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Ranking the WNBA's Top 25 Free Agents in 2022

Jackie Powell@@classicjpowContributor IDecember 30, 2021

Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson (22) drives to the basket against Phoenix Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith during the second half of Game 5 of a WNBA basketball playoff series Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Chase Stevens)
Chase Stevens/Associated Press

The most chaotic time of the year for WNBA front offices is approaching. General managers and head coaches are scrambling to get their wish lists together for the greatest time of the new year: the free-agency period.

In the past couple of winters, big names have requested trades. In 2020, the Mercury acquired Skylar Diggins-Smith in a sign-and-trade and DeWanna Bonner left Phoenix for the Connecticut Sun. And this past January, moves that could have been deemed improbable came to fruition when Candace Parker returned home to Chicago to join the Sky and Betnijah Laney returned to the Northeast, bypassing the Dream to sign with the Liberty. 

In 2022, the same type of player movement and shock value is expected. Breanna Stewart, who is experiencing free agency for the first time this winter, expects this year's free agency period will be "the biggest" since the W's most recent CBA.

Before the action commences, players can accept qualifying offers between Jan. 1 and Jan. 14. Contract negotiations begin the next day, and contracts can't officially be signed until Feb. 1. Unrestricted free agents can sign with any team they choose unless they are cored (which we'll explain down below). Restricted players can negotiate with any team, but their previous team can match any deal.

Which players should be at the top of any GM's wish list and how likely is it that certain players will wear a different jersey come opening day this May? 

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Here at B/R we'll answer all of those questions along with introducing the Top 25 unrestricted and restricted free agents from the 2022 class.

    

1. Breanna Stewart (Unrestricted) 

Matt York/Associated Press

Breanna Stewart is one of the winningest players in women's basketball history. She has won four NCAA national championships and two WNBA Finals. Sue Bird, her teammate of five seasons, described Stewart as someone who "only knows winning.

If a team finds a way to lure Stewie out of Seattle, its prerogative ought to be to win now, and that's what she can provide any WNBA franchise. 

While some of Stewart's 2021 numbers indicate she had a down year in efficiency—her effective field-goal percentage was the lowest of her career (49.3)—she maintained 1.03 points per possession, scoring 589 points in 569 possessions, per Synergy sports. The only other player to maintain a higher PPP rate than Stewart in over 500 possessions was Brittney Griner with 1.102. 

Stewart also landed on both the All-WNBA first team and the All-Defensive second team in 2021, and she doesn't let her 7'0" wingspan go to waste. 

While Stewart told Forbes on Dec. 9 that her "heart is in Seattle" and she aims to play in the Storm's new arena in 2022, Stewart has spent the holiday season in Manhattan with her wife, Marta Xargay Casademont, and their baby, Ruby, according to their Instagram stories. I'm probably reading into Stewart's holiday plans too much, but she did grow up in Syracuse, New York. 

Most likely, the Storm's first move will be to core their 2016 No. 1 overall draft pick. Coring an unrestricted free agent is a tool that's used to prevent the player from becoming a "true free agent." Per Her Hoops Stats, the core designation prohibits a player from negotiating with other teams but includes a one-year supermax contract as the qualifying offer. "Coring," however, doesn't prevent that player from getting traded. Last winter, the Storm cored Natasha Howard and then traded her to the Liberty. 

It is improbable to picture Stewart abandoning the team that drafted her, but Candace Parker has taught us improbability doesn't always mean or yield to impossibility.

     

2. Jonquel Jones (Unrestricted)

Jonquel Jones is the reigning MVP. In 2021, she led the league in rebounding (11.2 per game) and finished fourth in scoring (19.4 points per game). Whether it's hitting her signature turnaround jumper one-on-one in the post or nailing an open three, Jones can score at will and can play anywhere on the floor. Similarly to Stewart, Jones also finished the 2021 season on both an All-WNBA team and an All-Defensive team, but she earned first-team honors on both. 

