It’s almost time to watch them work.
The 2017 WNBA season is just days away from tip-off, and after an unforgettable WNBA Finals, a wild free agency, and a draft filled with young talent, it’s officially time to turn our attention towards the regular season.
We’re going to go through a sort of macro-preview for the league as a whole, (and be sure to be on the look out for our in-depth previews of individual teams and feature stories) but first, here are some key dates for the 2017 season, per WNBA.com:
May 13: WNBA Tip-Off 2017
July 22: WNBA All-Star Game
July 31: Trade deadline, 8:00 PM ET
September 3: End of regular season
September 6: WNBA Playoffs
One key change this off-season is also the WNBA diving head first into the digital age. The WNBA and Twitter announced a multiyear deal that will bring live-streaming games to the social media site.
The first game streamed live will be the Dallas Wings at the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday, May 14 at 6 p.m. EST. It will be the first professional women’s sport live streamed on Twitter. A full list of all 20 games can be found on WNBA.com
Now, let’s dive into some coaching changes, and some key storylines to follow as the season begins.
There were three major coaching changes this off-season, so it will be interesting to see how the Stars, Fever, and Sky adapt under new leadership.
Vickie Johnson replaced Dan Hughes in San Antonio after he retired. Pokey Chatman will now be on the sidelines with the Fever after Stephanie White’s departure for Vanderbilt. Finally, Amber Stocks will begin her first WNBA season in place of Chatman in Chicago.
The biggest storyline in Los Angeles this summer will be a possible title defense by the Los Angeles Sparks, who topped the Minnesota Lynx in the final three seconds of Game 5 in the 2016 WNBA Finals.
The last time a WNBA team won the title two years in a row was, you guessed it, the Sparks in 2001 and 2002. With reigning MVP Nneka Ogwumike, and Candace Parker entering her 10th year in the league, it isn’t out of the question in 2017 for the Sparks to find themselves back in the title game.
On the other side of that equation is the Lynx. They will need to rebound from a heartbreaking end to their season, but they are the team that made perhaps the fewest off-season moves. Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson and Sylvia Fowles are one of the most recognized and talented starting lineups in the league, and it’s safe to assume they will be back with a vengeance.
Like the Lynx, the Seattle Storm didn’t make many changes this off-season, and will return all of their starters. The trio of Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd were the only three players on the same team to earn All-WNBA awards in 2016. While the Storm made a late push to make the playoffs last year, look for them to be more consistent all year long as they try to overtake the Sparks and Lynx in the West.
Perhaps one of the biggest storylines to pay attention to this year is what is sure to be Diana Taurasi’s record-breaking season in Phoenix. Taurasi is only seven three-pointers away from overtaking Katie Smith for No. 1 all-time in career threes made. She is also only 178 points from passing Tina Thompson as the league’s all-time leading scorer. If all goes according to plan, Taurasi should hit the milestone within 15 games.
Plenty of eyes will be on the Stars for other reasons, as the Kelsey Plum will make her official entrance in San Antonio. She is the type of player who could instantly turn the franchise around, and turn the Stars into playoff contenders. Along with Nia Coffey, the Stars picked up a breadth of talent on draft night. San Antonio may have had the worst record in the league last year at 7-27, but don’t be surprised when they win more than seven games this year.
Their Texas counterparts, the Wings, also have plenty to be excited about after draft night. After drafting Evelyn Akhator and Allisha Gray, the Wings added a fantastic post and tweener to their roster. If Skylar Diggins-Smith remains healthy this season, Dallas will have a chance to improve their core and their starting lineup.
One of the top teams in the Eastern Conference in 2016 was of course, the New York Liberty. Their biggest challenge this season will be making a playoff run while trying to dismantle their opponents in an Eastern Conference that saw a lot of off-season movement.
As WNBA.com noted, the Liberty have finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference the last two years, but only have three playoff wins in that timespan. Their biggest hope lies on Tina Charles’ shoulders.
Her performance last year in leading the league in scoring and rebounding was oftentimes overlooked, but if she can put together a campaign similar to 2016, the Liberty will have a chance down the stretch. Charles may not be enough, however. With Shoni Schimmel sitting out the season, the Liberty will also need more guard production.
The Chicago Sky are a completely new team this season, with a new coach and new faces to incorporate into their lineup. In trading Elena Delle Donne to Washington they acquired Kahleah Copper and Stefanie Dolson, and drafted South Carolina’s Alaina Coates.
Their biggest issues will be how quickly Coates can get healthy after undergoing ankle surgery, and whether their traditional post players will be able to keep up with some of the faster post players in the league.
The Fever’s success or failure depends on how well they adjust without White, but also the former face of their franchise, Tamika Catchings. Catchings was a once in a lifetime kind of player, and while she will be working in the front office, Indiana will need someone to step up in her place. Candice Dupree is one candidate who can potentially replace what Catchings did offensively while also taking on a leadership role in the locker room.
Similar to Chicago and Indiana, the Atlanta Dream enter 2017 practically defined by which player they are missing. The Dream will be without Angel McCoughtry, and as a result will likely look to Tiffany Hayes for most of their offensive production. Atlanta is a team that has mastered the run-and-gun style of offense, so look for them to try and push the ball, and try to outscore their opponents in transition.
The Connecticut Sun also have a void to fill, but may have found the perfect piece in the draft. Chiney Ogwumike will miss the 2017 season after having surgery to repair her Achilles tendon, but the Sun picked up Maryland’s Brionna Jones with the No. 8 pick in the draft.
This was practically a bargain, as Jones averaged a double-double during her senior season and led the country in field goal percentage. She will have the opportunity to contribute right away in Connecticut.
And finally, the Washington Mystics. The Mystics underwent the most changes in acquiring Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver in the off-season. Combined with Tayler Hill, Emma Meesseman and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, the time to win is now or never in Washington, and they have made it clear they are on a championship hunt.
Look for them to push the ball and spread the floor offensively, as they will be able to have lineups with five shooters on the floor at once.
It’s impossible to know the future. Injuries change everything, underdogs prevail, and the unexpected happens. But no matter what happens down the stretch in 2017, one thing is for sure: Every woman in this league will give every game, practice, and possession her all.
That’s why we watch them work.