WNBA Season Preview Part 3:New York, Phoenix, Seattle, Washington

Welcome to Part 3 of my season preview! Yes this part 3 is coming out after these teams have played between 1 and 2 games, but oh well, it is still very early in the season. Things happen when you write a blog as a hobby. Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

New York Liberty


Courtney Vandersloot PG

Sabrina Ionescu SG

Betnijah Laney SF

Breanna Stewart PF

Jonquel Jones C


Stefanie Dolson Big

Kayla Thornton Wing

Marine Johannès Guard


This team will score in bunches basically no matter who is playing, so the ceiling will be dictated by the defense. To that end, does Kayla Thornton ever supplant Betnijah Laney as the fifth player on the court in key moments. Or does the team go all offense all the time with Marine Johannès. It is genuinely an open question that likely needs to be decided by experimentation in the playoffs. Which of the Johannès, Laney, Thornton trio helps the Liberty play acceptable defense and amzing offense will be key to this team being able to defeat the Aces. How New York guards Chelsea Gray, and to a lesser extent Kelsey Plum, will be the key thing to watch when the Liberty and Aces meet up in the regular season.

Phoenix Mercury


Moriah Jefferson PG

Diana Taurasi SG

Sophie Cunningham SF

Brianna Turner PF

Brittney Griner C


Sug Sutton guard

Micheala Onyenwere wing

Megan Gustafson big


Other than the obvious of how does Griner look, which after two games is surprisingly good, who off the bench on this team will contribute to winning? This might be the thinnest of the teams who are not rebuilding in the W of players who have shown an ability to contribute in the W. Other than Turner and Cunningham, the Mercury starters are not players who should be relied on for heavy minutes so the bench should be playing. Given the lack of experience and proven contributions, the Mercury should be looking at the waiver wire and seeing who might be waiting a call and better than some of their bench options. I would, however, not recommend the Mercury trade their first round pick in 2024 or 2025 for a quick fix, since Caitlin Clark + Britney Griner would be something to see. 



Mercedes Russell C

Ezi Magbegor PF

Kia Nurse SF

Jewell Loyd SG

Ivana Dojkic or Jade Melbourne PG


Jordan Horston wing

Sami Whitcomb guard

Jade Melbourne or Ivana Dojkic guard


Who on this team besides Jewell and Ezi will be playing on their next good team in 2025 or 2026? Similar to the questions for the Fever and the Lynx, this is where teams that have little hope this season or next of winning a playoff round reside. That’s why I have the Storm starting either Dojkic, a 25 year old rookie from Croatia, or Melbourne, a 20 year old rookie from Australia. The team should also be seeing which of Kaila Charles or Arella Guirantes could be contributors off the bench on a better team. Can they keep Jewell Loyd happy enough to re-sgn with them and still be bad enough to get a top draft pick? If a couple of their current players look very promising, but don’t help win games yet, that would be ideal in helping them thread that needle.



Natasha Cloud PG

Ariel Atkins SG

Brittney Sykes SF

Elena Delle Donne PF

Shakira Austin C


Tianna Hawkins Big

Li Meng Wing

Kristi Toliver Guard


How does this team score enough to keep up with either the Aces or the Liberty in the second round of the playoffs? They should be good enough to be at least top 4  in the league and win a round of the playoffs. But can they keep up with the Aces or Liberty? A healthy EDD gives you a high floor as an offense, but she can not single-handedly beat the Aces or Liberty. While Sykes was a great pickup for the team’s defense, her lack of shooting becomes more of a hindrance in the playoffs. Neither the Aces nor Liberty are going to guard any of the Mystics starters outside of Atkins and EDD beyond the 3 point line. A possible adjustment would be seeing what can Toliver provide in place of Sykes in key moments. While the defense would suffer, the Mystics would still have multiple good defenders on the court and hopefully enough spacing. 

WNBA Season Preview Part 2: Indiana, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Minnesota

Part 2 of my season preview is here. As before, I focus on who I think should start and the top 3 bench players. Then in the outlook section I am looking at the biggest questions for the season for each team. Part 1 is here if you missed it. 

Indiana Fever


Aliyah Boston C

NaLyssa Smith PF

Victoria Vivians SF

Kelsey Mitchell SG

Erica Wheeler PG


Queen Egbo Big

Lexie Hull Wing

Grace Berger Guard 


Now that the Fever have two likely high level W players in Aliyah Boston and NaLyssa Smith, who else fits around them on this roster? Kelsey Mitchell is six years older than Boston, so not really on the same timeline, but should be able to remain good through at least Boston’s early prime. The rest of the roster is a mystery. Finding at least a couple of good contributors to put around Boston and Smith should be the main goal this and next season. Cutting Emily Engstler already was a poor start to that, as she had a theoretical fit next to both Boston and Smith. But drafting Grace Berger and Taylor Mikesell made sense, hopeing they can provide shooting, enough defense, and in Berger’s case, playmaking.

Also something to watch is ensuring that the pairing of Smith and Boston actually make sense and allow for both to flourish. I think the fit should be good, Smith has shown enough shooting from 3 to make it work. But should Smith profile as a center at her best, the Fever should consider if they can get a better fitting wing by trading Smith. I would bet on Smith being good enough at the 4 to make it work, but worth monitoring. 

Las Vegas Aces


Candace Parker C

A’ja Wilson PF

Jackie Young SF

Chelsea Gray SG

Kelsey Plum PG


Kia Stokes Big

Alysha Clark Wing

Riqna Williams Guard


How often in the playoffs do the Aces go to a one big on the floor look like the Wilson-Young-Gray-Plum-Williams one that won them the title last season? This team is built for it, with A’ja or Candace able to handle being the only big on the floor along with added depth on the wing with Alysha Clark. While I certainly expect Parker and Wilson to start and play significant minutes together, the Aces should experiment with staggering the two of them and playing smaller at times. It’s not removing a nonfactor on offense like it was last year, but opposing teams aren’t going to be as concerned about Parker on the perimeter at they would be Williams or Clark.

This would particularly be the case against the Liberty. The upgrade in shooting with Clark/Young battling with Breanna Stewart might very well be worth it. Stewart is going to get hers, the goal should be to stress them on defense on the other end. A’ja + 4 shooters is so hard to guard. Or against backups, Candace in the high post with 4 shooters to find cutting or popping out to the three, how the Sky used her. 

Los Angeles Sparks


Nneka Ogwumike C

Azurá Stevens PF

Dearica Hamby PF

Lexie Brown SG

Jasmine Thomas PG


Chiney Ogwumike Big

Layshia Clarendon Guard

Jordin Canada Guard


What in the world are the Sparks doing on the wing? Now, they can’t control that Steph Talbot (unfortunately) got injured and that Katie Lou Samuelson is pregnant (congrats to KLS!). But once they knew those things, they seem to not have remedied their lack of wing type players. They seem to be planning on going 3 bigs or 3 guards at all times. Hence me having 2 power forwards starting and two guards off the bench.

I get the logic that playing 3 bigs at a time with better players than playing wings who are not as good. But I hope the Sparks spend some time on the waiver wire or looking at who gets cut from other teams. For instance, Leigha Brown would have been a good player to take a flyer on, the way the Sun did in trading for her from Atlanta. 

Minnesota Lynx


Damiris Dantas C

Napheesa Collier PF

Diamond Miller SF

Kayla McBride SG

Tiffany Mitchell PG (really SF)


Nikolina Milic Big

Aerial Powers Wing

Lindsay Allen Guard


Two questions for the Lynx. How serious are they about winning games this season? This will be seen in how many minutes Diamond Miller plays. More minutes for development, the fewer wins. In time Miller should be good, but there will likely be an adjustment period. I would go with the development approach if it were me. Figuring out how to maximize Collier and Miller while also putting myself in position to possibly draft Caitlin Clark or Paige Bueckers seems like a good plan. Especially since Aaliyah Edwards or Cameron Brink might be available to help solidify the front court if Clark and Bueckers aren’t available or the lottery luck isn’t there.

