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Caitlin Clark #22, Erica Wheeler #17, and Assistant Coach Jessie Miller of the Indiana Fever look on before the game against the Dallas Wings
Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images
WNBA

A 2024 WNBA Season Preview For Casuals And Gatekeepers Alike

Women’s basketball is sweeping the nation. We're winning so much, like we've never won before. So skip this WNBA season preview at your own risk: If you do, you may find yourself humiliated at the water cooler tomorrow when your cool, clued-in colleagues start gabbing about the Chelsea Gray extension.

Chelsea Gray extension? You hadn’t heard she signed a new deal. What are the cap implications? Do the Aces still have room to give Jackie Young the max? Boy, you're really in the soup now. Stupid water cooler! Stupid office! You're only here every day to prop up commercial real estate values!

But there's still time to save yourself from such a fate. If you read this preview before tonight's WNBA games, you could humiliate someone else at the water cooler tomorrow. Wouldn't that be fun! Imagine bringing up Kelsey Mitchell’s assisted-shot rate and watching that guy you hate in accounting scuttle back to his cubicle to look up your reference on WNBA.com/stats. Like a fool!

The teams are listed below from worst 2023 regular-season record to best. (I know 12 team names can be a lot to follow, but I believe in you.) For a second year, I’ve put together a section with miscellaneous notes and information about following the league. You can find that at the very end of this preview.


PHOENIX MERCURY (9-31)

In the short time since the Mercury made a run to the 2021 WNBA Finals, the path to get there has changed. A team can still sneak into the postseason with a middling record—four sub-.500 teams made the playoffs last year!—but it gets tougher once they're there. When the league got rid of single-elimination games for worse seeds, it ironed out the variance that gave us the devil-magic five-seed 2021 Mercury. A random Diana Taurasi heater, like her hilarious Game 2 semifinal performance that year, or a dominant Brittney Griner stretch, does not a contender make anymore. The switch to a three-game first-round series rewards scoring depth and defense, and the Mercury have lacked in both for a while now: Last year, the team paired the second-worst offense in the league with the worst defense, to finish last in net rating.

The Mercury didn't mean to be this bad. (Some of the other teams up here at the top of the preview were capital-T tanking.) So what gives? Admittedly, an international incident kept this team from pushing hard in any one direction. No front-office plans for its star center to be imprisoned in Russia. Though Griner looked her usual unguardable self in her first games back last season, she may have shouldered a greater offensive burden than should be expected of someone who hasn’t played basketball in a year. If there were any doubts the Mercury would remain in win-now mode as long as they have two homegrown Hall of Famers on their roster, the front office quieted them with a blockbuster trade for Chicago’s Kahleah Copper. A dazzling finisher, and one of the best transition players in the league, Copper made her name in that Finals series against the Mercury. Now she’ll figure into the team’s new Big Three, replacing the departing Skylar Diggins-Smith. And everyone’s going to get along great! 

One good wing goes a long way in the modern WNBA. Two good wings acquired in the offseason could help turn this team around. (Update: Never mind. After this preview was written, the Mercury announced Brittney Griner will be out indefinitely with a toe fracture.) In addition to making the Copper trade, the Mercury signed Bec Allen, who looked fantastic with the Sun in the playoffs last year. They also signed certified hooper Natasha Cloud. In the aggregate, they can play the defense SOMEBODY will not be playing. I’m curious to see how the team fares under first-year head coach Nate Tibbetts, who was hired from the Orlando Magic's staff last fall and made the highest-paid coach in the WNBA. As I wrote in October, I’m encouraged by the investments WNBA owners have begun to make in their teams—new practice facilities are the classic example, but good coaches count as investments, too. Hopefully this wave of investment doesn’t pass over the many qualified women with experience playing and coaching in the league. 


SEATTLE STORM (11-29)

There are some NBA players whose careers begin so early that I start to feel like they’ve been around forever when really they’re barely old enough to drink. “He’s washed,” I might say, about a guy who does not remember 9/11. Because most draft entrants need to be 22 years old, this happens less often with WNBA players. But Ezi Magbegor is one exception. A WNBA rule quirk says non-NCAA international players can enter the draft at 20, and Magbegor was younger than some rookies last year, her third in the league. Just 24 and coming off her first All-Star season, the Australian center has established herself as a top rim protector. But she spent last season doing all the other cool stuff you can do when your parents (Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird, may they rest in peace) leave you home alone.

