The 2019 WNBA season is set to tip off Friday, May 24, and teams are still working to make final roster cuts before tomorrow’s deadline. As the season nears, a few teams have had to deal with the injury bug.
With injuries spreading throughout the league, there is no clear favorite to win it all come September. Because of the roster makeovers that some teams have experienced by trades, free agency or the WNBA Draft, the 2019 season will be interesting, to say the least.
Here’s a look at three teams that could make major strides in the 2019 WNBA season:
Las Vegas Aces
The Las Vegas Aces will make huge steps forward as a franchise thanks to their selection of Jackie Young as the No. 1 overall draft pick out of Notre Dame. The Aces have had the fortune of having the No. 1 overall pick for the last three seasons, which A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum to the franchise.
In 2017, the Aces were known as the San Antonio Stars and selected Kelsey Plum with the first pick. The following year, the team drafted A’ja Wilson as the top overall pick, and Wilson would go on to win Rookie of the Year honors via unanimous vote.
Last week, Las Vegas acquired Liz Cambage in a blockbuster trade that will pair her with Wilson. Cambage, Wilson and Young provide the Aces with a solid foundation because of their youth, athleticism and multifaceted skill sets.
Any team that adds Cambage is an instant playoff contender. Wilson, on the other hand, is an up-and-coming talent who already has proved dominance in her rookie season by averaging 20.7 points, 8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game while shooting 46.2 percent from the field.
In 2018, Cambage averaged 23 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Not to mention, she is a rising three-point shooter. She finished the 2018 season shooting 32.4 percent from long range — a respectable number considering the three-pointer is a new addition to her game.
Young made her debut with the Aces against the new-look Minnesota Lynx on Sunday. She turned in a strong performance with 16 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist on 7-of-10 shooting from the field.
Cambage, Wilson and Young complement one another’s games. Young provides the Aces with another combo guard who can handle the ball or score; she will make a solid addition in a deep backcourt already featuring Plum, Kayla McBride and Sugar Rodgers.
Young also will provide spacing for Wilson and Cambage down low and push the tempo. To no one’s surprise, Cambage will help this team by dominating in the low post and controlling the glass. She will take away double teams from Wilson and create open shots for wing players.
Wilson, at 6-foot-4, can push the ball, finish in the fast break and shoot efficiently from mid-range. Her ability to handle the ball will keep defenses honest and take away the double team from Cambage. The two will be able to play high-low and run the pick-and-roll effectively through each other, and with the Aces’ backcourt.
Prediction: Expect the Aces to make the postseason in 2019.
At the end of the 2018 season, the Chicago Sky found themselves outside the postseason with a 13-21 record for 10th in the standings. With a new coach and a solid draft, this year will be different.
Chicago drafted Katie Lou Samuelson (4th overall), Chloe Jackson (15th ) and Maria Conde (27th). Obviously, no one’s spot is guaranteed in a league with a high level of competition and only 12 roster spots for each team. But Samuelson should have a spot come May 24.
Jackson and Conde are still on the roster, for now, and have a chance to make it, with Jackson having a better chance than Conde. If Jackson makes the final cut, she may not see much playing time considering the team’s backcourt depth. At minimum, she will be able to sit and develop.
The Sky also added more depth via the draft to an already strong backcourt in Allie Quigley (15.4 points), Courtney Vandersloot (12.5 points) and Diamond DeShields (14.4 points). The trio of guards will help develop Samuelson’s ballhandling, feel for the game and confidence.
Quigley, Vandersloot and DeShields will be the primary ball-handlers. But Samuelson will help this team with her size, catch-and-shoot ability and floor spacing. In 2018, the Sky struggled to score consistently and fell into scoring droughts in crucial quarters.
Drafting Samuelson provides this team with another shooter and complementary piece to build around. The Sky play a fast-paced game where they overload the weak side on defense to force turnovers and push the fast break. Under new head coach James Wade, the franchise will continue to build its culture, team and roster.
Prediction: Assuming the team stays healthy, the team will make the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
The Dallas Wings are in a bittersweet position entering the 2019 season despite having one of the best drafts. The Wings traded Cambage to the Las Vegas Aces last week. Skylar Diggins-Smith had a healthy baby boy and could miss the entire season (although she is working out with the team and trying to get back).
The team drafted Arike Ogunbowale (5th overall), Megan Gustafson (17th), Kennedy Burke (22nd) and Morgan Bertsch (29th). Bertsch was waived last wee.
Ogunbowale is sure to make the roster, but Gustafson and Burke could be waived. Despite trading Cambage away, the team is in a relatively good position to put together a strong season. This may sound crazy, but there are a lot of positive factors to consider, starting with the hiring of Brian Agler as head coach. He will impart a winning attitude, mindset and culture.
Also working in the Wings’ favor is the veteran presence of franchise player Diggins-Smith. She has been the standard of excellence as a leader, person and professional. Yes, she could miss the entire 2019 season but there is still a small possibility she could suit up in this season. Even if she doesn’t, though, she will be around the team coaching and guiding younger players.
Ogunbowale is a proven winner on the biggest and brightest stages and she will make an excellent backcourt mate for Diggins-Smith whenever she returns. Dallas may not make the postseason but they are taking the next steps to build for the future and establish a sustainable organization. This team has secured a long-term coach, two franchise guards and a youthful frontcourt. The sky’s the limit for the Wings.
Prediction: If they don’t make the postseason this year, then count on them being there in 2020.