2021 WNBA training camp is upon us. Teams are back in their cities and home arenas and many players back from opt outs have impacted our power rankings. Things are starting to get back to normal.
1) Las Vegas Aces
The Aces are a loaded super team. With reigning MVP A’ja Wilson gearing up for her fourth season and fellow superstar Liz Cambage returning from a COVID opt out, Las Vegas is undoubtedly the team to beat in the WNBA this year.
Cambage entered the league in 2011 and although much of her career has been played overseas, she is a more than welcome talent anytime she chooses to play in the states. She hold the WNBA record for most points scored in a single game (53) and is one of the best players out there without an MVP award, having finished second to Breanna Stewart in 2018.
Chelsea Gray will likely be the third-best player on Las Vegas this year. The Point Gawd comes to the Aces via LA, where she was a three-time All-Star, averaged 14 or more points four times and averaged five or more assists three times. The Aces also have WNBA legend Angel McCoughtry, who had her lowest scoring average (14.4) since her rookie year (12.8) in 2020, but is no slouch as a fourth-best player at age 34. In addition, guard Kelsey Plum, who was a key starter for Vegas in 2019, is back from an Achilles injury that kept her out for all of 2020.
Two-time reigning Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, 2019’s No. 1 draft pick Jackie Young and sharpshooter Riquna Williams will also be key players for a stellar rotation. ZW
2) Chicago Sky
Chicago made arguably the offseason’s biggest splash when it signed reigning Defensive Player of the Year Candace Parker. Adding Parker to a skilled, veteran backcourt and an athletic group of perimeter players will make the Sky an experienced, well-rounded team; Chicago should be much-improved on the defensive end of the court, while its offense will be more versatile than it was in 2020, when Courtney Vandersloot became the first player in WNBA history to average 10 assists per game.
Health, of course, will be of utmost importance to the Sky’s 2021 success. If Diamond DeShields and Azurá Stevens return from their respective 2020 injuries at full strength, Chicago will not only have one of the most talented starting lineups in the WNBA, but will have one of the league’s strongest benches as well. Moving starting-caliber players like Kahleah Copper and Stefanie Dolson back to the second unit will give head coach James Wade lineup flexibility, as well as the luxury of keeping his top players fresh for what most expect to be a lengthy Sky postseason run. EN
3) Minnesota Lynx
The Minnesota Lynx are adding Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, Natalie Achonwa, Rennia Davis and, hopefully, a fully-healthy Sylvia Fowles to a team that finished fourth in last season’s standings. Combine these additions with growth from Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield and the Lynx are poised to be a potent team, with a title absolutely not out of the question.
Due to last season’s glut of injuries, head coach Cheryl Reeve was forced to experiment with different styles of play, frequently trotting out small-ball lineups that relied on spacing and 3-point shooting for success. This season, the Lynx should be able to flummox opponents with a deeper arsenal of different lineup constructions and tactical approaches, from an even more powerful small-ball system, bolstered by the shooting of McBride and the versatility of Powers and Davis, to a brand of bully ball powered by a Fowles-Achonwa frontcourt. That Collier could very well be in the middle of the MVP conversation is further indication of Minnesota’s great potential. CA
4) Washington Mystics
The Mystics will finally get to see Tina Charles and Elena Delle Donne play together. When news broke that the former MVPs were set to play together in 2020, the Mystics, who were also set to feature stars on the rise Emma Meesseman and Natasha Cloud, seemed poised to defend their 2019 championship as a super team. However, Charles, Delle Donne and Cloud sat out the 2020 season and now the Mystics have lost Aerial Powers to free agency, Alysha Clark (Powers’ replacement) to injury and will be without Meesseman to start the season due to her overseas commitments.
