2021 Season Preview: Atlanta, Chicago, and Connecticut

Diamond DeShields shooting

The 2021 season is finally upon us. For this year’s previews, I am going to focus on who I project as 8 of the teams’ top players for each team and then 2 big questions I have about the team this upcoming season. I am going to not include European players who may come over late in the season, given the unknowns about their commitments. Each week will cover 3 teams.

Atlanta Dream:

Projected Starters:

Chennedy Carter: The difference between Carte who is a good starter and Carter who is the best point guard in the league is her shooting from 3. Both off the dribble and catch and shoot. This is especially true as the Dream continue to surround her with other ball dominant guards. She shot 37.5% on relatively few attempts last season, so a promising start.

Courtney Williams: Williams likely is who she is. A good, if not great, starter. This will likely not be the year she shoots more 3s and fewer long 2s, but it would be nice. She can play off ball, but stepping into long 2s is an inefficient way to play without the ball in one’s hands.

Tiffany Hayes: Hayes is a good starter. But benching one of Hayes or Williams and letting them run the second unit in favor of Shekinna Stricklen might make sense. Stricklen is not as good a player as them, but she can shoot open 3s and is not a player who can create shots even against second units. Hayes might be the choice, given she is more dependent on having the ball than Williams.

Cheyenne Parker: Asking her to be the starting power forward and stretch big is asking quite a bit. While she showed some stretch last season, she only shot 1.6 3s per game. However, this team does not seem to have a better option at the 4 that would allow Parker to play the center. Something for them to address going forward. 

Elizabeth Williams: A solid starting center. All-defense first team was a bit much last season, but ideally she can keep providing solid rim protection and a good pick and roll partner for Chennedy Carter.

Key Reserves:

Aari McDonald: What level of shooter are we getting in the W. And she struggles with her shot, how does she find minutes in a crowded back court? First year struggles are to be expected for most young point guards, but still important questions to monitor.

Shekinna Stricklen: Stricklen struggled last season but she is the only player on this entire team who is a proven plus shooter. She was brought in for a reason and should earn a chance to show what she can do. 

Tianna Hawkins: A very solid backup big. If she can get her shooting on track could finish some games depending on the matchup. This team can almost play 5 out with a front line of her and Parker and really space the floor for Carter and Hayes.

2 Key questions:

  1. Why so many ball dominant guards? I mentioned it above, but to reiterate, there are diminishing returns to players whose best attribute is creating with the ball in their hands. The opposite of shooting, which has no diminishing returns, as shooters can be just as valuable off ball as they are on. So the big question will be who on this team can shoot the open shots their talented guards create.
  1. Who is their 4 of the future? Cheyenne Parker can play there temporarily, but her best position is as a center. This team has guards and centers, but it is very unclear who exactly is supposed to guard the Napheesa Collier’s of the world. She seems too big and/or too fast for this team. To be fair, Collier does that to most teams. But it is a question worth trying to answer. That is likely the next position to try to upgrade. Maybe if the team disappoints, Rhyne Howard or NaLyssa Smith will be available in next year’s draft.

Chicago Sky

Projected Starters:

Courtney Vandersloot: Best point guard in the W. For the Sky to win a championship, might need to look for her own offense more. Too good a shooter while also able to put pressure on at the rim to not look to score.

Allie Quigley: Offensively is still be among the best shooters in the W, but with the improvements of Kahleah Copper, will be interesting to see who finishes big games. Competes on defense, but is limited there compared so other options the Sky has.

Diamond DeShields: After a lost year to injury in 2020, has the tools to be one of the 2 or 3 best small forwards in the league. Particularly interested to see her ability to create offense for others as well as herself and improve on her even assist to turnover ratio.

Candace Parker: Does Wade stagger Parker and Vandersloot’s minutes to have someone who can create offense on the floor at all times? While they should be a good tandem, they can also play separately and hopefully mitigate the issues the Sky have faced without Vandersloot on the floor.

Azurá Stevens: A healthy season for Stevens would be wonderful. If she can force teams to guard her at the three point line, this Sky offense may be close to unguardable.

Key Reserves:

Kahleah Copper: What does she need to do to be a starter on this team? Hard to imagine either Quigley or DeShields coming off the bench, but Copper played really well last year. Copper is enough taller and more athletic than Quigley, it might make sense to start her in some match ups. 

Gabby Williams: What is her position? Entering a contract year, some clarity would help her market. Shows abroad that with the ball in her hands is her best role, but so far has not justified that much responsibility in her time in the W.

Shyla Heal: Heal was one of the few player selections in the draft that made me look smart, as I had her about where she was drafted. I am a bit concerned at her youth and the role she is stepping into. Back up point guard at 19 on a team with championship goals is asking a lot. But Heal is nothing if not confident. 

2 Key Questions:

  1. Who finishes games? The Sky have done a good job putting together a flexible team with quite a few options. Vandersloot and Parker have to be on the court, but other than them, this seems like a team that can mix and match based on who is playing well and the opposing team. Wade is a good coach but even good coaches can prove to be stubborn in the playoffs. This is a team with the ability to play different styles and should take advantage of that. 
  1. Now or never with Candace Parker not getting any younger. Are there any in season trades to put this team closer to a championship, even on the margins. Gabby Williams is a restricted free agent and there have already been rumors of her being moved. A sign and trade after the season would be fine, but worth exploring something in season too.

Connecticut Sun

Projected Starters:

Jasmine Thomas: Continues to slowly but surely add to her offensive game. This team will need her to be a bit more aggressive offensively to be respectable without Alyssa Thomas. 

Briann January: Defensively January put on a clinic in the playoffs with the Sun last year. When she is locked in, she is as fun to watch on that end as any guard in the league. Offensively, she is fine, but does have her limitations.

DeWanna Bonner: Her 3 point attempts cause teams to guard her in the regular season, but her inability to shoot hurts in the playoffs. 25% from 3 is tough to overcome even given her well rounded skill set. Any improvement in that area is maybe not likely, but would be beneficial for a team looking to compete next year with a healthy Alyssa Thomas.

Kaila Charles: The least secure of the projected starters, can she match up with other 3s and 4s in the W? 37% from 3 on limited attempts from 3 is promising, especially combined with her good size and athleticism. Good year for her to really show what she can do.

Jonquel Jones: My pick for best player who only plays center in the W, especially if she can continue to shoot in the high 30s from 3. Though this is a year she my end up playing some 4, given injuries and limited bench options. Entering her age 27 season, should be able to contend for first team All-WNBA center. Liz Cambage is great, but Jones should be able to give her a run for the spot.

Key Reserves:

Brionna Jones: If Charles does not start, will likely be Jones. Jones outplayed my expectations in 2020, but playing two centers might be tough sledding in the more spaced out W each year.

Natisha Hideman: Solid backup point guard in the limited minutes Jasmine Thomas does not play. This is the year to show if there is anything more than that. Improving on her 35% from 2 is key to that. 

DiJonai Carrington: Not a great sign when a player does not start for their college team and shot under 30% from 3 for her college career, but will get the opportunity to show what she can do on a thin team at the guard/wing position. 

2 Key Questions:

  1. Are any of the young guards on this team going to challenge Briann January? For as good as January is defensively, this Sun team needs more help on offense than they do defense. The inability to create offense hurt them in the series against the Aces.
  1. Jonquel Jones is an unrestricted free agent next year. Can this team pay her the super max? And if they do, they will need to hit on a couple of the young players as this is only going to become even more of an experiment in stars and young players. Beatrice Mompromier was a great pickup last year after being cut by the Sparks, can the Sun do that again?