19/04/2024 11:55 PM

Baen Scriptions

The Health Maniacs

Sky, Sun early title favorites

8 min read

After one of the busiest free agency periods in league history and an eventful draft night, the WNBA regular season returns May 6 with a quadruple-header on opening night.

We have evaluated every team’s offseason moves and draft selections, and now we turn our attention to the competition ahead. Here is where each of the 12 teams stand entering the season in the Just Women’s Sports preseason power rankings.

1. Chicago Sky

The reigning WNBA champions sit atop our power rankings after retaining much of their veteran core from the 2021 season and adding All-Star-level talent to the roster. Alongside former MVP Candace Parker, Chicago re-signed Finals MVP Kahleah Copper, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley in free agency. When you swap out the losses of Diamond DeShields and Stefanie Dolson with 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman and Julie Allemand, Chicago has a chance to be even better this season.

The Sky got to sit back and watch on draft night, with no picks on the board, but they have loaded up on potential pro-ready players through training camp contracts. After the Sky won it all as the 6-seed last season, the confidence and overall talent of their roster makes them the early-season title favorites.

2. Connecticut Sun

The Sun have been one of the most consistent WNBA franchises in recent years, and they went about their business in the offseason determined to see that vision through. They secured 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones to reunite a Big Three that also includes a healthy Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner. The loss of Briann January to Seattle hurts, but Connecticut addressed it by adding a familiar face and potent scoring option in Courtney Williams.

Nia Clouden, the Sun’s No. 12 pick in the draft, gives them a strong shooting option off the bench. But considering the team’s current cap situation — they have just under $200,000 in cap room — they will have some tough final roster decisions to make out of training camp.

The Sun have showcased just how dominant they can be in recent seasons, especially behind their suffocating defense, but they have not yet been able to sustain it through the playoffs for a WNBA title. If everyone can stay healthy, the Sun have all the tools to win their first championship this season.

Sue Bird, 41, signed a one-year deal to return to the Storm for her 19th season. (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

3. Seattle Storm

With Sue Bird returning for what is likely her final WNBA season, a championship season for the Storm would be poetic and is not out of the question. Seattle also welcomes back Jewell Loyd on the franchise tag and a healthy Breanna Stewart on a one-year, supermax deal, solidifying the superstar core that won championships in 2018 and 2020.

In free agency, Seattle added forward Gabby Williams, a versatile weapon on both sides of the floor who can impact the game in ways the Storm didn’t have at their disposal before. Veteran guard Briann January replaces Jordin Canada in the backcourt. In the draft, Seattle added 6-foot-5 NC State center Elissa Cunane, who’s capable of stretching the floor and working in tandem with Stewart.

The Storm’s chances of winning a fifth career championship will likely come down to two factors: luck and the ability to remain healthy.

4. Minnesota Lynx

Minnesota was nowhere near 100 percent last season and still finished third in the league standings. Their biggest moves of the offseason were bringing back Sylvia Fowles for her final season and signing five-time WNBA All-Star Angel McCoughtry.

While Napheesa Collier is sidelined during her pregnancy, Minnesota will need breakout play from Jessica Shepard, Damiras Dantas and Aerial Powers to compete with the best in the league. If they can stay healthy, the depth of talent on the Lynx’s roster makes them worthy of legitimate championship consideration.

Due to their current cap space situation, the Lynx opted out of the earlier rounds of the 2022 draft through a trade with the Las Vegas Aces for 2023 picks. Their late picks included potential depth options Kayla Jones and Hannah Sjerven, and they set themselves up to add pro-ready, young talent next year.

A’ja Wilson is the centerpiece of a new-look Las Vegas Aces team. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

5. Las Vegas Aces

The Aces organization has a new look in 2022 with Becky Hammon behind the bench, first-year general manager Natalie Williams leading the front office and Liz Cambage off in Los Angeles. Las Vegas enters the new era continuing to build through 2020 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson. Kelsey Plum has also been playing the best basketball of her career, and Dearica Hamby remains a well-rounded staple of the franchise.

Looking to secure depth at the stretch four and wing positions, the Aces moved up in the draft to address those needs, selecting Mya Hollingshed and Kierstan Bell in the first round. They added depth at nearly every other position, too, with their selections of Khayla Pointer and Aisha Sheppard.

It’s too early to tell what this team will look like under Hammon’s guidance, but the Aces have a solid foundation of veteran and All-Star talent ready to take the next step and bring a championship home to Las Vegas.

6. Phoenix Mercury

The Mercury are in a unique situation as they load up for what could be one final championship run with Diana Taurasi, while also looking ahead to the future behind first-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard. Phoenix assembled a top-tier starting lineup this offseason, adding Tina Charles and Diamond DeShields to their core of Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Brittney Griner, whose status for the season is uncertain after she was detained in Russia on drug charges in late February.

