WNBA Beginner's Guide Part 4: How each team will win the championship
Spoiler: they won't all win. I'm sorry. Sports don't work like that.
Hello, it’s me, Matt Ellentuck.
Welcome to Part 4 of a 5-part series for new fans looking to follow the WNBA.
Here’s my schedule for the week:
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’ve gotten this deep into the series, hopefully you’re caught up on what happened last WNBA season, and who you’re going to be stanning for a three-month adventure starting this weekend. Now it’s time to talk about the actual basketball, and how the team you chose can make you really happy in October.
(Disclaimer: a lot of you won’t be happy in October, but that’s just how sports work. Sports are pain until they aren’t. Please don’t blame me. I’m already sorry for doing this to you.)
I’ll start by saying that if you chose a team not named the Seattle Storm, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle from Day 1. In my — and a lot of other people’s — opinion, the Storm are THE team to beat in the bubble.
Simply put, the Storm are a fucking freight train. Breanna Stewart, the 2018 season MVP at just 24 years old, is back from a torn Achilles that kept her out of last season. Sue Bird, a freaking four-going-on-five time Olympic gold medalist, and three-time champ, is back from a knee injury. Because those two were out, Natasha Howard is coming off her first season as the Storm’s featured scorer, where she just decided to… go off and shoot a ton of threes, and also be the best defensive player in the league. Oh, and the Storm also have Jewell Loyd, a flamethrower from deep, as a treat. Fair-weather sports fans — this is your team.
The rest of the WNBA‘s fans shouldn’t give up yet, though. We don’t know how a bubble season is going to go. The reduced regular season, with just 22 games, could help an unsuspecting team sneak into the playoffs if they get hot.
So here’s where I expect each team to finish this year, the player who will prove that prediction wrong, and how every team (listed alphabetically) can win a WNBA championship.
Where I think they’ll place: 11th
The player who will prove me wrong: Chennedy Carter
How they’ll win it all: Oh, we’re starting out with tough ones I see. For the Dream to win a title, Carter will have to win Rookie of the Year as an All-Star-type player right out of the gate, Courtney Williams will have to have her best scoring year ever (whenever she returns to the team), Shekinna Stricklen will have to shoot 50 percent from three, Elizabeth Williams will have to play the best year of her career, and Kalani Brown and Monique Billings will have to develop overnight. I’m so sorry Atlanta, but it’s probably not happening this year. The Dream got a lot better roster-wise from last season, but with Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes sitting out… this isn’t their year.
Where I think they’ll place: 4th
The player who will prove me wrong: Diamond DeShields
How they’ll win it all: At this point in their careers, we know what we’re getting from All-Stars Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley. Stefanie Dolson will play solid center minutes. Most of the bench (Kahleah Copper, Cheyenne Parker and Gabby Williams) is back. But DeShields is the one who is going to determine how far the Sky go — or don’t. If the 25-year-old takes the big third-year leap we’re expecting, she might be the most unguardable player in the league not named Stewart.
(For those new to the W, I wrote about DeShields’ game here.)
Where I think they’ll place: 6th
The player who will prove me wrong: DeWanna Bonner
How they’ll win it all: The Sun will win it all if coach Curt Miller is able to create the same chemistry he did with last year’s runner-up team in record time. Connecticut won’t have its best player, Jonquel Jones, who is sitting the season out, and it lost two other starters in free agency. But, if newly-acquired star Bonner, who’s played her career behind Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, can be the go-to scorer for this team, maybe the Sun have a chance. Alyssa and Jasmine Thomas are back. Bria Holmes and Natisha Hiedeman will play key minutes. The team is good. Time is the enemy here.
Where I think they’ll place: 10th
The player who will prove me wrong: Arike Ogunbowale
How they’ll win it all: The Wings winning it all would be one of the most hilarious outcomes ever, considering none of us know what their rotation will look like. I love Dallas’s top two players, Ogunbowale and rookie Satou Sabally. But for the Wings to win, Arike is gonna have to drop like 40 per night. Satou will have to double-double every night. The Wings have a roster full of young players to try giving minutes to. That’s good for a rebuilding team! But for this team to be successful, all three rookies will all have to be immediate impact players… and that’s just not realistic. I’m sorry, Dallas.