Magbegor came into her own as a 6-foot-4 driver and shooter, extending her range and deepening her bag. Point Ezi is real, and she's just getting started. For that reason and a couple others, the Storm’s offensive outlook seems much brighter than it did last year, when the gameplan 90 percent of the time was to just let Jewell Loyd cook—which she did, for a league-high 24.7 points per game on a league-high 20.3 field goal attempts per game.

The Storm's front office extended a life raft to two of the WNBA’s best and most tortured players in free agency. Skylar Diggins-Smith left the Mercury for personal reasons toward the end of the 2022 season and said she’d been barred from using the team’s practice facilities while on maternity leave in the 2023 season. It’s been a while since the point guard played WNBA basketball, so any assessment of her fit with the Storm is imperfect recollection. But the Diggins-Smith I remember had a thrilling first step and surprisingly good defensive chops for her size. The good news is that 2024 preseason Skylar Diggins-Smith looked a lot like that. Joining her is Nneka Ogwumike, who escaped the rebuild in Los Angeles and brings her uber-efficient scoring to the Storm offense. Ladies, welcome to a functional franchise. You’re going to love it here. But heed these words: This is Ezi’s team. Respect Ezi. 


INDIANA FEVER (13-27)

Finally, Fever fans! You got her! An electric three-point shooter with the first overall pick!

Kidding, kidding. That was one of just 10 three-pointers Aliyah Boston attempted last season, and she was clearly and adorably shocked to have made it. Maybe you noticed the high-pitched crowd noise; this overtime thriller took place on a “camp day,” a day game attended mostly by summer camp youths. Boston deserved this moment of happiness, because she spent much of her All-Star rookie season in the Wemby meme situation … 

… except her team was almost never on national TV, so I don’t know their excuse. However frustrating the Fever were to watch at times last season, they do feel like a team that should suit Caitlin Clark nicely. There is a rich history of WNBA teams landing the top draft pick and contending immediately because they were a fake lottery team the whole time, briefly felled by a star’s injury. For example, see the landing spots of Candace Parker, Brittney Griner, or Breanna Stewart.

That’s not the case with the Fever. They were pretty bad last year. But they were bad at stuff Clark should be able to improve from Day 1. She can run a real pick-and-roll with Boston, whose scoring gifts are sometimes overshadowed by her polish on defense. If you were ever frustrated by those passes Clark's teammates couldn’t finish at Iowa, now she’ll have a speedster like NaLyssa Smith on the other end of them. More generally, Clark should bring some flow to a team whose shots were assisted at the lowest rate in the league last season; she'll share a backcourt with Kelsey Mitchell, another smart off-ball player.

Not so long ago, it was hard to see the vision with the Fever's decade-long tank, but eventual lottery luck and some trial and error in the draft have yielded a roster any incoming point guard would love. The lesson: Make organizational missteps year after year, and it'll all work out in the end. (Joke. Do not do that.) Clark is talented enough that no team who drafted first overall was going to give much thought to “positional need,” but it’s hard to imagine a neater fit for one of the WNBA’s best-ever offensive prospects.  


LOS ANGELES SPARKS (17-23)

WNBA players are correct to point out that transitioning from college basketball to the pros is a challenge. Many a draft darling has fizzled out. But the pace and style of professional basketball can really unlock some players, and Cameron Brink might be one of them. The Sparks drafted the 6-foot-4 (allegedly—I still believe she’s taller … contact me if you’re interested in hearing more about this theory) Stanford product with the second overall pick in the draft, the first move in a rebuild that ostensibly began when franchise pillar Nneka Ogwumike left the team as a free agent after 12 seasons in Los Angeles.

You could argue the rebuild began earlier; the Sparks haven't made the postseason since 2020. But now, after some aimlessness, they feel ready to begin the build part. Brink is the platonic modern big: At Stanford, she blocked shots, switched out onto the perimeter, and improved offensively every year. She also gets an extra foul to work with in the pros, which she’ll surely appreciate. Brink experimented with some new stuff in the preseason, like the occasional dribble drive. With better guards around her, it’s not hard for me to imagine her becoming a more interesting player in the pros than circumstances allowed her to be in college:

The Sparks used their second first-round pick on Tennessee’s Rickea Jackson, a 6-foot-2 wing with the size and strength to score at all three levels. The pair should get lots of minutes early alongside a decent, similarly versatile cast of veterans. Dearica Hamby slowly regained her form as a relentless rebounder and do-it-all defender after giving birth last offseason. Azurá Stevens surprised some fans when she left Chicago for Los Angeles last year, but when she returns from her arm injury, she’s a big Brink and Jackson could learn from. Head coach Curt Miller is slowly turning this into a Curt Miller Team: long, athletic, and defined by its frontcourt.


