Napheesa Collier to make 2022 debut after birth of daughter
Collier will return to the court with the Lynx for the first time since May.
The WNBA’s 26th season tips off with a quadruple-header on Friday night, ushering in another year full of on- and off-court intrigue. As teams take the next step in their rebuilds, and others make a push for championship contention, the league is on the cusp of one of its most competitive seasons yet.
Just Women’s Sports WNBA experts Rachel Galligan and Lyndsey D’Arcangelo got together to break it all down, analyzing the impact of teams’ offseason moves and making their predictions for WNBA champion, individual awards and other fun categories. Let’s get to it.
It is nearly impossible at this stage to determine who will win it all between the Connecticut Sun, Chicago Sky and Seattle Storm. I give the nod to the Sky based on their experience winning the 2021 championship and their free-agent acquisitions of Emma Meesseman and Julie Allemand. Did the Sky just catch lightning in a bottle when they peaked in the playoffs as the No. 6 seed and won it all last year? I don’t think so, and I don’t expect a team led by Candace Parker, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot to be complacent. We have yet to see this team be consistently dominant over the course of a season, as Parker alluded to earlier this week. This season could be it. — Rachel Galligan
The Sun have been in the championship conversation for the past few seasons, making the WNBA Finals in 2019 and the semifinals in 2020 and 2021. This year could finally be their breakthrough. Jonquel Jones is primed to be a frontrunner again for MVP, Alyssa Thomas is healthy, Courtney Williams is back with the team for another run and the entire roster is as solid as it has ever been. If Connecticut can find a second gear in the playoffs and capitalize on their fine-tuned regular season chemistry, a WNBA trophy will be the result. — Lyndsey D’Arcangelo
Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
Sue Bird’s final ride is motivation enough for the Storm to be a favorite to win it all, and I expect Breanna Stewart to be back at 100-percent superstardom after signing a one-year deal of her own in the offseason. Stewart’s 2021 season was cut short when she suffered a left foot injury in early September, and the Storm stumbled into a fourth-place finish and single-game elimination in the playoffs. Stewart has a track record of bouncing back from injuries, most recently when she was named 2020 Finals MVP after missing all of the 2019 season. — Galligan
Tina Charles, Phoenix Mercury
The Brittney Griner situation is delicate, and with each day that passes, the urgency to secure her safe return home grows. The U.S. State Department recently reclassified Griner as “wrongfully detained” by Russia. Basketball, of course, is secondary to her well-being. But in her absence, the Phoenix Mercury will need to rely more on Tina Charles in the post, and Charles is used to fulfilling that role. Last season, she was the go-to player for the injury-riddled Washington Mystics and led the league in scoring with 23.4 points per game. With Charles having already teamed up with Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith on Team USA, chemistry shouldn’t be an issue for the Mercury. The 6-foot-4 center will get plenty of looks and opportunities to dominate in the lane. — D’Arcangelo
Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Even as she enters her farewell season in the WNBA at 36 years old, Fowles is still playing some of the best basketball of her career, especially on the defensive end of the floor. The 14-year veteran’s imposing size, agility, rim protection and rebounding abilities are tough for any opponent to match up with, and I expect her to leave it all on the line for the Lynx this year. — Galligan
Sylvia Fowles, Lynx
How cool would it be if Sylvia Fowles added yet another Defensive Player of the Year honor to her resume in her last season in the WNBA — bringing her grand total to five and tying the legendary Tamika Catchings? Fowles has been one of the most dominant and versatile defensive players in the league during her career. She not only blocks shots, but she also excels at bodying-up opponents, making them uncomfortable in the lane and forcing them into bad shots. Every game day is just another one at the office for Fowles. — D’Arcangelo
Rhyne Howard, Atlanta Dream
Rhyne Howard, the No. 1 pick in last month’s draft, enters a situation in Atlanta that’s perfectly suited for the 6-2 guard to gain valuable minutes, experience and confidence on the floor. And as we learned from her stellar career at Kentucky, when Howard gets minutes, she racks up points. As the franchise looks to rebuild from the ground up, Howard should have the ball in her hands often with every opportunity to make her mark on the WNBA. — Galligan
Rhyne Howard, Dream
In the past couple of seasons, we’ve seen the Rookie of the Year award come down to which player gets the most playing time and opportunities to impact the game. This year, there will be plenty of rookies thrust into larger roles, notably the Indiana Fever’s five rostered draft picks, but Howard could have the biggest effect of them all. She’s going to have a chance to showcase her talent in full capacity for the Dream, and she has all the tools to make the most of it. — D’Arcangelo
James Wade, Chicago Sky
Chicago had a rollercoaster 2021 regular season, following up a seven-game losing streak at the beginning to the season with a seven-game win streak and entering the playoffs as the No. 6 seed before winning it all. I do not expect that to be the case this year. James Wade has the entire package of superstar talent, veteran experience, chemistry and confidence to keep his team near the top of the standings all season long. His offseason acquisition of Messeeman immediately enhances this roster. — Galligan
