Might 19, 2023, 09:30 AM ET
One of the vital hyped WNBA seasons in a while is upon us, because the 2023 marketing campaign kicks off Friday with eight groups taking the ground, whereas the opposite 4 make their debut in a pair of video games Saturday.
Brittney Griner is back with the Phoenix Mercury following her wrongful detainment in Russia. And two superteams are anticipated to duke it out for the title: the defending champion Las Vegas Aces — who may develop into the first team to repeat because the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02 — and the new-look New York Liberty — who acquired two former MVPs in the offseason and are hoping to win the franchise’s first title.
However do not depend out the likes of the Connecticut Sun and Washington Mystics, who’ve each been common championship contenders the previous few years, or squads just like the Sparks and Dallas Wings, who’re anticipated to make spectacular stands with new coaches.
This season will look totally different: Legends Sylvia Fowles and Sue Chicken have retired. Skylar Diggins-Smith is out on maternity go away, whereas Tina Charles stays an unrostered free agent. Simply when followers received used to seeing Candace Parker in a Chicago Sky uniform, the two-time MVP and league champion signed with the Aces. Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot and Jonquel Jones had all performed for one franchise previous to transferring to the Liberty this offseason.
Because the league enters its twenty seventh season, buckle up for a summer season of superstardom, intrigue, surprises and nice basketball. Earlier than the season suggestions, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, Alexa Philippou and M.A. Voepel focus on what to anticipate, ESPN’s ladies’s fantasy basketball crew provides some perception and all of the consultants make their predictions on how the season pans out and which workforce will win the 2023 crown.
If neither the Aces nor Liberty win the 2023 title, which workforce will?
Pelton: Connecticut Solar. We have already seen Connecticut get inside a recreation of the WNBA Finals with out Jonquel Jones when she opted out of the 2020 Wubble season. As in comparison with that season, when the Solar made the playoffs with a below-.500 report earlier than catching hearth, this roster appears to be like extra harmful offensively because of Brionna Jones‘ improvement and the addition of Tiffany Hayes.
Philippou: The Washington Mystics. The Mystics enter 2023 with an excellent combo of pre-existing chemistry, defensive prowess and a watch in direction of enhancing from final 12 months on the offensive finish. Lastly wholesome, Elena Delle Donne might be poised for a large 12 months, and it will be attention-grabbing to see how free agent addition Brittney Sykes is integrated into the fold. Shakira Austin in 12 months two will undoubtedly be a pleasure to look at. It could be smart to not depend out a workforce with so many parts remaining (or which has introduced again Kristi Toliver) from its 2019 title run.
Voepel: Delle Donne was superb final season regardless that she needed to take some scheduled breaks to relaxation and keep away from among the Mystics’ journey. She hopes to have the ability to play each recreation this season. If she’s wherever near that, together with all of the expertise Alexa talked about, plus guards Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins, the Mystics might be their very own “superteam” and take the title. It’s Eric Thibault’s first season as head coach, however he discovered from the perfect as an assistant to dad Mike Thibault, and Eric is able to make his personal mark.
Who’re the main candidates for MVP aside from gamers on the Las Vegas and New York rosters?
Brittney Griner drops 10 factors in her return to the WNBA
Brittney Griner scores 10 factors and racks up three rebounds in her first recreation again as a Phoenix Mercury.
Pelton: I do know A’ja Wilson gained with Kelsey Plum ending second a 12 months in the past (the Liberty’s Breanna Stewart was third taking part in for Seattle), however I believe it is going to be tougher for gamers on these two groups to win given the “superteam” storyline. That opens a chance for whoever leads their workforce right into a top-three spot, together with two-time MVP Delle Donne. With deliberate relaxation not a actuality for Delle Donne, I believe it is life like she may add a 3rd trophy. My long-shot candidate is Napheesa Collier, who would be the go-to participant on the Minnesota Lynx with Sylvia Fowles’ retirement.
