The W.N.B.A. season begins Saturday with all the pieces a basketball fan may need, from a wave of intriguing rookies to a slate of famous person veterans able to win one other championship.
Under, our reporters inform you what to anticipate this season within the W.N.B.A.’s Western Convention. (And click here for our preview of the race in the East.)
By Cassandra Negley
In a rarity for this bubble season, the Seattle Storm can deal with who they’ve again fairly than be involved about who isn’t round. And that has followers dreaming of the confetti that billowed down the final time this complete group was collectively.
“It looks like we went proper from 2018 to 2020,” ahead Breanna Stewart mentioned throughout a Zoom convention name with reporters on the Storm’s media day. Two years in the past, Stewart had one of the embellished 12 months in basketball historical past, highlighted by the trifecta of the league Most Helpful Participant Award, a W.N.B.A. championship and finals M.V.P. in 35 days.
She’ll make her return this season after tearing her proper Achilles’ tendon in a EuroLeague sport in April 2019 and might be joined by the 11-time All-Star level guard Sue Chook, who additionally missed final season due to a knee damage.
Their absences made 2019 really feel like a misplaced yr following the franchise’s third championship, in 2018, but the workforce nonetheless superior to the second spherical of the playoffs.
Shifting ahead with out Stewart and Chook compelled Jewell Loyd, Alysha Clark and Natasha Howard, named the 2019 defensive participant of the yr, to hold the load. Level guard Jordin Canada and heart Mercedes Russell additionally obtained hefty beginning minutes of their second seasons.
All of them are with the Storm in Bradenton, Fla. It’s the 2018 roster redux.
“We actually have a beginning 5 on the bench,” Chook mentioned final week on a Zoom name with reporters. “Gamers who’ve confirmed themselves in these roles.”
That depth might be much more essential in a truncated, 22-game common season with video games being performed each two to 3 days. However the Storm are in one of many higher positions to win the Western Convention. Their confetti desires are warranted.
Las Vegas Aces
By Gina Mizell
Las Vegas seemed like a star-studded title contender in February, when it added the five-time All-Star Angel McCoughtry to a bunch that reached the playoff semifinals in 2019.
But the Aces had been already short-handed once they arrived in Florida for coaching camp. The All-Star heart Liz Cambage, final summer season’s splashy roster addition, has opted out of the 2020 season, whereas the previous No. 1 draft decide Kelsey Plum is sidelined with a torn left Achilles’ tendon.
That makes A’ja Wilson the Aces’ unquestioned anchor. Her power and talent to attain and rebound down low, assault on the drive and facilitate have already made her an All-Star in her first two W.N.B.A. seasons. She may elevate herself to an M.V.P. candidate in 2020.
Wilson will get assist from Kayla McBride, a three-time All-Star who might want to stay a long-range taking pictures menace with Plum out. Ahead Dearica Hamby, who despatched Las Vegas to the playoff semifinals on a shocking last-second steal and hoisted shot in opposition to Chicago, will get the prospect to construct on a 2019 season that ended along with her successful the league’s Sixth Lady of the 12 months Award. Guard Jackie Younger, final yr’s prime draft decide, may make a bounce in her second season.
McCoughtry, although, is primed to be beneath the league’s highlight in 2020. It will likely be her first sport motion since August 2018, when she tore ligaments in her left knee and had surgical procedure. Can the 33-year-old nonetheless be a two-way dynamo on the wing? Even when she has misplaced a step, she has already made an influence by spearheading the motion to place Breonna Taylor’s title on the backs of gamers’ jerseys.
Whereas different contenders like Seattle and Phoenix are returning to full well being, the Aces have already suffered setbacks. Nonetheless, Las Vegas has the expertise to make a push through the postseason.
By Terrika Foster-Brasby
Seimone Augustus was the No. 1 over all draft decide in 2006 and spent her complete profession donning a Lynx jersey, successful finals M.V.P. honors in 2011 and 4 championships. Her legacy is cemented in Minnesota’s W.N.B.A. dynasty, however for the primary time in 14 years, Augustus might be opening the season in enemy territory, sporting purple and gold as a member of the Los Angeles Sparks. Her departure leaves Sylvia Fowles, a former league M.V.P., as the only veteran from these dynasty days and opens a gap that Coach Cheryl Reeve and the Lynx might want to fill by leaning on their younger, rising expertise.
There was doubt in 2019 as as to whether Reeve would be capable to whip this younger group into form with Maya Moore sitting out to focus on social activism and Lindsay Whalen having simply retired. Nevertheless, a formidable debut from Napheesa Collier, who received the Rookie of the 12 months Award, saved Minnesota’s playoff streak alive which explains the Lynx can hope to make a 10th-straight playoff look in 2020.
Collier, now a workforce captain, must play a bigger position this season if Minnesota needs to compete in a robust Western Convention. Shenise Johnson and Karima Christmas-Kelly, two proficient veterans who’ve each suffered knee accidents over the past two seasons, look nice on paper however current well being considerations. There’s pleasure across the additions of Crystal Dangerfield and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, in addition to Rachel Banham, a local of Lakeville, Minn., who’s in her fifth W.N.B.A. season after setting a number of N.C.A.A. information with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. With the Lynx’s roster in transition, the alternatives are infinite for these younger stars to show they’re helpful items and maintain the workforce’s postseason streak intact.