The other question is what is happening at the point guard position this year? Tiffany Mitchell as a starting point guard is not something I ever expected to see, but given the other options it at least is worth trying. Mitchell has not shot well in the wnba in the past ,though did shoot better in the wnbl, 27%. What she can do is use her first step speed and guile as a driver to get to the paint. Put some shooting around her and it just might work.

WNBA Season Preview Part 1: Chicago, Atlanta, Connecticut and Dallas

The 2023 WNBA season is almost upon us. While the Aces and Liberty as the top 2 teams seems pretty set, the rest of the league is open to an unusual degree. I am going to be previewing the season with three articles, four teams per article. I am listing who I think should be the top 8 players and then addressing the major questions I have about each team to watch for as we head into the season.

Atlanta Dream


Cheyenne Parker C

Nia Coffey PF

Rhyne Howard SF

Allisha Gray SG

Aari McDonald PG


Monique Billings Big

Haley Jones   Wing

Danielle Robinson Guard


How does Tanisha Wright gets enough shooting on the court with this team? The Dream will get shooting from Howard, Gray and hopefully McDonald. But none of the other players on the team who are likely to play are likely to provide much spacing if at all. Coffey could provide spacing, if she bounces back from her icy shooting last season to the prior years. Both Haley Jones and Laeticia Amihere were good draft picks, but neither, at least this season, will be guarded from three. Parker can step out to 3 some, but if she is at center, using her to space the floor is not a good use of her skill set. Savvier teams will also likely still sag off her and see if she is willing to get her 3 volume up.

Trade acquisition Danielle Robinson can’t shoot from 3 and needs the ball in her hands to be effective. This is why I would not start her. Doing so requires Atlanta to run the offense through her and move both Howard and Gray off ball. Hopefully for the Dream, AD Durr can provide bench and Iliana Rupert comes over and plays decent backup minutes. Otherwise, the offense is unlikely to get the Dream beyond the first round of the playoffs. Something for Dan Padover to look into is how to add shooting that meshes with Howard and Gray in future seasons.



Elizabeth Williams C

Isabelle Harrison PF

Kaleah Copper SF

Marina Mabrey SG

Dana Evans PG


Alanna Smith Big

Rebekah Gardner Wing

Courtney Williams Guard


Why is this team trying to win the sixth seed and how does James Wade manage the bigs are the biggest question for me with this team. The Sky have inexplicably traded away their future draft picks, with 2024 gone and a swap for 2025, so the Sky have every incentive to go for every win this year. I would have taken a different approach, more like Seattle’s, where you be bad for a season in the hopes of getting someone to pair with Kaleah Copper.

James Wade is relying on either one of his signings turning into a top 10 player, seems unlikely, or for another top 10 player to sign with the team, also unlikely given the Sky’s lack of free agent appeal. Candace Parker came home, but the team is cheap relative to competitors in the ways not covered by the salary cap. If neither of those things happen, a couple of bites at two excellent draft classes would have been better. The risk of either of the picks sent away being in the lottery are slim, but too high for the upside of this Sky team.

For this season, how does this group of bigs contribute to winning? The guards and wings are more set and make some sense, though light on plus passing and overly reliant on long 2s outside of Dana Evans. But the front court is a lot of question marks. Neither Elizabeth Williams nor Isabelle Harrison started for their teams last season. Both are fine players, but neither spaces the floor and both are a bit undersized against the biggest centers, nor is it ideal to have either chasing the stretchiest power forwards. I have Isabelle Harrison penciled in, but if any of the Morgan Bertch, Aneli Maley, Alanna Smith trio show promise for future seasons, Wade should seriously consider them. The lost draft picks are a sunk cost at this point anyways.

Connecticut Sun


Brionna Jones C

Alyssa Thomas PF

DeWanna Bonner SF

Tiffany Hayes SG

Natisha Hiedeman PG


Olivia Nelson-Ododa?? Lauren Cox?? Big

Rebecca Allen – Wing

Ty Harris – Guard


How does this team score enough to win in the playoffs? The Sun should be able to win plenty of games in the regular season, especially against high turnover teams when they can get out in transition. The difficult part will be figuring out how to score against quality teams in the half court in the playoffs. Jonquel Jones box score stats were down in 2022 and the Sun weirdly didn’t play her at times in the playoffs, but she was a  former MVP big who shot 37% from 3 on 3.4 attempts per game. That is a lot to replace on a team that already played in a phone booth. Especially given they did not add much shooting in the offseason, Hayes awkward but effective spot up 3s aside. This team has a good shot at making the semifinals, which would be a fine outcome, but seems unlikely to make another trip to the finals.

Something else to keep an eye on is who the backup bigs will be. Given Alyssa Thomas’s ability to play 40 minutes in the playoffs, this shouldn’t matter as much then. Over a 40 game regular season though, who of the somewhat random mishmash of backup bigs Connecticut has collected ends up playing will be interesting. If Cox can actually shoot, she fits better, but Nelson-Ododa might simply be the best player of the group, even if her fit is awkward at best on offense.

Dallas Wings


Teaira McCowan C

Satou Sabally PF

Diamond DeShields SF

Arike Ogunbowale SG

Veronica Burton PG


Natasha Howard Big

Maddy Siegrist Wing

Crystal Dangerfield Guard


Where does this team want to be in two seasons? This is a team that is unlikely to win a round of the playoffs and the future is as muddled as ever. Their highest upside players are going to come off the bench in Awak Kuier and Sabally. Natasha Howard will almost certainly start, though I would prefer to see Sabally start. Sabally is a better shooter and perimeter fit next to McCowan. Speaking of McCowan, they just gave her a max contract. She will help the Wings rack up wins in the regular season, but is very difficult to fit in a good playoff defense.

Their highest profile player, Ogunbowale, could, by moving off ball a bit more, be a fine offensive player. But without improved playmaking for others or quality defense, rough to be paying her the supermax the next three seasons. Diamond DeShields is a sub 30% shooter from 3, so while she does many things well, is a drop off from Allisha Gray especially on this specific roster.

Their draft strategy was even more questionable than the trades. Maddie Siegrist at three is fine. If she can hang on defense, her shooting fits nicely on this team. After that though, trading a draft pick in the deepest draft in years, 2025 when the final covid year runs out, for Stephanie Soares, who plays the same position as McCowan, who as I mentioned above is their recently signed max center, makes no sense. Especially makes no sense given that Soares is a project who has shown little against high level competition.

The pick one spot later, Lou Lopez Seneschal can shoot on the move But I am skeptical of the rest of her game being good enough to get minutes on this Wings team. Kitja Laksa is a better version that they had already signed. And Seneschal is only a year younger than Laksa, so not like the draft pick is a future focused pick.

The Wings should be able to talent their way into the bottom of the playoffs, but this is a team that seems to still be further from a semifinals trip than last season. The most interesting thing about this team for me is how they handle Sabally’s restricted free agency next year and if another team can pry her out and put her in a better context. 

Final 2023 WNBA Draft Board

Welcome to my final draft board before the draft. Thank you for reading. I am working on figuring out a schedule to publish more often. I am still committed to writing here. For my fourth year writing about the WNBA draft, I am going to focus on my top ten prospects, as ten players is roughly the number of players who will contribute from a draft. Some years it is more, some less, but that forces me to make hard choices about who I believe in. I will include a few at the end who just missed, in hopes of at least mentioning the names of players who I am too low on, an inevitably in this exercise.

