WNBA PREVIEW/PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

2023-05-10 · 5 min read · WNBA/Basketball
 A'ja Wilson and Natasha Cloud

AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson | Lorie Shaull

WNBA Preview/Power Rankings
--Tier 1--
1. Vegas Aces
Becky Hammon’s first season as a head coach went exactly as planned, getting the Aces over the hump that Bill Laimbeer was not able to, and giving the franchise their first championship.
Last season’s overwhelming best team is not just #1 in our pre-season power rankings because they are the defending champs, they arguably also got better when they added Candace Parker. Although she may not be at her peak, the 37 year-old Parker continues to show why she’s one of the best women’s players of All-Time, winning the title with Chicago in 2021, and having another impressive playoff run in 2022. She will join 2022 Finals MVP A’Ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray, and Jackie Young in the top lineup in the league. Although there is a fairly steep dropoff in talent after the starting 5, the team more than makes up for it with their synergy. Watch any video on this team’s social media and you’ll see why this team is fun as hell on and off the court. The Las Vegas Aces will remain our top WNBA team until they prove that they aren’t.
2. New York Liberty
The New York Liberty have just had possibly the biggest offseason of any team in professional basketball history. Not only did they sign arguably the best woman’s basketball player in the world, Breanna Stewart, they added two other former WNBA All-First Teamers in 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones, and 2021 WNBA Champion Courtney Vandersloot.
With the league’s future superstar Sabrina Ionescu a year older, and 2020 Most Improved Player award winner Betnijah Laney both returning, the entirety of the Liberty starting lineup will have been an All-Star in at least one of the past two seasons.
In recent memory only the Miami Heat come to mind stacking a team like this in the off-season, but the Liberty didn’t have to sacrifice depth either.
NY’s bench this season will be led by serial winner (WNBA, NCAA, Euroleague, and Olympics) Stefanie Dolson, another new signing in Kayla Thornton who started for Dallas last season, and my two favourite players in the entire league, Marine Johannes and Han Xu.
It’s an embarrassment of riches here for owner Joe Tsai, and it gives the feeling that anything other than a berth (and possibly a win) in the WNBA Finals would be an unexpected disappointment.This is the best team in the league on paper, only not #1 because they haven’t proven they can all play together while Vegas has.
--Tier 2--
3. Washington Mystics
The Washington Mystics project as a surefire playoff team once again in 2023 after finishing with a record of 22-14, tied for 4th best in the Association in 2022. The Mystics received All-Star production from Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins, both of whom had one of the best seasons of their respective careers. Although I think the Mystics will finish higher in the regular season than they did last year, it’s more to do with the teams ahead of them (Connecticut and Seattle) getting worse than it is Washington getting better. They have made some key depth additions to their roster with two former Sparks in Brittney Sykes and Amanda Zahui B. Both players have offensive upside in addition to being two of the better defensive players on the roster. Shakira Austin will be expected to be a key player in her second season out of Texas after a grea rookie campaign.
So we figure the Mystics to have a strong floor, but their ceiling will undoubtedly come down to the health of Elena Delle Donne. Multiple back surgeries have forced the 33 year-old former MVP to miss the entire 2020 season, and all but 3 games of the 2021 season. In 2022, she played 25 of their 36 games, and both of their playoff games. If she can stay healthy, this is another team with an outside shot to topple one of the two Goliaths. This is the only team outside the top two I would feel shocked if they miss the playoffs, and the only team at the moment I can see keeping ace with the top two teams. They are the only team in ou 2nd tier at the moment.
--Tier 3--
4. MInnesota Lynx
The Minnesota Lynx used their draft capital quite well with their selections of Diamond Miller and Brea Beal, two of the top talents in their class. Aside from them though, there’s not a lot to suggest they’ll be the top team they once were. Replacing Hall of Famer Sylvia Fowles production will seem like an impossible task, even with Napheesa Collier returning from maternity leave. Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, Rachal Banham, Natalie Achonwa, and Jessica Shepard were nice pieces for them last year, but ultimately didn’t amount to much regular or post-season success. Assuming Collier’s return does fill Fowles’ absence, the only difference between the 2023 Lynx and the 2022 Lynx will be Tiffany Mitchell, who struggled quite a bit on Indiana last season. It doesn’t seem like it will be enough to vault them into serious title contention, so they are in our third tier to start the year.
