For some, it may feel as if the 2023 WNBA season, similar to any of the previous 26, simply came and gone. For others, it probably felt as if it were a marathon.
If it felt like a marathon, that is exactly what commissioner Cathy Engelbert intended it to be when she announced at last year’s All-Star Game in Chicago that the 2023 season would indeed be 40 games.
Prior to the start of this season, we gave our take on where we felt our 12 teams would finish in the standings. While we appeared to be accurate from behind the arc on a few of our selections, others were airballs or turnovers.
With that being said, here is our review of our 2023 WNBA season predictions.
This one was a fairly easy call, not only for us but for many others in the WNBA media space.
After all, Becky Hammon’s Aces were a team that not only had the respect of being defending champions to their advantage, but Las Vegas went mostly unchanged during the offseason.
In fact, the Aces added to their championship-winning team from the 2022 season. While they did deal Dearica Hamby to the Los Angeles Sparks in what still has to be considered a controversial trade, Alysha Clark and Candace Parker joined the team.
And of course, the Aces still kept their core of A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray together. They all played like themselves from start to finish.
Las Vegas looked like the best and most dominant team in the league for much of the first half of the 2023 campaign. The Aces did look somewhat vulnerable down the stretch, particularly after losing the Commissioner’s Cup Final to the New York Liberty in their own building. Losses to the Sparks and Washington Mystics may have temporarily rattled Vegas, but the Aces are still going into the playoffs with the No. 1 overall seed. Once again, the road to a championship goes through Sin City.
Here was another layup of a call, but the Liberty did have moments where it may have appeared to be more of a midrange jump shot as opposed to a fastbreak transition layup.
It feels like it happened seasons ago, but the Liberty’s first game of the season was a bad defeat – at the Mystics. Sandy Brondello’s New York bunch did not resemble the “superteam” they were picked to be at the beginning of the season.
But the Liberty did pick up win after win after win. Breanna Stewart looked like Breanna Stewart. Sabrina Ionescu looked like Sabrina Ionescu. Betnijah Laney looked like Betnijah Laney (congratulations to Naj by the way on signing her new two-year deal with the seafoam, black and copper). Jonquel Jones looked like Jonquel Jones (Commissioner’s Cup Finals MVP). Courtney Vandersloot looked like Courtney Vandersloot.
Suprisingly, the Liberty’s final game of the regular season was at Barclays against the Mystics and Washington earned a 90-88 win over New York at the intersection of Atlantic & Flatbush. But prior to that game, the Liberty appeared to be playing their best basketball – likely buoyed by the Commissioner’s Cup triumph over the Aces. In fact, including the Commissioner’s Cup Final, the Liberty have beaten the Aces on three out of the five occasions that they have got together on the court. If we do indeed get an Aces-Liberty WNBA Finals, Brondello and company have to be hoping that continues into that short series.
Ok…here is where things start to get dicey.
The Aces and Liberty calls were easy ones. Washington? Not so much.
When the Mystics did earn that emphatic win in the home opener vs. the Liberty, it perhaps fueled the speculation among many (including us) that the Mystics would be a team that would give the Aces and Liberty a scare.
Except the Mystics were a team that continued to get bit by the injury bug left and right. Including Elena Delle Donne and Shakira Austin.
Austin in 2022 may have won Rookie of the Year if it were not for the heroics of Rhyne Howard with the Atlanta Dream. Delle Donne was voted to this year’s All-Star Game but had to sit out due to injury and it was Howard who took her place.
Perhaps that win that the Mystics did earn over the Liberty will give Washington a bit of momentum heading into a first-round best-of-three, ironically, against the same team. But if coach Eric Thibault’s team is going to continue having to try to get that injury bug away from them, it may not mean much.
We picked the Mystics to finish third. Washington will enter the postseason as the seventh seed.
Here was another airball of a call.
There is a reason why plenty of WNBA fans openly believe that this team may have been cursed by Candace Parker’s departure for the Chicago Sky prior to the 2021 season.
With the Derek Fisher error behind the Sparks, this was supposed to be the year the Sparks got back to the postseason. Los Angeles hired Curt Miller, who coached in two WNBA Finals with the Connecticut Sun as its head coach. They hired Karen Bryant to be its general manager. Jasmine Thomas became part of the team.