While those absences put a damper on the Mystics heading into 2021 after they already had a great opportunity in 2020 taken away from them, they could very well be a championship contender anyway and should be considered a Top 4 team in the league. They have Ariel Atkins, a 24-year-old who shot 41.1 percent from distance last year with two makes per game and of course the real X factor for the team will be another 24-year-old in Myisha Hines-Allen, who was Washington’s best player in 2020. If Hines-Allen can improve upon her All-WNBA Second Team performance, then she will be a third superstar next to Delle Donne and Charles and the Mystics will have found silver lining in her development in the bubble. ZW
5) Seattle Storm
Breanna Stewart alone makes the Storm a dangerous team. She’s right in the middle of her prime at age 26 and could be due for a monster season after coming in second to A’ja Wilson in the 2020 MVP voting. And Jewell Loyd is a great Robin to Stewart’s batman. However, the team no longer has Natasha Howard, the third of its big three. Both she and key contributor Sami Whitcomb are now with the New York Liberty. So Seattle is no longer as talented as it was last year and is not favored to repeat.
The Storm made paying legendary four-time champ Sue Bird the supermax their top priority in free agency. Bird, along with fellow point guard Jordin Canada, will pile up the assists for Seattle, but neither has the scoring versatility and ceiling that Howard has.
The Storm added another WNBA legend this offseason in Candice Dupree, who averaged 12.5 points per game as a 35-year-old in 2020. They also received the No. 1 pick in the draft in exchange for Howard but traded that away to get Katie Lou Samuelson, who had a great EuroLeague season. Some may question that move and we’ll see how it works out.
Ultimately, the success of the 2021 Storm will boil down to how dominant Stewart can be. ZW
6) Phoenix Mercury
Arguably, the Phoenix Mercury have one of the best top-six in the league: Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner, Kia Nurse, Brianna Turner and Bria Hartley. But beyond those six, uncertainty abounds. While Kia Vaughan gave the Mercury good minutes last season, her age raises questions about her continued utility. Recent draft picks Sophie Cunningham and Alanna Smith have found themselves in and out of head coach Sandy Brondello’s rotation. Megan Walker has played only 18 professional games. This lack of reliable depth is concerning, especially since Hartley is returning from a serious injury and Taurasi has struggled with back troubles and other minor injuries of late.
More concerning, the Mercury have been less than the sum of their parts in recent seasons. After 2019 was marred by injuries to Taurasi, the Mercury were uneven and uninspiring for the first half of the 2020 season, seeming only to find a rhythm after Griner stepped away from the team. So while the Mercury have the top-end talent needed to contend for a title, their performance over the past few seasons raises doubts about their ability to approach their ceiling. CA
7) Los Angeles Sparks
It’s difficult to see Los Angeles replicating its recent regular-season success under head coach Derek Fisher. Another disappointing playoff exit in 2020 was compounded by the losses of Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray in free agency, so there’s good reason to be down on the Sparks’ chances this summer.
Still, all is not yet lost. Los Angeles will get Kristi Toliver and Chiney Ogwumike back after both players took the 2020 season off, and the team added veterans Erica Wheeler and Amanda Zahui B. to round out its rotation. The Sparks also loaded up on perimeter scoring in the 2021 WNBA Draft, selecting Jasmine Walker, Stephanie Watts and Arella Guirantes — a group that, at the very least, will provide plenty of outside shooting.
It’s not the most exciting roster, and the Sparks’ ceiling in 2021 certainly doesn’t seem as high as it was in previous seasons. Even so, there’s more than enough talent in Los Angeles to keep the Sparks in the mix for a lower-seed postseason appearance. EN
8) New York Liberty
The Liberty made a big trade to get former Seattle Storm star Natasha Howard and signed 2020 Most Improved Player Betnijah Laney in free agency. That pair along with 2020 No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu will be New York’s big three. Howard was an All-WNBA First Team member in 2019 and has superstar potential. Meanwhile, Laney showed last year that she can light up the scoreboard with 17.2 points per game. Ionescu only played in three games as a rookie, but scored 33 in one of them. Just how good she will be as a sophomore coming back from Grade 3 ankle sprain is the biggest question mark surrounding the Liberty. If she is as phenomenal as she was as a transcendent college player, they could be a playoff team.
