What we learned about each WNBA team this season

Every WNBA team learned something about themselves and their future in the Wubble. Here are the lessons they’ll take into next season.

Congratulations to the Seattle Storm, the winners of the 2020 WNBA Finals. Their Game 3 victory over the Las Vegas Aces capped off an exciting 22-game season for the league, which operated out of Bradenton, Florida this year in a bubble environment.

It was a weird season, as teams mostly played every other day and numerous players opted to not play at all. But in the end, the season happened, and all 12 teams head into the offseason with things to build on from 2020.

Here is what we learned about each WNBA team from the Wubble season

Atlanta Dream: Chennedy Carter is the future

There were a lot of great rookie performances in 2020, but former Texas A&M guard Chennedy Carter has to rank as the player whose play best passed the eye test. A player with a knack for hitting big shots in college, Carter is a great bet to be the next great volume-shooting point guard in the league. Often compared to WNBA legend Cappie Pondexter, Carter will never be the darling of the analytics community due to efficiency concerns, but she’s incredibly fun to watch and can score all over the floor. Carter’s the kind of star that you can build around, as long as you get the building process right and get her the right players to space things out and give her room to work. Even in a deep draft, Atlanta getting Carter fourth feels like a steal.

Chicago Sky: We still don’t know how good Diamond DeShields can be

Let’s go with something we haven’t learned for the Sky: how good Diamond DeShields can be.

Prior to 2020, DeShields was starting to get some low-key MVP hype from basketball media members. And why wouldn’t she? In 2019, she made her first All-Star appearance, averaging 14.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game and making Second Team All-WNBA.

DeShields should have been the perfect player for the Sky this year, a lead scorer who could take the pressure off of Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley. But DeShields entered the season with a knee injury and then later suffered a quad injury before leaving the bubble for personal reasons. DeShields ultimately played 13 games, averaging just 17.2 minutes per game. Her scoring average dropped to 6.8 and she shot 16.7 percent from 3. Chicago did get solid contributions from Kahleah Copper in DeShields’s place, but now we’re heading to year four for DeShields and are coming off a year where her -3.11 PIPM was the worst on the team.

Connecticut Sun: This team does not quit

The Connecticut Sun started the 2020 season 0-5. The team was without Jonquel Jones, who opted out, and it seemed like the team was heading nowhere without their MVP candidate big. But this is a team with Alyssa Thomas, and teams with Alyssa Thomas can’t be counted out. Arguably the league’s toughest player, Thomas — who plays with two torn labrums — was the key to the team’s resurgence, ultimately taking them all the way to the WNBA Semifinals.

Thomas was left off of either of the All-WNBA teams, though teammate DeWanna Bonner made the second team. But Thomas was crucial to the team’s comeback from the bottom of the league to a win away from the Finals. Connecticut had a net rating of 6.0 with Thomas on the floor, which sank to -13.2 when she sat. And now, a Sun team that really persevered this year will get Jones back. They should be a top-four team next season.

Dallas Wings: Arike Ogunbowale is a first option

Yes, we basically learned this after Arike Ogunbowale’s rookie season, but we especially learned it after Ogunbowale led the league in scoring this season. The Wings dealt with a lot of injury issues — Ogunbowale was the only player on the team to start every game as players loke Satou Sabally, Isabelle Harrison, and Moriah Jefferson all missed time. They still were in the playoff hunt right up until the final game of the season, missing out when the Washington Mystics defeated the Atlanta Dream.

Ogunbowale was sixth in the league in offensive PIPM, and while her contributions on the defensive end were an issue that does need to be addressed moving forward, the Wings can now move forward with the knowledge that Ogunbowale is one of the league’s best scorers. With a pair of top-five picks coming, Dallas can now confidently focus on getting young players to surround Ogunbowale without needing to look for scoring.

Indiana Fever: We did not learn if a Teaira McCowan/Lauren Cox frontcourt will work

Another thing we didn’t learn: if the Indiana Fever’s center/power forward pairing of Teaira McCowan and Lauren Cox can work. The team’s new head coach, Marianne Stanley, never found a consistent starting frontcourt for this team, rotating between the four-player group of McCowan, Cox, Candice Dupree, and Natalie Achonwa.

Indiana is rebuilding, which led many to expect we’d get to see ample minutes of McCowan and Cox playing together. Instead, it never really happened. Cox missed time with various injuries. McCowan started only 10 of the 22 games she played. It was all confusing.

This isn’t a pairing that feels obviously designed to work. McCowan’s a paint-bound big who struggles to defend in space. Cox is a traditional 4 who plays a lot in the mid-range and post. In the modern WNBA, it’s not completely clear this duo will work, though Cox did succeed at Baylor while playing beside a center who was similar to McCowan in Kalani Brown. And now, we’ll head into the second season of this combination with hardly any clarity about how the team’s past two lottery picks will work with each other.

Las Vegas Aces: The Angel McCoughtry signing was #good

The Aces don’t shoot a lot of 3s, so when they signed Angel McCoughtry this offseason, there was concern about her fit. Sure, McCoughtry has been an elite scorer in the past, but much of that scoring came inside the arc. She’d shot over 30 percent from 3 just three times during her career.