So then why does Stewie take the top spot rather than Jones? The Connecticut Sun star has struggled in the postseason. In the semifinals this past fall, the Sky suffocated the 6'6" forward with consistent pressure and her effective field-goal percentage dropped nearly 8 percent from the regular season to the postseason (57.1 to 49.2). With Jones, a team is guaranteed one of the most talented and versatile players in the game. But her talent and versatility alone hasn't led Jones to a championship yet.

For now, head coach and general manager Curt Miller and the Sun would be wise to core their MVP from their historic 2021 season, in which the Sun achieved everything besides a championship. If Miller wants to run it back with his 2021 core—in addition to a healthier Alyssa Thomas in the mix—the logical first step is to guarantee that Jones returns. But a team like the New York Liberty, now searching for a new head coach and eager to move closer to contending, might make Jones an offer. 

Even if Miller cores Jones, New York can bargain with Connecticut, a team that needs more offensive firepower at guard and the wing. I mention New York again because they need more versatile post depth, which can be achieved from players like Jones and Stewart.

     

3. A'ja Wilson (Restricted)

A'ja Wilson, the Wubble Season MVP, experienced a drop in scoring in 2021. There are reasons for that, including the returns of Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum, who both missed the 2020 season. But Wilson's growth in other areas is what makes her one of the best players in 2022's free-agent class.

Because of the addition of more scorers in Plum and Cambage, Wilson took it upon herself to become a more willing passer. She ended the 2021 regular season with 98 total assists, the most of her career and the third-most in the league among forwards to Betnijah Laney and DeWanna Bonner. Wilson's free-throw percentage also increased from 78.1 in 2020 to 87.6 in 2021. 

Not to mention, Wilson, as a first-time Olympian, left Tokyo as one of Team USA's most productive players. When the Americans initially struggled getting used to playing with each other, Wilson provided consistency on both ends. Since Wilson arrived in Las Vegas in 2018, she's been the young organization's franchise player.

At only 25 years old, she's expected to be her team's leader and has assumed this role since her rookie season. It was particularly striking when head coach Bill Laimbeer remarked that his team needed to "grow up" and get mentally tougher after the Aces lost Game 5 of the semifinals to the Mercury. 

Was this a dig at Wilson? I'm not sure, but what I am sure about is relationships do matter. Wilson knows both new Atlanta Dream GM Dan Padover and new head coach Tanisha Wright quite well from their time together in Vegas during the 2021 season.

Would Padover and Wright have the upper hand while the Aces' current GM situation remains murky? The Dream don't have much leverage if they want to pursue Wilson. They have the 2022 No. 3 overall draft pick, Cheyenne Parker, Tianna Hawkins, Maite Cazorla, Aari McDonald and Chennedy Carter on the books for 2022. 

What type of pull does Aces owner Mark Davis have? How could he one-up what Dream owners Larry Gottesdiener, Suzanne Abair and Renee Montgomery might have to say about Wilson getting a new start for a franchise within driving distance to where she grew up in Hopkins, South Carolina? If Wilson wants to stay in Vegas, the Dream and any other interested suitors are out of luck. Wilson is restricted and the Aces are able to counter any offer another team throws at her. 

     

4. Jewell Loyd (Unrestricted)

Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

In 2021, Jewell Loyd proved that she could be the best shooting guard in the W. While her scoring average was the highest in her career with 17.9 points per game, the Gold Mamba took a step forward defensively, proving to her team and the league that she's not just a three-way scorer.

According to Synergy Sports, Loyd's defensive PPP was 0.826 in 2020, putting her in the 72nd percentile in the league. But a year later, Loyd gave up only 0.76 PPP putting the three-time All-Star at the 88th percentile. 

It's time for Loyd to get paid. Her 2021 salary was $121,500, and she was earning less than Candice Dupree before she was waived and only a bit more than veteran role player Epiphanny Prince. This will change, but it's not certain as of now if Loyd will be in Seattle come May. 

