WNBA Wubble Edition: 2020 season preview – at last a Seattle-Phoenix Finals?

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

Since joining Beyond The W in 2016, I have rarely if ever written season preview pieces because we tailor our site to focus more on highlighting the women of the W as cultural icons which they are. But given the unusual nature of this season – which tips off in a few days – I decided to make an exception.

This season will be anything but typical. It has our women sequestered in a Florida bubble (or is it wubble) while the Sunshine State remains a Covid-19 hotbed. Because of this (as well as greater attention to social justice issues), several veteran players from Liz Cambage to Elena Delle Donne to Renee Montgomery to Tina Charles will not hoop this year.

If anything, because of the unique landscape of the season and the breadth of the players that will be watching the season from afar, this season will not look anything like what it was supposed to be at the outset of 2020. Meanwhile, it has given a second chance for draftees and other players who did not even get an opportunity to make their respective teams because there was no training camp.

And from a team perspective, some teams look arguably stronger than what they would have been in 2020 and others look weaker. Also, there is the constant story that will be the testing issue and what happens if a player tests positive for coronavirus.

Also – on a lighter note, all of the A-plus content that has come from the team, league and player socials since the WNBA world descended on the Tampa-St. Petersburg suburb of Bradenton to entire its wubble.

Furthermore, without further adieu, here is how I think this 22-game sprint that will be the 2020 season will turn out when all is said and done.

1 – Seattle Storm

It amazes me how many of our fellow WNBA broadcasters and scribes were giving absolutely zero respect to the Storm at the outset of the season – and this was before Mr. Covid decided to be the jerk of the century. While its coach Dan Hughes did not make it to Florida, Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart did. Last time we checked, they are two of the best ballers in the W. Last time we checked, they won a championship in 2018. Last time we checked, both were injured last season and Seattle still made the playoffs – and were one win shy of the semifinals. Seattle’s mission is clear – take back what they believe is rightfully theirs and should be considered the favorites to do just that.

2 – Phoenix Mercury

Let us not ignore the health concerns that people have brought up in recent years about Diana Taurasi. When the 2019 season concluded, everyone was ready to write off DT3 into the sports sunset and everyone were ready to tab the Phoenix Mercury as the next team poised to undergo a rebuild. Then free agency came and Jim Pitman decided to make a major splash by landing Skylar Diggins-Smith, creating a Big 3 in the Valley of the Sun. With Diggins-Smith, Taurasi and Brittney Griner still there, the Merc decided they are nowhere near finished and would love to make one more run in the DT3 era to the WNBA Finals. And given the current landscape of the WNBA as we speak, Sandy Brondello and her Phoenix squad may just do it.

3 – Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks have consistently been a team where one does not know exactly how far in the playoffs they will go, but it is a guarantee that they will always be there. The Sparks were one of many teams that created waves in the free agent period by bringing Kristi Toliver back in the fold, but Los Angeles is sans Toliver at the wubble as they are Chiney Ogwumike. Even without the two veterans, Derek Fisher still has Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray not to mention getting Seimone Augustus as well. Veteran-laden teams typically do well in the WNBA and the Sparks have no shortage of vets. Also … there was that getting swept in the semifinals thing that Fisher still surely has in the back of his head.

4 – Chicago Sky

For a few years since Elena Delle Donne’s departure, the Sky have slowly but surely built a team that would be championship contenders. For a few years, the Sky had the talent, but as last year displayed, Chicago simply needed the coach. They found that coach in James Wade and he only won Coach of the Year last season. In addition, almost the entire Sky roster (sans some notables such as Jantel Lavender and Jamierra Faulkner) made it to Florida. From Courtney Vandersloot to Allie Quigley to Stefanie Dolson to Gabby Williams to Diamond DeShields to Ruthy Hebard, Chicago is simply stacked. The Sky got to within an eyelash of the semifinals last year and is inching closer to that point where we can legitimately see the team in the Finals. Maybe not this year? Or…maybe so?

5 – Connecticut Sun

It was tough – real tough – to rank New England’s WNBA team given these unusual circumstances. After all, Connecticut did advance to the WNBA Finals last season and would be strong contenders to return if this season were played under typical circumstances. On one hand, Connecticut was another team that made a major move in free agency by landing DeWanna Bonner. On the other, lots of talent have left Curt Miller’s Sun for other teams – including Courtney Williams, Shekinna Stricklen, Rachel Banham and Morgan Tuck. In addition – not having Jonquel Jones will surely be a major pothole in the Sun’s efforts to return to the Finals. With Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas in addition to Bonner, Connecticut should still finish with a winning record and a playoff berth, but a Finals return may be too much to ask for given this team. No disrespeCT by the way.

6 – Washington Mystics

Mike Thibault’s Mystics find themselves in a similar predicament as the Storm did last season – defending a championship without some of its best players. Thankfully, Washington remedied the Delle Donne situation and agreed to pay her salary. And while this was supposed to be Charles’ first season in the District (and a reunion with her Connecticut coach in Thibault), she too was granted a medical exemption. LaToya Sanders and Natasha Cloud are also sitting out. They still do have Emma Meesseman who only won Finals MVP last season in addition to others such as Leilani Mitchell, Ariel Atkins, Aerial Powers and Tianna Hawkins. Since they are the defending champions, Washington is deserving of respect and will make the playoffs, but the wubble circumstances may hurt Thibault and friends’ chance at a repeat.

