WNBA Beginner's Guide Part 2: Picking which team to root for
If this doesn't work, just pick from a hat I guess? Idk. You can't go wrong, really.
Hello, it’s me, Matt Ellentuck.
Welcome to Part 2 of a 5-part series for new fans looking to follow the WNBA. If you missed Part 1, which recaps the 2019 season and 2020 offseason, you can catch up on that here.
Here’s the schedule for the week:
Part 2: How to pick which WNBA team to root for (7/21)
Part 3: How the 2020 WNBA season will (try to) work (7/22)
Part 4: How each team will win the 2020 WNBA championship (7/23)
Part 5: Why the 2020 WNBA opening day schedule is perfect (7/24)
I’ll stop talking now.
If you’re reading this post, you’re probably trying to decide which WNBA team you should root for. Good luck lol… I’m here to tell you that this decision is impossibly hard — for a lot of reasons.
First of all, the league only has 12 teams in 12 different states. That leaves a lot of places without a team in their region! (Yes, I put angry faces in Canada because I really think that’s the next place the W should expand to.)
Second of all, it’s hard to choose a team because they’re all stacked. If you’re new to the W, you might not know how difficult it is to make a roster.
Here’s some context: The entire WNBA is made up of 144 roster spots (12 per team.) And not every team even uses all 12 spots. That’s despite there being 354 Division 1 women’s college basketball programs in America — which of course doesn’t count international players, too. For reference, the NBA is made up of 30 teams, and each team can carry 15 per roster. That’s 450 spots. There are 353 Division 1 men’s college basketball programs in America (plus international players), so both the men’s and women’s are dealing with a similar quantity of elite talent. Yet women have less than one-third the pro opportunities in the U.S.
Roster decisions are cut-throat. It’s not unheard of for first-round WNBA picks (so, top-12 picks) to be stashed abroad for a year or longer. Second-round picks (13-24), in a normal, non-Covid-19 year, have a tough time making WNBA rosters. Third-rounders and undrafted players almost never crack the league. Remember that NBA drafts have 30 players taken in the first round. An entire WNBA draft is 36 picks!
Ok, now that that rant is out, let’s get to picking.
Below, I have all 12 WNBA teams listed alphabetically. I’ve broken each team down with a list their best players, their record from a year ago, their realistic goal for 2020, their team’s colors, their biggest rival, and what your emotions are likely to be as a fan of them in 2020.
Let’s get started.
Best players: Chennedy Carter (rookie), Tiffany Hayes (out for 2020), Courtney Williams (maybe out for 2020?)
Record last year: 8-26 (12th) ((oof))
Team goal: Turn Chennedy Carter into a star, and maybe compete for a final playoff spot
Team colors: Red and blue
Biggest rival: Connecticut Sun (The Dream stole Williams via forced trade this past offseason. Their fans are pissed!)
Being a Dream fan will: Not be easy because key players are sitting out. But when the rookie, Carter, gets going, it’ll all be worth it, knowing your future is clear. Being a Dream fan is all about investing in what could be.
Best players: Diamond DeShields, Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot
Record last year: 20-14 (5th)
Team goal: Win it all!
Team colors: Blue and yellow
Biggest rival: Aces (Yeah, you’ll remember last year’s buzzer-beater forever.)
Being a Sky fan will: Come with high expectations. You have two incredible veteran stars alongside one of the league’s budding talents, DeShields. Last year’s rotation is almost entirely back. If Diamond takes a leap, the title could be yours.
Best players: DeWanna Bonner, Jonquel Jones (out in 2020), Alyssa Thomas
Record last year: 23-11 (2nd)
Team goal: Make the semifinals
Team colors: Dark blue and orange
Biggest rival: Expectations after losing the Finals in a decisive Game 5 last year. With Jones sitting out and the Dream robbing you in a forced Courtney Williams trade, it’s going to be hard to replicate last season.
Being a Sun fan will: Be a learning experience as you evaluate what the full team is going to look like when MVP-candidate Jones comes back in 2021. All-Star Courtney Williams left via trade, and she is replaced by another All-Star in Bonner. You still have All-Star Alyssa Thomas (playing through two torn labrums), too. There’s a lot of talent! But how do these pieces fit?
Best players: Arike Ogunbowale, Satou Sabally (rookie)
Record last year: 10-24 (10th)
Team goal: Develop the kids and don’t finish last!
Team colors: Dark blue and green
Biggest rival: Everyone who voted against Arike winning Rookie of the Year last year. Also, being young.
Being a Wings fan will: Ruin your bank account. You will question if owning dozens of Ogunbowale jerseys is a personality trait. When you realize it isn’t, you will question if owning dozens of Sabally jerseys is a personality trait. The expectations are low for this team, but with those two, the future is in sight.
Best players: Lauren Cox, Teaira McCowan, Kelsey Mitchell
Record last year: 13-21 (9th)
Team goal: Fight for a final playoff spot
Team colors: Dark blue and yellow
Biggest rival: Team chemistry
Being a Fever fan will: Be one giant :shrug: while new coach Marianne Stanley figures out how to make these young pieces work. The roster is coming together, it’s just been a slow rebuild since legend Tamika Catchings retired in 2016.