CHICAGO SKY (18-22)

Last June, feeling unusually optimistic, I wrote about how noble it was, actually, that the Sky had remained in win-now mode despite most of the team’s best players retiring or leaving in free agency. As a rule, I do think teams have a duty to be watchable, even if they aren’t good. But to make that point, I may have too quickly waved aside the Sky’s organizational state. They were super screwed.

Ahead of two of the most talent-loaded WNBA drafts in a while, former Sky head coach and general manager James Wade gave up a 2024 first-round pick and a 2025 pick swap to Dallas for Marina Mabrey, who is a fine player and doesn’t deserve to be slandered this much but had the misfortune of starring in a very lopsided trade. Wade is now the “former” head coach and general manager—was he fired for this? No. Hilariously, he dipped in the middle of the summer to take an assistant coaching job with the Toronto Raptors. Sometimes you don’t reap what you sow. 

Teresa Weatherspoon succeeds Wade on the sideline this year. A WNBA legend with coaching experience in the NBA, she’ll oversee an almost entirely different roster than the one that contended for championships two seasons ago. The front office at last began the rebuild this offseason and traded star Kahleah Copper to the Mercury, picking up the 2024 third overall pick. In a separate offseason trade with the Sparks, they also pocketed another first-round pick. The Sky spent these on South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso and LSU’s Angel Reese, two of the biggest names in college basketball, and their eclectic collection of pure hoopers—Dana Evans, Mabrey, and Diamond DeShields among them—should make for a fun team to watch, if not many wins. Cardoso helped South Carolina up its pace last season, running the floor impressively for 6-foot-7. Unfortunately, she’ll miss the first four to six weeks of the season with a shoulder injury.

I've done a 360 on Reese. You, pedantic geometry freak, are saying, Do you mean a 180? No, I mean two complete changes of opinion. Reese intrigued me in her freshman year at Maryland; I was spooked by her frame and deficient offensive bag at LSU. But I fell back in love this college basketball season, reminded to focus on the special things she can do. Her motor and instincts for rebounding can't be taught. Freed from Kim Mulkey’s grody halfcourt sets, Reese should only keep getting better.


WASHINGTON MYSTICS (19-21)

One of the best active players in the game has decided to take some time away from the WNBA, which would be crazy news were it not for the multiple instances of this in league history. Seems bad. Not to lump everyone’s particular situations together, but it’s a good reminder that the day-to-day experience of being a WNBA player remains exhausting, and for many players, the salaries don’t nearly make that exhaustion worth it. In February, ESPN reported that Elena Delle Donne was turning down a supermax one-year extension with the Mystics and planned to step away from basketball this season.

There’s some reason to read this as dissatisfaction with the team: Delle Donne was reportedly interested in playing for other teams this year, but the Mystics gave her a “core designation,” the WNBA’s equivalent of the franchise tag. It’s also true that health and injury issues have nagged her for years, and she may have wanted the battle with her body to stop for a bit. Without the greatest player in franchise history, and without longtime team heartbeat Natasha Cloud, who left for Phoenix in free agency, the Mystics are left searching for a new identity. Which is to say, Paige Bueckers will look fine in Mystics red.

Sure, there’s plenty to like on the remaining roster. Brittney Sykes, a springy and simply perfect athlete, will still be around to slash to the basket (and to win the opening tip, naturally). Shakira Austin made a smooth transition to the pros her 2022 rookie year, instantly shoring up the team’s defense, but even she has had some injury trouble. It doesn’t sound like the hip issue that kept her out for long stretches of the 2023 season is completely going away any time soon. The front office hopes their strong record of scouting and developing will continue with UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards, a big versatile enough to play alongside Austin.

Filling the franchise veteran void is Ariel Atkins, one of the last holdovers from the 2019 championship Mystics. Atkins didn’t quite play up to her potential last year, but her numbers may rebound a bit, now that her various injuries have healed. Yeesh. Stay safe, Aaliyah. I feel achy just writing this preview.  