  1. Aliyah Boston Big 6’5″ South Carolina

No change at the top of the draft. Still the best defensive prospect in years to enter the W, maybe since Sylvia Fowles. Still someone who will be very good on offense, though to be seen just how good she is. Someone who I am very ready to drive the two hours to Indianapolis multiple times this summer to see for the Fever. Not going to simply reiterate what I wrote in draft board 1.0, I stand by that.

  1. Diamond Miller Wing 6’2″ Maryland

First change from my original board. Miller provides enough more efficiency than Haley Jones to give her a higher floor than Jones. While Miller has slipped from 3, her shooting numbers and willingness to take them still beat out Jones. Miller is also better at attacking the rim and has the better first step.

I would still have Miller and Jones in the same tier. Jones is more versatile as a defender and the better passer. If Jones were to figure out her shooting, her ceiling might be higher, but Miller is more likely to stick as a starter in the W.

  1. Haley Jones Wing 6’1″ Stanford

Jones slips from 2 to 3 for me, due to a lack of impact outside of the paint or sometimes the elbow. While non-centers can be impactful without any kind of outside shot, it makes it much harder and unlikely. I did not think her percentages would plummet and her attempts dip even lower to basically 0 attempts per game. Particularly discouraging given that this Stanford team is not exactly overflowing with 3 point shooters outside of Hannah Jump.

While Jones does lack an elite first step, I do think her feel and handle will allow her to have success on the ball. Defensively I have far fewer questions as I think she will be able to guard 2-4 at the next level. Jackie Young would be an upper level outcome. If Jones slips out of the lottery, it would not shock me, but I feel the star potential is there. If this were tiers, I’d have Miller, Jones and Horston in the same tier.

  1. Jordan Horston Wing 6’2” Tennessee

Biggest question is how real is her shooting improvement as a senior. Still not a good 3 point shooter, she really improved inside the arc as a senior. If this is just who she is, she should be third or maybe even second. She was the most baffling oversight in my first draft board. Her lack of efficiency and poor shot selection is why I would have had her 5-8 or so, but she should have been on the board. Horston who is under 40% from the field is a tough piece to fit on a W team. A Horston who is closer to 50% is much more likely to make an impact.

Big wings who can defend and make plays for other are so valuable. A team that drafts Horston, like with Haley Jones, will be hoping her shooting improves enough to keep her on the court and let the rest of her skills sing. Horston can pass, handle and defend, both on ball and off ball. Her impressive rim protection for a wing, similar to Rhyne Howard, should be very helpful at the next level.

  1. Maddy Siegrist 6’1” Wing Villanova

Siegrist’s impact will be a test of how she fits in a smaller role. Her combination of size and shooting should work well. I’m not that concerned about her as a team defender, if not a stopper by any means. While she lives on a diet of midrange shots a W team won’t want her to take, her 3 point shot is good and a good chance it improves as she works on off ball movement shooting.

Questions about how often or even if she will get to the rim are what put her in the middle of the first round. Also, can she handle against W pressure and play the 3, or will she strictly be a 4 who has to add strength to hang. Either way, shooting is always valuable on the wing if the player can do just enough elsewhere to hang.

  1. Grace Berger Guard 6’0” Indiana

Can she up her volume of 3s? That is the big question. For as big and athletic as she is, it is hard to see a team putting the ball in her hands, at least early in her career, as she had at Indiana. It will be much easier if she can spot up off ball, while using her strength and athleticism and decent playmaking to attack second side. This will be undermined if teams sag off her cause she shoots 1 3 per 36 minutes. No matter if she is accurate on those threes, if she turns those shots into long 2s, teams will ignore her. 

  1. Zia Cooke Guard 5’9” South Carolina

Three seasons now at 35% from 3 or better and her first season as a senior with a (just barely) positive assist to turnover ratio are good indicators for Cooke. Cooke consistently played in some really clunky offensive lineups where the best offense is often for a guard to miss a shot and a big rebound the ball. Even with the constraints, she was still able to produce.

Defensively she seems fine. Not great, no one will be drafting her to be the next Briann January, but she does her job and has room to grow. Star upside seems unlikely, but at this point in this draft, a spot starter and backup guard would be a fine outcome. Plenty of draft people are higher on both Brea Beal and Laeticia Amihere than me, but Cooke is who generally showed up in the biggest games alongside of course Aliyah Boston.

  1. Maïa Hirsch 6’5” big Villenueve (France)

Risky to put a player at 8 who I am not even sure is planning on coming to the W, at least anytime soon. But her potential is high and she is one of the youngest players who will get drafted. Hirsch has shades of Ezi Magbegor, but with potentially better shooting from 3. Someone who in time will be able to handle either playing the 4 or 5 and someone who can be at least a solid role player, especially on a team with a ball dominant, non-shooting player at another key position. 

  1. Shaneice Swain Guard 5’9” UC Capitals (Australia)  

A potential solid backup combo guard in the W who can give you spot minutes at the 2. Shot 36% from 3 with her grenade launcher shot. She is generally solid at all the things one wants from a combo guard, even if the odds of her becoming a star, or even a starter in the W, are not that high. But given the number of players who returned to school in this draft, at this point a solid backup guard would be a fine outcome. Swain is young, so may or may not come over yet, which could be good depending on the the team that drafts her.

  1. Laeticia Amihere Big 6’4” South Carolina

One of the widest range of outcomes in a player I have given a first round pick grade too, but when 4 of your initial first round picks opt to stay for a fifth year in school, swings at upside become more appealing. The good of Amihere is her defensive feel, passing, speed and size. Those are foundations for an interesting big who can give minutes at the 4 and 5. While one would not want to rely on her heavily for small ball five minutes, in appropriate doses she could be a key cog in a switch everything scheme that plays a high pressure scheme. Think Toronto Raptors with Scottie Barnes at center.

The other end of the court is the risk though. I mentioned she is a good passer for a big. However what else she does in the half court is a mystery. She can’t shoot, hasn’t typically been asked to be a screener, has not been asked with punishing smaller players in the post. Some of these things she may be decent at, but South Carolina was so big inside that they had no need for her to show off those skills. But if she can figure out how to contribute in the half court, a big if, she could be an all star level player. A big if, why she may fall deep into the second round, but I’d take the risk at this point.

Most Likely to Make Me look Silly

Stephanie Soares and Taylor Soule are my next two picks, jn some order, to round out a first round board. I have questions about Soares defense in space and offense. Taylor Soule may not be quite big enough to be a small ball 4 like she was in college and her offense would need considerable development to be play the 3. 

I’m lower on a Brea Beal and the UConn duo of Lou Lopez Senechal and Dorka Juhasz than many. Always possible a player from either of those schools makes me look silly. But Beal is so limited on offense and not as good as a point of attack defender as her reputation suggests. Senechal is a year younger than Arike Ogunbowale. Possible she is can make it, but Kitja Laksa was a better version of the same player and just made it back to the league after years out. Dorka Juhasz is decent at most center things, but doesn’t provide either enough rim protection or inside scoring against other W caliber centers. 

2023 WNBA Draft Board Top 10 1.0

The 2023 draft has a sure number 1 pick, two excellent players almost certain to be picked in the lottery, and a lot of question marks after that. A medium strength draft, without necessarily the depth of last year nor the multiple top players of next year’s. Aliyah Boston is the most sure thing since her fellow SC player in A’ja Wilson. Haley Jones and Diamond Miller are likely to be 2 and 3 in some order for me all season. 4-10? Much more up in the air. I can not wait to watch all of them play. Hopefully against each other if we as fans are lucky.

