to play well in a backup role.
Leilani Mitchell – Guard, Phoenix Mercury
Mitchell is another guard on a very talented Western Conference team. Her offense late last season really pushed the Mercury, helping to keep them a very dangerous team even without Diana Taurasi; especially from behind the 3 point line. If she can continue to provide good 3 point shooting and a scoring spark off the bench, she will be a very important aspect to keeping the Mercury in games, especially late in games when starters are tired and need rest. It will be interesting if she can also can continue to pass well and create opportunities for other players around her.
Kayla McBride, Guard, San Antonio Stars
KMac, like Mitchell, is another guard in a deep Western Conference, but her role is far different than Mitchell or Cruz. McBride is the leader of a young but talented Stars team who struggled mightily last year, in large part due to their inexperience compared to the rest of Conference. Let’s face it, the Stars have talent, but much of that talent is raw and still yet to be fully developed. McBride, along with her back court partner of Danielle Robinson, has to continue to prove she can lead this team in every game of the season. This season she has to continue to score and improve her shooting. If she can do that, the rest of the team will continue to see improvement as well.
Ramu Tokashiki, Forward, Seattle Storm
Tokashiki had a breakout season last year as a rookie forward from Japan for the rebuilding Storm. She quickly became a fan favorite, and her combination of speed and athleticism will certainly be an attribute that the Storm will hope to utilize in the upcoming season. When the Storm draft Breanna Stewart next month however, it will be interesting to see how the starting lineup shifts for Seattle. Tokashiki started 16 of the 30 games she played in last season. With the resigning of Sue Bird, Tokashiki, as well as Crystal Langhorne, the starting lineup according to Jeffrey Brown of SB Nation’s Storm Chasers blog, will probably be Bird at the point, Lloyd at shooting guard, Tokashiki at small forward, Stewart at power, and Langhorne at center. So even with Stewart on the team, I would guess Tokashiki will be a definite part of the starting lineup. Look for Tokashiki to continue to improve on both defense and offense as she continues to acclimate to the higher level of play in the WNBA than she was used to back in Japan.