While some of the biggest league names sit this season, there is still promise of much excitement and drama with the anticipated rookie class debut led by former Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu and two WNBA legends, Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, returning after a year missing due to injury.
With that in mind, let’s look at the 12 biggest matches of the season.
Seattle Storm vs. New York Liberty July 25 afternoon ET | ESPN
The 2020 campaign ends with the first battle between Ionescu and Bird, two point guards who have ties with the Pacific Northwest at the end of their careers. For Bird and Stewart, it will be their first WNBA action since helping Storm win the 2018 championship before the operation ends their 2019 season before they even begin. Both players returned to the field for the final match at USA Basketball, including Bird playing against Ionescu because Oregon became the second college team to defeat the national team.
Los Angeles Sparks vs Phoenix Mercury July 25, 3 pm ET | A B C
Then on the opening day, we get our first appearance on Mercury after a bold offseason remake of the list highlighted by trading for the All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith to pair up in the backcourt with WNBA’s top scorer, Diana Taurasi. Up front, the Phoenix-LA battle has long meant Brittney Griner pitted against the starring fronts duo of Sparks from Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker.
Chicago Sky vs. Las Vegas Aces July 26, 3 pm ET | A B C
Day 2 of the season brought us a rematch of last year’s thrilling playoff match between Sky and Aces, it was decided when Dearica Hamby’s prayer from right on half the pitch was answered. With seven of the eight players who see at least 10 minutes of the playoffs back, Chicago will hope to depend on continuity. Aces lost the center of All-Star Liz Cambage, who expected to miss the season for health reasons, but still has a strong front pitch at Hamby and A’ja Wilson.
Washington Mystics vs. Connecticut Sun July 28, 7 PM ET
The first rematch between the teams that met in last year’s WNBA Final will have a very different look. Connecticut, who has lost starters Shekinna Stricklen and Courtney Williams to free agents, sees Jonquel Jones becoming the first star player to decided not to play 2020. Meanwhile, MVP Elena Delle Donne and newcomer Tina Charles are waiting for a decision on whether they will be released medically from the 2020 season, with their status uncertain if a panel of independent doctors cleanse them to play. However, coaches Curt Miller and Mike Thibault are the two best in the league, and they will have a shortened training camp to rebuild their rotation.
New York Liberty vs Dallas Wings July 29, 8 pm ET
The last time Ionescu and Oregon teammate Satou Sabally were on the field together, they cut the net when Duck celebrated the Pac-12 Tournament victory. Despite hopes Oregon’s national championship was dashed when the NCAA tournament was canceled due coronavirus pandemic, Ionescu and Sabally still have to celebrate being the two main choices of the WNBA draft. They will be on the opposing side for the first time as pros during the first week of the season.
Atlanta Dream vs Las Vegas Aces July 29, 10 PM ET
After 10 seasons with Dreams – including ceremonial appearances last season in the last match of a year lost due to a knee injury – Angel McCoughtry signed with Las Vegas because of an offseason, and he didn’t have to wait long for the first fight against his former team. Indeed, the Atlanta roster looks very different from when McCoughtry was injured during the 2018 WNBA semifinals – only three players from that team remained active – but that would be an emotional moment.
Seattle Storm vs. Washington Mystics July 30, 6 pm ET | ESPN
The last two champions, Storm and Mystics, meet in the 2018 WNBA Finals and will be favored for another fight if Washington is at full strength. Like, Storm had to compete with 2019 MVP Final Emma Meesseman and the ranks of the heavy Mystics who could also show one time the Seattle draft chose Tianna Hawkins in a more prominent role this season.
Indiana Fever vs. Dallas Wings July 31, 8 pm ET
There is an unfinished business between rookie Sabally and Indiana rookie Lauren Cox, taken one pick later at No. 3. Both were on the opposite side when the Baylor Cox team defeated Sabally and Oregon in the Final Four 2019 on their way to the NCAA title. Now they will be suitable for the first time as enemies of the WNBA.