The Storm have some crucial decisions to make this winter. Unless Sue Bird decides to retire, which appears less likely with a shiny new court and locker room at Climate Pledge Arena, the Storm will have to deal with a salary-cap crunch once again.

Will the Storm become the Mercury, whose Big Three in Skylar Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi take up over 60 percent of the salary cap? I'm not sure. But if Loyd gets an offer on a team like the Connecticut Sun, who are in a favorable position to contend and can provide her with more agency on the court, Loyd might be on the move.

    

5. Courtney Vandersloot (Unrestricted)

If Sue Bird does indeed retire, could Seattle try to tempt a Kentwood High School graduate from Kent, Washington, to come back home? 

It sounds absolutely wild for Seattle to just replace the WNBA's all-time assists leader with the player who is currently fourth on that list. But if the Storm find a way to keep both Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd on roster, they've got to solve their point guard issue. Vandersloot's ability to read a defense is something the Storm are used to having in a point guard, but what they aren't used to having is a lead guard who can also score at will in the paint rather than the perimeter. It's a fun possibility, but it's far from probable. 

Now back to reality. Vandersloot has built a life in Chicago with her wife and teammate Allie Quigley. While James Wade has encouraged her to participate in free agency, the sun would have to collide with the earth for Sloot to leave the Sky, especially with Parker in Chicago for at least another year. But as Stewart alluded to, 2022 free agency will be wild and that major surprises are bound to happen. I just don't know if those surprises entail Vandersloot being anywhere else but in the Windy City. 

      

6. Kahleah Copper (Unrestricted)

WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper is only primed to get better, especially if she can continue to correct the timing on her jumper. 

Offensive efficiency specialist Roger Galo told B/R that Copper's free-throw percentage (81.8) should yield a more consistent shot from beyond the arc. Galo believes that if she's able to execute her same form from the charity stripe, which includes a bit less vertical movement, Copper could increase her efficiency from the three-point line.

The point is that Copper has the potential to be even better than she was in 2021, and that should terrify opposing teams. She should be the Sky's first and foremost priority this winter. She is the future of the organization, and as I predicted in October, she's due for a major payday. Expect Copper to get a three-year deal from the Sky at the regular max salary of $196,267. 

     

7. Tina Charles (Unrestricted)

Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

Tina Charles can no longer be cored, so either Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault can credibly convince Charles that the Mystics will be healthy enough to contend for a championship, or the eight-time All-Star is most likely on the move. 

In an interview with the Washington Post at the end of the season, Charles noted that while she wasn't sure what the future held with the Mystics, she was "thankful" for her year with Washington but knows that she "needs to win a championship" before retirement. 

Charles is now 33 years old, but she proved in 2021 that her age is a mere number. While medically excused from the W in 2020, she worked on her perimeter skills, including refining her jump shot alongside trainer Tim Burns. According to Thibault, she arrived in Washington in the best shape of her life and was ready to "prove herself to the world that, 'I'm still one of the elite players.'"

And that she did. She finished 2021 as the league's scoring champion, averaging 23.4 points per game and shooting 36.5 percent from three, the best rate of her career. 

Charles wants to win and will put herself in the best position to do so. That is what both she and the Storm have in common. If Sue Bird re-signs for one more season, the Storm's window to win shrinks and they will want to go all-in. Especially if Seattle can't retain its big three, Charles' talent and developed versatility would be welcomed by Noelle Quinn. 

     

8. Sylvia Fowles (Unrestricted)

Would you believe me if I told you that Sylvia Fowles, one of the greatest pure centers the WNBA has ever seen, was making less than four of her Minnesota Lynx teammates in 2021? Well, it's true. Fowles, who was on a contract orchestrated before the league's most recent CBA, made $117,894. 

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year could be in line for a major payday. But first, is playing in 2022 even part of Fowles' plan? Once the Lynx were eliminated in the playoffs by the Sky, Fowles addressed that her future in the W was "unbright."