Instead, the Sparks – in similar fashion to the Mystics – were constantly bit by the injury bug. Los Angeles – also similar to the Mystics – began the season with an emphatic home victory. The Sparks’ came at the expense of the Phoenix Mercury.
Even with all of the scuffles and injury problems that the Sparks faced, they still nearly made the postseason despite all of that adversity.
Except Los Angeles blowing a big lead on the road in the next-to-last game of the season against the Liberty all but sealed the Sparks’ fate. Instead of looking ahead to a first-round best-of-three against the Aces, they will be staring down the ping pong balls of the 2024 draft lottery.
And with a Nneka Ogwumike who is not getting any younger, one wonders if the Sparks – similar to the Mercury – are closer to a rebuild than we think.
Side note – who is going to be the first person to write a thinkpiece writing how the WNBA would rather Caitlin Clark in market No. 2? We know it is coming…
The return of Brittney Griner gave an emotional lift – not only to that Mercury locker room but to the WNBA as a whole.
Her absence was especially devastating to the Mercury on the court in 2022 as Phoenix went from the championship contenders they were in 2021 to a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the eventual champion Aces.
Even with the return of BG, the Mercury actually had a worse season standings-wise than was the case in 2022. Her return plus a Diana Taurasi who clearly can still play at a high level even at her age was supposed to heal Phoenix’s hoops problems.
Instead, Vanessa Nygaard was fired midway through the season and replaced by Nikki Blue. The Mercury looked like a two-woman show for much of the season. They needed for their dynamic duo to instead be a big three (Skylar Diggins-Smith) in order to contend for a playoff berth.
Now the Mercury may be closer than ever to a rebuild. Diggins-Smith has all but said she wants out and BG will be an unrestricted free agent.
What also was a detriment to the Mercury from start to finish of the 2023 season was their inability to win games away from Footprint Center. Phoenix finished the 2023 season having only one game on the road and losing its last 11 of the season.
Taurasi is almost certainly going to retire following 2024, especially given it will be one more opportunity to add one more Olympic gold medal to her already extensive trophy case.
The word “rebuild” typically keeps sports fans up at night. But it is clearly staring Mat Ishbia and the X-Factor in the face.
The Connecticut Sun have built a culture of believing the rest of the WNBA is disrespecting them. Perhaps that “disrespeCT” would change upon the Sun winning a championship, which they flirted with awfully heavily in 2019 and 2022.
While the Sun were still a popular pick among many pundits to make it back to the postseason in 2023, it was a team that did undergo a bit of roster turnover and front office turnover.
On the court, it was Jonquel Jones requesting a trade to the Liberty not to mention Jasmine Thomas heading out west to the Los Angeles Sparks. In terms of the front office, Curt Miller also went west to Tinseltown and team president Jen Rizzotti replaced him with Stephanie White. Darius Taylor, a former assistant coach of the Atlanta Dream (and wife of Texas A&M coach Joni Taylor), became Connecticut’s new general manager with Morgan Tuck assuming assistant general manager duties.
Since then, all that the Sun have done since then is reel off another stellar season. Connecticut eventually became the three seed in this year’s playoffs. The Sun did encounter a bit of adversity midway through the season which seems to be a symbol of how snakebit this franchise has been over the years.
Connecticut lost Brionna Jones to injury when it seemed the team was firmly establishing a big three of her, DeWanna Bonner and, of course, Alyssa Thomas.
Thomas’ nickname, “The Engine” is as apropos a nickname one can have for a player as she is really the straw that stirs the Sun’s drink. There is a reason why she is being mentioned as an MVP candidate in the same category as A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart.
Will this finally be the year that the Sun finally get it done? It may be unlikely but Connecticut does have a win over Las Vegas earlier in the season.
Following a 2022 season that saw the Atlanta Dream go from the doldrums of the WNBA’s lower tier to a potential juggernaut on the rise made the goal clear for the team’s 2023 rendition – playoffs.
That did indeed happen this year for Atlanta. We had the Dream seventh – and there was a real possibility that it would be where they would finish in the standings given a few late-season struggles Atlanta encountered. Instead, the Dream came away with a 19-21 mark – the same record as the Minnesota Lynx and Washington Mystics.