Philippou: So true — can a “superteam,” by definition, produce a league MVP? MVP voting typically favors the perfect participant on the perfect workforce, however we’ll should see. Delle Donne is a logical alternative, however I am going to throw out Alyssa Thomas. It will be fascinating to see how the new-look Solar fare given the personnel and training adjustments, however it’s clear that is Thomas’ workforce now following the departures of Jonquel Jones and Jasmine Thomas.
For the Solar to proceed to compete for a championship, Alyssa Thomas would undoubtedly have a large position on each ends of the ground. Although she would not have a lot of a bounce shot, maybe making her an untraditional MVP candidate, few gamers boast her versatility and impression on either side of the ball. In her introductory information convention, Solar coach Stephanie White in contrast Thomas’ toughness and grit to that of former MVP Tamika Catchings.
Voepel: Each are nonetheless younger and nonetheless getting higher, so Wilson and Stewart will probably be high MVP candidates for the foreseeable future. But when it isn’t one in every of them or their teammates this season, Delle Donne is the perfect guess.
Which groups ought to make the most important bounce this season?
Voepel: Of the groups that did not make the playoffs final season, the Atlanta Dream may rise essentially the most in 2023. With Rhyne Howard again after her Rookie of the Yr season, Allisha Gray in a brand new atmosphere and rookie Haley Jones with an opportunity to indicate how she adapts to the professional recreation, the Dream must be enjoyable to comply with. In Minnesota, Collier’s full-time return to the Lynx ought to have them again within the postseason, the place we’re so used to seeing them.
Philippou: The Dallas Wings are among the many most intriguing groups heading into the season. They’ve a brand new coach in Latricia Trammell, some new gamers acquired by way of commerce (Natasha Howard, Diamond DeShields, Crystal Dangerfield) and a very good variety of rookies to go together with acquainted faces like Arike Ogunbowale, Teaira McCowan and Satou Sabally.
A little bit of a blow got here with the information that DeShields will probably be sidelined for an prolonged a part of the season, and draftee Lou Lopez Senechal can even miss time after present process knee surgical procedure, so the Wings will probably be shorthanded to begin 2023. Dallas has been moderately enigmatic for years, however may Trammell be the coach to totally squeeze the potential out of the roster and get the franchise on observe for a deep playoff run?
Pelton: Phoenix Mercury. I am sufficiently old to recollect when Phoenix was going to be the WNBA’s tremendous workforce constructed by free company, with Tina Charles becoming a member of Skylar Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi coming off a WNBA Finals loss. Griner’s wrongful detention in Russia scuttled these hopes, and now she’s returning to a really totally different Mercury roster with Diggins-Smith on maternity go away after giving start to her second baby, a daughter. Can a Taurasi-Griner-Brianna Turner core nonetheless lead Phoenix to the playoffs, or is the Mercury’s lack of confirmed depth an excessive amount of to beat?
Who will probably be 2023’s breakout stars who may get their first All-Star bid?
Pelton: Ezi Magbegor. The Aussie had a sneaky case final 12 months, averaging 11.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG and a league-high 2.3 BPG in a beginning position earlier than Charles pushed her to the bench. Not solely will Magbegor begin this season in Seattle, she’ll be a high offensive choice with the departures of Charles and Stewart.
Philippou: Allisha Grey. I am already on the record as pondering she was snubbed final 12 months. Now in Atlanta by 2025, she’ll have the ability to shine as one of many key gamers Tanisha Wright can construct round and may thrive with Wright’s deal with protection. Different gamers to look out for: 2022 draftees NaLyssa Smith and Shakira Austin.
Voepel: Seattle’s Magbegor may actually come into her personal, and Indiana’s Smith seemingly will probably be even higher this season with new teammate Aliyah Boston. It appears solely a matter of time earlier than all three are All-Stars. This 12 months, Magbegor and Smith may get the nod.
Will we see Tina Charles, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Angel McCoughtry or Chennedy Carter play within the WNBA this season?
Philippou: Phoenix coach Vanessa Nygaard mentioned this week that Diggins-Smith is at the moment on maternity go away and the Mercury are permitting her area to get pleasure from time along with her household. However when pressed on whether or not the workforce expects her to play for them this summer season, Nygaard responded, “These questions are most likely higher suited” to normal supervisor Jim Pitman. She additionally argued the notion Diggins-Smith did not get together with teammates was unfaithful, and the strain we noticed final summer season in Phoenix stemmed from the stress of Griner’s detainment. No matter whether or not Diggins-Smith fits up this summer season, the Mercury face an enormous determination this upcoming offseason as she’ll be a free agent in 2024.