What did the W's all-time leader in rebounds mean, exactly? Fowles, who just turned 36 in October, has aspirations to become a mother one day and wants to figure out her best path to do so before thinking about her basketball future.

"We got some things to talk about, Cheryl and I," she said. "I'm not sure to be honest. I'll keep you posted in the next couple months."

On the Dec. 9 episode of The Cheryl Reeve Show, Reeve and Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune discussed how Fowles traveled to Minnesota for Reeve's USA Basketball press conference, which introduced the Lynx GM and head coach as the new women's national team head coach. Reeve noted how generous Fowles was to come to support her, calling the seven-time All-Star "incredibly loyal" and "generous." 

Souhan then asked if Fowles would be willing to compete in the 2024 Olympics alongside her. 

"You know, I certainly broached the subject," Reeve said. "I said, 'You know, wouldn't this be fun to do this together?' Oh gosh, and you know, I think as you know, she retired from USA Basketball, and at this point I don't have any indication that she's unretiring."

     

9. Myisha Hines-Allen (Restricted)

When Thibault was interviewed after his Washington Mystics earned the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, he was asked about the probability that Emma Meesseman would play this coming season. He wasn't too optimistic because of this fall's FIBA World Cup and noted that he's "going to have a heart-to-heart" with her.

He also provided an update on top 2021 free-agency acquisition Alysha Clark, who's rehabbing from a Lisfranc injury, noting that she should be ready for training camp this year. And then he gave an update on Elena Delle Donne, who is making "great progress" this offseason. 

But what about Myisha Hines-Allen? She's a player who, when completely healthy, could help propel the Mystics back into being a top-tier team in the WNBA. The discussion from that presser reinforces that Hines-Allen's chances of staying with the Mystics are unclear. Is Washington willing to pay her the money she deserves? The Mystics have some decisions to make, and if Tina Charles does return to Washington, Hines-Allen might be inclined to sign where there's more cap space.

The 6'1" versatile forward is valued around the league as a player with tremendous skill and strength. She showed the W what she is capable of during her 2020 season in Florida when she made the All-WNBA second team. While she had a down year in 2021 dealing with multiple injuries and illnesses, Hines-Allen has the dexterity to play in a modern offense that spreads the floor and operates in transition. Sure, she's not the most vertical power forward, but she makes up for it with pure muscle. 

While Hines-Allen is a restricted free agent, a team like the Liberty, who love Louisville products, could offer her more money than the Mystics. 

    

10. Allie Quigley (Unrestricted)

Paul Beaty/Associated Press

We all discuss Parker's remarkable 2021 season as the Chicago Sky's hometown hero, but Allie Quigley is just as much of a hometown hero as Parker. 

While she wasn't the MVP of the WNBA Finals, she was the MVP of Game 4. She scored 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including shooting 50 percent from three-point range. When the Mercury defense locked down on slasher and eventual series MVP Kahleah Copper, Quigley took it upon herself to do what she does best: never stop moving off the ball and make her open looks.

With Quigley, it's not a matter of if she'll return to the Sky but rather if she'll return to the WNBA.

At 35 years old, it's certainly possible but not probable. 

In her 13th year in the league, there was no sign of any decline. The three-time three-point shooting contest champion finished in the 96th percentile for PPP with 1.072. Per Synergy Sports, she scored 343 points on 320 possessions during the regular season. 

The energy around Chicago is to do whatever it takes to win a second straight championship, and Quigley is a main cog of that core that James Wade looks to identify this coming winter. 

      

11. Rebecca Allen (Unrestricted)

Rebecca Allen has never tested free agency in her six-year WNBA career. She's coming off a 2021 season where she averaged the most minutes and points of her career. After years of occupying Bill Laimbeer's bench, the Liberty's more modern style of play, which combines spreading the floor and versatile guard/forward-type players, suited Allen's game. 