Los Angeles Sparks
By Erica L. Ayala
Because the clock approached zeros within the Sparks’ last sport of the 2019 season, three of the workforce’s superstars — Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Grey — sat on the bench, dejected. None hit the courtroom within the fourth quarter.
The Sparks, who made the highest three groups in The Associated Press’s preseason power rankings, are placing the previous behind them and specializing in constructing robust workforce chemistry for the 2020 season.
“The groups which might be profitable in sports activities, they’ve nice tradition, nice messaging,” mentioned Derek Fisher, the Sparks’ second-year head coach. “All the pieces they do, there’s a shared imaginative and prescient and alignment in what you’re making an attempt to perform, and final yr that was confirmed for me that that’s what we have now to deal with.”
Los Angeles did nicely in free company by choosing up Seimone Augustus and Kristi Toliver, who’ve received a number of championships, to hitch the core of Parker, Ogwumike, and Grey. Toliver and Chiney Ogwumike opted out of the season, permitting the Sparks to usher in Reshanda Grey and Te’a Cooper to spherical out the 12-player roster. The workforce has spent the previous a number of weeks at IMG Academy having sport nights and group dinners to construct robust relationships.
From gamers like Augustus, who’s on her second workforce in her 15th season, to Kristine Anigwe, who’s beginning her second season on her third workforce, 2020 marks a rebirth for Sparks gamers and the group.
Parker mentioned she hoped the Sparks would tackle a youthful sibling strategy to their new starting. “I feel with youth comes, you recognize, want and keenness. And typically it’s greatest to not know and simply exit and check out it and do it.”
By Tamryn Spruill
The Phoenix Mercury hinged their success in 2019 on a “Pound It Into Brittney Griner” formulation that helped the workforce win its third championship in 2014 however has since been overused to the purpose of predictability. An inflow of larger, stronger, extra versatile gamers into the league since then has elevated the depth and depth of play in such a means that groups should modify to stay aggressive. Phoenix, nevertheless, has refused to loosen its grip on the Griner technique and, worse, held onto hobbled veterans as an alternative of bringing in youthful gamers.
Diana Taurasi, the franchise star, performed simply six video games final yr due to damage and completed the season with 26 complete factors. However the depleted roster was not sufficient to encourage Phoenix to maintain its 2020 draftees, significantly Te’a Cooper and Stella Johnson — two good guards who may contribute now and will dominate sooner or later.
With DeWanna Bonner and Briann January now with the Connecticut Solar, the Mercury introduced in Jessica Breland, who won’t play after receiving a medical exemption, plus Nia Coffey, Kia Vaughn and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.
Skylar Diggins-Smith, Phoenix’s greatest acquisition, is the seasoned veteran the workforce wants on either side of the ball.
But, it’s Bria Hartley whose influence is most certainly to interrupt Phoenix out of the “Pound It Into B.G.” doldrums. Hartley didn’t get to flash the total vary of her skills whereas with the Liberty, however she will be able to speed up with roadrunner-like velocity and unfold an offense along with her courtroom imaginative and prescient and passing. If all goes nicely, Hartley will hasten the Mercury towards a 21st-century offense and present why she’d win a foot race in opposition to the 143 different girls within the league.
By Dorothy J. Gentry
It is a comparatively model new Dallas Wings workforce. And a younger one at that.
Seven of the 12 gamers on the roster weren’t on the workforce final yr, and half of the roster has one yr or much less of expertise. However, the Wings, after a 10-24 report final season, are poised to benefit from a rebuild. They’ll be led by Coach Brian Agler, who received the Coach of the 12 months Award in 2010 and championships with the Seattle Storm in 2010 and the Los Angeles Sparks in 2016.
They’ll begin with the highest collegiate expertise they acquired with three of the highest 9 picks within the 2020 W.N.B.A. draft: No. 2 total decide Satou Sabally out of Oregon; No. 5 decide Bella Alarie from Princeton; and No. 7 decide Tyasha Harris out of South Carolina.
They are going to be a part of a secure core of younger veterans together with defensive stalwart Kayla Thornton and Arike Ogunbowale, who jumped from Notre Dame to the Wings’ flooring basic and face of the franchise in a matter of months. She’ll serve for instance and a sounding board for the younger gamers as they transition from faculty to the professionals.
A lot of the joy this season facilities on Moriah Jefferson, who missed final season with a knee damage. Jefferson, the No. 2 total decide within the 2016 draft and the winner of 4 consecutive nationwide championships with UConn, is about to debut as a welcome true level guard for the Wings. With each Jefferson and Skylar Diggins-Smith out final yr, Ogunbowale — a taking pictures guard — spent a lot of the season taking part in out of place. That received’t be a problem anymore, releasing her as much as do what she does naturally: rating.
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