Atlanta will enter the postseason as the fifth seed and are clearly showing all the signs of a team on the rise. The trade Dan Padover engineered with the Mystics that saw Rhyne Howard get drafted first overall to the Dream and allowing the Mystics to draft Shakira Austin looked initially like a win for both teams but now could be advantage Atlanta given Austin’s injury woes as of late.
This season saw the emergence of the Dream’s big three that included Cheyenne Parker and Allisha Gray. All three were named to the All-Star Game (even though Howard got in as a replacement for the injured Elena Delle Donne).
The playoffs were the goal for this year’s rendition of the Dream. Not only did Atlanta qualify for this year’s postseason, it actually earned itself, arguably, the most favorable draw they could get for a lower seed.
Facing a Dallas Wings team in the first round is certainly more ideal than having to deal with the juggernauts that are the Sun and Liberty in the opening stanza of the playoffs. The postseason was the first step – let us see if they can win a first-round playoff series.
Speaking of Dallas…
We were right in saying that the Wings would once again earn a berth back to the playoffs. But we figured it would be as an eight seed instead of the four seed they eventually became.
When we made our preseason picks, we looked at the Los Angeles Sparks and Washington Mystics as teams that would give the two superteams a scare. We apparently overlooked Latricia Trammell’s Dallas Wings who have victories this season over both the Aces and Liberty – including a win over New York on New York’s home floor.
Of course we knew about Arike Ogunbowale and the superstar she has blossomed into in north Texas. Satou Sabally has really emerged this season, so much to the point that she was in the MVP conversation in the early going of the 2023 campaign.
Add in key pieces such as Natasha Howard and Teaira McCowan and the Wings have the makings of a team that can contend for years to come.
Ironically, similar to Liberty & Mystics, the Wings’ final game of the season came against the team that they will clash with in the first round of this year’s playoffs – the Atlanta Dream. And as the Mystics did over the Liberty, Dallas earned a victory over Atlanta.
Trammell is a first-year head coach and has placed herself firmly in the Coach of the Year conversation with the Lynx’s Cheryl Reeve and the Sun’s Stephanie White. Not to mention they will add to their team next season because they will have the fifth overall pick in next year’s draft (that Chicago traded). The Wings are for real and will be for a long time.
Our prediction that the Indiana Fever would be slightly on the outside looking in of the playoff picture was based largely on what happened with the Las Vegas Aces when they drafted A’ja Wilson.
The 2018 Aces also were slightly on the outside looking in of the playoffs. We eventually saw over time what the Aces would morph into. With the Fever drafting another generational talent out of South Carolina in Aliyah Boston, it appeared an Aces-like trajectory was the best case scenario for the franchise.
Boston all but ran away with the Rookie of the Year award the second she stepped onto the court for that first game vs. Connecticut. Not to mention she was named to the All-Star Game as a rookie ala Rhyne Howard last season. Indiana may have finished with a record of 13-27, but this was a team that looked much better than simply a 13-win season.
The Fever were in a good number of games this season that they eventually lost. These included games they played against tough opponents such as the three-team triumvirate of Aces, Liberty and Sun.
Indiana is a direct example of a team going through something to get to something. Both Boston and Kelsey Mitchell were All-Stars. The last time Indiana won 13 games was 2019 – the last season of the Pokey Chatman era. The Fever have not won 17 games since 2016 – when Tamika Catchings bid adieu to the W.
Boston, coach Christie Sides and the rest of that team can claim that they wanted more but the pros are an entirely different animal than college. We actually were not that far off with this one given the Fever finished 10th in the standings and are back in the lottery with the best chance to land the first overall pick.
Aliyah Boston and Caitlin Clark on the same team? Basketball works in mysterious ways sometimes…
We were well in the green with this prediction as well.
To be honest, it was not a difficult call to see the Seattle Storm going from riches to rags. When a franchise loses an all-time great to retirement and another all-time great to another team, the only word that can come to mind is “rebuild.”
The Storm only won 11 games in 2023 – and only four of those 11 occurred on their home floor at Climate Pledge Arena.