Although she arrived late to training camp from her overseas season in Spain and then sat out with plantar fasciitis to start the season, Allen returned from the Olympic break firing on all cylinders. She shot 49 percent from three, registered 17 steals and 15 blocks following the Olympic break. 

Former Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins expressed what he saw in Allen's play in the second half of the season. "It's clear that Bec is going to be one of the more valuable players in the league," he said. "But I think it's just a matter of the consistency that separates. It's like if Bec gets consistent with all these behaviors on both ends of the court—which she has been in this stretch—once that continues, I think that's going to continue to rise in terms of how much she can contribute."

Allen will be quite desirable for multiple teams: a 6'2" sharp-shooting wing player who can play three of five positions on the floor while taking pride in defense. In an interview with The Next, she expressed that New York, the place where her WNBA career began, is like a second home. The ball will be in the Liberty's court to provide Allen with an offer that she'd be foolish to pass up. 

     

12. Mercedes Russell (Restricted)

Mercedes Russell has become a dependent presence in Seattle. In seasons where the Storm were down in depth—such as in 2019 because of Stewart's and Bird's injuries, and then in 2021 with the departure of Natasha Howard—Russell has proved she's a player who will have a long and prosperous career in the league. 

She does so much on the floor that doesn't always appear in a simple box score. But go to the Storm's on/off splits, and her impact becomes much more obvious. The Storm had a 8.5 better NET rating with Russell on the floor. The only players with a greater on-off impact for the Storm this past season were Stewart and Loyd.

What exactly does she do that's so helpful to any team? Get ready for a laundry list. 

She moves incredibly well for a 6'6" center. She has good hands and long arms. She plays with consistent effort. She can successfully guard some of the best posts in the league one-on-one. She's an effective screen setter. And she finished the 2021 season with the second-highest true shooting percentage (64.8) in the league among qualified players.

But what's ironic about that is the only skill Russell doesn't have currently in her arsenal is her jump shot. Per Synergy Sports, Russell took 10 jump shots and made three of them. It's a small sample size, but clearly that's not her comfort zone.

Russell is definitely worth more than her most recent contract of $70,040. She's another player who I could imagine being lured elsewhere for more money—money the Storm won't have because of their own difficulties managing their salary cap. 

If Russell is dedicated to winning another championship with the Storm, she could take a pay cut. But the 26-year-old does so much well and deserves more than earning just five figures.

     

13. Liz Cambage (Unrestricted) 

John Locher/Associated Press

Some might be shocked that Liz Cambage fell all the way to 13th on this list, but her future in the WNBA is uncertain. 

At 30 years old, what's Cambage's plan? Before COVID-19 rocked the world, her plan was to compete for a medal in Tokyo and help the Aces win their first WNBA championship. Neither happened. 

Although as she noted in 2019 before the pandemic and her decision to not compete in Tokyo, the reevaluation begins now. After the Olympics came and went without her and two seasons playing for Las Vegas, what's next for the 6'8" center?

All we know as of now is that she won't compete with the Australian Opals for the World Cup in Sydney this coming fall. Will ownership be willing to take a third swing at the "A'ja and Liz" experiment? Wilson adapted in 2021 to sharing the floor with Cambage with her assist rate increasing. But how do the Aces evaluate Cambage's second half of the season after she got COVID and missed seven games?

Cambage found her bearings toward the end of the Aces' semifinal series against the Mercury. But with Las Vegas pursuing Becky Hammon to potentially replace Laimbeer, Cambage's time in Sin City might be over. If Hammon does replace and succeed Laimbeer, would she want Cambage on her team, especially amid the reported altercation that took place before the Olympics with the Nigerian national team?

     

14. Angel McCoughtry (Unrestricted)

Angel McCoughtry has taken fans inside her journey to return to the court. After sitting on the Aces bench all season following an ACL and meniscus tears in her right knee, McCoughtry continues to rehab in Atlanta with an unexpected companion in Chennedy Carter.

