2021 WNBA Season Preview: contenders and players to watch

The 2021 WNBA Season is upon us! May 14th, 2021 the season officially tips off with the New York Liberty hosting the Indiana Fever at 7 PM EST. For my 2021 WNBA season preview, I give you some contenders and players to watch! The league’s 25th season is an anniversary year that brings on new uniforms and the first time teams return to playing in front of fans in the 2019 season.

LAS VEGAS ACES

The Aces are my favorites to win the championship this season. Bill Laimbeer lead this squad to the finals missing two key players who opted out due to COVID concerns. Liz Cambage is without a doubt the most dominant player in the league which created a huge void in the middle without her services. Kelsey Plum was the spark plug off the bench but should see plenty of run with the departure of Kayla McBride. MVP A’ja Wilson will definitely have the resources to win the title this season with super 6th man Dearica Hamby. This is one of the more consistent teams in terms of rotation, minutes, and depth.

WASHINGTON MYSTICS

Let’s start with former two-time MVP in Elena Delle Donne. The drama that surrounded her opt-out last season didn’t exactly paint the Mystics in a flattering manner. It simply appeared they’d prefer to put their title hopes over Delle Donne’s illness. She would ultimately opt-out and the Mystics would have a decent season by their standards. This season, they are one of the only squads that can match the Aces upfront size-wise. Veteran forward Tina Charles joined the squad last season but also opted out for health reasons. Myisha Hines Allen had a career year averaging 17 points and 8 rebounds across 30 minutes in their absence. The Mystics also added Alysha Clark from the defending champs to bolster the roster. Emma Meesseman also enjoyed success upfront last season but remains unsigned by any team at the moment.

CHICAGO SKY

Candace Parker is free at last from the idiotic inconsistencies of Derek Fisher’s erratic coaching. She now teams up with the league’s most prominent distributor in Courtney Vandersloot. She averaged a league-best 10 dimes last season finding open shooters with regularity. Spot-up shooter and real-life mate Alley Quigley was the recipient of those looks ranked 4th at 34% on three-point shooting. Diamond Deshields is the Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson off the bench and can score in bunches. She often wrestled with injuries in her short career but when healthy is a superior athlete like her father Delino who played in the big leagues drafted by the Expos. This team is fast and plays with pace so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them as the top team in the league.

SEATTLE STORM

Current champion Storm lost some key players entering this season which makes a repeat unlikely. They acquired the 1st pick in this year’s draft in exchange for the current Defensive Player of the Year in Natasha Howard. Her loss is a big blow to their interior defense who also filled in admirably when Breanna Stewart missed time. The aforementioned Alysha Clark joined the mystics, a great rotational player and also defensive-minded. They did re-sign Sue Bird and pick up veteran forward Candace Dupree from the Indiana Fever. However, these players are up aging vets who can still contribute normally but face stiff competition from the new generation. Kennedy Burke is a player to watch out for as she could very well pay dividends in her first season with the Storm. While you can’t count them out, I’d much prefer the teams above.

PLAYERS TO WATCH FOR

I already mentioned some of the best of the best above but here are a few more players to keep your eyes on around the rest of the league.

Sabrina Ionescu
Last season I was super excited to see Sabrina Ionescu play in the league with all the hype that came with it. Then came the injury bug that pretty much ended her season before it started. I personally dubbed her the female Luka Doncic and will continue to hold her to those expectations this season. Also helps that she has some interior help with Natasha Howard manning the paint. The New York Liberty are in rebuild mode after losing Tina Charles and Amanda Zahui B.

Arike Ogunbowale
While I’m on the subject of dubbing WNBA players with their NBA counterparts, she fits the role of Russell Westbrook. I must clarify and say she isn’t the stat stuffer that Westbrook is but the aggression remains the same. She took a league-high 19 shot attempts per game last season and lead the league in scoring at 22 points per. Part of that was due to Skylar Diggins-Smith moving on to Phoenix along with Cambage to Vegas. Nonetheless, her scoring prowess was there and she made the best of it. She needs to be a bit more efficient but still should be fun to watch.

Brionna Jones
Now with Alyssa Thomas done for the season with torn Achilles, Jones now has the chance to improve on last season’s surprising output. Once a bench player for the Sun, Jones shined last season shooting 60% and finished as the most prolific post scorer in the league. Expect Jones to improve on her 11 and 5 averages from a season ago with more minutes to fill the void left by Thomas.

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WNBA 2020 season successfully tips-off

While there is attention in Orlando inside the NBA Campus about 150 miles southwest of Orlando is Brandenton, Florida. The IMG Academy is hosting the WNBA’s version of a campus and successfully has tipped off their 2020 season on Saturday.

Storm too much for Sabrina Ionescu WNBA debut in 87-71 victory

The first game featured the New York Liberty as the home team hosting the Seattle Storm. The game would feature two special scenarios as the Liberty’s number one pick, Sabrina Ionescu made her WNBA debut. The Storm welcomed back Breanna Stewart, who returned from a torn Achilles injury.

The Storm comes out victorious on opening day with an 87-71 victory. Ionescu finished with 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting in her debut game. Stewart finished with 18 points, 8 rebounds, and shot 50-percent from the field. The Storm held the Liberty to 34-percent shooting from the field (and a miserable 21-percent from the three-point line. Layshia Clarendon led the Liberty with 20 points and only one of three Liberty players scoring double figures.

Sparks dominate Mercury 99-76

The Phoenix Mercury welcomed a new familiar face to their roster this season by signing Skylar Diggins-Smith. The well-known guard joins Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner in Phoenix to help the Mercury regain contender status. The Mercury finished 8th last season and easily bounced in the first round of the 2019 playoffs without Taruasi.

A poor second-half from Phoenix caused opening day to spiral out of control. The Mercury were outscored 30-8 in the third quarter and ran out of time to regain any chance at a comeback victory. The Sparks had a good balanced offensive attack with six players scoring in double figures.

Nneka Ogwumike led the way for the Sparks scoring 21 points and perfect from the field connecting on all 10 shots, two of them from three-point range. Diggins-Smith would finish with 14 points and 6 assists on 62-percent shooting in her Mercury debut.

Mystics flex why they are the defending champs with 101-76 win

The Mystics enter the season as the defending champs and playing without Elena Delle Donne. Saturday’s season opener didn’t phase the 2019 champs as they dominated the Indiana Fever.

Washington held the Fever to only nine points in the second and fourth quarter. Myisha Hines-Allen poured in 27 points and 10 rebounds on 65-percent shooting from the field for the Mystics. Four other Mystics were able to score double figures and chip in on the scoring outburst.

Furthermore, Delle Donne’s absence will continue on the season as the league refused to grant her a medical exemption to sit out the 2020 season for her COVID-19 related concerns because of her underlying health condition of Lyme disease.

Additionally, the Mystics will also be without Point guard Natasha Cloud will be sitting out this season to work on social justice reform and Tina Charles is also seeking a medical exemption. LaToya Sanders is also sitting out due to health concerns.