5. Phoenix Mercury
Last season’s biggest WNBA story is thankfully returning to the court in 2023. Brittney Griner will return to a Phoenix Mercury team that really struggled without her. There was some rumblings about star player Skylar Diggins-Smith being moved both last summer and throughout the season, and first ballot Hall of Famer Diana Taurasi doesn’t have it in her anymore to drag a team to the Finals by herself. If Griner returns to form and plays the entirety of the season, she shouldn’t need to even be a top 2 option, which makes the Mercury a scary sight for any team that meets them in the playoffs. Resigning Sophie Cunningham, who exploded on the scene last season with some incredible shooting night, will result in Griner having lots of options to kick out to if doubled in the post. The biggest question mark is Skylar Diggins-Smith, who will miss significant time on maternity leave. If she isn’t back before the playoffs, fifth is likely a little high.
6.Connecticut Sun
The Connecticut Sun have been one of those teams over the past few years that is very strong in the regular season, but fail to put it together in the playoffs. After losing in the Finals for the 2nd time in four seasons, having their best player, 2021 league MVP Jonquel Jones, leave in free agency does not inspire confidence that this is the year they win the franchise’s first championship. Still, they maintained most of their core with Alyssa Thomas, Natisha Hideman, and Dewanna Bonner all expected to start again in 2023, and Brianna Jones taking Jonquel’s place. The shooting guard position left by Courtney Williams’ departure could fall to either newcomer Rebecca Allen from the New York Liberty, or Tiffany Hayes from the Atlanta Dream. Prying Olivia Nelson-Ododa from the Sparks gives them young depth to develop at the 5 position, which was much needed given their lack of a first round pick in the draft. As a team stuck in limbo between seriously contending, but showing no signs of rebuilding, we’ll have them in tier 3 to start the season.
7. Chicago Sky
The Chicago Sky end up in this middle tier because it’s anyone’s guess how a team with this many transactions perform together. Out from last year are Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Azura Stevens, while Europeans Emma Meeseman and Julie Allemand remain unsigned. To make up for four of their five starters leaving, Courtney Williams, Elizabeth Williams, Marina Mabrey, and Isabelle Harrison were signed in their place. Each of these women are very solid players, with Mabrey and Harrison having the most upside. It’s not quite the star power that Parker and Vandersloot possessed to lead Chicago to the 2022 WNBA Championship, but the MVP from that year, Kahleah Copper, is the one member of the starting lineup who stayed. This is certainly more of a ‘retooling’ year than a ‘rebuilding’ year. If this team can find their chemistry with each other early, they might finish higher in the standings than we expect. If Allemand and Meeseman return, they would immediately join tier 2 as a team that could upset one of the favourites in the playoffs.
8. Dallas Wings
The Dallas Wings organisation is the type of fun chaos you love in sports. They trade players for picks, then picks for players; no team keeps their fans on their toes like the Wings. Through all the uncertainty in the direction the front office wants the team to go, there are some truths we can rely on from year to year. Arike Ogunbowale will start, Arike Ogunbowale will the #1 offensive option. Arike Ogunbowale will make the All-Star Game. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Will Satou Sabally stay healthy? Will Natasha Howard return to her DPOY form? Will Teira McCowan - the obvious best centre on their roster - start for the team? Will Awak Kuier make the jump WNBA fans are desperate to see? Will swapping Diamond DeShields with Marina Mabrey make them a better, or worse team?
This is for sure a tough team to predict. They are a big team with more depth than we might think at first, with a good mix of young talent and veterans. They haven’t proved to be as strong as the teams ahead of them, but they can win against any team on any night if things go right for them.