"Few months ago I started mentoring Chennedy Carter and as I have gotten to know her she is an awesome kid," McCoughtry tweeted. "Fun, energetic and eager to learn. Expecting great things out of this young kid!!"

What does this mean? Does McCoughtry return to the team that drafted her in the Dream? It's quite possible. The people holding the keys in Atlanta are familiar, as GM Dan Padover and head coach Tanisha Wright spent two years getting to know the five-time All-Star while they were all in Las Vegas.

But the high-level slasher and shot creator will test the waters this winter. Even if returning to the Dream appears to make the most sense, she'll be listening to all parties who are interested in her. 

She tweeted in response to all of the speculation: "Free Agency means your open to all until you sign on the dotted line lol. This is to answer all the questions I'm getting. Happy Holidays."

     

15. Tiffany Hayes (Unrestricted)

Tiffany Hayes returned to the Dream after sitting out the 2020 Wubble season with full force. Did she know 2021 was a contract year? Probably. In 2021 she reemerged as one of the most dynamic scorers in the league. 

While Hayes sustained a MCL tear that kept her out of 11 games, her 21-game sample size is enough evidence that she's not slowing down and, if anything, has expanded her game. 

In addition to her Eurosteps through the baseline and abilities to rim-run at will, Hayes perfected her step-back three and recorded a career-best three-point percentage of 40.5. Having a consistent three-point shot forced larger defenders to leave the paint, and Hayes fooled the bigs who came out to guard her with her step-back. Hayes also increased her assists output, dishing exactly three per contest. 

When it comes to whether she'll return to Atlanta, that's also uncertain. How do Padover and Wright feel about Hayes? Does she contribute to the team culture that they are so insistent on building? We'll find out this winter. But in the meantime, a team like the Sun, desperate for more offense from the guard spot, could be a fit.

     

16. Briann January (Unrestricted) 

Stew Milne/Associated Press

Briann January did exactly everything she was asked and was exactly who the Sun asked her to be. In the January of the 13th season in the W, she shot 38 percent from three and was named to the WNBA All-Defensive First Team. She's the blueprint for a three-and-D backcourt player and has shown how a player with her skill set and drive can have a long professional career.

Her chances of returning to the Sun are slim because once Connecticut was knocked out of the playoffs as the No. 1 overall seed, women's basketball pundits, including me, determined that the Sun need more offensive firepower in their backcourt.

January and Jasmine Thomas have very similar skill sets, and Thomas is currently signed to a protected contract through 2023. But this doesn't mean January should struggle finding a home for the 2022 season. She's incredibly well respected around the W as potentially the best 2-guard defender in the league. 

Seattle Storm head coach Noelle Quinn is one among many who deeply respects January's game. "She's aggressive but she's, like, relentless," Quinn said. "She will get in your grill, get in your space, every possession; it's almost as if she doesn't take a possession off defensively. She's in passing lanes, and I think one thing that she understands about herself is that she's a very good defender. When you win, you can focus on your matchup and not really [be] worried about what happens on the other end of the floor, though she can knock down shots and things of that nature. But she knows what strengths she has defensively and I think that impacts how she's able to defend."

     

17. Sue Bird (Unrestricted)

It might be a shock that Sue Bird falls all the way to 17th on our list, but at 41 years old, Bird's struggles come in the form of defending some of the younger, quicker guards and wings. In 2021, her defensive rating was 99.4, the worst out of the Storm's starters.

But what remains undeniable about Bird is her ability to read defenses at hyper speed, making the right pass more often than not. She's the WNBA's all-time leader in assists with 3,048. Also, her three-point shot is something defenses must respect. She shot over 40 percent from three in 2021, her third season in a row shooting in the 40s from deep. 

Am I overzealous to believe that there is close to no way that Bird plays for any other team than the Storm if she does return? Bird was quite coy when she appeared on ESPN's Manningcast on Oct. 25. 