  1. Aliyah Boston Big 6’5″ South Carolina

Aliyah Boston could stop playing basketball right now until next April’s draft and she would be the #1 pick. There is no world in which she is not a #1 pick, if she does in fact come out. I had a silly idea before the 21-22 NCAA season that the number 2 player on my board might keep it a bit closer to Boston. But Boston quickly separated herself from the rest of the field by a wide margin. Aliyah Boston is the most complete defensive prospect since Sylvia Fowles. She can do everything one would want a defensive center to do in the modern game. She can switch onto smaller guards, play at the level, or in drop. She rarely gets herself in foul trouble and is a wonderful help defender. She is an elite rebounder who challenges shots without giving up rebounding position.

Offensively she does have a bit of work to do in scoring efficiently in the paint against the centers who can hang with her in size. As a young W player she may end up with some ugly shooting nights. But even then, she can pass, punish switches, and shoot the 3 a bit, so even if it takes her time to be a premier offensive threat, she will be able to excel next to any other offensive creator. Given her defense, she doesn’t need to be Brittney Griner or even A’ja Wilson to be impactful.

  1. Haley Jones 6’1″ Wing Stanford

Full disclosure, Haley Jones has been my favorite player to watch in college basketball for the past few years. However, I think she has an argument for being the #2 pick in this draft. The W has not fully leaned into big wings like the mnba, but as we saw with the Aces, the ability to surround a dominant big with multiple good wings is incredibly valuable.

Jones passes and handles like a point guard. She can defend 1-4 and many 5s. She is a force in transition with the ability to grab and go. Her main weaknesses are a reluctance to shoot 3s and a lack of an elite first step. The shooting is real, but she has shown in the biggest games an understanding that she has to take that shot if that is what the defense is giving her. And her lack of first step is overrated as an issue, since there are other ways to attack the paint. Her handle will continue to improve and her strength allows her to gain angles. Plenty of wings are effective without Kahleah Copper level athleticism.

  1. Diamond Miller Wing 6’3″ Maryland

If Diamond Miller returns to her sophomore form, she will push for the second pick in this draft. A 6’2” wing with elite athleticism who is already a good 3 point shooter is a lottery pick. While she isn’t the passer that Jones is, nor the defender, she can certainly do both those things. She has a better first step than Jones and can slash to the rim well for someone of her size.

Her junior year was rough, but that can be chalked up to injury. Hopefully she has a healthy and productive senior season. Things to watch will be is her shot good, or merely good enough. Is it 35% or better, or more low 30s. Can she get her assist to turnover ratio a bit better? A slightly negative assist to turnover ratio is not ideal.

  1. Jacy Sheldon Guard 5’10” Ohio State

Here begins the more speculative prospects. The gap between 4 and 10 at this point is simply not that big and I would not put too much stock in where I slot players at this point. Jacy Sheldon gets the spot here as a player who shot 55/37/86 with a positive assist to turnover ratio. She is an off guard, but has shown in a pinch she can take on lead ball handler duties. A good, if not explosive, athlete, Sheldon has a good upside as a solid starting guard in the W.

She shows the tools at times to be an adequate defender, though she tends to play with a few good perimeter defenders and so is not asked to do that much. This is something I will definitely be watching more closely, as my feel for her defense is not nearly as strong as it could be.

  1. Rickea Jackson Wing 6’2″ Tennessee

Rickea Jackson is definitely someone who could rise one spot higher or fall out of my top ten entirely. She did not play a full season last year and was more of a W prospect in theory than actuality the season before. But a 6’2” wing looks like she can shoot and has good athleticism will always deserve attention. 

Sub 30% from 3 and 55% from the free throw line in her last full season is concerning, but her shot does not look broken and as Jackie Young and Gabby Williams show, teams will take chances on wings who can’t yet shoot 3s in the hopes they add that. Jackson would likely be an upside pick, not someone who will walk in and contribute right away.  

  1. Charisma Osborne Guard 5’9″ UCLA

I don’t get Pac 12 network so I did not watch Charisma Osborne nearly as often last season as I would have liked to. But what I saw was promising and I saw more of her as a sophomore. Sub 40% from 2 is tough, but a good free throw shooter makes me optimistic about her future shooting. A good assist to turnover ratio and she is a good athlete. She seems like someone who may be able to play either guard position in a pinch, though she is more of an off ball guard.

Always read Em Adler at the Next, but definitely read Em talking about Osborne on the defensive end in her draft board. A theme for me in watching guards this year is focusing a bit more attention on their defense. Typically, offense is more important for guards, but they do have to be able to stay on the floor and good point of attack defense is valuable.

  1. Ashley Owusu Guard 6’0″ Virginia Tech

At her best plays like Chelsea Gray. Like Gray, lacks straight line speed, but is a big strong guard who can make tough shots. Someone who will benefit from spread pick and rolls at the next level, since she has the passing and good feel, but needs assistance in generating advantages. First two seasons at Maryland averaged 2 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. 

Low volume on 3s and only one season of being accurate, but something she can potentially add. Defensively would do better in a switching scheme where she can use her size and strength to defend up. Can struggle to defend quicker, shiftier guards.

  1. Ashley Joens Wing 6’1″Iowa St.

In college, Joens is a 4 who uses her size and strength to score down low. In the pros, she will likely have to play more like Jackie Young or Bridget Carleton, a wing with good size who occasionally uses that size when she has an advantage.  Joens as limited upside, so there are certainly players with higher upside I have after her, but this range becomes fairly speculative and I think she would be a good pick for an already good team.

The way Joens plays in college and how she will have to play in the pros are totally different and that makes projection difficult. But a player with her size and strength who shot high 30s from 3 on 7 attempts per game is worth a look. Can she be a good enough team defender to overcome lack of foot speed on the perimeter? How much is that even an issue? Would love to see her get to guard someone like Texas’ Shaylee Gonzalez, to see how she holds up defending on the perimeter, but may not happen much. 

  1. Elizabeth Kitley Big 6’6″ Virginia Tech

Elizabeth Kitley is a dominant offensive center at the college level. At 6’6” with a high release and good touch, she is very hard to stop. 55% effective field goal percentage while barely shooting 3s is impressive. That is roughly where A’ja Wilson was. Offense should be her reason for making the next level.

Defense is going to be the big question. Like with many college centers, they are not asked to guard in space the they will be in the pros. Her performance against Florida Gulf Coast in the tournament last year showed this as she scored 42 but VT lost as they struggled with the five out FGCU offense.

  1. Zia Cooke Guard 5’9″ South Carolina

Zia Cooke has the athleticism to shine at the next level. The questions come regarding how real is her shooting, good some years not others, and ca nshe improve upon her negative assist to turnover ratio. Cooke is hurt by the at times archaic offensive spacing that South Carolian plays in. South Carolina should be favorites for the championship again, so it works, but it doesn’t highlight a player like Cooke’s offensive skills.

With Destanni Henderson off to the W, Cooke may get the opportunity to run the offense more as well. She has tended to have an even assist to turnover ratio. Improving that is important, as she is a bit undersized for the off guard position, so the ability to run a team would be helpful.

Possible entrants to the top 10

Some players who could join my top ten are Ajha Blackell, Grace Berger, and Shaylee Gonzalez. Can Blackwell show more perimeter skill, can Berger improve her 3 point shooting, can Gonzalez remain an effective slasher against a higher level of competition? Sedona Prince is someone to keep in mind as well. She will unfortunately miss the year with an injury, but she could have the size and smarts to play a Mercedes Russell type role. Better shooter, maybe not quite the passer Russell is. Dyasha Fair is a player who I have not seen at all, so will be paying attention to how she does at Syracuse as she moves up in competition.