Pelton: It is also price noting that Phoenix’s largest offseason addition was a degree guard, Moriah Jefferson, who averaged 10.8 PPG and 4.9 APG as a starter after becoming a member of the Minnesota Lynx final 12 months. Given the Mercury’s different wants, investing in Jefferson on a three-year contract looks like a sign the group would not count on to have Diggins-Smith this season. Of the free brokers, I might give Charles the perfect likelihood of becoming a member of a workforce midseason, just like her transfer from Phoenix to Seattle final 12 months.
Voepel: There was apparent stress at occasions final season between Diggins-Smith and Nygaard, and between Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi. It appears unlikely Skylar will go well with up for the Mercury once more.
Diggins-Smith, 32, had an excellent 2022 season nonetheless and might be a very good match elsewhere sooner or later. She has saved a whole lot of her life and selections very personal, which is totally her prerogative. Attempting to guess how keen she is to return this season after just lately having her second baby is considerably a idiot’s errand.
Charles was the league’s main scorer in 2021 and continues to be an elite participant at age 34. Her agent informed ESPN just lately that she continues to be contemplating what she needs to do that summer season and that it is attainable she may be part of a workforce later within the season.
McCoughtry, at age 36 and having battled knee accidents, may need a more durable time getting a chance. Carter is an enigma. The No. 4 decide within the 2020 draft is gifted and solely 24. However after taking part in 51 video games in three seasons and issues not understanding with the Dream or the Sparks, Carter faces an unsure future within the WNBA.
Identify a participant you are going after and one you are avoiding in fantasy ladies’s basketball leagues this season.
Kahleah Copper by some means will get the and-1 to fall
Kahleah Copper fights off her defender and by some means will get the and-1 to fall regardless of dropping her footing.
Jennifer LaCroix: Marina Mabrey was traded to the Sky within the offseason, and it might be the right match. She is a superb 3-point shooter, precisely what Chicago wants after dropping 71% of its 3-point manufacturing from 2022. She will probably be alongside Kahleah Copper, who is without doubt one of the greatest guards at scoring within the paint (8.1 PPG in paint, which ranks second within the league), which suggests numerous spot-up taking pictures for Mabrey. I count on her to place up profession numbers and to be one of many league leaders in 3-pointers.
I am staying away from Courtney Vandersloot as a result of huge expertise round her. She’s not an elite scoring guard or shooter, and her bread and butter is facilitating, however these numbers may drop since she will probably be sharing the distribution position with Sabrina Ionescu.
Eric Moody: Magbegor is a must-add participant for all of my fantasy squads. In 2022, she soared to new heights and emerged as one of many brightest younger stars with the Storm. All through her first 22 video games, Magbegor showcased her spectacular all-around abilities, averaging 11.6 factors, 6.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.2 steals per recreation.
I am steering away from drafting Delle Donne, regardless of her spectacular per recreation averages final season. In fantasy sports activities, it isn’t very best to have a participant who has a excessive common draft place and a historical past of lacking video games. It is a suboptimal scenario whenever you’re aiming for consistency and reliability when setting your beginning lineup.
Liz Loza: Napheesa Collier is my private 1.01 on this 12 months’s redraft recreation. Stewart, Wilson and Ionescu is likely to be brighter stars on contending squads, however Collier is primed to feast with Fowles retired. I’ve religion she’s shaken off any rust and is able to bounce again to 2021 type, when she averaged a career-high 16.2 PPG.
I am not deliberately avoiding any gamers, however I’m prioritizing guards early attributable to how shortly the high-end backcourt producers skinny out. The technique has resulted in often fading Natasha Howard. The three-time WNBA champ is an absolute star, however she is not assured the identical taking part in time in Dallas that she had in New York. With rotational questions looming, and given the variety of high quality forwards who could be had within the second half of drafts, Howard is exterior of my high 20.