"I don't know," Bird said. "Luckily our free agency doesn't start for a while, so I get some time to think. We just opened a new arena here in Seattle, and I happened to be in there for the opening of the Kraken game. And ... it was tempting. The thoughts of playing there were very tempting. I'll leave you with that."

Now that free agency is right around the corner, what's Bird's verdict? Time will soon tell.

      

18. Nia Coffey (Unrestricted) 

Nia Coffey was one of the L.A. Sparks' more pleasant surprises on offense. The five-year vet had a breakout season offensively on the worst offensive team in the league. 

She shot 41.7 percent from three and proved she could effectively cut to the spots she found most favorable on the floor. Coffey mastered the Sparks' pick-and-pop action and took smaller guards off the dribble. She even has a pretty nasty slide step/jump-stop hybrid move that she can make on her way to the basket.

The Sparks have three spots left on their roster, along with $157,417 left on their salary cap. Coffey could return to Los Angeles, but only if she accepts the fact that the Sparks won't have enough space to pay her more than her 2021 contract of $70,040. If Coffey gets an offer that supersedes whatever the Sparks offer her, she'll join the team that values her the most.

      

19. Sophie Cunningham (Unrestricted) 

Sophie Cunningham proved in the 2021 postseason that she deserves a spot in this league. 

When the Mercury didn't pick up her player option in May, making her an unrestricted free agent, that lit a fire underneath her. 

"It might have been a blessing in disguise for me," she said during her exit interview in October. "I think the second half of the season, I proved myself. My shooting percentages went up. And just being a good teammate and doing the dirty work is what I'm good at."

Without her 21-point performance against the Liberty in the first round of the playoffs, when she went 6-of-7 from three, Phoenix wouldn't have made it to the Finals. Cunningham also stepped up when Diana Taurasi was sidelined by an ankle injury.

Will Cunningham grow and evolve past being a sharpshooting wing who is as tough as nails? Regardless of her development, having a player who's 6'1" and can spread the floor will remain valuable in the W. And with Sandy Brondello out as the head coach and vice president of player personnel of the Mercury, who knows how this might affect Cunningham's chances of returning to Phoenix.

     

20. Layshia Clarendon (Unrestricted)

John Bazemore/Associated Press

Layshia Clarendon (who uses they, she and he pronouns) fit the Lynx like a glove in 2021. Minnesota needed a dependable veteran point guard who could match up defensively against some of the larger guards. At 5'9", his M.O. is playing aggressively through the paint. Once Clarendon joined the Lynx after being waived from the Liberty in May, Minnesota found its team identity, something the team struggled with before their arrival. 

Once Clarendon settled in with the Lynx, he experienced his most statistically sound season since his 2017 All-Star season. She scored 10.4 points and dished out 5.7 assists per game in 21 games for the Lynx. Their 51.7 field-goal percentage was the highest of their nine-year career.

It would be shocking if Clarendon didn't return to Minnesota in 2022, as they've been rehabbing their stress fracture in Minneapolis and appeared at Cheryl Reeve's introductory press conference as USA Basketball's new women's head coach.

But after the Lynx were eliminated from the playoffs in late September, Clarendon did warn that although they'd love to return to the Lynx, "crazy things happen" in free agency.

     

21. Stephanie Talbot (Restricted) 

Similar to Sophie Cunningham and Nia Coffey, Stephanie Talbot will attract multiple suitors in free agency. 

Talbot's skill set, versatility, intangibles and hustle make her an effective role player in any system. She proved while playing for the Storm that she's an elite three-point shooter, making 41.5 percent of her long-range shots, and can play in an offense reliant upon pace and ball movement. 

The 2021 season saw Talbot grow and develop as a decision-maker. She would routinely pass up her shot for the more open player, direct the pick-and-roll with Seattle's bigs and run the floor effectively in transition.