9. Atlanta Dream
One of last season’s most exciting on-court stories is primed for another improvement. While last season was almost entirely about rookie sensation Rhyne Howard, there’s even more to look forward to in 2023. The team will stay very young with the major additions also coming through the draft. Top Canadian Laeticia Amihere, and the player with the best hair in the class, Haley Jones have a few things in common, first of which being both are NCAA champions. These players are also similar stylistically, mainly buttering their bread inside the arc with their rebounding prowess. If either can figure things out from 3-point land, they’ll surely be starters in this league for years to come. Allisha Gray and Danielle Robinson will also enter the fold as dependable and proven WNBA players, their experience could be key in not only the development of the young players, but also should add some wins to their record. Aari McDonald and Iliana Rupert are other young players to watch for Dream fans this season.
This could be the year Atlanta takes a significant jump, but given Howard is far and away the biggest talent on the team, they might need more time still. They start in tier 3 on our 2023 power rankings.
--Tier 4--
10. LA Sparks
Unlike the other teams in the bottom tier, the Sparks don’t seem to know that they’re here. Despite finishing with the 2nd worst record last season, despite losing two key veterans in Erica Wheeler and Brittany Sykes, the Sparks decided to double down and add more veterans to support the Ogwumike sisters. WNBA champions DeArica Hamby from the Aces, and Azura Stevens from the Sky along with 12-year veteran Jasmine Thomas round out the free agent acquisitions. While these players add much needed depth to the squad, they are a longshot to raise the Sparks’ ceiling in any meaningful way. Los Angeles used their lacklustre draft stock (didn’t have the number 2 pick due to a past trade with Dallas) to add Zia Cooke, Shaneice Swain, and Monica Cziano.
As tough as rebuilding is in the WNBA, fans of the Sparks will hope they make concrete steps in that direction if they once again fail to qualify for the postseason. We will start them ahead of the other teams in the bottom tier, but it’s anyone’s guess how this shakes out.
11.Seattle
The post-Sue Bird era begins for the Seattle Storm, and this will be the toughest season fans of this team will have had in a long, long time. Not only did Bird retire, Breanna Stewart departed for New York, leaving just Jewell Lloyd to lead the 4-time WNBA Champion franchise. It’s certainly an awkward rebuilding stage for the Storm. Their most exciting prospect Ezi Magbegor is already in her third season, and aside from the rookies, most of the rest of the team is established veterans like Mercedes Russell, Sami Whitcomb, Theresa Plaisance, Yvonne Turner, even Kia Nurse might not fit their rebuild schedule, depending on when that is. If there’s one team I expect to make trades for future draft picks this season, it will be Seattle. How incredible it would be for them to get their hands on a top prospect like Caitlin Clark or Paige Bueckers only a few years removed from the legendary Sue Bird calling it quits. To do that, they’ll need more draft capital for 2024 and 2025 drafts, and that’s the direction I would go if it doesn’t seem like Lloyd can do it all on her own.
12. Indiana Fever
The Indiana Fever are sadly in for another rebuilding year. They easily had the youngest team last season, and finished with just 5 wins because of it. Despite the lack of success on the scoreboard, the season was a success in that the Fever found out what they had in some of their youngsters. The biggest rookie standouts were centre Queen Egbo and forward NaLyssa Smith, both of whom made the 2022 All-Rookie team. Destanni Henderson also had a decent rookie season in Indiana, and the Fever added Kristy Wallace who had a similar year with Atlanta. With all that sophomore talent, the best player on their team this upcoming season will hopefully be the #1 overall pick in the 2023 WNBA draft, Aaliyah Boston out of South Carolina. Boston helped the Gamecocks to an NCAA Championship in 2022, and an undefeated regular season in 2023. Other members of the 2023 draft class likely to have an impact this season are Grace Berger, and Taylor Mikesell. Veterans Erica Wheeler, Victoria Vivians, and Kelsey Mitchell will be relied on a ton for their experience on this team, and may be asked to score most of their points as well. Mitchell led the Fever in points per game (18.4) by a large margin, and Vivians was third in the same category.
It may take some time for the #1 pick to get used to the W’s vastly superior centre play, but if Boston can perform as well or better than Rhyne Howard was for Atlanta last year, they could easily outperform some other teams this season. Whether they would want to lower their lottery odds for next year is up for debate, as they need to add a lot more skill to contend.
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By: Conner Rowntree

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