Phoenix Mercury vs Seattle Storm August 8, 3 pm ET | A B C
The last time Bird and Taurasi’s close friends faced each other, Bird’s big fourth quarter helped push Storm past Mercury in the far-reaching WNBA 2018 semifinal match. With both players heading towards the finish line of their careers, it’s unclear how much Bird-Taurasi we will get, and they deserve to be enjoyed – especially since both teams entered the season as title challengers.
Los Angeles Sparks vs Minnesota Lynx August 9, 7 pm ET | ESPN2
Overall selection No. 1 of the 2006 draft, Seimone Augustus, eventually became an important part of the largest modern dynasty of the WNBA in Minnesota, winning four championships and getting the MVP Finals award in 2011. Augustus spent 14 seasons with Lynx, and the first was a battle against his former team – which is also a rematch 2016 and 2017 finals – to be a special night.
Phoenix Mercury vs Dallas Wings August 10, 7 pm ET | ESPN2
The relationship between Diggins-Smith and Wings, his organization throughout his WNBA career (which began in Tulsa before the team moved to Dallas), turned sour during the 2019 season when she sat down after giving birth. After his desire to leave was facilitated by trade, Diggins-Smith will face his old team for the first time at the start of the third week of the season.
Las Vegas Aces vs Los Angeles Sparks September 12, 8 pm ET
So far, it’s hard to say what might be at stake on the last day of the WNBA regular season, but this game has the best chance to help decide on the playoff allowance. Sparks and Aces finished separate matches in the standings last season and both must be in the mix again this year.
That did not happen this year, although there were obstacles facing everyone because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are no NCAA tournaments or drafts combined for evaluation purposes. Team decision makers don’t get together in the war room discussing their choices; like others with this concept, most of the communication is done through video calls and technology.
But most teams do a very good job of targeting and choosing players who both meet their needs and have the opportunity to make a list. The latter is very difficult to do; with only 144 jobs available in the 12-team league, this is a difficult road for most beginners.
But, perhaps reflecting greater sophistication in evaluating talent, most teams position themselves to take advantage of the best possible design, which is why there are many high scores.
Team president Greg Bibb and coach Brian Agler said the design would be very important in determining the future direction of the franchise. And it went as they could imagine. They get the players they want, and who matches what they need.
“We are very young,” Bibb said of Wings. “We will have ups and downs, but we have a very talented team now who can grow together.”
Sabal and Alarie both are 6-foot-4 mobile players who can shoot 3 and score goals from all over the field. They added 6-5 Astou Ndour in the offseason, and already had 6-4 Kristine Anigwe, 6-3 Isabelle Harrison and 6-3 Megan Gustafson. It was a young post crew, but one with many promises.
Wings also really wants a point guard and is happy that Harris dropped to No. 7 so they can get it.
“He is a general and a floor leader who cannot be trusted,” Bibb said.
Harris reunited with former South Carolina teammates, Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis, who were the first-round picks in 2017. The three were on the 2017 Gamecocks national championship team that won the title in Dallas.
At Geiselsoder, Wings get the center for the future. He is only 20 years old and may not play in WNBA this season, but Wings has his rights and may unite with fellow German Sabally at some point.
Selection: 6. Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, South Carolina, F; 16. Crystal Dangerfield, UConn, G; 26. Erika Ogwumike, Rice, G
Lynx got what they were looking for, starting with the zealous young attacker at Herbert Harrigan. He continues to ride the concept board this season, and his MVP performance in the SEC tournament only fuels more for his rise.
Lynx also wants to get a point guard, and consider Herbert Harrigan’s teammate, Tyasha Harris. But they feel they can wait for the next best point guard on their board to appear, and Dangerfield is still there for them to follow in the second half. He will be joined by former UConn teammate Napheesa Collier, who was the WNBA Rookie of the Year last season. Both Herbert Harrigan and Dangerfield also carry strong defensive beliefs.
