While summer may be all about beach parties and barbecues for some, for those of us who love women’s basketball, it’s time to settle in for the WNBA. Last year was the league’s landmark 25th season, leading to celebrations and reminders of how far the game has come. It also featured an Olympic break, which always adds a layer of unpredictability to the season. However, this year it’s mostly business as usual with a straightforward schedule. Before things jump off on Friday, let’s take a look at what we can expect from the 2022 WNBA season.
The biggest change this season is in the revamped playoff format. The top two teams no longer receive automatic byes to the semifinals. We will now get a best-of-three first round, with all subsequent rounds as a best-of-five. This change was demanded by fans after last season’s amazing first-round single-elimination games were so competitive we wanted more. You’ve gotta love a league that listens to its fans and gives them what they want. Before we get there though, we need to examine how teams will fare in the regular season.
Despite how closely matched most of these teams are, there are five franchises that are absolutely in the championship picture: the Chicago Sky, Phoenix Mercury, Connecticut Sun, Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm are who I’m choosing as the best of the best.
The Chicago Sky: The 2021 WNBA champions are looking to run it back with superstar Candace Parker and Finals MVP Kahleah Copper, joined by the unstoppable duo of Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley. Parker’s MVP level game combined with the Sky’s championship momentum and chemistry gives them an edge heading into the new season. Let’s hope they don’t fall victim to a championship letdown.
The Phoenix Mercury: No team in the league has had a rougher offseason than the Mercury. With center Brittney Griner still detained in a Russian prison, the team is trying to push through and play on, but we imagine it’s something that weighs heavily on them all the time. Yes, it’s a huge basketball loss for Phoenix, but more than that, it’s her presence as a leader and a friend that the team will be grappling with. As far as things on the court go, as long as Diana Taurasi is still playing, the Mercury will always be in the championship conversation. But longtime coach Sandy Brondello is now in New York, so the team will have some growing to do under its new leader Vanessa Nygaard.
The Las Vegas Aces: With dynamic superstar A’ja Wilson, alongside the returning core of guards Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray, the heart of this team is still together. The question is whether new coach Becky Hammon is the missing piece that finally carries the team to that elusive championship. The Aces are always dangerous, but proving they’re more than just a really good No. 2 has to be the goal this year.
The Connecticut Sun: Last year, the Sun were the best team of the regular season. MVP Jonquel Jones led them to the WNBA semifinals, where they fell to Chicago. This season Jones, alongside All-Stars Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner, will be looking to get past that last hurdle
The Seattle Storm: If you look up perennial favorites in the dictionary, there would be a team picture of the Storm. They’re always in the championship conversation. Breanna Stewart is the best player in the WNBA. She can single-handedly swing the momentum of a game and have a team down by double digits in minutes. Much to my chagrin, I’ve seen it happen live to my Los Angeles Sparks. And as if that wasn’t enough, you still have to contend with Jewell Loyd and the G.O.A.T. Sue Bird, who is definitely looking to add one more title to her resume in what could be her final season.
The next tier of WNBA teams are all more than capable of winning a championship, but with unexpected free agency moves, major returns and new coaches, we’re not sure what version of these teams we’re going to get. The Minnesota Lynx, Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks are looking to once again raise banners, while the Dallas Wings and New York Liberty want to show they can hang with the big-name franchises.
The Washington Mystics: The Mystics are ready to rebound from an injury-plagued season and get back to their 2019 championship form. Two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne is finally ready to return from a back injury that kept her out for most of last season, which is great news for Mystics fans and bad news for everyone else.
The Minnesota Lynx: As a Sparks fan, you don’t have to tell me how dangerous the Lynx are. In case you’re new here, they’re the WNBA equivalent of the Celtics to our Lakers. As long as seven-time All-Star Sylvia Fowles and coach Cheryl Reeve are there, the Lynx are a major threat. And since this is Syl’s last season, you know there will be some extra elbows thrown around as the team tries to send its leader out with a championship.
The Los Angeles Sparks: What about my Sparks? They went all-in on free agency, adding All-Star center Liz Cambage, former standout Chennedy Carter and reliable shooter Katie Lou Samuelson to a roster that already includes Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike. On paper, this is an amazing team I can’t wait to watch. Our only major question is Derek Fisher. Can he figure out how to properly use all this talent and bring another title to LA?
The Dallas Wings and New York Liberty: And don’t even think of looking past the Wings and Liberty. Dallas has first-time All-Star Arike Ogunbowale, while New York has Sabrina Ionescu, two young stars who can change the whole trajectory of a game while you’re off grabbing a snack. Seriously, do not blink when these two are on the TV because you will absolutely miss something special. For both of them, it’s just a question of whether their teams can find the right players to complement their talent.
The Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever have been in rebuilding mode forever. They trade the No. 1 pick in the draft back and forth each year. This year it was the Dream’s turn to choose Rhyne Howard. I’d like to tell you this is the turning point for Atlanta, and that things will finally get moving in the right direction but honestly, it would be a lie. This story has played out so many times before, for both teams, I just don’t see it happening.
Over in Indiana, the team had seven picks in the draft, so the Fever have some amazing young, hungry talent. However, years of mismanagement have left the team in disarray and it’s hard to see them making a serious playoff run. Of course, the advantage of being young is that you don’t have the history of losing hanging over you, so maybe this is the year Indiana legitimately starts its rebuild.
The 2022 WNBA season kicks off Friday, May 6.