After their big three, the rest of New York’s roster isn’t great. They no longer have Kia Nurse or Amanda Zahui B. and, remember, they went 2-20 last year. However, Sami Whitcomb was a key offseason addition. Though not bringing as much hype as Howard and Laney, Whitcomb was a key part of Seattle’s championship run last year and brings 3-point shooting to a team that loves to shoot the three. ZW
9) Connecticut Sun
Connecticut tends to prove people wrong. It beat a very talented Los Angeles Sparks team in the playoffs in 2019 and 2020 when many people doubted it. In 2019 the Sun had a better record than the Sparks, but were going up against more established stars with championship credentials. In 2020, the team started 0-5 and many started to doubt if it was still a playoff contender. It came back to make the playoffs, upset the Sky and Sparks to make the semifinals and then gave the heavily favored Aces a run for their money.
So the Sun’s scrappy nature and the excellent head coaching of Curt Miller must be kept in mind. However, with Alyssa Thomas out for the season due to a torn Achilles, we have Connecticut out of the Top 8 to start the season. It was Thomas who heroically led the Sun against the Aces and without her the Sun’s big three is down to just Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner.
Jones has the potential to be one of the best players in the league like she was during the team’s run to the Finals in 2019. Her combination of size at 6-foot-6 and 3-point shooting ability will give other team’s nightmares. In addition, forward Brionna Jones is on the rise and solid play is pretty much guaranteed from veteran guards Jasmine Thomas and Briann January. However, Connecticut needs to get the bottom half of its roster sorted out. Kaila Charles is the only other player under contract. ZW
10) Atlanta Dream
From one perspective, a ninth-place finish seems like the Atlanta Dream’s floor. If things break right, this team has a lot of upside. With the EuroLeague Final Four-version of Tiffany Hayes, a Courtney Williams playing at her 2019 level, a super-sophomore leap from Chennedy Carter, threatening frontcourt offense from Cheyenne Parker and Tianna Hawkins, off-the-bench spark-plug play from Aari McDonald and Odyssey Sims, a Kalani Brown who finally finds her WNBA footing, an All-Defensive effort from Elizabeth Williams and incessant energy from Monique Billings, this team could be in contention for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
However, such a number of variables, in combination with significant roster turnover from last season, suggests this team could struggle to put the pieces together, with a 32-game regular season not enough time to establish the necessary cohesion. That the Dream selected McDonald with the No. 3 pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft, even with an already full backcourt rotation, indicates that the organization might view this an experimental year, as the future of the squad should be organized around Carter and McDonald. The curious firing of president and GM Chris Sienko, after he was in charge of a decision-filled offseason, also raises questions about the organization’s internal outlook on this season. CA
11) Dallas Wings
The Wings added four more high-profile draft picks to their team in Charli Collier, Awak Kuier, Chelsea Dungee and Dana Evans, and while it remains to be seen how each of those players will factor into the team’s plans for 2021, it’s clear that Dallas will once again be emphasizing the development of young talent.
Vickie Johnson is now at the helm of the Wings, and she has reigning scoring champ Arike Ogunbowale at her disposal. Aside from Ogunbowale and the recently re-signed Allisha Gray and Kayla Thornton, though, Dallas has a roster full of question marks and inexperience. While it’s fair to expect a second-year leap from Satou Sabally, Bella Alarie and Tyasha Harris, the overall youth of the roster is still going to be a weakness of the roster until proven otherwise. Who will step up next to Ogunbowale and help turn the Wings into a contender? EN
12) Indiana Fever
The Fever were four games better than the last-place Liberty last year, but free agency has left them as the weakest team on paper entering the 2021 season. Kelsey Mitchell is the clear-cut star and a lot of pressure will be on her shoulders to score at a prolific rate. The supporting cast surrounding Mitchell isn’t great. Then-rookie Julie Allemand was certainly a bright spot in 2020, though. She averaged 8.5 points and 5.8 assists per game while shooting the second-best 3-point percentage in the WNBA at 47.8 percent. She will be back for the Fever along with second-leading scorer Tiffany Mitchell (12.5 points per game) and fourth-leading scorer Teaira McCowan (10.9). Then there’s a trio of newcomers, Jantel Lavender, Danielle Robinson and Jessica Breland, who will be the three highest-paid players on the team. Those are three solid players picked up in free agency, but none of them screams “star” at this stage of their career. All are former All-Stars, but all are over 30. ZW