André Snellings: I appear to draft Elena Delle Donne in each league this 12 months as a result of her damage historical past seems to scare others away. Delle Donne has had a protracted, grueling street to restoration since 2019. She load managed however performed the vast majority of 2022 at a excessive degree, and plans to play full minutes this summer season. I am usually in a position to draft her on the finish of the second or third spherical, the place her confirmed upside if wholesome makes her extremely priceless.
I’ve but to draft Jonquel Jones. As a result of she performed for my hometown Solar, I’ve watched her in particular person greater than every other participant, and she or he’s unbelievable. However I count on her numbers to be decrease this season on a Liberty workforce with a lot expertise, together with one other excessive quantity MVP within the frontcourt. Jones has been going within the high of the second spherical within the leagues I’ve drafted.
Pelton: I have been concentrating on Jones exactly as a result of André and others have been avoiding her. Even with an adjustment for the stronger expertise round her in New York, I believe she will produce at a top-five degree when it comes to fantasy impression. I believe Ionescu is the Liberty participant with the most important adjustment from a statistical standpoint, because the newcomers had been all taking part in with stars beforehand. She was extra clearly the go-to participant in New York. Rivals have drafted Ionescu earlier than I am comfy doing so this 12 months.
Professional preseason picks
Which participant is your preseason decide for MVP?
Jennifer LaCroix: Breanna Stewart, New York Liberty
Liz Loza: Breanna Stewart, New York Liberty
Eric Moody: Breanna Stewart, New York Liberty
Kevin Pelton: Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics
Alexa Philippou: Breanna Stewart, New York Liberty
André Snellings: A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
M.A. Voepel: A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
Who’s your preseason Rookie of the Yr?
LaCroix: Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever
Loza: Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever
Moody: Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever
Pelton: Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever
Philippou: Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever
Snellings: Diamond Miller, Minnesota Lynx
Voepel: Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever
Who’s your preseason Defensive Participant of the Yr?
LaCroix: A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
Loza: A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
Moody: Ezi Magbegor, Seattle Storm
Pelton: Ezi Magbegor, Seattle Storm
Philippou: Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Solar
Snellings: A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
Voepel: A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
Who’s your preseason Most Improved Participant?
LaCroix: Marina Mabrey, Chicago Sky
Loza: Sophie Cunningham, Phoenix Mercury
Moody: Azura Stevens, Los Angeles Sparks
Pelton: Ezi Magbegor, Seattle Storm
Philippou: Teaira McCowan, Dallas Wings
Snellings: Aari McDonald, Atlanta Dream
Voepel: Ezi Magbegor, Seattle Storm
Which 5 gamers — two guards, three frontcourt gamers — will make the All-WNBA first workforce?
LaCroix: Kelsey Plum, Arike Ogunbowale, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Napheesa Collier
Loza: Sabrina Ionescu, Arike Ogunbowale, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Napheesa Collier
Moody: Sabrina Ionescu, Arike Ogunbowale, Breanna Stewart, A,ja Wilson, Napheesa Collier
Pelton: Sabrina Ionescu, Kelsey Plum, Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson
Philippou: Arike Ogunbowale, Kelsey Plum, Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson
Snellings: Sabrina Ionescu, Arike Ogunbowale, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Elena Delle Donne
Voepel: Kelsey Plum, Arike Ogunbowale, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Elena Delle Donne
Which groups will meet within the WNBA Finals?
LaCroix: Las Vegas Aces vs. New York Liberty
Loza: Las Vegas Aces vs. New York Liberty
Moody: Las Vegas Aces vs. New York Liberty
Pelton: Las Vegas Aces vs. New York Liberty
Philippou: Las Vegas Aces vs. New York Liberty
Snellings: Las Vegas Aces vs New York Liberty
Voepel: Las Vegas Aces vs. New York Liberty
Which workforce will win the 2023 WNBA title?
LaCroix: Las Vegas Aces
Loza: New York Liberty
Moody: New York Liberty
Pelton: New York Liberty
Philippou: New York Liberty
Snellings: Las Vegas Aces
Voepel: Las Vegas Aces