WNBA Power Rankings: Can Chicago Sky Break Tradition and Repeat?May 4, 2022
Welcome back to Bleacher Report's WNBA power rankings. It's been a while! Here we will examine the standings and happenings from on and off the court each week. After an active free-agency period this winter and the first in-person draft in three years, we'll explore which teams are best on paper before all the action tips off Friday.
Training camps have been in session all over the W, and they will close toward the end of this week with the beginning of the 26th WNBA season. While the league isn't celebrating a notable anniversary this year, this campaign is set to be its most competitive yet. Ten teams are gunning for eight playoff positions, and at least half of them are contending for the championship.
A must-see matchup will help open the season, with the defending champion Chicago Sky hosting the Los Angeles Sparks at 8 p.m. ET Friday. Candace Parker didn't get to face her former team last season because of an injury. And on Sunday, it will be a star-studded evening out West when 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart and 2020 MVP A'ja Wilson face off when the Seattle Storm visit the Las Vegas Aces at 10 p.m. ET.
Which teams are set to show out in 2022? Let's find out.
12. Indiana Fever
After a couple of years of constant confusion, the Indiana Fever have finally committed to a franchise rebuild and a team identity, two necessary steps that are integral to their goal for the season: improvement. Gone are the days of loading up on past-their-prime veterans in free agency and proclaiming the unrealistic objective of making the playoffs. Interim general manager Lin Dunn and head coach Marianne Stanley selected a third of the 12 first-round draft picks and seven total, including Nalyssa Smith, Emily Engstler, Lexie Hull, Queen Egbo and Destanni Henderson. They were chosen for their defensive intensity, three-point shooting ability or both.
When it comes to expectations, those picks won't equate to a lot of winning. The Fever might be hard to watch at times, but the effort, positivity and excitement that exudes from a bunch of young and hungry rookies will prove Indiana finally has a direction and desire to ignite its fanbase.
11. Atlanta Dream
The Dream are also in rebuild mode but have taken a different approach. Atlanta drafted only two rookies in Rhyne Howard at No. 1 and Michigan standout Naz Hillmon at No. 15. But they also begin the regular season with Atlanta's No. 16 pick from 2018, Australian guard Kristy Wallace. Due to injury, her WNBA career has been delayed, but she is returning to the team that drafted her.
What also makes Atlanta's rebuild different from Indiana's is the lack of discussion of the Dream's basketball identity. When head coach Tanisha Wright was asked about her expectations for this season, she answered exactly how a coach in the middle of a rebuild answers. It's about getting better every day, but she discussed a different goal, a desire to create entertainment. "We [want to] put out a product that the city can be proud of," she said.
10. Dallas Wings
My initial criticism with the lack of moves the Wings made before acquiring Teaira McCowan for the fourth and sixth picks in the draft was because Dallas had failed to bring in proven veteran leadership. And from the moment it landed McCowan, the aura around the team was that her presence would take them a step forward when it might not. While McCowan has great height and strength, there's a lot about her game that needs work. She's also only 25 years old and isn't mobile enough to operate more than 10 feet from the rim. Her decision-making and passing continue to be works in progress.
Why is this an issue? Because she'll most likely play beside Satou Sabally. When head coach Vickie Johnson was asked about how Sabally and McCowan will work in tandem, her first response was "perfect." I don't buy it. Sabally is a versatile inside-outside player, and McCowan's limitations will prevent Sabally from having enough space to penetrate and create downhill. The Wings are going to shock the women's basketball world or land outside the playoffs without a 2023 first-round draft pick.
9. Los Angeles Sparks
The Los Angeles Sparks were one of the winners of free agency, but that doesn't mean they'll be the winners of the season. They definitely improved when they traded for Chennedy Carter and Katie Lou Samuelson and signed Jordin Canada and Liz Cambage.
But a laundry list of questions remain: Can Jordin Canada lead the backcourt successfully while Kristi Toliver is still coaching in the NBA playoffs? Can Chiney Ogwumike be relied upon to stay healthy and produce? How will Amanda Zahui B. fit into the post player rotation once she returns from playing in the Turkish playoffs? How will 2021 draft pick Jasmine Walker look after tearing her right ACL at the beginning of last season? How will the locker room gel? Will Carter find a veteran player or coach who can mentor and understand her, similar to the kinship she felt with former Atlanta head coach Nicki Collen?
8. New York Liberty
The Liberty aren't in rebuild mode anymore. The hiring of former Phoenix Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello, an accomplished mainstay in the W, was the first sign of that. Brondello's calling card was sustainable success. She delivered only one championship during her eight years with the Mercury, but in each season her team made the playoffs.
After an ownership change and a franchise reset with a new set of stars in Sabrina Ionescu, Natasha Howard and Betnijah Laney, the Liberty won't be aiming to sneak into the postseason. A deep playoff run will be the expectation moving forward. This team will go as far as Ionescu goes, so let's see how she looks. She says she's feeling the healthiest she has since before suffering a third-degree sprained ankle in the beginning of the 2020 Wubble season.
7. Minnesota Lynx
One of the greatest centers in basketball history is going to retire after this season, and the Lynx's goal is to "send her out the way we all want to send her out," head coach and general manger Cheryl Reeve said. What does that mean? A championship, of course.
But there are legitimate hurdles in the Lynx's path. Sylvia Fowles' successor as the franchise player, Napheesa Collier, will be out for the foreseeable future. She's set to give birth to her first child at the end of this month. Stretch big Damiris Dantas is still recovering from a Lisfranc injury that she suffered in August. How reliable is Natalie Achonwa, a passing big who played through a sprained MCL in her first season with the Lynx?