7 – Las Vegas Aces

When Angel McCoughtry was announced as the first major free agent signing and that she was heading west to the Las Vegas Aces, every single W pundit (or is it Wundit) tabbed the Aces as favorites to win a championship. After all … who could contend with that Big 3 of A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage and McCoughtry? Then came the coronavirus (which Cambage herself believes she briefly had) and the announcement she would opting out of the season. This was another tough one because Vegas still fields a good team even without Australia’s very own and South Carolina’s very own Wilson was picked by many as a preseason favorite to win MVP. Bill Laimbeer’s Aces are another team (similar to Washington) that should advance to the playoffs, but if there were any aspirations of an Aces parade (in-person or virtual) through Sin City, those plans may have to be put off until 2021.

8 – Indiana Fever

That’s right – the Indiana Fever will be back in the playoffs this season. If you were not on the Fever’s bandwagon previously, now would be a good time to jump on board. What gets so easily overlooked about the Fever is this is a team that was only two games shy of the eighth playoff berth last season. What did Indiana do to address that? They got Marianne Stanley as its new coach and she’s coming off a season where she was an assistant for the Mystics who won last season’s championship. Just as the Sky are seeing the fruits of its post-EDD rebuild, this could be the season where Indiana sees the fruits of its post-Tamika Catchings rebuild (with Catch as the GM!) Veterans such as Candice Dupree and Erica Wheeler (let’s see if she gets cleared) plus young talent such as Tiffany Mitchell, Kelsey Mitchell, Victoria Vivians, Lauren Cox (if she gets cleared) and (a healthy) Teaira McCowan. Indy is a sleeping giant.

9 – Minnesota Lynx

It still feels like yesterday when Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen willed the Minnesota Lynx to its fourth championship during its dynasty years of the 2010s. Now, it appears the Lynx are fully in the midst of a rebuild. The only on-court “lynk” the Lynx have to its glory years is Sylvia Fowles – and Sweet Syl at 34 years old is not getting any younger. While Cheryl Reeve’s team is returning last year’s Rookie of the Year in Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield has a chance to surprise fans in a rookie landscape centered on a certain New York rookie, it is unusual we are writing about the Lynx as if they are a lottery team. Nonetheless, such cycles are how things operated in our beloved W.

10 – New York Liberty

One may be surprised any Lib preview does not begin and end with simply one word – Sabrina. The hype around the star Oregon alum has been warranted, but the 2020 rendition of the Liberty (the first under new coach Walt Hopkins) will be more than simply the Brooklyn Ballin’ Ionescus. Let us not forget veterans such as Layshia Clarendon in addition to rising talents such as Kia Nurse and Amanda Zahui B are also on this team. Outside of that, New York’s 2020 rendition is a polar opposite of some of those veteran Lib squads we saw under Laimbeer. A great deal of this team is comprised of rooks, rooks and more rooks (Taylor?) and the Sabrina Effect will have the Liberty on national TV 16 times this year. This season will likely be another lottery year for a young Liberty team, but if Ionescu’s first season in the W is similar to Wilson’s first with Vegas, New York may be back at the “top of the heap” in no time.

11 – Atlanta Dream

Was it just us, or during the offseason did it seem as though there was news coming out of Atlanta almost every day? The logo change, the move to College Park and Kelly Loeffler becoming a Senator were simply some of the news that came from the ATL’s resident WNBA team. Nonetheless, Chris Sienko and Nicki Collen also made a bevy of offseason moves after McCoughtry’s departure to Vegas. Adding Courtney Williams and Shekinna Stricklen (whom both are familiar with because of the Connecticut…well…connection). Adding Glory Johnson and Kalani Brown. Not to mention the drafting of Chennedy Carter out of Texas A&M, who many have as right there with the Oregon Big 3 (Ionescu, Hebard, Satou Sabally) for Rookie of the Year contention. Williams’ status is up in the air plus Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes are sitting out for social justice issues. Elizabeth Williams will likely step up as a leader for a team whose front office took a “reload, not rebuild” mindset, but may resemble a rebuild anyway.

12 – Dallas Wings

With all of the young talent the Wings have amassed over these last few years, it hurts to put them as, not only a lottery team, but the potential first overall pick in next year’s draft. Criticize the Dallas front office all one wants, but one cannot say that the Wings do not draft well – because they do. And in this draft alone, the Wings landed a wealth of talent including Sabally, Bella Alarie and Ty Harris. Add that to Megan Gustafson, Moriah Jefferson, Azura Stevens, Katie Lou Samuelson and her sister Karlie not to mention Arike Ogunbowale, who was in a neck-and-neck race with Minnesota’s Collier for Rookie of the Year that caused plenty of “spirited” back-and-forth debate between Wings Twitter and Lynx Twitter. Without question, the talent is certainly there for Brian Agler’s Wings, but similar to Hopkins and the Liberty, Dallas is young as well which is why too much should not be expected of Dallas while remaining that possibility that they can exceed expectations.

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