2022 WNBA Season Awards

MVP: Breanna Stewart

There are two candidates who both would be worthy winners of this award. A’ja Wilson very well may win as the best player on the #1 seed and would be a deserving winner. But for me, Stewart has been a bit better. Both had very efficient seasons, with nearly identical true shooting percentages, but Stewart was a hair better. Both players had positive assist to turnover numbers, but Stewart’s was better, 2.9 assists to 1.3 turnovers, with Wilson at 2.1 assists to 1.7 turnovers. They had identical free throw rates, something we typical think of as Wilson having an advantage at. 

Team success doesn’t provide much of distinction for me either way. Kelsey Plum is on my all-wnba first team with Jackie Young a strong candidate for second team, even if she didn’t end up on it for me. Jewell Loyd has had a down year for her. Seattle ends up fourth and Aces first, makes sense.

On defense both are leading candidates for defensive player of the year, so not much of an advantage there. This is one of the closest MVP races one can imagine. Team record does not matter to me beyond a sort of minimum level. Any of the teams in the top 5 of the league have won enough to have a candidate. 

All-in one stats have their limitations, especially the ones available to us in the W. But Stewart has the edge in whichever one you look at. Estimated Contribution’s WAR, Kevin Pelton’s WARP, , the WNBA’s own Player Impact Estimate , and even win shares. Plenty of issues with each of those, oh how I miss PIPM, and none of them are dispositive, but I do think it worth acknowledging when they all point in the same direction. If I had to bet money I would put it on A’ja winning at this point and I would be fine with that. She is an amazing player who I am lucky to get to watch, even if I chose Stewart for MVP.

DPOY: A’ja Wilson

Similar to MVP, this award comes down to Wilson vs. Stewart. I try not to let narratives influence who I pick for various awards, but it is possible I am giving this one to Wilson cause MVP went to Stewart. Just noting that, though I do think A’ja has been excellent defensively. Wilson had a heavier lift in keeping the Aces defense afloat than the other candidates. Dearica Hamby and Kia Stokes are good defenders, but neither are as good as Ezi Magbegor. Gabby Williams and Jewell Loyd are better than the respective Aces wing defenders. This does show in the overall team stats, the Aces are relatively low to have a DPOY winner, but the other teams win through a committee approach. Seattle with those mentioned, Washington with the three guards/wings all competing for first team all-defense, and Connecticut with Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones.

A’ja isn’t quite on the level of switching out on the perimeter as Stewart, but Wilson is no slouch and she can better hold up against the bigger centers like Teaira McCowan than Stewart. Stewart forces more steals, but doesn’t provide the same level of rim protection. Wilson’s ability to play the five with more limited defensive players allows the Aces to play their best 5 players, whereas Seattle felt it necessary to swap out a good offensive player in Katie Lou Samuelson for Gabby Williams. Like MVP, if Stewart wins this I would be fine with it, I very nearly chose her, but A’ja has this for me.

6th Woman of the Year: Brionna Jones 

Brionna Jones played better than many starting bigs in the W, she just is behind two of the few who are better than her in Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones. More interesting than winning this award for Jones is who she will be playing for next season. As an unrestricted free agent, the Sun will not be able to keep her without her taking a discount on what she could get. My vote is either Minnesota if they don’t get Aliyah Boston or Dallas.  Both of those places have players in Napheesa Collier and Satou Sabally who can stretch the floor at the 4 and let Jones do what she does in the paint.

Rookie of the Year: Rhyne Howard

Shooting 38% from 3 on nearly 8 attempts per game and blocking nearly a shot a game and getting 1.6 steals per game is the foundation of a player who can play a long time in the W. If that is all they do, every team can use wings who can defend and shoot. Howard can potentially do much more than that. A 2.8 to 1.6 assist to turnover ratio is very good for a rookie with a fairly heavy playmaking load. Especially on a Dream starved for offense at times, where Howard was regularly facing the other team’s best defender and at times double teams. 

As the season progressed Howard improved her ability to work her way to the rim and collapse the defense. That is a very good sign as to whether she can drive elite offense by herself or will need to be matched with another offensive dynamo to challenge for championships in time. Either way, a hugely successful season.

Most Improved Player: Jackie Young

The past few Aces playoff runs one of the open questions was whether Jackie Young would be able to play. Each time, a player who was both reluctant to shoot from 3 and inaccurate was played off the floor. That should no longer be an issue for this year’s Jackie Young. While she is likely not a 43% 3 point shooter now, even just 35% from 3 on 3.4 attempts per game is more than good enough to force teams to take her seriously. Young has always had the playmaking and the ability to get inside. The ability to space the floor for her teammates is an important step forward.

All-WNBA First Team

Breanna Strewart

A’ja Wilson

Candace Parker

Kelsey Plum

Skylar Diggins-Smith

All-WNBA Second Team

Alyssa Thomas

Sabrina Ionescu

Elena Delle-Donne

Jonquel Jones

Emma Meesseman

Final spot on the All-WNBA second team was the hardest award to figure out in this entire post. Meesseman got it for me for having an excellent season along with better defense than we’ve seen in the past. But both of her teammates Courtney Vandersloot and Kahleah Copper had good arguments. Jackie Young could have made it as well, but as good as finisher as she was she was fourth on the Aces team in terms of shot creation.

No Dallas Wings representatives for the 6th team is odd, but no obvious candidates jump out. Allisha Gray was the steadiest player and a bit more shot creation might have made it, but she excelled at playing off of Arike Ogunbowale or Teaira McCowan, who have defensive issues that kept them off for me. Ionescu isn’t a defensive whiz, but more consistently impactful than any of the Wings players.

All-Defense First Team:

Natasha Cloud -Guard

Ariel Atkins – Guard

Allisha Gray- Forward

Breanna Stewart – Forward

A’ja Wilson – Center

All-Defense Second Team

Brittney Sykes -Guard

Gabby Williams – Guard

Alysha Clark -Forward

Candace Parker – Forward

Jonquel Jones -Center

Cheating a bit by putting Clark at guard, but I could have put Clark there. Both of them guarded plenty of guards over the course of the season and both deserved to be on the team. Toughest omission was Alyssa Thomas. Over the course of the season may have been a better defender than Candace, but Candace’s peak in the games where she put forth maximum effort is higher. Jonquel is an impactful defender who uses her size to barricade the rim while being nimble enough to be ok in space. Her defensive rebounding is a plus as well. I said this on twitter, but the Jones vs. Thomas debate is a tough one and I am very prepared to be wrong. Defense is hard to measure.

Sylvia Fowles could have made it as she was still one of the best defenders in the league, but between games missed and the Lynx being near the bottom of the league in defense, I left her off. Kayla Thornton also had a good season and could have made it, but not quite over Clark or Parker. Thorton isn’t as good chasing perimeter players as Clark, nor does she provide rim protection like Parker.  Ezi Magbegor had a case, especially when she was starting and playing heavier minutes, but only so many spots.

All-Rookie Team

Rhyne Howard

NaLyssa Smith

Shakira Austin

Rebekah Gardner

Queen Egbo 

Apologies to Veronica Burton who ended strong but didn’t get enough playing time. Emily Engstler had a promising rookie season, but not better than her teammate Egbo. 

The Upside of NaLyssa Smith

NaLyssa Smith, the second overall pick of the Indiana Fever, is not having the level of success of the players picked either ahead or behind her, at least not yet. Rhyne Howard, the number one overall pick in the 2022 draft, was deservedly named to the All-Star game that just happened in Chicago. Shakira Austin, the third overall pick, is starting over two other players in Myisha Hines-Allen and Elizabeth Williams who are veterans who have started 239 games between the two of them. Both are having very impressive rookie seasons, to match anything recent rookies have done.