Lynx made one more step involving the design, when they exchanged Stephanie Talbot’s forward to New York for Ogwumike, Liberty’s third round choice. This can be a challenge for the third runner to make a WNBA roster. But towards the draft, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve spoke highly of Ogwumike’s goal-scoring ability and, of course, his family history in the league with older sisters Nneka and Chiney both being choice No. 1, respectively in 2012 and 2014. Both are with Sparks now.
Satou Sabally compiled No. 2 by Dallas Wings is excited for the chance to be German and play in Dallas like Dirk Nowitzki’s NBA idol.
With two low choices, you can’t expect much from Sun, who was last year’s WNBA runner-up. But their second choice is a wise choice that can have the opportunity to create a team.
Charles is the league’s top scorer for Terrapins, who is projected to be No. 1 seed. 1 in the NCAA tournament. He didn’t fire a 3-pointer and it was a blow to him, but coach Curt Miller still really liked his game. And he has managed to integrate players who might not be conventionally fit in positions. In contrast to Charles, Landrum’s signature is 3-pointers; she made a women’s singles record of 16 NCAA matches last season. His expertise from behind the bow must give him at least a few opportunities to make a list.
The defending champion doesn’t need anything, and switched first-round choices earlier this week to New York for Tina Charles. So this is a low concept for them – and they still take two good players.
Whether they make a list, Agnew and Sutton are both solid choices. Agnew is a Big East player this year and is the top scorer. Sutton is a teammate in Texas with Ariel Atkins, who has been a starter for the past two years for Mystics, and carries several similar skills.
Sparks was happy with their list before the draft, but they had to be happy with the players they could choose even if there was no first-round choice. Some people thought Mompremier would advance in the first round, but he seemed to fall because of worries about injuries which limited his 17 matches as a senior. But he on average nearly doubled when he was healthy, and at 6-4 he was athletic. Sparks does not need power forward, but he is the best player available at No. 20
Fiebich is only 20 years old, so he might not play in the WNBA this season. But at 6-4, he brought many sizes to the position of the guard. Martin is a more traditional shooting guard and falls lower than expected. He comes from the Mountaineers program which emphasizes defense, which benefits him.
After selecting No. 9 by New York Liberty, Megan Walker was shocked by Kevin Durant with a video message.
The head of Liberty fans must spin around after tonight. New York had six draft choices, then traded for another (Willoughby) and shared one (Erica Ogwumike). To say the least, it will be a new look of Liberty under first-year coach Walt Hopkins. Liberty took some good individual work, but it is rather difficult to imagine at this time how everything would fit together. It looks like there won’t be six beginners in a 12-player team.
Ionescu was the expected top pick, and he had to become the leader of Liberty quickly. This is what he has prepared, and he wants to be in the spotlight in a large market. There is nothing bigger than New York, which is still looking for its first WNBA title.
Liberty trading center Tina Charles this week, the only post New York player who averaged two points last year. They did not appear to be composing a clear replacement for him. Walker and Willoughby were clearly goalscorers, but they were more winger. Shook has a size similar to Charles, but is considered more as a defender.
Jones has a good measure (6-0) as a keeper and averaged 14.1 points for Louisville this season, but only made 17 3-pointers. He and Shook joined former Louisville team-mate in Louisville, Asia Durr, who was chosen number 2 by Liberty last year but only played 18 matches due to injury.
This can all come together at some point for New York, although it might be difficult for Liberty to be thick enough to become a playoff team this season (if the league plays this year). But Hopkins can certainly gather the team he wants from the start.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert provided an update on the upcoming WNBA plan regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
Fever gets the main players they want. Cox meets the needs of the power forward and can form a solid young tandem with 6-7 midfielder Teaira McCowan, who became the number 3 fever last season. Cox has strong passing skills – he excels in high-low games and finds 3-point shooters – and is an excellent defender. He will fit in with new coach Marianne Stanley and general manager Tamika Catchings.
