College basketball: Top five player of the year candidates
Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese are clear front-runners.
In the past year, the Las Vegas Aces won their first WNBA championship, Brittney Griner came home after 294 days of being wrongfully detained in Russia and triple-doubles took over the league.
There was plenty to talk about in the WNBA during 2022, and with 2023 right around the corner, let’s revisit the biggest storylines of the year.
Las Vegas entered the season with a stacked roster — led by A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum — and a first-year head coach in Becky Hammon who came with much fanfare. It was a recipe for utter dominance in 2022, as the Aces won the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup, took home multiple individual awards and claimed their first WNBA title, which was also Las Vegas’ first major pro sports championship. Behind Gray’s Finals MVP performance, the Aces topped the Connecticut Sun 3-1 in the series and embarked on a championship-level celebration.
Since Brittney Griner was detained in Russia in February, efforts to bring her home were at the heart of everything the WNBA did in 2022. “Free BG” was the theme of the season as players and coaches kept her name in the headlines. At the WNBA All-Star Game in July, both teams emerged from the locker rooms after halftime wearing Griner jerseys, while Phoenix Mercury teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith devoted her weekend wardrobe to making statements about Griner’s wrongful detainment. The league never stopped campaigning for her release, and finally after 294 days, Griner was released in a prisoner swap on Dec. 8. The 32-year-old is officially home with family and said she intends to return to the court in 2023.
Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles have been household names in the WNBA since they debuted in the league in 2002 and 2008, respectively. After accumulating six WNBA championships and 21 All-Star Game appearances between them, they both headed into retirement following the 2022 season. Bird finished her career with a trip to the playoffs, as the Seattle Storm fell to the Aces in the semifinals, while Fowles left the Minnesota Lynx and the league in the same way she came in. Thirteen years after dunking in her first All-Star Game in 2009, Fowles brought the Chicago crowd to their feat in 2022 with another slam in her final appearance.
Kelsey Plum made the most of her first WNBA All-Star appearance, scoring 30 points — which tied a record set by Maya Moore — and winning the All-Star MVP award. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert honored Plum at halfcourt after the game, presenting her with a trophy that was noticeably smaller than All-Star MVP trophies in recent years. The little trophy ended up being the subject of jokes for the rest of the season, including from Engelbert herself after Las Vegas’ Commissioner’s Cup win and in Plum’s recent appearance on Kevin Hart’s show.
If WNBA fans didn’t know what a contract divorce was heading into 2022, they certainly did by the end of the season. Five players “divorced” from their respective teams during the season, including Angel McCoughtry from the Lynx after two games, Liz Cambage from the Sparks in a messy situation and Tina Charles from the Mercury to join the Storm for their playoff run.
The league and WNBA Players Association agreed upon the prioritization rule as part of CBA negotiations in 2020. Before it goes into effect in 2023, many players took issue with it publicly this past year. The rule is as follows: Players with two or more years of experience in the WNBA must report to their teams by the start of training camp or by May 1, whichever comes later. If they miss the start of training camp, they will be issued a fine. The penalty for missing the start of the season is a one-year suspension. It’s controversial because it limits the income opportunities for players, who can make much higher salaries in Europe.
Earlier in the year, Engelbert said the league was aiming to select two locations for expansion teams by the end of 2022. Expansion has been a hot topic in recent years as limited roster spots and salary cap restrictions have left more and more talented players without teams. In a December interview with The Athletic, Engelbert walked back the original timeline. The WNBA has narrowed its search down to 10 cities, with at least one team likely to join by 2025.
There were nine triple-doubles recorded in the WNBA in 2022. In the 25 years prior, since the league launched in 1997, there had been only 11. Alyssa Thomas led the sudden surge with two playoff triple-doubles, becoming the first player to reach the feat in the WNBA Finals and the first to register four career triple-doubles. Candace Parker and Sabrina Ionescu each recorded two triple-doubles in 2022, while Moriah Jefferson had one.
Commercial flights to and from games continued to plague the league in 2022. Nneka Ogwumike was one of several players to call out the travel policy after the Sparks were forced to sleep in the airport due to flight cancellations in early August. The league chartered flights for the Commissioner’s Cup Championship and the WNBA Finals, but players continue to ask for more. The issue got more complicated in March when a report in Sports Illustrated revealed the New York Liberty had been fined a WNBA-record $500,000 for chartering team flights in the second half of the 2021 season, a move that violated the league’s CBA.
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.
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The rule requires players to prioritize the WNBA over international leagues.
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