The W.N.B.A. begins its 25th season on Friday with the returns of some big-name veterans and the debuts of promising rookies.
“Rosters are stacked with incredibly talented veterans, and the last few rookie classes are bringing a whole new element to the fierce competition within the league,” W.N.B.A. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The New York Times.
Below, our reporters inform you what to anticipate this season in the Eastern Conference.
This 12 months, Delle Donne and Cloud are again and they’re going to lastly get to play alongside one other former M.V.P. in Tina Charles, who went to Washington in a commerce from the Liberty however opted out of final season for well being causes.
“Even though we have some people out, we’ve lost some people to injury, we still have a really scary team on paper,” Cloud stated throughout media day, including: “I think we’re going to shock a lot of people in this league. You know me, that’s the underdog mentality, so we’re ready.”
One constructive from final season’s short-handed squad was the emergence of Myisha Hines-Allen, who averaged 17 factors per sport and shot 42.6 p.c from 3-point vary. She won’t be relied upon as a lot this season, with a wholesome Delle Donne and Charles in the lineup, however she is one other dependable choice on protection after averaging 8.9 rebounds per sport final season.
Hines-Allen might additionally fill in a niche in exterior taking pictures: Alysha Clark, who signed with Washington as a free agent after successful a championship with Seattle final 12 months, is out for the season after injuring her foot whereas enjoying abroad. Clark shot 52.2 p.c from 3-point vary final season.
“I’ve got no idea what positions you play,” Mike Petersen, the Dream’s interim head coach, stated he informed his gamers. “But if I don’t know, the other team’s got no chance.”
Atlanta’s low season has been marked by change. Pressured by players, the Dream’s earlier house owners sold the team to a gaggle that included Renee Montgomery, a former Dream participant. Gone are Chris Sienko, the workforce’s former president and normal supervisor who was fired in April, and Nicki Collen, the former head coach who left for a job at Baylor earlier this month. Now Petersen will trade conference for creativity to get the finest out of an eclectic roster.
Calling it “silly” to observe the observe of assigning gamers numbered positions, Petersen stated he’ll kind lineups with the 5 finest gamers, no matter place. “Basketball players are basketball players,” he stated. “Everybody has to be able to pass, dribble and shoot. And everybody has to play defense.”
On the Dream, these our bodies are small: Aari McDonald, the No. Three general choose in this 12 months’s draft, is 5-foot-6; the veterans Odyssey Sims and Courtney Williams are each 5-foot-8; and Chennedy Carter, picked fourth general in the 2020 draft, and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, in her first season with the Dream, every stand 5-foot-9.
Petersen didn’t hesitate to play three guards throughout the workforce’s lone preseason matchup on May 5. And if these smaller gamers with large video games execute what he envisions, perimeter taking pictures will unfold the flooring for the 6-foot-7 heart Kalani Brown and the 6-foot-Four ahead Cheyenne Parker, a free-agency acquisition, to function in the paint.
New York Liberty
All eyes are on the Liberty this season for a lot of causes. Chief amongst them is the return of final 12 months’s No. 1 general choose, Sabrina Ionescu.
Ionescu’s much-anticipated rookie season was reduce quick when she suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain throughout the first half of the Liberty’s third sport.
Her season over earlier than it started, Ionescu underwent surgical procedure however is again and able to go.
“I’m excited for this season,” Ionescu stated in a name with reporters. “I’m taking it one day and one step at a time.”
Along with managing Ionescu’s return, the second-year head coach Walt Hopkins should deal with the sudden lack of guard/ahead Jocelyn Willoughby, who’s out for the season after tearing her left Achilles’ tendon. In 2020, her rookie 12 months, Willoughby averaged 5.Eight factors and a pair of.Four rebounds per sport whereas taking pictures a team-best 40.5 p.c from 3-point vary in 22 video games, 5 of which she began.
