New York, Las Vegas and Connecticut have all secured a playoff spot as the 2023 WNBA postseason approaches.
With five playoff spots remaining and less than a month until the regular season ends, some teams have a legitimate shot at hoisting the trophy, while others should begin focusing on the 2024 draft.
The defending champions have the highest win percentage (.879) in the league and have remained relatively consistent throughout the season. They’ve had their share of challenges, with a season-ending injury to Candace Parker making the biggest impact. Fatigue could also hurt the Aces in the long run, as they only have Alysha Clark playing consistent minutes off the bench. A short rotation was a weakness for Las Vegas last season as well, and it didn’t end up mattering in their run to the WNBA championship.
The Aces are a true title contender because of their starting five, led by reigning WNBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year A’ja Wilson. She’s taken on an even bigger role since Parker went out, recording a career-high 53 points (which also tied the WNBA record) in a win over Atlanta on Tuesday. Wilson is Las Vegas’ anchor, but she’s surrounded by talented guards in Jackie Young, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum.
The Aces have both an explosive offense and a solid defense, leading them to win their games by an average of 13.6 points.
Between New York and Las Vegas, it’s difficult to determine the true favorite to win the title. With the Commissioner’s Cup championship game factored in, the Liberty and Aces have split their season series with two wins apiece. They play one more time in the regular season, matching up on Aug. 28 in New York.
Like the Aces, the Liberty have a lethal starting five. Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, Sabrina Ionescu, Courtney Vandersloot and Betnijah Laney are the reason the Liberty were dubbed a superteam heading into the season. That group alone makes the Liberty a contender, with different players capable of going off on any given night. But where New York stands out from the rest of the league is in its bench play.
Headlining the talented secondary unit is Marine Johannès, whose 17 points in 14 minutes of play propelled New York to the Commissioner’s Cup title. Kayla Thornton provides a lift off the bench, often on the defensive end, and Stefanie Dolson and Nyara Sabally are also viable depth options. In a playoff series, the Liberty’ deep and talented bench gives them a major advantage over their opponents.
Las Vegas and New York are the top contenders to win the WNBA championship, but there is a world in which Dallas could pull off an upset. The Wings are capable of getting hot and erupting on offense, currently third in the WNBA with 86.9 points per game.
Dallas is led by Satou Sabally and Arike Ogunbowale, who are exactly the type of players that can help a team make a playoff run. Sabally is a walking mismatch who can get up and down the court and score from inside, outside and the midrange. Ogunbowale is fifth in the league in scoring at 21 points per game, and she is known for her ability to hit high-pressure, contested shots. Her assist numbers (4.6 per game) are also at an all-time high as her offense continues to evolve.
Outside of Sabally and Ogunbowale, Dallas has a scary frontcourt, with veteran Natasha Howard and 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan starting, and 6-7 Kalani Brown coming off the bench. There are few teams in the league that can compete with the size and strength of the Wings inside.
The Sun are the third-best team in the league based on record, but they’ll have to play nearly perfect basketball to win a championship, especially without an injured Brionna Jones. They do have the personnel to pull it off, as one of two teams in the league that have topped both Las Vegas and New York this season (Dallas is the second).
Connecticut is led by the WNBA’s triple-double machine, Alyssa Thomas, who is averaging 15.7 points, 10 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game, and DeWanna Bonner, who at 36 is having the best season of her career with 17.8 points per game. And without Jones, Tiffany Hayes has developed into a solid third scoring option.
DiJonai Carrington brings a spark off the bench, and Rebecca Allen has the ability to go on a scoring streak, but the Sun’s real strength is on the defensive end. They give up just 78.7 points per game and snag 8.2 steals per game, both of which lead the WNBA. If Connecticut puts together a top-tier defensive showing throughout the playoffs, and shooters like Bonner and Allen get hot — and stay hot — they have a chance.
Even if everyone is healthy when the playoffs start, the Mystics haven’t had enough time on the court together to gel as a unit. On paper, the Mystics look like contenders, with Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, Shakira Austin and Brittney Sykes, who is having a breakout season. But with nearly every player having missed significant time this season, time is running out. Right now, the question isn’t if the Mystics can contend, but if they can make the playoffs at all. The top eight teams in the league earn postseason bids, and Washington is currently seventh.
The Sky were always going to need time to adjust to losing a core group that included Parker and Vandersloot, but the departure of head coach and GM James Wade in the middle of the season put them in an even more challenging position. Currently in ninth place at 13-20, the Sky need to go on a run to end the regular season if they want to make a postseason appearance.
In last place, the Fever are nearly out of playoff contention with a 9-24 record. They made strides this year, and No. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston is a franchise cornerstone going forward, but Indiana never learned how to win despite being in close contests all season. It’s time for the Fever to turn their attention to the 2024 draft.
In 10th place, the Storm are almost out of the playoff picture as well, which was expected after losing Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird in the offseason. Now, Seattle needs to use the offseason to convince Jewell Loyd — who leads the league in scoring at 24.1 points per game — to re-sign with the organization in free agency. Without her, the rebuild becomes even more daunting.
There have been some bright spots for Phoenix this year, most notably the return of Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi surpassing 10,000 career points, but making a postseason run has never seemed in the cards with how the season has gone. After parting ways with head coach Vanessa Nygaard early in the season, the Mercury have a lot of rebuilding to do, including their relationship with veteran guard Skylar Diggins-Smith.
The Sparks are close to figuring it all out, even with the injuries they’ve endured all season. They’re in the midst of a five-game winning streak that included a win over the Aces. Curt Miller is moving the team in the right direction, building around Nneka Ogwumike and facilitating breakout seasons from players like Jordin Canada and Karlie Samuelson as the team pushes for a spot in the playoffs. This isn’t the Sparks’ year, but they are making positive strides for the future.
While not true contenders, the Lynx and the Dream don’t fall into the pretenders category, either. Both teams are capable of winning a series and making things interesting in the next round.
The Lynx are hitting their stride, despite a complicated situation with Aerial Powers. Napheesa Collier is having the best season of her career, averaging 21.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Rookies Diamond Miller and Dorka Juhász are settling into their roles, and veterans like Kayla McBride have served as a steadying force. The Lynx are much improved since their 0-6 start to the season, and even better than they were last month. Take Tuesday’s win over Dallas: A month ago, the Lynx lost by 40 points to the Wings; on Tuesday, they showed poise in a testy contest to pull off the win.
Meanwhile, Atlanta has talented players who can compete on any given night. All-Stars Rhyne Howard, Allisha Gray and Cheyenne Parker will always give the Dream a chance in games. Whether they can turn that potential into playoff series wins depends on their consistency.
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.