However, the story of a player’s career is not told in their first year in the league. Look at last year’s class, with Dana Evans having the best games from the class in 2022. Michaela Onyenwere, last year’s rookie of the year, has struggled to find playing time and her shot from both 2 and 3. 

NaLyssa Smith has shown enough to think she has a chance at being the best scorer player from this class, in time. NaLyssa Smith’s strength is her scoring versatility. She can both shoot 3s and pressure the rim. After a cold start, she is shooting a very respectable 35% from 3, though only 58%. While she is not going to be running off screens like Howard anytime soon, her ability to stretch the floor at the 4 and 5 is valuable. Austin has yet to make a 3 in her career.

Smith is able to put pressure on the rim from the perimeter in ways that Howard does not. Austin will use her speed against slower centers, but Smith has been able to at times beat even good 4 defenders. Howard is shooting a decent percentage at the rim, but hardly gets there. Though both Howard and Austin are good athletes, Smith walked into the league as one of the most explosive players, able to soar for rebounds. The Fever can continue to user her for alley oops to provide an unusual ability to put pressure on the rim, something only really Brianna Turner in Phoenix also does.

The table below shows how Smith is versatile compared to Howard and Austin. All 3 are effective for rookie, but Smith is the most balanced. Usage and 3 point stats three per Her Hoop Stats and % in the paint and % less than 5 feet per wnba.com/stats. Worth noting that shooting numbers by distance can be wonky, where does a layup count when the player took off 6 feet away but ended less than 5, but still interesting.

USG3 Pt%3PA/40% Point in the PaintShooting % less than 5 feet
Rhyne Howard23.8%36%8.722%60%
NaLyssa Smith22%35%3.649%61%
Shakira Austin18%0.167%68%

All three of these players will improve as they move forward, so the fact that Howard and Austin have been so effective and will keep getting better give them an advantage. However, going into the draft it was acknowledged that Smith was likely going to take a bit more time, as her transition to the W was potentially going to be trickier than Howard, who already had the dead eye shooting, or Austin, who was stepping into a veteran laden team with multiple quality veterans, including a former MVP. 

Smith is hampered by being on the youngest team with the fewest quality veterans around her. Kelsey Mitchell should have made the All-Star team and Victoria Vivians has had a good season, but other than those two the surrounding talent is not as strong as the Dream have, never mind the possible championship contender Mystics. Smith will look even better, assuming the Fever rebuild adds sufficient talent. Aliyah Boston next to Smith would be quite enjoyable, but even the size and shooting of Diamond Miller on the wing would be a solid addition.

The one area that Smith is well behind both Austin and Howard is in defense. While Smith competes and has shown the ability to move her feet in space against smaller defenders, she is not the level of help defender that the others are. Howard, a wing listed 2” shorter, blocks more shots and gets many more steals than Smith

As the Fever grow over the next few years, Smith has the tools to be the prototypical modern big on offense. Her size and speed means she can plat either 4 or 5 depending on the needs of the Fever and she should be able to help anchor a good playoff level offense in time.

Tiering the WNBA at the All-Star Break.

The All-Star break is a good time to put the wnba in tiers.

Championship Favorite:

Chicago Sky

The Sky have a great combination of depth with every player on the roster able to contribute during the regular season, but also a fairly clearly defined top 7 or 8 for the playoffs. The Sky’s ability to stretch the minutes for Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot in the playoffs will give them the leg up on the rest of the league. James Wade is my favorite for head coach and GM of the year. I am overall skeptical of combining the two in one person, but he has made it work with the Sky.

Finals favorite, championship hopeful

Las Vegas Aces

Becky Hammon has mostly coached this team well, but I would like to know what is happening with the team’s bench. If the players on the bench were not good enough, then they should have been cut and better options found. Was Crystal Bradford healthy to take backup 3/4 minutes? I am as high on Kierstan Bell as anyone, but waiting for her to develop may be counterproductive for a team that could win the championship this year. Wonder if Hammon and the front office are on the same page.

Semifinal hopefuls. Could win championship if things break right

Seattle Storm

Can this team score enough in the playoffs against the best defenses? The defense has been as good as ever, but scoring can be a real chore for this team when the big 3 are not on the court. Tina Charles may help that, provided she doesn’t hurt the defense too much. Breanna Stewart is my pick for MVP and DPOY if the season ended today. I picked them to win before the year, but the offensive issues have knocked them down a step from the top 2.

Connecticut Sun

Jonquel Jones is the Sun’s best player, but possibly because of her malleability the Sun have not been set up to maximize her skill set. This contributes to the team’s issues scoring in the half court against good teams. Their offensive rebounding and transition offense can pound mediocre teams, but the team’s issues against the Sky in last year’s playoffs do not seem to be fixed. More DiJonai Carrington, if her 3 point shooting maintains, and less AT at the 3 might be one solution, to give JJ more space to operate.

Washington Mystics

Is EDD a top 4 player in the W on the same tier as A’ja, Breanna, Jonquel? If so, Washington could win a championship. But that is a lot to ask of someone who missed two seasons with injury.  The new playoff structure is perfect for this year’s Mystics, who deserve better than a one and done game on the road as the 5th seed, if that is where they end up. While they would be on the road for two games in Seattle if the season ended today in a best of 3, that is much better than the old single elimination style. Series are where basketball is at its best.

Likely making the playoffs. Not winning a round. 

Atlanta Dream

The Dream keep winning a decent number of games and I still think they would be better off with one more lottery trip as I wrote here. I’m not going to complain too much though, because getting to see Rhyne Howard play 2 games in Connecticut in the playoffs, or whoever the end up facing, will be awesome. 

Dallas Wings

This has been a promising season for most of Dallas’s better players. Allisha Gray should have made all-star over Kahleah Copper. Satou Sabally when healthy and available has been excellent. Arike Ogunbowale will be paid like a top 5 or so player next year, so continuing to improve her shot selection is important, as her 54% TS so far this season is an improvement and ok, but could be better. Dallas would benefit from Vickie Johnson settling on a big rotation. Fun location for Brionna Jones to end up next year, cause presumably that would solve who the starting center is. 

Hoping to make the playoffs

Los Angeles Sparks

Start Chennedy Carter. The Sparks do not have their own draft pick in the next draft because of trading for Carter. Nneka Ogwumike is carrying the Sparks to hopefully make the playoffs, but for this team to climb any higher in the next couple of seasons they need see if Carter can begin to reach her potential. Jordin Canada has been fine and Kristi Toliver can still shoot, but they aren’t changing LA’s fortunes in future seasons.

Phoenix Mercury

Until Brittney Griner is free it will be tough to talk about the Mercury. But basketball is still being played there. The Tina Charles experiment did not work, for among other reasons, this team seemingly not realizing who their best players are. Charles was going to be a somewhat awkward fit with Griner, but even more so with Skylar Diggins-Smith. The Phoenix Mercury should not trade SDS unless things are really untenable. If they do, picks and at least one decent young player should be the goal and a full rebuild, even if Diana Taurasi plays one more year. Struggling for relevance for DT’s year 41 season is not worth it.

New York Liberty

Sabrina Ionescu living up to her full potential has been the most important development of the season for New York, but the best story in the W for me is Han Xu looking like a real live W level player. She should be starting, but as the first big off the bench she has been excellent. Who knows how often she will make it to the W in future seasons, so I am going to enjoy every game I see of her this year and appreciate her growth as a player

Minnesota Lynx

Cheryl Reeve the coach is once again bailing out Cheryl Reeve the GM. The process of arriving at a functional W team was unorthodox with year 2 of Reeve stumbling into a veteran pg bought out by their original team, this year with Moriah Jefferson. This team getting Aliyah Boston to pair with Napheesa Collier next year would be very fun, if they can’t make the playoffs. Otherwise, hopefully Reeve can figure out a decent center on reasonable money, cause one more year of the Powers, McBride, Achonwa contracts will hamstrung this team as Collier begins her well deserved max in 2023.

