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WNBA: Many key players set to return in 2021

Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles, Liz Cambage and Jonquel Jones are four superstars who missed 2020 but will be back in 2021.

Atlanta Dream v Seattle Storm
Tiffany Hayes will be back for the Atlanta Dream in 2021.
Photo by Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images

Some of the best stars in the game unfortunately had to opt out of the 2020 season because of injustice and a global pandemic. But, aside from retirees Renee Montgomery and LaToya Sanders, Maya Moore, who had already started sitting out in 2019, and Cecilia Zandalasini, whose contract with the Minnesota Lynx has expired, everyone is returning. Here’s a look at the impact returning players could have on their teams.

Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics)

Delle Donne opted out as a health precaution due to the preexisting condition of Lyme disease. The last time she was on the court she won the MVP award and led her team to the championship. Delle Donne is also recovering from back surgery and is still limited in practice according to Mystics head coach Mike Thibault, who spoke at the team’s media day on Monday. The hope is that she will be ready for Washington’s opener. Could she make a run at a third MVP award?

Tina Charles (Washington Mystics)

Charles opted out as a health precaution due to the preexisting condition of extrinsic asthma. Her 16.9 scoring average in 2019 was the second lowest of her career after her rookie season, where she averaged 15.5. But that’s just where the bar is set for a WNBA legend like Charles. She averaged 19.7 points in 2018. Charles is capable of averaging a double-double, which she has done four times in her career and makes the Mystics a very dangerous teams. Her teaming up with Elena Delle Donne is one of the biggest storylines entering the season and gives Washington as good a one-two punch as A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage in Las Vegas.

Natasha Cloud (Washington Mystics)

Cloud sat out to fight for social justice reform and became a leading voice for change. She is the Mystics’ emotional leader and the one who will get them fired up in key moments. On the court, she is on the rise as a star point guard. Her 4.6 assists per game and 8.6 points per game in 2018 were career bests and she upped those averages to 5.6 and nine, respectively, in 2019. The last time we saw Cloud in a WNBA game, she followed through on a guarantee that the Mystics would win Game 5 of the 2019 Finals.

Liz Cambage (Las Vegas Aces)

Cambage sat out as a health precaution after getting what may have been COVID-19 and falling seriously ill in December of 2019. She, along with Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles, is making one of the most anticipated returns in the WNBA. Everyone remembers what a special 2018 season she had when she scored 53 points in a single game, averaged 23 on the year and finished second in the MVP voting. Her numbers, except in the steals category, were down in 2019, including a scoring average drop to 15.9 points per game, but she was still a star player on a team that went to the semifinals and even took a game from the eventual champion Mystics. She may never win her first MVP award while playing with reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who may not win a second for a while, because the two will share the scoring load and may not put up insane numbers. But the only thing that matters is that they form a lethal frontcourt duo. Wilson led the Aces to the Finals without Cambage last year so it’s scary to think what the team could do in 2021.

Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces)

Plum is the only player on this list who did not opt out of the 2020 season. She was forced to sit out because of a torn Achilles, inhibiting the Aces further. Plum was the No. 1 pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft and, while she hasn’t been the dominant scorer she was in college, has been a key contributor and starter for the Aces. She shot 43.9 percent from beyond the arc in 2018 and averaged 9.5 points per game. Those numbers dropped to 36 percent and 8.6, respectively, in 2019, but clearly Plum has a higher ceiling. However, she likely won’t be asked to put up big numbers on a team full of stars in Las Vegas.

Jonquel Jones (Connecticut Sun)

Jones sat out as a health precaution. She is gifted with the same all-around scoring abilities of an Elena Delle Donne, the player she squared off against in the 2019 Finals, and is 6-foot-6. Jones’ best season came in 2017 when she averaged 15.4 points and 11.9 rebounds. She was an All-Star that year and in 2019, when she averaged 14.6 and 9.7. She is probably capable of putting up even bigger numbers given her skill set and is in her prime at age 27. She could very well be an MVP candidate if Connecticut has any sort of success, but that may be difficult with the team missing Alyssa Thomas, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Jones will have a lot riding on her shoulders with Thomas out.

Chiney Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks)

Ogwumike sat out as a health precaution, deciding to rest after previous injuries had piled up. Her rookie season of 2014 remains her best. She averaged 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds that year en route to the first of her two All-Star Game appearances. In 2019, her first year with the Sparks, her numbers were down to 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, but expect her to have a big 2021. With Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray no longer in LA, C. Ogwumike’s sister, Nneka, will be the star player and Chiney will be one of the co-stars.

Kristi Toliver (Los Angeles Sparks)

Toliver is a another player on this list who was last seen as a WNBA champion. She was a member of the 2019 Washington Mystics and averaged a career-best six assists per game to go along with 13 points per game during the regular season. She would have played for the Sparks last year but sat out as a health precaution. Now she can officially make her return to LA, the city she played in from 2010 to its 2016 championship season.

Tiffany Hayes (Atlanta Dream)

It wasn’t completely clear why Hayes sat out, but she did say: “although I love playing this game, I believe there are much more important things to be thinking about in this moment.” That was in a statement released by the Dream. Hayes has played her entire career in Atlanta and has a streak of seven double-digit scoring seasons in a row. Her high was 17.2 in 2018 and she averaged 14.7 in 2019. She should be one of the Dream’s best players this year. Hayes scored 29 points in the EuroLeague Women championship game this month, so she’s been preparing well overseas.

Jessica Breland (Indiana Fever)

Breland is a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor and sat out due to long-term effects of chemotherapy. She would have played for Phoenix last year but signed with the Fever, a team she played for in 2013, during the offseason. Breland was last seen averaging 7.5 points and 7.3 rebounds for the Dream in 2019.

Rebecca Allen (New York Liberty)

Allen sat out as a health precaution. She averaged a career-best 7.2 points per game for New York in 2019. She has played her entire career with the Liberty and re-signed with them on Monday. She could be a key 3-point contributor having shot 42.6 percent from deep in 2019.