As soon as Breanna Stewart announced her intention to sign with the New York Liberty, a new era began in the WNBA: The era of superteams.
Stewart joins Jonquel Jones, Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney in New York. And so will fellow free agent Courtney Vandersloot, who followed Stewart’s lead.
But the Liberty aren’t the only stacked roster that emerged during free agency. Earlier in the week, Candace Parker decided to sign with the Las Vegas Aces, joining A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young. It’s hard to believe the Aces, who are fresh off their first title, could be even better than they were last season, yet here we are.
Barring any blockbuster trades or unexpected signings, expect 2023 to be the season of New York and Las Vegas.
The Liberty boast two former MVPs in Stewart and Jones, a former most improved player and All-Star in Laney, and of course Ionescu, who is coming off her first All-WNBA team appearance and her first All-Star appearance.
As for the Aces, they’ve got two former MVPs as well in Wilson and Parker, two All-Stars in Plum and Young, and last season’s Finals MVP in Gray.
On paper, these teams seem unstoppable. In real life, we will have to wait and see. But while we do, let’s break down each roster.
The one-two punch of Stewart and Jones makes the Liberty an extremely tough matchup. Both players are versatile to the point of being essentially positionless, which makes them extremely tough to defend.
Both can score in the paint, from the outside and in the midrange on offense, and both are capable of creating for themselves and others. They also will be surrounded by excellent passers in Ionescu and Marine Johannès, which should lead to a creative, multi-dimensional offense.
Weaknesses for both these teams are hard to find because both are essentially All-Star teams. (Six of the 10 All-WNBA team selections from 2022 are evenly split between these rosters.)
Still, prior to the signing of Vandersloot, the Liberty needed a true point guard. Now they have one, rounding out a lethal starting five, and an excellent sixth player in Johannès. But this brings us to a potential issue for New York: depth. The team will need at least one scorer off the bench in order to compliment the first unit. If the Liberty can find that, then they become even more terrifying.
Laney missed a big chunk of last season after meniscus surgery, but when she was fully healthy in 2021, the forward had the best season of her career, averaging 16.8 points, 5.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds and earning her first All-Star appearance.
In 2023, opponents will plan their defenses around Stewart, Jones and Ionescu, leaving Laney the opportunity to make a massive impact.
These potential starting lineups are STACKED 😮💨 pic.twitter.com/V9sXPthsou— Just Women’s Sports (@justwsports) February 2, 2023
These potential starting lineups are STACKED 😮💨 pic.twitter.com/V9sXPthsou
With a starting lineup of Parker, Wilson, Gray, Plum and Young, the Aces have a variety of different scoring options, all with their own strengths. They have a true post in Wilson, a versatile scorer in Parker, big-time shot makers in Plum and Young, and a guard with the ability to create and score on contested looks in Gray.
Everyone brings something different to the table. If one facet of the offense isn’t working, Las Vegas simply will shift to a new strategy. And if that doesn’t work, the Aces will have yet more options.
For the Aces, their biggest strength has the potential to become their biggest weakness as well. With so many talented players, continuity comes into question. How will these players feed off each other — and most importantly, when the Aces need a basket, who is their go-to option?
The answer could be Wilson, Parker, Gray, or Plum, and if Las Vegas isn’t on the same page about that, then fractures could surface in late-game situations. That being said, having too much talent to choose from is a problem any team would want.
Last season, the Aces had the strongest starting five in the WNBA, but there were questions about their bench. In the end, when they needed someone to step up, Riquna Williams provided an unexpected spark.
Next season, the bench could be just as important, and coach Becky Hammon already has taken steps to make it stronger. The Aces signed an elite defender in Alysha Clark, who brings a veteran presence to a bench unit that is likely to be relatively young. Kierstan Bell, Aisha Sheppard and Iliana Rupert are all players early in their careers who could make an impact off the bench for Las Vegas.