Hoping for Aliyah Boston

Indiana Fever

See my piece on both Atlanta and Indiana to get my thoughts. Basically, good job Indiana getting good young talent. Try for that for one more season next year and then see about really competing.

Embracing the Rebuild is Working for Atlanta and Indiana. But What Comes Next?

The Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever have made real progress in their respective rebuilds. After two years, in the case of Atlanta, and more than two in the case of Indiana, of aimless attempts to be the 7th or 8th seed without much success, both teams are set up much better to one day make a run in the playoffs.

For both Atlanta and Indiana, the key first step was the top of the 2022 draft. The Dream used their own third pick and some of the return they got for trading Chennedy Carter to trade up to select Rhyne Howard. Eighteen games in, all signs point to Rhyne Howard being good enough to at least be the second best player on a team that competes deep into the playoffs. She joins Aari McDonald in interesting young talent. McDonald will hopefully join Howard as a starter on said team, but she seems likely to at least be a good backup, as she has raised her true shooting from a below average 48% to an acceptable 56% as a sophomore.

The Fever, in turn, took NaLyssa Smith with the second pick. While Smith has not been as consistent as Howard, she has certainly looked the part of a player who could one day be a key piece on a good playoff team. The Fever also added more young talent than Atlanta alongside Smith in Emily Engstler, Queen Egbo and Destanni Henderson. If even one of those players can be a starter on a good playoff team, that is good for the Fever.

The Dream were more beset by bad luck than poor roster decision in 2021, but still had to respond to where they ended up. They were smart enough to recognize that once the relationship with Chennedy Carter was beyond salvage, they needed to recoup what they could. They received a competent point guard in Erica Wheeler and a pick that they already flipped for a potential star. New ownership made some fine choices with Dan Padover brought in from the Aces to run the front office and Tanisha Wright as coach.

The Fever, on the other hand, were undone by poor roster decisions more than bad luck. They were not young, nor good, an unfortunate combination. They picked players who were not good enough, in drafts without sure things. They overpaid, relative to the cap, for aging veterans who were not going to take the Fever anywhere. I am happy for Danielle Robinson getting paid, but signing a 32 year old point guard who doesn’t shoot 3s was a curious decision at the time and has not made more sense in hindsight. With Tamika Catchings moving on and Lin Dunn as interim manager, the approach has become much more sensible.

Indiana is already out of the playoffs, so they should be focusing on seeing what they have with the younger players on the roster. Atlanta has a more interesting conundrum in that they would be in the playoffs as the 8th seed if the season were to end today. While playoff experience is worth something, given the way the WNBA draft works with two year cumulative records, the Dream would be sacrificing the 2nd best odds at a top 2 pick for the privilege of being waxed by the Las Vegas Aces.

Losing a couple of playoff games will not help the Dream as much as Aliyah Boston, Haley Jones, or Diamond Miller would. Rhyne Howard still has work to do to show that she can be engine of a good offense. She may be better suited to using her shooting to play off someone more equipped to break down defenses. Add one more top draft pick if you are Atlanta, and then see who might be interested in signing with two top draft picks, one in Howard already an established All-Star caliber player.

Indiana will have a high draft pick in 2023. They should once again use their cap space to take on unwanted contracts from other teams, a la the Bria Hartley trade, rather than trying to sign a free agent like Brionna Jones. Jones is very good, and should earn a larger contract from someone not the Sun next year, but not so good to lead the Fever higher than a 7th seed. Indiana likely should be aiming for another decent pick even in the 2024 draft, as Indiana is less likely than Atlanta to get decent veterans to sign there unless there is already a top team in place. Caitlin Clark or Paige Bueckers would pair very nicely with NaLyssa Smith and co. Then Indiana can really be ready to contend.

2022 WNBA Season Preview 3: New York, Phoenix, Seattle and Washington

Here is part 3 of 3 of my season previews. If you missed them, here are part 1 and part 2.  New York, Phoenix, Seattle and Washington. Key questions and 7 interesting roster spots. 

Brittney Griner will not be a part of the Phoenix section. Here is the latest news concerning her detention in Russia. And because the WNBA and the people close to Griner are encouraging folks to make more noise about her detention, I wanted to note it here. I am hoping that Griner is able to make it home and focus on her health and well being soon.

New York Liberty

How far in the playoffs does New York need to go to not have put themselves on the proverbial treadmill of mediocrity? A hybrid rebuild without any top 15 players is a tough outcome and doesn’t lead to winning many playoff rounds typically. Other than Sabrina Ionescu if everything goes perfectly in her development, who is likely to be a top 15 player on this roster? Maybe Natasha Howard with a full, healthy season, but certainly no guarantees. 

I am not a championship or bust kind of person, but all of this for the Liberty to once again be fighting for the 8th seed does not seem like sustainable team building. Maybe if Nyara Sabally comes back fully healthy in 2023 her and Sabrina can lead this team into the future, but we shall see. Then again, maybe they sign Breanna Stewart and/or Jewell Loyd in the next couple of years and this is all academic because a New York team that is willing to spend money will attract top free agents. 


Sami Whitcomb: Who counts as pg between Whitcomb and Sabrina Ionescu is an interesting question and I lean Whitcomb for now. Whitcomb is a solid starter who can shoot and play make and is not terrible on defense. Too many turnovers and not as good assist rate as one would like, so hopefully she settles in if NY uses her as their main point guard.

Sabrina Ionescu: Needs to be the shooter from 3 off the dribble she looked like to unlock her full star potential, but even without that is a solid player. Likely won’t be as good as her college teammate Satou Sabally, but that is no shame given how good Sabally is. She is still the highest upside player on the team, so will be worth watching. If she can take over lead ball handling duties from Whitcomb this team will go farther.

Betnijah Laney: Can Laney be efficient if it makes sense for her to take a step back if any of the other Liberty players step up? Her shooting numbers in 2021 were still up from her career average, but not nearly as good as in 2020. Her penchant for long 2s also hurt her TS% where she shot 53%. Especially if she plays more off ball, more 3s and fewer long 2s would be good.

Natasha Howard: I would play Howard, especially in the playoffs, at center as much as possible. I suspect Sandy Brondello does not agree with me and so it will be interesting to see how Howard does at the 4. Two main things to watch with Howard is can she stay out of foul trouble and still be a disruptive defender and can she be effective from the perimeter as a 4.

Stefanie Dolson: Also a big who needs to watch for foul trouble. Fouling could be an issue for this Liberty team but especially for the bigs. Should be a serious upgrade on offense when she can play as someone who can pass, shoot and set quality screens.  But there is a ceiling on how effective she can be given defensive concerns, which is why she was the perfect third big for the Sky and might be overmatched starting for the Liberty if they make the playoffs.


Micheala Onyenwere: An enjoyable surprise in 2021, she certainly outperformed my expectations in winning rookie of the year. Though deserved, she was out of the rotation mostly by the end of the year as her hot start from 3 did not continue. Did she add to her perimeter game? Will she be able to convince teams to guard her out there? Or can she play at the 3 for this now pretty big heavy team.

Han Xu: The most unknown of the players I have written about for this series, but the now 6’10” Han Xu is a skilled center. Still may not have the strength to really bang in the W, but I hope we get to see how her skill level at her height translates in the W. A matchup with her national team teammate Li Yueru, who is looking to play for the Sky, would be particularly fun.

