WNBA 2022 Season Preview – SkyTown repeat? Connecticut connects? One more Storm brewing?

The tip-off of a WNBA season is always a much-anticipated event on the women’s basketball calendar – and the start of the 26th W rendition is no different.

This week represents the start of another season – when every team begins the season at 0-0 and there are 12 teams with eyes on being the last team standing after the Finals take place this Fall. May 6 is when things tip off with four games.

The Indiana Fever will travel to our Nation’s Capital to face the Washington Mystics, the Los Angeles Sparks meet up with the defending champion Chicago Sky at Wintrust Arena, the Las Vegas Aces prepare for a get-together in the Valley with the Phoenix Mercury and the Minnesota Lynx travel to the Pacific Northwest as they face the Seattle Storm in the Storm’s return to Climate Pledge Arena.

The following day, the Connecticut Sun make the short trek down to Brooklyn and Barclays Center as the New York Liberty await the Sun at Atlantic and Flatbush. Also, the Dallas Wings host the Atlanta Dream at College Park Center.

How do we have our 12 WNBA teams as the season is upon us? Here is a look as we prepare to tip off another season of WNBA basketball.

Last season was a culmination of everything the Chicago Sky had been building towards since they retooled their team following the Elena Delle Donne seasons. For many years, the Sky had the talent, but a couple of things were missing. One was a coach (and general manager) in James Wade and the other was a hometown hero in Candace Parker.

In 2021, the Sky hit paydirt as they brought the first-ever WNBA championship to the Windy City. The offseason was somewhat cruel to Chicago fans with so much speculation as to if Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley will return. VanderQuigs are returning – as is last year’s Finals MVP Kahleah Copper and Chicago added Emma Meesseman – the MVP from the 2019 Finals into the fold. With much of the core of the team returning for more from last year, Chicago has to be seen as a favorite to repeat.

Year in and year out, the Connecticut Sun are constantly overlooked despite consistently fielding one of the best teams in the entire WNBA. The last few seasons – including one where the Sun were within one game of winning its first ever WNBA championship back in 2019 -should have told fans everywhere that coach Curt Miller’s team is legitimate and can beat any team’s best with its best.

Jonquel Jones is, after all the reigning league MVP. Courtney Williams is also back in Connecticut colors after being an integral element to their run to the Finals three seasons ago. One must not forget about Jasmine Thomas, Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner as well as rising star DiJonai Carrington. With the Sun debuting a new court at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, one wonders if a new WNBA championship banner for 2022 will also accompany that new and improved hardwood.

One wonders if this feels like the last season of an era with the Seattle Storm just as the the team is moving into their new and improved digs at Climate Pledge Arena following a 2021 where the team staged its home matchups at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett. This season will be the first full season for Noelle Quinn as coach.

In addition to this being the last season of WNBA hoops for Sue Bird, there will be plenty of speculation about Breanna Stewart after this season given she only re-upped with the Storm for one more season and she did meet with the Liberty over the free agent period. Jewell Loyd, of course, completes the Storm’s big three that looked like title contenders for much of last season through the Commissioner’s Cup Final before tapering off towards the end of last season. If this is indeed the final season of this era with the Storm, will it end with a championship?

The unfortunate atrocity that occurred to Brittney Griner over the offseason will be the proverbial white elephant in the room for the 2022 Phoenix Mercury. In response, the WNBA announced it will display a BG42 decal on all 12 courts this season – a show of support as the U.S. government continues its efforts to free Griner from a Russian prison.

Even without Griner, the Mercury, after a season where they advanced to the WNBA Finals, still pose a dangerous squad with veterans as part of its nucleus. Diana Taurasi clearly is looking more and more like the WNBA’s version of Tom Brady with as many seasons as she is still playing. Then, there is the matter of hungry veterans in Skylar Diggins-Smith and Tina Charles still in search of their first championships. Vanessa Nygaard is in her first season as coach. Add players like Diamond DeShields, Shey Peddy and Sophie Cunningham as well as the fact that the Griner saga could make this season more emotional than most in Arizona and that could push the Mercury to a championship in 2022.

To say that the Aces had a busy offseason would be, arguably, the understatement of understatements in WNBA circles. In addition to seeing two of its free agents sign with other teams, the Aces also went through plenty of front office changes with Becky Hammon, former San Antonio Spurs assistant under Gregg Popovich, assuming Las Vegas’ coaching duties in Bill Laimbeer’s stead as well as a new team president in Nikki Fargas.

If there was any question as to whose team it was in previous seasons because the Aces presented a big three, there is little question now as Las Vegas is firmly A’ja Wilson’s team. Expect former sixth woman of the year Dearica Hamby to receive even more minutes. The Aces are also the recipient of the veteran presences of Chelsea Gray and Kiah Stokes not to mention a nine-year veteran in Riquna Williams plus Kelsey Plum entering her fourth season. It may be easy on the surface to write off Las Vegas from the championship picture because of losing two of that big three, but the Aces actually played improved basketball down the stretch last season.

It is a questionable claim at least to believe that the Sparks will reign supreme as WNBA champions following the 2022 season. It probably is not much of a stretch to believe that the Sparks will win in at least one category – the most headlines generated over a course of a WNBA season.

“New look” can definitely apply to a Los Angeles Sparks team that will be playing its first full season in what is now Crypto.com Arena since before the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. Derek Fisher has to be, arguably, the most maligned coach and general manager in the entire WNBA. Liz Cambage, Chennedy Carter, Jordin Canada and Katie Lou Samuelson were among the acquisitions made by the Sparks to go along with a veteran cast that includes Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver and Amanda Zahui B. On paper, the litany of all-star caliber talent should be enough to get the Sparks to the playoffs, but that may not always be a guarantee as another Los Angeles professional basketball team found out this past NBA season.