While the Mercury hope for Griner’s safe return home and honor the seven-time All-Star by carrying out her Heart and Sole Shoe Drive this season, they also game-plan for various scenarios. Preparing for her likely absence this season, Phoenix drafted late-round post options in Maya Dodson and Macee Williams, before waiving Williams last Friday.

The Mercury have the talent to thrive under Nygaard’s direction, but they start the season in the middle of the pack due to the amount of questions surrounding their current situation.

Elena Delle Donne has said she feels healthy after missing all but three games in the last two seasons. (Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

7. Washington Mystics

A healthy Elena Delle Donne and Alysha Clark immediately change the trajectory of the Mystics in 2022. With Natasha Cloud running the show, Ariel Atkins on the wing and Myisha Hines-Allen returning in free agency on a three-year deal, the Mystics have the veteran players with championship experience to compete for their second trophy in four seasons.

The Mystics added two top-level prospects in the draft in 6-5 Shakira Austin and guard Christyn Williams, but took a hit when Williams went down with a season-ending injury during the first week of preseason. International signings Lee Seul Kang and Rui Machida, Japan’s hero during the Tokyo Olympics last summer, provide intriguing depth options.

8. Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks completely retooled their roster in the offseason, addressing their biggest need — offense — with a host of big-name talents: Liz Cambage, Chennedy Carter, Jordin Canada and Katie Lou Samuelson. Los Angeles also had a successful draft night with the additions of Rae Burrell, Kianna Smith, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Amy Atwell. If Burrell and 2021 first-round pick Jasmine Walker can get fully healthy, they give this Sparks offense elements it’s lacked in recent seasons.

How quickly the newcomers can integrate with the Sparks’ core of Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver will go a long way toward determining their success this season. The Sparks’ chemistry on offense will be key to their ability to go head-to-head with the consistently good teams in this league.

Arike Ogunbowale signed a three-year, supermax contract in the offseason to return to the Wings. (Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images)

9. Dallas Wings

In rebuilding mode the past few years, the Wings appear to be on the precipice of breaking out in 2022. Last year, Dallas could play like a playoff team one night and a league bottom-dweller the next. The Wings did not make any major changes in the offseason outside of trading for Teaira McCowan, the 6-7 center who can help free up Arike Ogunbowale, Marina Mabrey and Allisha Gray for shots along the perimeter.

No. 7 draft pick Veronica Burton has the potential to make an immediate impact as an aggressive guard on both offense and defense. As the Wings’ young players build chemistry together and understand the process of what it takes to win in this league, this is a team that can beat anyone on any given night.

10. New York Liberty

The Liberty hit a rough patch in the second half of last season and still appear to be a couple of years away from championship contention. With the additions they made in the offseason, including hiring head coach Sandy Brondello from the Mercury, New York could take its biggest jump yet during these rebuilding years.

Stefanie Dolson joins the Liberty fresh off of winning a championship with the Sky, and Rebecca Allen returns after the best season of her career in New York. If Natasha Howard and Sabrina Ionescu can stay healthy, and Betnijah Laney and reigning Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere maintain their level of play, this team is capable of getting back to the playoffs and doing more damage this season.

The Liberty will miss draft picks Nyara Sabally and Sika Kone, as they won’t be available this season, but second-rounder Lorela Cubaj could provide valuable minutes as one of the steals of the draft. New York has the talent to exceed expectations if the team can gel faster than expected, but there are still too many unknowns from a consistency standpoint to rank them any higher.

Rhyne Howard scored 15 points in her preseason debut with the Dream on Sunday. (Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)

11. Atlanta Dream

The Dream’s offseason goal was to overhaul the organization, from the new ownership team all the way down to the rookies. In addition to the promising additions of No. 1 draft pick Rhyne Howard and No. 15 pick Naz Hillmon, Atlanta brought back Aari McDonald, Monique Billings and Tiffany Hayes, and added Nia Coffey, Kia Vaughn and Erica Wheeler in free agency.

Atlanta now has a solid foundation entering the regular season, but this season is still an early step in the process of rebuilding the Dream into a playoff team.

12. Indiana Fever

The Fever’s offseason demolition included naming interim general manager Linn Dunn, cutting ties with Jantel Lavender and Julie Allemand, and adding first-round picks NaLyssa Smith, Emily Engstler, Lexie Hull and Destanni Henderson in the draft. While the franchise has made significant strides toward snapping their five-year playoff drought, they still have a lot of work to do, most notably molding the current roster and attracting top free-agent talent down the road.

It will take at least a few more years for Indiana to return to championship contention. Beyond veterans Kelsey Mitchell and Bria Hartley, the young players will need time to develop.

Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.

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