Phoenix Mercury

Key Question:

How many players on this team are both good on offense and defense? Skylar Diggins-Smith could be if she improves her focus and effort on the defensive end. Brianna Turner could be if she is played with four shooters on offense and just has to finish. Other than that, it is unclear how this team is going to play both ends consistently at the level they aspire to. 

Trying to maximize the end of Diana Taurasi’s career is good. However, this is also a year where Phoenix repeatedly punting on the draft might come to hurt .0

them. Even with BG, this is a team that has some depth in the front court, but not much less elsewhere.


Skylar Diggins-Smith: Two straight seasons of good numbers from 3 mean her shooting improvement is looking real. That is huge as she is still fast and strong for a point guard. Now improving her defense would benefit Phoenix, as Diana Tuarasi certainly isn’t taking the tougher back court assignments. 

Diana Taurasi: When healthy showed that she can still get buckets, so this will be a season of hoping she is healthy when it matters most. Hope she feels up for some of her 30 foot shots early in the clock, as those are always a joy.

Diamond DeShields: Still has the outline of a productive and effective wing, but her TS% has gone down since her rookie year and has been under 50% the last two years, which is not good. Health has played a role, so hope for her being fully healthy. It is also missing shots and just not being effective in a half court offense. Phoenix may be better, but I would not have signed her to that contract.

Brianna Turner: Some ability to do something with the ball in her hands more than a foot from the basket would be nice if she is going to be played at the 4 instead of a smaller 5. As a smaller 5, her speed and defensive playmaking would be very useful and her lack of offensive game less of an issue. Maybe with Tina Charles’ ability to space the floor this pairing can work.

Tina Charles: In 2021 she was a very good offensive force and a not good defensive presence. This Phoenix team has more offensive talent than that Washington team did not but fewer good defenders, so this might be an even more extreme case of good offense and bad defense. 


Kia Nurse: If Nurse is healthy and able to play this year, she should be able to challenge for the starting small forward role. DeShields did not come to Phoenix to come off the bench, but Nurse may be a better fit next to the other Phoenix starters with her ability to hit open shots. 36% from 2 shows she has much less upside than DeShields, but 35% from 3 is better than DeShields has ever shot.

Sam Thomas: If Thomas makes the team, it will be a test of the utility of a strictly 3 and D college player transitioning to the pros. This was one of the reasons I did not have Lexie Hull as a first round pick. But Thomas and Hull may show that this archetype can work.

Seattle Storm

Key Question:

Who is the fifth player on this team in crunch time, assuming Mercedes Russell plays at center. Not being able to go 5 out does limit this teams offense to a degree, but they don’t really have a good option next to Stewart to go 5 out, so Russell it is. That other spot though seems far more up for grabs. I’d bet the competition is between Briann January and Gabby Williams. Both are good defenders, but January is the better shooter while Williams offers more versatility with her size and passing.

I’d give the edge to January, if Loyd can handle guarding Kahleah Copper and other taller players without being killed. January can then guard the tougher guard option and allow Sue Bird and easier assignment. January can then hit open 3s and will be guarded in a way that Gabby Williams won’t be. Even if Williams has a good year from 3, teams probably will still dare her to shoot to take away the Storm’s much more dangerous options.


Sue Bird: If Bird is healthy for the playoffs, she will be able to use her smarts to be a fine help defender and her shooting and passing to lead the Storm. For a player who never goes into the paint on either side of the ball, she is still at her age very effective.

Jewell Loyd: Made strides in creating her own shot and creating shots for others in 2021. This should continue to grow. While her shooting percentages fell a bit under a heavier load, they were still quite good. A career high in assists with only a small jump in turnovers helped as well. A good, if not great, defender and all told Loyd is the best shooting guard in the W.

Gabby Williams: I anticipate January finishing games, but think Williams starts to allow Jewell Loyd to play her more natural position. Williams excels with the ball in her hands, as a decent passer and finisher but not a shooter. How much will Seattle play her on ball, given they have better options, but those options are also better off ball players than Williams?

Breanna Stewart: The best player in the world. Hopefully she can be healthy all year as Seattle is my choice to win the championship. Their best players, other than Bird, are in their prime and Stewart is key to this. On the court, it is looking like 2018 was an outlier of a season shooting wise. If she can get closer to those shooting numbers that would obviously benefit her and the Storm. But she is amazing at everything even if she isn’t that level of shooter.

Mercedes Russell: Hopefully she is healthy, as the W is as always not forthcoming with any medical information so we have no idea what her injury is or any kind of timeline for when she might be back. Doesn’t space the floor, nor is she a center who can switch, but she is perfectly acceptable at everything else a 6’6” center should be good at.


Briann January: Her fit on Seattle should be great. Her major limitation is reluctance to fire from 3 unless wide open and inability to create her own shot, but neither are thing she will be needed to do in Seattle. She can take her open 3s and defend at an elite level and nothing more on Seattle. 

Ezi Magbegor: Her outside game has not developed, but if anyone on this roster can offer lineup versatility to alternate with Russell, it will be Magbegor. Seattle doesn’t seem to trust her yet, but  she is still only 22 and is still improving. Her 3 point shooting

Washington Mystics:

Key Question?

The key question is the health of Elena Delle Donne and to a lesser but still important degree, Alysha Clark. But that is not something I can know about and we can just hope for good health for both. My question is about the decision to trade down from 1 to 3 and draft Shakira Austin. Unfortunately, the Christyn Williams, the 14th pick who the Mystics also got in the trade with Atlanta, is out for the year with an injury. So even more than most trades this one will be incomplete. Thibault may have also been counting on the swap pick they got next year being good, if the Sparks do not live up to their potential.

Thibault knows basketballl far more than me, but I am all in on Rhyne Howard and especially given Alysha Clark’s health concerns, I think she would have been a better fit on this Mystics team. Austin has to really develop her offensive game, especially given wings who shoot like Howard and can defend are harder to find than centers like Austin. There’s a reason Clark is being paid more than Elizabeth Williams. Thibault is an excellent gm though, so I look forward to seeing if and how I was wrong in my evaluation of both.


Natasha Cloud: Cloud is good at either guard spot and thus it will be interesting to see how much of the season she plays at point guard and how often she plays next to Rui Machida or another point guard. Particularly given she is also going to be playing some with non-shooters in Elizabeth Williams and Shakira Austin, if she can have a good season shooting from 3, that would help the Mystics.

Ariel Atkins: Made incremental progress as a shot creator and passer. To be more than an elite role player will need to continue to improve. As is though, she is a very effective player. An excellent on and off ball defender.

Alysha Clark: A 34 almost 35 year old wing who relies on her lateral quickness dealing with a foot injury is tough. If Clark comes back healthy and is still a good defender, great. But if not, one wonders if the Mystics will regret passing on Rhyne Howard.

Elena Delle Donne: The best offensive player in basketball when healthy. One of the greatest shooters in W history and at 6’5” has learned to use her size effectively. Hopefully we get at least a couple more healthy seasons out of her. 

Elizabeth Williams: A common theme with former and even maybe current Dream players, she has not played in this kind of space. Should be able to pressure the rim as a roller in pick and rolls. Will be interesting to see if Washington plays a switching style with her, as she is fairly athletic for a center but has not traditionally been asked to switch out onto guards. 


Rui Machida: I don’t tend to root for one player over others, but I do hope Machida’s brilliance translates to the W. A brilliant passer, I think she can hit enough shots and defend just enough to be an effective backup point guard. 

Shakira Austin: To be clear, Austin is a good player and I was high on her before the draft. I may criticize the Mystics front office, but she was not able to control where she was drafted or the circumstances. I hope for nothing but the best for her. Her defense should be good, if not right away as a rookie. She will be a star if she can shoot efficiently and gain advantages against other starting centers with her face up game.