Las Vegas Aces
Best players: Liz Cambage (out for 2020), Kayla McBride, Angel McCoughtry, Kelsey Plum (out for 2020), A’ja Wilson
Record last year: 21-13 (4th)
Team goal: Make the semifinals, and get A’ja Wilson in the MVP running
Team colors: Red and black
Biggest rival: Whoever Cambage is Instagram storying tea about, and the Chicago Sky
Being an Aces fan will: Be fun! There’s no pressure to win it all this year with two All-Stars out, but the team should still be competitive. This year is all about integrating the new star (McCoughtry) and developing the kids (Wilson, 2019 No. 1 pick Jackie Young.)
Los Angeles Sparks
Best players: Chelsea Gray, Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker, Kristi Toliver (out in 2020)
Record last year: 22-12 (3rd)
Team goal: Win it all!
Team colors: Purple and gold
Biggest rival: The Minnesota Lynx. You hate them because of the 2016 and 2017 Finals, which your teams split. Most of those Lynx aren’t on the team anymore, but it doesn’t matter. Your team now has one of those Lynx actually. Seeing Seimone Augustus in purple and gold is gonna be weird, but it’s still F the Lynx. I summed up these teams’ rivalry as best I could two years ago.
Being a Sparks fan will: Come with high expectations that’ll be hard to meet. Parker’s playing in the back half of her career with an inexperienced head coach in Derek Fisher. But the talent is there… and if the pieces fall together this time around…
Best players: Napheesa Collier, Sylvia Fowles
Record last year: 18-16 (7th)
Team goal: Make the second round of the playoffs
Team colors: Dark blue and gray
Biggest rival: The Los Angeles Sparks. You hate them because of tense Finals matchups in 2016 and 2017 (which you split.) Four of the starting five from your team back then are gone, but it doesn’t matter. You still hate L.A. And to top it off, one of you franchise’s best players ever, Seimone Augustus, is now a Spark. I summed up these teams’ rivalry as best I could two years ago.
Being a Lynx fan will: Be competitive. Your team should be in most games because head coach Cheryl Reeve won’t allow any less. Also, Collier was last year’s Rookie of the Year and Fowles is a legend and former MVP.
New York Liberty
Best players: Sabrina Ionescu (rookie), Kia Nurse, Amanda Zahui B
Record last year: 10-24 (11th)
Team goal: Turn Ionescu into a superstar, and make Brooklyn the most popular WNBA city in the world. Also, not finish in last place.
Team colors: Green and black
Biggest rival: Your own youth. Seriously. Seven of these 12 players are rookies!
Being a Liberty fan will: Be so damn fun. This team’s expectations are on the floor. Nurse is an All-Star, Zahui B is an excellent piece, but most of the rest of the time, it’ll be Sabrina and some other kids figuring out the game. This team shouldn’t win many games, but the losing could be a lot of fun as long as you have patience.
Best players: Skylar Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi
Record last year: 15-19 (8th)
Team goal: Win it all!
Team colors: Purple and orange
Biggest rival: Diana Taurasi’s often-injured back, and the referees who give Diana Taurasi techs for swearing
Being a Mercury fan will: Cause profuse sweating and nervousness, but DAMMIT it might pay off. Taurasi’s the all-time leading scorer in WNBA history, but at 38 years old, she’s in her final years. Adding Diggins-Smith this spring was one last home run-sized swing.
Best players: Sue Bird, Natasha Howard, Jewell Loyd, Breanna Stewart
Record last year: 18-16 (6th)
Team goal: Win the title with relative ease.
Team colors: Green and yellow
Biggest rival: Injuries — stay away!
Being a Storm fan will: Be the most incredibly fun experience as long as everything goes to plan. 2018 MVP Stewart is back from a torn Achilles, the legend herself, Bird, is back from a knee injury, and the championship squad from 2018 is ready to roll.
Best players: Tina Charles (out in 2020), Elena Delle Donne (probably out in 2020), Emma Meesseman
Record last year: 26-8 (1st)
Team goal: Reach the semifinals
Team colors: Dark blue and red
Biggest rival: Nobody. Your team is absolutely stacked, they’re just not all playing this year. It’s likely that just two of last year’s championship starting five will return.
Being a Mystics fan will: Be relaxed as hell. You just won a championship. All is good. With so many of your best player out, expectations are tamed. And that’s fine.
Did that help? I hope it helped. But if I haven’t sold you on a team, maybe I can sell you on a player. Here’s a mix of highlights from one of the best players on each team who will be playing in the 2020 WNBA season.
Chennedy Carter (Atlanta Dream)
Courtney Vandersloot (Chicago Sky)
DeWanna Bonner (Connecticut Sun)
Arike Ogunbowale (Dallas Wings)
Teaira McCowan (Indiana Fever)
Angel McCoughtry (Las Vegas Aces)
Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks)
Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx)
Sabrina Ionescu (New York Liberty)
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm)
Emma Meesseman (Washington Mystics)
Did that help? Because if it didn’t I’m super out of ideas. Feel free to DM me any questions @mellentuck. I tried, ok!
Thank you for reading.
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I’m also still looking for work writing about the WNBA for money!
If you have any leads, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Twitter: @mellentuck. I miss doing this as a full-time job. All of my previous work can be found at SB Nation, where I worked for the past four years before being laid off due to the pandemic.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!