Well, McCoughtry took her fewest 3s per game since her rookie year in 2009, but she hit 47.1 percent of them in the regular season and provided the team with veteran leadership. She ended up eighth in the league in PIPM and may have garnered some interest on All-WNBA teams if head coach Bill Laimbeer hadn’t kept her minutes to 20 per game to keep her fresh. She was an elite player on a per-minute basis and quieted all the doubters who felt like McCoughtry signing in Vegas wasn’t moving the needle.

Los Angeles Sparks: Candace Parker still has it

2019 was Candace Parker’s worst WNBA season. She had the lowest true shooting percentage of her career at 51.4 percent and appeared in just 22 of a possible 34 games. Was the 33-year-old veteran star on the downside of her career?

Well, no.

In 2020, Parker was another year older, but she didn’t play like it. The winner of the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year award, Parker did everything for the Sparks. She shot over 50 percent from the floor for the first time since 2011. She averaged her most rebounds since 2015. She continued to be the best passing big in the league, dishing out 4.6 assists per game, which ranked eighth in the WNBA. There had been a lot of questions about Parker’s role in L.A. ever since she sat on the bench during crucial moments of their 2019 playoff elimination game, but concerns about Parker and head coach Derek Fisher’s working relationship didn’t come up in 2020. Parker will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason but has expressed interest in returning to the Sparks.

Minnesota Lynx: Napheesa Collier is an MVP candidate

Former UConn forward Napheesa Collier fell to sixth in the 2019 WNBA Draft, even going below college teammate Katie Lou Samuelson. She won Rookie of the Year.

This year, Collier proved that ROY award wasn’t a fluke, as she finished fifth in MVP voting and was Second Team All-WNBA. When Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles went out with a calf injury, the team sized down, moving Damiris Dantas to the 5 and Collier to the 4. It worked, and a Cheryl Reeve team that had long played mostly traditional lineups suddenly had shooters at every spot. A pre-draft knock on Collier was that she seemed like a bit of a tweener, but 2020 showed she can play the 4 and can be the best player on a playoff team.

New York Liberty: Sabrina Ionescu was the real deal before her injury

2020 was a disaster in terms of win/loss record for the New York Liberty, but that was to be expected after No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu went down with an ankle sprain in her third professional game and didn’t return to the floor for the rest of the season. And while New York got to see how less-heralded rookies like Jazmines Jones and Jocelyn Willoughby will fit in a future version of this team that should get plenty of 2020 opt-outs like Asia Durr and Marine Johannés back, the bigger lesson was that even in just over two games, Sabrina Ionescu showed why she was such a highly-sought prospect. In just her second WNBA game, Ionescu scored 33 points, shot 6-for-10 from 3, and added 7rebounds and 7 assists. Known for her triple-doubles in college, Ionescu projects to be a top-level point guard in this league.

Phoenix Mercury: Brianna Turner is going to win a lot of DPOY Awards

I’ve said it a thousand times at this point, but it bears repeating: once Brittney Griner left the bubble and Brianna Turner had to step into a larger role, we witnessed the blossoming of the next great WNBA defender.

Over the second half of the season, Turner averaged 3.2 blocks and 1.1 steals per game, as well as 12.1 rebounds. In just her second professional season, she proved to be an elite rim protector, taking the Mercury to another level on that end of the floor when she got the task of guarding the top bigs on opposing teams. Turner’s also got the ability to guard in space, and moving forward the Mercury can use her on whoever they want to stick her on, really. That versatility will prove to be huge for this franchise.

Seattle Storm: Breanna Stewart is still Breanna Stewart, post-Achilles

Achilles tears are not good. Among all the injuries out there, Achilles injuries are among the hardest for players to return to form from, often losing a lot of their explosiveness.

But if you watched 2018 MVP, Breanna Stewart, this year, you might have never known she was returning from a devastating injury suffered overseas last season. She picked right back up where she left off for the Storm, finishing second in MVP voting, leading the league with a 6.56 PIPM — A’ja Wilson was second at 4.27 — and winning Finals MVP after a dominant performance. Stewart can score from anywhere on the floor and her recovery from the torn Achilles might have impacted some of her driving in the early part of the season, but by the time things wrapped up, Breanna Stewart was Breanna Stewart again.

Washington Mystics: Myisha Hines-Allen can be a star, but will it be in Washington?

Washington had two former MVPs opt out this year in Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles, plus starting center LaToya Sanders, who has been one of the most underrated bigs in this league.
That opened up minutes for Myisha Hines-Allen, who ended up on the All-WNBA Second Team after averaging 17 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, plus 1.4 steals. She shot 42.6 percent from deep and was the perfect 4 for this Mystics team.

There’s a huge logjam here, with Delle Donne, Charles, Sanders, Hines-Allen, plus Emma Meesseman and Tianna Hawkins all capable of playing the 4 or 5. So, where does that leave Hines-Allen? It will depend a lot on free agency, as Charles, Meesseman, and Hawkins are all unrestricted free agents. There could be a lot of movement in Washington, in which case Hines-Allen’s new role may be permanent. Or the Mystics might find a way to keep everyone, in which case it’s hard to see where consistent minutes might come from. Maybe Washington could trade Hines-Allen while her value is high, looking for either a high draft pick or some backcourt help?

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