Sandy Brondello, New York Liberty
The Liberty are ready to take that next step, and Brondello has the experience and coaching pedigree to get them there. Sabrina Ionescu was considered a franchise player when she entered the league as the No. 1 pick in 2020, but experienced a setback when she suffered an ankle injury early in her rookie season. With Brondello at the helm (and Ionescu saying she finally feels healthy), the guard could have the kind of breakout season Liberty fans have been waiting for. — D’Arcangelo
In 2021, the Wings emerged as one of the most dangerously young and talented teams in the WNBA, capable of causing opponents fits on any given night. With another year of experience, I could see the Wings taking the next step in their progression, from a seventh-place finish last season to a top-five team in the league and a playoff contender. To get there, they will need to improve most drastically on the defensive end of the floor. — Galligan
New York Liberty
I agree with Rachel that the Wings are primed for a breakout season, as they have been on the cusp for a couple of years now. But the Liberty are also ready to raise their game to another level, especially with Stefanie Dolson in the mix and Natasha Howard healthy. This team has a lot of weapons, and although the bulk of the roster is still young, there’s a good balance of experienced vets who can help lead the way. — D’Arcangelo
Los Angeles Sparks
In 2021, Los Angeles battled injuries, inconsistencies and an inability to score the basketball. Derek Fisher and the Sparks’ front office addressed those shortcomings with some of the biggest moves of the offseason, signing Liz Cambage, Chennedy Carter and Katie Lou Samuelson. When you combine the newcomers with the veteran returners, the Sparks have an extremely talented roster on paper. How quickly the Sparks can build chemistry and gel on the floor will make or break them this season. — Galligan
Los Angeles Sparks
Los Angeles took a big swing in free agency, bringing in Cambage and trading for Carter and Samuleson. All three players have the potential for breakout offensive performances, which the Sparks desperately need after finishing last in the league in points per game in 2021. Still, the combination of big personalities like Cambage and Carter has the potential to backfire, because what happens in the locker room directly impacts the outcome on the court. But if the Sparks can mesh as a team and work together toward a common goal, the payoff could be a playoff appearance and possibly more. — D’Arcangelo
Alysha Clark, Washington Mystics
The Mystics’ success this season hinges on the health and consistency of their roster, and that starts with Elena Delle Donne and Alysha Clark. Clark missed the 2021 season with a foot injury she sustained while playing overseas, and the former Storm guard has yet to play a game in a Mystics jersey. While recovery from any season-ending injury requires patience, if Clark is back to playing her best basketball mid-season, she can help lead the Mystics on a deep playoff run with her tenacity on defense and versatility on offense. — Galligan
Elena Delle Donne, Mystics
The Mystics were just not the same team without Delle Donne on the floor the past two seasons. After the 2019 MVP underwent multiple back surgeries to repair herniated discs, what happens from here is anyone’s guess. But if Delle Donne can stay on the court and dominate the way she is capable of, alongside an equally healthy Clark, Washington has a legitimate chance to not only make the playoffs this year, but to compete for another WNBA championship. — D’Arcangelo
Liz Cambage, Los Angeles Sparks
While the Sparks won’t need to pound the ball inside to Cambage over and over, like we saw with the Wings in 2018, the center has the opportunity to thrive in an offensive system designed to put her in situations where she’s at her best. That includes playing with her back to the basket, facing up and owning the paint with Nneka Ogwumike. The Sparks made sure to add 3-point threats in the offseason between Samuelson and their draft class, which should allow them to challenge defenses and open up the floor for Cambage to do damage down low. — Galligan
Indiana’s rookie class
We’ve never seen a rookie class like the one the Indiana Fever have put together this season. NaLyssa Smith, Emily Engstler, Lexie Hull, Queen Egbo and Destanni Henderson are essentially a college All-Star team, and Fever interim general manager Lin Dunn has stressed that these players were drafted to play a lot of minutes away. For a team in the midst of a long rebuild, how can they not have an impact? — D’Arcangelo
Connecticut finally at 100-percent health
We have yet to see the Sun’s vision for their Big Three of Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner come to fruition. Jones missed the 2020 bubble season, and Alyssa Thomas missed the majority of the 2021 season while recovering from a torn Achilles. Finally at full strength, the Sun are poised to make a run at their first WNBA championship if they can stay healthy. — Galligan
As the WNBA season gets underway, Griner’s situation hangs over the games. The league stated earlier this week that getting the Mercury center home is paramount, and throughout the season, her initials and numbers will be displayed on every team’s court. The gesture is a show of solidarity and offers a constant reminder that Griner is on everyone’s mind. — D’Arcangelo
Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.
Collier will return to the court with the Lynx for the first time since May.
The Storm presented Bird with a custom ring in front of a sold-out crowd.
Ionescu made history during the Liberty's game against the Phoenix Mercury.
Laney logged seven points and four rebounds in her return.
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