But right here’s what ought to assist: the low season acquisitions of the three-time champion Natasha Howard and the two-time champion Sami Whitcomb from the Seattle Storm, and Betnijah Laney, who received final 12 months’s Most Improved Player Award and was named to the All-Defensive workforce after a breakout season with the Atlanta Dream.
The Liberty completed 2020 in final place with a 2-20 file and are nonetheless looking for an identification and footing.
“Everyone wants to be here, they want to win, they want to support one another,” Hopkins stated. “If we learned anything from last year it’s how to bounce back from a loss.”
The Fever completed final season with the lowest-ranked protection (111.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive 12 months. This season, the second-year Coach Marianne Stanley’s objective is to have a stronger defensive identification.
“Each and every player on this team needs to buy in to the defensive end of the floor and make sure they’re doing everything they can to improve and make us a team that is stingy on defense,” Stanley stated throughout her media day information convention.
Indiana will get a shot in the arm with a wholesome Lauren Cox, who missed the starting of final season after testing constructive for the coronavirus, and a constructive outlook for Victoria Vivians, who final performed a full season in 2018. Stanley stated Vivians had been an early standout throughout coaching camp.
Add to that the rising star energy of Kysre Gondrezick, drafted fourth over all this 12 months out of West Virginia, and the Fever are on the cusp of getting not only a stronger defensive identification, however a concrete workforce identification as nicely.
“She’s shooting the ball well,” Stanley stated of Gondrezick. “She’s fitting in with her teammates. Just getting adjusted to the rigors. Just about as we expected. She’s a pretty well-rounded guard, and we really like what we’re seeing in her.”
The Fever misplaced Candice Dupree to Seattle in free company however added Danielle Robinson and the bigs Jantel Lavender and Jessica Breland.
Arguably no different workforce had a greater low season than the Sky, who landed Candace Parker, the high free agent, champion and winner of final season’s Defense Player of the Year Award.
Parker, who had spent her complete profession with the Los Angeles Sparks, will add veteran expertise to Chicago, a workforce two years faraway from an sudden playoff run and coach of the 12 months honors for James Wade.
The Sky’s star energy continues with taking pictures guard Diamond DeShields and ahead/heart Azura Stevens, who’re each coming back from damage, and Courtney Vandersloot, who set a single-game help file final 12 months with 18.
With a stellar roster headlined by Parker, and a high-scoring offense (ranked fourth final season) expectations for the Sky are, nicely, sky-high.
“I think it creates expectations from outside,” Wade stated. “My goal is to just get us better, that’s it. We’ll end up where we are going to end up.
“Having the players we have, it puts us in a conversation where people think we can do better than a lot of other teams. I just try to get us in situations where we can win games and build some confidence around what we want to do.”
In 2020, the Connecticut Sun once again overperformed. Without the 6-foot-6 ahead Jonquel Jones, who sat out the season, the Sun nonetheless managed to just about knock off the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces in the playoffs. Their upset-filled run to the semifinals was fueled in massive half by Alyssa Thomas’s tireless protection and constant scoring; even after she dislocated her shoulder early in the Sun’s second sport in opposition to the Aces, Thomas led the workforce to victory two days later with a double-double.
Thomas received’t be with the Sun this season, although, that means they as soon as once more will likely be short-staffed. She injured her Achilles’ tendon whereas enjoying abroad, and isn’t slated to return till 2022. Jones is again, although, and along with the veteran star DeWanna Bonner — 6 ft Four inches — creates an unenviable matchup for even the league’s most elite bigs.
The Sun have favored a slower, grind-it-out tempo, averaging the third-least factors per sport in the W.N.B.A. final season. But with out the defensive would possibly of Thomas and with two forwards who can shoot 3s in Bonner and Jones, it appears doable they could favor a extra offense-oriented model in 2021.
Forward Brionna Jones reached a brand new degree in 2020, greater than tripling her factors per sport and changing into an necessary contributor on protection as nicely; now, she provides to the measurement and general athleticism of the Sun. The veteran guards Briann January and Jasmine Thomas spherical out the beginning lineup.