Editor’s note: After this story was published, Julie Allemand was placed on the Fever’s suspension list for the 2021 season because of commitments with the Belgian national team this summer.
With the 25th anniversary season of the WNBA set to tip off Friday, Just Women’s Sports has been previewing everything you need to know.
There has been plenty of talk about the league’s stars. Candace Parker faces high expectations in her first season with the Chicago Sky. The Seattle Storm are looking to repeat behind Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd. Sabrina Ionescu is primed to build upon her injury-shortened rookie season, while rookie Charli Collier will begin to cement her legacy.
But what about the players who are waiting in the wings, ready to make an impact? The ones you don’t hear about in the headlines? After all, teams need their role players to step up in order to succeed. We’ve delivered our preseason power rankings and laid out our five storylines that will define the season.
Now we’re back, with the five players who have the most breakout potential this season.
The Canadian national teamer has had quite the journey to the WNBA. After being drafted 21st overall by the Connecticut Sun in the 2019 WNBA Draft, she was released after just four games. The Minnesota Lynx then signed her to a seven-day contract which turned into a season-long commitment.
Starting out as a fringe player for the Lynx, Carleton quickly gained the trust of the coaching staff during the bubble season. In her first WNBA start, the 6-foot-1 guard went 11-for-16 from the floor and made all 3-pointers she took, scoring 25 points. She became just the third player in WNBA history with at least 25 points and five rebounds in their first league start.
The others? Carleton’s teammate Napheesa Collier and five-time WNBA All-Star Candace Parker.
Through the rest of the 2020 season, Carleton hit 52 percent of her shots from the field and 45.7 percent of her 3-pointers, averaging 6.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
Carleton should see even more time at guard this season for Minnesota, especially as Kayla McBride works her way back from overseas play. Carleton no longer has to prove that she belongs in the WNBA, which should take some pressure off as she looks to build on her impressive 2020 campaign.
The Storm will be looking to get even more out of their young center this season. Magbegor, who was considered for the All-Rookie team last season, averaged 6.5 points and 2.5 rebounds and shot 56.9 percent from the floor as a reserve. While she averaged just 13.3 minutes per game last year, that number should increase after the Storm lost two starters — Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark — in the offseason.
Seattle is also waiting on several players to join them from overseas play. Breanna Stewart reported to training camp Tuesday, but head coach Dan Hughes doesn’t expect guard Epiphanny Prince, center Mercedes Russell or forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan to be available to play in the opener Saturday against Las Vegas.
Magbegor has room to improve defensively after averaging 2.5 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game last season. The 6-4 Australian has also been working on her 3-point shot in the offseason, averaging 41.7 percent with the Melbourne Boomers late in 2020. Since then, she’s had an additional four months to improve her game and come into her second WNBA season ready to make an impact for the reigning champions.
T’ea Cooper’s WNBA story is similar to Carleton’s. Taken with the 18th pick in the 2020 draft, the Mercury cut her before the season to meet roster expectations. The Los Angeles Sparks then picked Cooper up after point guard Kristi Toliver opted out of the 2020 season.
The point guard averaged 7.3 points and 2.0 assists per game in the bubble, finishing the season seventh in points per game and eighth in assists per game among all rookies. If Cooper can become a more consistent shooter from 3, after ranking 29th among guards with at least 30 attempts last season, coach Derek Fisher will have even more reason to keep her on the floor.
The Sparks lost three of their top five players in total minutes this past offseason and are embarking on a new era without Candace Parker. That turnover creates an opportunity for Cooper to expand her role with the team. If Cooper continues to improve her game, the ceiling is high for the energetic player.
The Indiana Fever finished the 2020 season in second-to-last place, helping them land No. 4 overall pick Kysre Gondrezick. While many eyes will be on Gondrezick, the Fever will run through second-year guard Julie Allemand.
It’s hard to imagine now that Allemand was the 33rd pick in the 2016 WNBA draft and didn’t play in the league until last year, but the Belgian has quickly filled the role of high-level playmaker for a team that lacked one. She finished second in the league in assists per game last season at 5.8 while averaging 8.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. She also shot 47.8 percent from beyond the arc, which ranked third in the league.
While Gondrezick should help lighten Allemand’s load, look for them to play off each other and maximize Allemand’s potential.
The Connecticut Sun center is on the rise. In 2020, Jones improved her career-best scoring average from 7.7 points per game to 11.2, as well as her rebounding average from 2.2 rebounds per game to 5.6. Jones also shot a ridiculous 60.5 percent from the field. Prior to the 2020 season, Jones never exceeded nine minutes per game. In the Wubble, that number increased to 26.1.
She also went off in the Sun’s final preseason game this month, scoring a game-high 22 points and grabbing nine rebounds to lead the team. That type of performance suggests Jones’ ceiling is only getting higher as time goes on.
For a team that lacks depth, Jones will be pivotal alongside Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner. With star forward Alyssa Thomas likely out for the season with a torn Achilles, the expectations for Jones only increase.