Where I think they’ll place: 9th
The player who will prove me wrong: Teaira McCowan
How they’ll win it all: The Fever have been rebuilding slowly since Tamika Catchings’ retirement in 2016, but last year, they may have found a centerpiece. McCowan, at 6’7, is an elite rim protector, and good finisher around the rim. For the Fever to win a title, she’d have to take a Griner-like leap as a mid-range scorer, and be able to guard multiple positions. Third-year guard Kelsey Mitchell will have to reach her potential quickly, too. It isn’t likely, but Indiana fans should start to see a closer version of what a title team could eventually look like for the Fever.
Las Vegas Aces
Where I think they’ll place: 5th
The player who will prove me wrong: Angel McCoughtry
How they’ll win it all: The Aces are built to win a championship if they have their full roster, but Kelsey Plum and Liz Cambage are both out this year, making everything really tough. Vegas does have A’ja Wilson, who will take the No. 1 scorer’s role. A lot will depend on her success around the rim, and if all goes to plan, she could be in the MVP conversation. But the Aces competing for a title will depend on their newest star signee, McCoughtry. Can she slash to the hoop in an offense that focuses on Wilson hanging around the post? Will she be able to step out to the three-point line? Because of a knee injury, she hasn’t played since the end of 2018. What kind of McCoughtry are we getting in 2020?
Los Angeles Sparks
Where I think they’ll place: 3rd
The player who will prove me wrong: Candace Parker
How they’ll win it all: The Sparks are down their newest star, Kristi Toliver, and key bench players Chiney Ogwumike and Maria Vadeeva. But they still have two former MVPs in Nneka Ogwumike and Parker, and another All-Star in Chelsea Gray. They have the talent to win. The question is how Parker will look after a down year in 2019 that ended with her being benched in the playoffs. If she’s back to 2017 championship-level, L.A. could be Seattle’s best competition.
Where I think they’ll place: 8th
The player who will prove me wrong: Lexie Brown, Crystal Dangerfield or Shenise Johnson
How they’ll win it all: If Fowles is playing like she did in 2017 when she won MVP, and if Napheesa Collier, last year’s Rookie of the Year, takes another step forward, the Lynx might have the best interior duo in the league not named Stewart and Howard. Minnesota’s biggest problem is who is going to handle the ball, and how she can help those two score. Maybe it’s Brown. Maybe it’s Dangerfield. Maybe it’s Johnson. Maybe it’s someone else. But it has to be someone with Odyssey Sims out. Nobody said replacing legend Lindsay Whalen, who retired in 2018, would be easy.
New York Liberty
Where I think they’ll place: 12th
The player(s) who will prove me wrong: Sabrina Ionescu
How they’ll win it all: If the WNBA changes the rules so that only players 23 and younger are allowed in the bubble, and we find out Sabrina is actually a witch, maybe the Liberty can do it this year. Seriously though, the Liberty have seven rookies. SEVEN! I think Kia Nurse, Amanda Zahui B and Ionescu are all great players. There is a core to build around in New York. But they aren’t going to win in 2020. If you’re a Liberty fan, you’re excited for two or three years from now.
Where I think they’ll place: 2nd
The player who will prove me wrong: Diana Taurasi
How they’ll win it all: If Taurasi is back to her full self after only playing in six games last year due to back injuries, Phoenix really has a chance. Brittney Griner was MVP-level in 2019, and now the Mercury have Skylar Diggins-Smith to take some weight off Taurasi at the guard spot. There are questions about depth, but there’s only ever been one Diana. If the time comes, she can just do it herself. It’s Diana.
Where I think they’ll place: 1st
What will prove me wrong: Injuries (Please no. I’ll cry.)
How they’ll win it all: Breanna Mackenzie Stewart
Where I think they’ll place: 7th
The player who will prove me wrong: Aerial Powers (Every time I write her name, I remember how freakin’ cool it is.)
How they’ll win it all: Without Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, LaToya Sanders, and Tina Charles, it’s going to be really hard for Washington to repeat as champions. They do still have last year’s Finals MVP, Emma Meesseman, who is an excellent first option. Ariel Atkins and Tianna Hawkins are back from last year, too. But who fills that secondary scoring role is going to matter, and a lot of that pressure is going to be felt by D.C.’s breakout player, Powers. The 26-year-old has the talent, and was one of last year’s best bench players. How will she look as Washington’s No. 2 option?
Unrelated, but also related… because you are all the absolute best for signing up for this newsletter, I will show you this video of Powers kicking my fucking ass in a game of WNBA 2K:
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