In the last few seasons, the Minnesota Lynx are arguably the enigma of the WNBA. They may no longer have the core cast that led them to championships in the 2010s, but they do have a good enough team with enough talented stars to lift Minnesota to one of the final eight playoff berths.

One cannot help but to give Cheryl Reeve the benefit of the doubt with anything basketball related, but one also has to wonder what the Lynx were thinking with the releases of Layshia Clarendon, Rennia Davis and former Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield. They did bring back Odyssey Sims and they did add Angel McCoughtry to go along with Kayla McBride, Napheesa Collier, Natalie Achonwa and a Sylvia Fowles who herself will rightfully receive her flowers following her “Last Dance.” The Lynx have been darkhorses the last few seasons, but never count out any team coached by Reeve.

For coach Mike Thibault, his Washington Mystics have encountered more than its fair share of adjusting pains after winning a championship in 2019. The Mystics suffered a first-round playoff exit in 2020 in the bubble thanks to “Playoff P” Shey Peddy and Washington failed to even reach the playoffs in 2021 despite being led by a Tina Charles who was regularly part of the MVP conversation.

The Mystics are a team where everything revolves around the health of one player – Elena Delle Donne, who played with three herniated discs in her back in that 2019 Finals with the Connecticut Sun. If Delle Donne is healthy, they are title contenders and if not, they are staring the lottery in the face once again as they did after the 2021 season. Shakira Austin was drafted third overall presumably as a backup to Delle Donne in case she were not to be healthy. Ariel Atkins, Alysha Clark (who did not play last season), Natasha Cloud, Tianna Hawkins, Myisha Hines-Allen, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and the veteran Elizabeth Williams are others that should have fans energized in Washington.

Lib Loyals have to be asking after last season which New York Liberty team will stand up in the 2022 season. Will it be the Liberty team that raced out to a hot start at the season’s outset and appeared to be a playoff lock prior to the Olympic break or the New York bunch that cratered in the second half of the season and nearly missed the playoffs.

Either way, the Liberty will be entering the 2022 season under a new coach in Sandy Brondello. While New York was strong as a shooting team with a cast of characters that included Betnijah Laney, Sami Whitcomb, Sabrina Ionescu and 2021 Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere, the Lib was noticeably weak in the frontcourt given the injury issues of Natasha Howard. Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb addressed those problems in the offseason with the free agent acquisition of Stefanie Dolson and the drafting of Nyara Sabally even though Sabally will not be available for New York this season. The Liberty returned to the playoffs last season, but our guess is that is only the beginning of a master plan for the Tsai family and the rest of that Atlantic and Flatbush front office.

Dallas may continue to be a team with a questionable front office, but one cannot deny that the amount of draft picks Greg Bibb and Bill Cameron did deals for in the last few seasons paid off in 2021 as the Wings were one of last year’s eight playoff teams. The Wings also managed to qualify for the playoffs in the first season of the Vicki Johnson era.

Of course, everything with the Wings depends on if Arike Ogunbowale continues to resemble the Arike Ogunbowale that has been in the MVP conversation the last couple of seasons. Dallas has a healthy mix of youth that includes Ty Harris and Teaira McCowan with veterans such as Allisha Gray, Isabelle Harrison and Moriah Jefferson. Dallas also selected Veronica Burton out of Northwestern in the 2022 draft and it is much anticipated as to how she will find her footing in Johnson’s offense. Dallas was a playoff team last season and the development of what is mostly a young team will be one of the fascinating storylines of 2022.

Among many a WNBA pundit, the Atlanta Dream may be seen as one of the teams most likely to be thinking not as much about the 2022 regular season as they will the 2023 draft given a pair of transcendent players in Aliyah Boston and Paige Bueckers will both be available in that draft. Nevertheless, Atlanta was another team that went through a front office upheaval given two former Aces figures in Tanisha Wright and Dan Padover joined the Dream organization as head coach and general manager, respectively.

Thanks to the Mystics trading the No. 1 overall pick, the Dream selected Rhyne Howard with the first overall selection. They also drafted Naz Hillmon in the second round. Atlanta does have a few veterans in Kia Vaughn, Tiffany Hayes, Cheyenne Parker, Nia Coffey and Erica Wheeler to go along with young talents such as Megan Walker and Aari McDonald. Following the last few seasons for Atlanta since Angel McCoughtry left, expectations have been relatively low. Could 2022 be the season that turns things around in the ATL?

Another team looked at by many a WNBA onlooker as being all in with the Aliyah Boston-Paige Bueckers draft sweepstakes, the Fever’s front office did take a bit of a jolt after Tamika Catchings, who was previously serving as the team’s general manager, announced she was stepping down. That led to an opening within Indiana’s front office – and the name Lin Dunn has emerged as someone who wants to change the culture in Indiana.

Outside of the 10 years of Danielle Robinson and the eight seasons of Bria Hartley, there are several rookies on the Fever’s roster because Indiana was loaded with draft picks – particularly in the first round. Queen Egbo, Emily Engstler, Lexie Hull, Destanni Henderson and, of course, NaLyssa Smith with Victoria Vivians, Tiffany Mitchell, Kelsey Mitchell and Alaina Coates. One has to wonder without improvement if this is Marianne Stanley’s last season as the Fever’s head coach.

Finals Prediction:

Seattle over Chicago 3-2

MVP: Breanna Stewart

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