The team announced Tuesday in shocking moves that it waived 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield, 2021 No. 9 pick Rennia Davis (who hadn't played an official game) and Layshia Clarendon, the point guard who turned Minnesota's season around last year. Reeve also signed point guard Odyssey Sims to a training camp contract. Reeve said Clarendon wasn't healthy enough to play and practice regularly after suffering a leg injury in the 2021 season. Were some of the moves made just to restructure the Lynx's salary cap so they can add hardship players? Replacement contracts can be signed when teams have fewer than 10 players available, which is the situation Minnesota is in now.
6. Washington Mystics
The success of the Mystics is incumbent on the availability and play of franchise star Elena Delle Donne and 2021 free-agent signee Alysha Clark. The key to Washington's championship season in 2019 was the remarkable performance they got from Delle Donne, as she joined the 50–40–90 club. After multiple back surgeries and only playing three games last season, Delle Donne has said her health has changed for the better.
If Clark returns to form after sitting out a year while rehabbing a Lisfranc injury, the Mystics will feature another dimension. Throw in rim protector and offseason signee Elizabeth Williams, and they have five highly respected defenders, including Clark, Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins and rookie Shakira Austin. With versatile forward Myshia Hines-Allen healthy as well, Washington has the potential to be even better than it was in 2019. But that will be determined by what can't be controlled: health.
5. Phoenix Mercury
Before March, I would have placed the Mercury closer to the top of these power rankings. The 2021 WNBA Finals runners-up got even more talented during free agency. Adding 2012 MVP Tina Charles and athletic wing Diamond DeShields improved their depth, a luxury Phoenix didn't possess during its playoff run last season. But after Brittney Griner was detained in Moscow for allegedly carrying hashish oil in her luggage, it's difficult to place this team higher in the rankings.
Phoenix didn't have an athletic wing player in the 2021 WNBA Finals to keep up with Kahleah Copper, and without Griner it no longer has the depth it had just added. The Mercury can carry 11 players this season, including Griner and Kia Nurse, who won't be available to start the year while she rehabs a torn ACL. While it is unclear when Griner, who has been classified by the United States government as "wrongfully detained," might be allowed to return to the U.S., the league announced Tuesday that Phoenix can roster a replacement player until Griner is ready to return to the court. Can the Mercury make it back to the Finals with a boatload of adversity? It didn't stop them last season.
4. Las Vegas Aces
Could the Aces transform from shooting the fewest threes per game in 2021 to shooting the most a year later? With Becky Hammon replacing Bill Laimbeer as head coach in addition to the personnel the team drafted—wing Kierstan Bell and shooting guard Aisha Sheppard—that is the expectation. The reason I left Las Vegas out of the top three is because not only are multiple rookies expected to make the roster but also the core of A'ja Wilson, Dearica Hamby, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young is learning a new system that most likely contains principles that are the inverse of those taught in the Laimbeer school of basketball.
Also, in Hammon's system Wilson will play at the 5 rather than the 4. Growing pains could be in store for the 2020 MVP, but so could further development. Hammon and her staff may make Wilson an even more complete player, and that's exciting. With Gray, Plum and Hamby in contract years, it will be a make-or-break year.
3. The Seattle Storm
Besides the Lynx, the Storm have the most urgency to win a championship. Sue Bird announced that 2022 will be her final season, so the Big Three of Bird, Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart has one year left. What changes did Seattle make to address the shortcomings of 2021, when it looked like the best team in the league before the Olympic break and won the inaugural Commissioner's Cup but then fell in the first round of the playoffs to the Mercury?
Amid their hot start, defensively the Storm weren't as talented in 2021 as they were in the Wubble. Head coach Noelle Quinn realized this, and Seattle aimed to improve. It did so by signing one of the best perimeter defenders in Briann January for her last professional season and trading for athletic wing Gabby Williams. Since the Storm don't have a true backup point guard behind Bird, adding Williams, a more defensively minded on-ball playmaker, made sense.
2. Connecticut Sun
While the Sun don't have a WNBA legend retiring at the end of the season, they still are hungry for a championship. Connecticut was the best team throughout 2021, but its issues were exposed in the playoff semifinals against the Sky. The backcourt couldn't deliver in the clutch offensively, and their pace of play, even with Alyssa Thomas available during the series, made it difficult to keep up with Chicago.
Head coach and GM Curt Miller addressed those flaws by bringing back Courtney Williams, who can create a shot at will and already had chemistry with the core of Thomas, 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and Jasmine Thomas. Miller also drafted Nia Clouden, who is a shifty offensively minded guard who can score from all three levels. And Alyssa Thomas will be available all season. The Sun are dangerous because of how long their experienced core has played together. Can Jones prove she can be an MVP in the postseason?
1. Chicago Sky
A WNBA team hasn't successfully defended its title since the 2002 Sparks. With the way the Sky are built, they look primed to do so. If they do, will Candace Parker ride off into the retirement sunset? While center Stephanie Dolson and wing Diamond DeShields departed in free agency, Chicago added power forward Emma Meesseman and combo guard Julie Allemand, which seems almost unfair. But Allemand may not be available until the middle of June because of the French league's postseason. Until then, Dana Evans should back up Courtney Vandersloot at the point.
Without DeShields, a concern for the Sky will be who plays behind 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper on the wing. Also, as one of the older teams in the league, can Chicago stay healthy? Its championship run didn't seem probable when the playoffs began. The Sky were inconsistent during the 2021 regular season. I'm not sure a team can have a mediocre regular season followed by a masterful playoffs and a championship in two straight seasons. It will help that Vandersloot, Meesseman and Allie Quigley have been in training camp rather than finishing their international seasons in Russia.