Defensively, Talbot played with effort, creating hustle plays, fighting through screens and boxing out smaller players on the glass. The 27-year-old looked awfully comfortable in a Storm jersey, and if Seattle can get its salary cap in order, the chances for the Australian wing to return are high.

     

22. Stefanie Dolson (Unrestricted)

Stefanie Dolson, who came off the bench in the 2021 playoffs, was responsible for sealing the deal for the Sky in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals. In the final two minutes of regulation, she scored on two straight offensive sets to finally put the Sky in the lead, one that they didn't relent.

The first score came on a sequence that combined all of what has made Dolson successful in this league. She set multiple screens for Allie Quigley, broke away from Diana Taurasi to slip toward the basket and finished a nice feed from Courtney Vandersloot. The second score came on a high pick-and-roll with Vandersloot, something the pair has probably practiced a million times. 

But Dolson isn't satisfied with her monster 2021, which included not only a WNBA championship but a gold medal. She told Annie Costabile of the Chicago Sun-Times that during the offseason, she's been expanding her post moves, availing herself to become even more versatile.

While Dolson said, "it's kind of hard to not come back" after winning a championship, money talks. The center would probably entertain a return to her home state of New York if she was offered enough, as she is a versatile post player who would most definitely fit the Liberty. 

     

23. Diamond DeShields (Restricted)

Paul Beaty/Associated Press

Diamond DeShields hasn't been the same since 2019. The same athleticism and ability to scorch opponents in transition that earned her an All-Star appearance and allowed her to defeat Jonquel Jones in the 2019 Skills Challenge has dissipated. If that's because multiple injuries have prevented her from having the same spring in her step, coupled with a loss of confidence, maybe she does need a fresh start. 

 

Both GM and head coach James Wade and DeShields sound confident about her return to the Sky, though. The Next's James Kay reported that the two had a "productive conversation" about how she could regain her previous form.

After a season that saw her relegated to the bench while teammate Kahleah Copper established herself as an All-Star and Finals MVP, the best move for both DeShields and the Sky might be to move on, especially if the Sky intend on doing whatever it takes to run it back in Parker's final year of her two-year deal. 

As for what could be next for DeShields, she went to high school 20 miles outside Atlanta. The Dream, who are also looking to start anew, could be an intriguing fit. 

     

24. Courtney Williams (Unrestricted) 

With the type of 2021 season Courtney Williams had, one that was statistically her best as a pro and got her to her first All-Star Game, you'd think her former team would be in the running to re-sign her. But that is not the case here. After Williams released footage in early October of a fight she and teammate Crystal Bradford got involved in outside of an Atlanta club in May, the Dream informed both players that they wouldn't be re-signed "under any circumstances." 

Does this incident prevent her from landing on a WNBA roster? It seems unlikely, as Williams is too skilled of a scorer. She has arguably one of the best mid-range pull-ups in the W, and her vertical lift allows her to rebound the ball effectively for a 5'8" guard. 

But with all else being equal, she still may have trouble finding a new team after what happened over the summer.

      

25. Elizabeth Williams (Unrestricted)

After landing on the WNBA All-Defensive first team and scoring 10.1 points per game last season, Williams had a down year in 2021. She averaged just 5.8 points per game and saw her defensive metrics tumble.

In the Florida Wubble, Williams ranked in the 84th percentile in defensive PPP with 0.782, per Synergy Sports. This past season, that number dropped to 0.888, placing her in the 51st percentile. 

Still, Williams' value comes mostly on the defensive end, as she's able to block and alter shots with her long and strong arms. She also rotates and switches positioning on the floor quickly for a big. 

Does Williams stay on the team where she's become emblematic in its community? Her involvement and leadership in the Dream's strife against previous governor Kelly Loeffler will always be a part of the franchise's history.

Dream head coach Tanisha Wright has been a broken record when discussing the types of personalities and character she wants on her roster. Williams is someone she ought to keep.

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