How suitable Doyle remains remains to be seen. Iowa hasn’t had much success placing players in the WNBA; Megan Gustafson made the Wings list last year after initially being cut from the team as a second round pick. Doyle, like Gustafson before him, was the Top Ten Player of the Year, and averaged 18.1 points and 6.2 assists as seniors.
Smalls is a 5-10 keeper who has his best season as a senior for JMU, averaging 18.6 PPG.
The Sky whistled with their first pick in 2019; Katie Lou Samuelson at No. 4 did not fit in Chicago, and he was traded to Dallas earlier this year. We will see whether Hebard, who shoots better than 65 percent from the field for his duck career, succeeds better. He might do it. Hebard no longer plays with Sabrina Ionescu, but at Courtney Vandersloot he has another point guard who was trained by Kelly Graves from Oregon (when he and Vandersloot were at Gonzaga).
The Sky made a playoff last year and losing a second-round single elimination match was difficult for Las Vegas, but they showed that they were a pretty good team. Dean can add depth to the point guard. And Gillespie could be stealing from the third round. There are various opinions about how he can play at the next level, but he is a very good player for Seminoles.
Bella Alarie from Princeton was chosen number 5 by the Dallas Wings, following in her father’s footsteps. Mark Alarie was number 18 chosen by Duke of the Nuggets in 1986.
Carter can become a superstar at the next level; it’s really up to him and how well he receives training, how he grows up and if he listens to the advice of veteran teammates. There were times in Texas A&M when he was almost alone in winning games, and sometimes he looked like he was just playing for himself. But make no mistake: He is a great talent, and the sky is the limit.
The dream has the worst record in the league last year, but this is a fresh start with the movements made by the team in this offseason and draft. Brewer is an interesting choice because he is one of the true rare centers in this design; he averaged 16.6 points and 10.3 rebounds this season for Texas Tech.
Pivec is a fan favorite with many hearts who do everything for Oregon State, but the question is whether he has one skill that is enough to give him a pro roster. Thornton averaged 13.1 PPG this year for Clemson but is a surprising choice that doesn’t exist on many concept boards. The dream must see its potential.
Laksa played in South Florida for three seasons before an ACL injury early in his senior year basically ended his college career. He is an incredible 3-point shooter as a 6-footer; he made 308 for the Bulls despite only playing three matches in his senior season. The 2018 WNBA champion doesn’t have much need in this draft, and Laksa might not play this season. But he can be part of the team’s future.
Holmes is one of the top recruits in the country to enter Texas, but injury and suspension during the second semester of the year prevented him from developing fully. Maybe he will have the opportunity to do that at the pro level.
Gorecki has also been plagued by injuries in his career, but he has had a senior star season at Duke. It would be difficult for him to make the list as a beginner, though.
What is strange is that Mercury got one of the things they needed – a wing that could score – when they chose Virginia Jocelyn Willoughby with choice No. 10. But then they traded it to New York for the contract of Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who has an average of 5.2 points as a reserve in three seasons with Washington.
With Skylar Diggins-Smith and Bria Hartley now on Mercury’s list, along with Diana Taurasi, there may not be much need for Cooper as a point guard. Johnson is the top scorer in Division I this season at 24.8 PPG, but will the game be translated from a small conference to the WNBA? That has happened to other players, but it is not easy.
With only one pick in the third round, there isn’t enough to evaluate to give an Aces score. The organization had the number 1 vote for the past three years and took on guard Kelsey Plum, advanced force A’ja Wilson and guard Jackie Young. All names are very well known for female college basketball fans. That did not happen with Manis, but he averaged double the last two seasons, including 18.6 PPG and 11.5 RPG as seniors in the Patriot League. He ended his career with 2,020 points and 1,188 rebounds.