But Seattle’s biggest victory may have occurred at the conclusion of the season. While it was tough sledding for the Storm as a team, Jewell Loyd had herself a great individual campaign.
Not only did the Gold Mamba claim All-Star MVP honors with a 31-point performance for Team Stewart over Team Wilson, but she set the single-season record for most points ever scored in a season. And the individuals who will try to diminish her achievement by claiming it was a byproduct of the 40-game season probably would have hard time getting buckets in their local rec leagues.
Storm general manager Talisa Rhea rewarded Loyd with a new two-year deal to keep her in Seattle green and gold through the 2025 season. She was to be a free agent following this season and one would have thought she would explore her options – including her hometown Chicago Sky. But Loyd apparently likes what she saw in Seattle and decided to re-up for two more seasons.
That was priority No. 1 for the Storm’s front office. Priority No. 2 is to put the necessary pieces around her and Ezi Magbegor, their defensive anchor, that can make Seattle into contenders once again. That will not be an overnight process, but perhaps who the Storm select with their lottery pick (depending on where they will be in the lottery) will go a long way in that process.
Outside of the Seattle Storm, arguably no team went through a more sudden shift from the private jet to the strugglebus more than the Sky.
After losing Candace Parker, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot all in one offseason, one could expect Chicago to encounter its fair share of growing pains.
At the beginning of the season, it appeared as if perhaps the Sky would be able to emerge from their tumultuous offseason to remain contenders. It is easy to forget that Chicago actually began the season with a 5-1 record.
Then as the season went on, those departures began to catch up with the Sky and the team fell back down to earth. Chicago’s season was so rocky that former coach James Wade actually left the team midway through the season. He took a job as an assistant with the Toronto Raptors.
Emre Vatansever served in the stead of Wade – and Chicago managed to keep itself barely above water to claim the eighth and final playoff berth.
And in similar fashion as what happened with the Storm, the Sky also landed a major victory in the latter part of the season. Chicago signed Kahleah Copper, who was Finals MVP in 2021 to a new two-year contract.
Copper has clearly defined herself as the heart and soul of this franchise in the post-Quigley, post-Sloot era. This season, the Sky also received noteworthy contributions from Marina Mabrey, Courtney Williams and Elizabeth Williams among others.
The Sky are fortunate they made the playoffs because Chicago would not have been in the lottery even if they were on the outside looking in given they traded their first round pick to the Dallas Wings. There are still lots of questions about the Sky going forward – including how will the team go about its continued rebuild, is Vatansever the long-term option as coach and what will its ownership structure look like with new owners – including Dwyane Wade – coming in.
This one is arguably our biggest airball, but there was a point in the season where it may not have looked that way.
Just as the Sky got off to one of the league’s most impressive starts, Cheryl Reeve’s got off to one colder than a Minnesota winter. Minnesota began the season 0-6, but to the Lynx’s credit, most of those losses were not “bad losses.”
The Lynx certainly had the talent to be able to respond positively to that slump in the beginning of the season. Did Minnesota ever…
It helps when a team has Napheesa Collier back after taking off 2022 because she was giving birth. Collier was an All-Star in 2023. It especially helps when a team has a veteran in Kayla McBride (one of the best 3-point sharpshooters in the W) who knows a thing or two about being on winning teams.
It helps when a team has emerging talents like Dorka Juhasz and Diamond Miller also wasting no time in making an impact. Miller probably would have won Rookie of the Year if not for someone in Indiana whose name rhymes with “Jaliyah Tosbon.”
The Lynx went through a stretch of the season where they too – similar to Dallas – earned a victory over the Liberty on the Lib home floor. Instead of them being last in the standings and considering whether or not to tank for Minnesota’s very own Paige Bueckers, the Lynx are firmly in the playoffs as the six seed. That means they get Connecticut in the first round.
The Lynx are a classic example of a team playing with house money. They had nothing to lose and had very low expectations especially after the retirement of Sylvia Fowles. Minnesota showed that they still are a player in this league – and they recently inked a multi-year pact with McBride.
By the expectations placed upon this year’s rendition of the Lynx, one can already say that this was a successful season in the Twin Cities. Only time will tell if Cheryl Reeve adds a Coach of the Year award to her already large trophy case.