The WNBA kicks off their 2018 NBA season tonight. Here’s our guide to the upcoming summer of incredible basketball.
Five players to watch
Elena Delle Donne was the 2015 WNBA MVP and followed that up with an even more efficient scoring campaign. Her numbers were down slightly last season, her first with the Washington Mystics, although 19.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game are nothing to sneeze at. Her teammate Emma Meeseman is out for the entire season which should allow Delle Donne to take on a larger role in the offense and slide up a position where she has been more successful. She’s one of the best individual talents in the league and this is lining up as a season where she could make another MVP run.
A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum are the two most recent No. 1 picks in the WNBA Draft and they both get a chance to feature for the Las Vegas Aces. Wilson starred for South Carolina, leading them to the 2017 National Title. Wilson is a dominant interior presence, capable of scoring in the paint and protecting at the other end. Plum struggled through her rookie season but still holds tremendous potential as shooter and scorer. This tandem could be the foundation that launches the second new Las Vegas sports franchise to unexpected heights.
Breanna Stewart was one of the most dominant college players we’ve ever seen and the transition to the pro game hasn’t slowed her down at all. Last season, Stewart averaged 19.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks per game, while shooting 37 percent on 3-pointers. She is as versatile a big as their is in the WNBA and this could be the year she helps push the Seattle Storm out of the first round of the playoffs.
Tina Charles is an absolute rock for the New York Liberty. Across her eight-season career, the last four with the Liberty, she has averaged 18.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. She is just 29 and already 20th on the league’s all-time scoring leaderboard and sixth in total rebounds. Despite her steady brilliance, she’s rarely had the chance to feature in a deep playoff run, losing twice in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Liberty had the best record in the East last year but were upset in the first round by the Washington Mystics. Is this the year Charles is finally able to lead her team to a breakthrough.
Liz Cambage last appeared in the WNBA during the 2013 season, spending the last few years playing out a lucrative contract in China. In that 2013 season she averaged 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, looking ready to emerge as one of the best young players in the league. Cambage is back (her team became the Dallas Wings while she was abroad) and looks ready to pick up right where she left off.
Over the last seven WNBA seasons, the Minnesota Lynx have become an unstoppable juggernaut. They have posted a 0.765 win percentage, made the Finals six times and brought home four titles. Their lineup features Maya Moore, one of the most devastating shooters and wing creators in the league, and Sylvia Fowles, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and last season’s WNBA MVP. The Lynx are not unstoppable, especially with a remade supporting cast, but they seem to be about as close as you can get right now.
The primary challengers to the Lynx are the Phoenix Mercury, who beat the Lynx in the 2014 Western Conference Finals and went on to a title, and the Los Angeles Sparks, who beat Minnesota in the 2016 Finals and lost 3-2 in last year’s Finals. Phoenix has Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, two of the most productive individual players in the league. The Sparks have a deep and talented roster, led by Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. Each of these teams has the talent to unseat the Lynx but, as it does for any champion, it will take health, luck, and contributions from some unexpected sources.
Who to follow
As the WNBA has grown, so to has the media apparatus that covers it (although probably not as quickly as the growing league deserves.) FanSided has our own dedicated women’s hoop site, High Post Hoops and they provide some of the most comprehensive WNBA coverage you’ll find. Make sure to follow them on Twitter as well, @HighPostHoops and check out their SBNation counterparts at Swish Appeal. Natalie Weiner is on the WNBA beat for Bleacher Report. Jack Maloney will also be covering the league for CBS Sports and hosts a WNBA Podcast, We’re On Live, with Ryne Prinz. If it’s stats you’re looking for, check out Her Hoops Stats and the new offerings at the league’s official stats page.
Dallas Wings at Phoenix Mercury, 10:00 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Chicago Sky at Indiana Fever, 1:00 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Las Vegas Aces at Connecticut Sun, 1:00 p.m. ET, Twitter
Indiana Fever at Washington Mystics, 1:00 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Atlanta Dream at Dallas Wings, 3:00 p.m. ET, Twitter
Los Angeles Sparks at Minnesota Lynx, 5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2
New York Liberty at Chicago Sky, 7:00 p.m. ET, Twitter
Phoenix Mercury at Seattle Storm, 9:00 p.m. ET, Twitter
Make a difference
The WNBA has also announced an incredible initiative this season, donating $5 from the sale of every ticket to a charitable organization chosen from a slate of options by the purchaser. In addition, the league will donate an additional ticket to send a young woman or girl to a future WNBA game. If you’re in a WNBA city and have a chance to attend a game in person this year, don’t miss your chance to see top notch basketball and do some good.