MINNESOTA LYNX (19-21)

The Lynx returned to the playoffs last year after a rough 2022. Whether they meant to return to the playoffs, we’ll never know, but their surprisingly decent record says something about their franchise player: You can really only be so bad with Napheesa Collier on your team. Playing her first full season since giving birth, the two-way power forward made her first All-WNBA First Team and picked up some deserved MVP votes, though she was locked out of the three-way battle at the top between Breanna Stewart, Alyssa Thomas, and A’ja Wilson. Collier doesn’t yet have the playoff track record of those three, but the 27-year-old proved she can carry a team herself.

Collier follows in the footsteps of the post-Parker power-forward types whose games marry size and skill. On defense, Collier's wingspan creates havoc at the rim and in passing lanes. If there’s an area to improve, it’s her three-point shooting, which looked promising in her rookie and sophomore years but hasn’t quite been at those levels in her two full seasons since. (WNBA seasons make for small shooting sample sizes, so it’s a little hard to say what’s real and what isn’t.)

Diamond Miller had the typical rookie guard season, looking out of sorts at times but flashing the athletic gifts and finishing ability that made her the second overall pick in the 2023 draft. The team drafted another Lynx-y player this year in Alissa Pili, a strong and efficient scorer whose fantastic Utah season I still regret not blogging about. In the best way, Pili's game can be confounding—she’s a bully, but balletic. I will make it up to her this WNBA season. Also, the Lynx finally have some real point guards: They signed Courtney Williams AND traded for Natisha Hiedeman! Multiple point guards! The 10 shooting guards on the roster can stop pretending now. Our long regional nightmare is over.


ATLANTA DREAM (19-21)

One of my many WNBA hobbyhorses—again, please contact me if you’d like to hear more—is that the league’s lack of player development infrastructure lets potentially great players fall through the cracks. In any sport, there are late bloomers and diamonds in the rough; you just have to keep them in the league long enough to let them prove it. For the most part, the WNBA doesn’t do that. Impending league expansion—and hopefully the expansion of rosters in the next CBA—should help. But it does haunt me to think that we might be missing out on more players like Jordin Canada.

Canada, whom the Dream acquired this offseason, has seemed like a committed non-shooting point guard for most of her career. But last season, her sixth in the league, she shot 33 percent from three on respectable volume. Assuming this is real (see the previous note about small sample sizes in the WNBA), she becomes suddenly very useful. Canada missed both Atlanta preseason games with an injury, but when she returns, she can run the pick-and-roll and set up a team hurt by its lack of primary playmaker last year.

She joins a young group that didn’t get much younger after the 2024 draft; the Dream opted to draft-and-stash high-upside international players, which makes sense for them. Allisha Gray and Rhyne Howard form one of the best wing tandems in the league, both able defenders and shrewd off the ball. Howard could stand to improve as a driver and finisher, and it’ll help to have a real veteran point guard creating better looks for her. 


DALLAS WINGS (22-18)

The Wings will miss Satou Sabally for the first half of the season while she recovers from a shoulder injury she suffered in February. That was crummy news to get after the unicorn's breakout 2023 season, when Sabally won Most Improved Player and was named to the All-WNBA First Team. She helmed the league's third-most efficient offense, behind the usual suspects in Vegas and New York. Last season, she led the Wings to their first playoff series victory since the franchise moved to Dallas in 2016. But Sabally has had such poor injury luck that the Wings are somewhat used to playing without her. The always entertaining guard Arike Ogunbowale will happily hoover up that shooting volume. True to form, Ogunbowale was 0-for-6 from three in Dallas’s preseason game against the Fever before she finally hit one to win it at the end: 

The Wings remain on the cutting edge of roster construction: I could not really tell you who their point guard is, and nearly half the team has never played a WNBA game before. With their best player sidelined for a few months, they're asking a ton of a young group. One non-disparaging word to describe the Wings is "big," even without Sabally. Last year, the Wings could challenge the best teams in the league with size in the post. They were one of just two teams (along with the Mystics) who could boast a regular-season win over the Aces and Liberty. The Wings stayed big when they drafted 5-foot-10 Ohio State guard Jacy Sheldon, conditioned well for the intensity of the pros by the insane Buckeye press. And keep an eye on Jaelyn Brown, a rookie preseason standout and certainly the best Ja(ely/yle)n Brown to ever play basketball at Cal.


CONNECTICUT SUN (27-13)

I don’t know, man. They’ll end up in the Finals no matter what I write. 

Alyssa Thomas is the coolest player ever.


NEW YORK LIBERTY (32-8)

Some losses are more constructive than others. If your season ends on a banked-in buzzer-beater, well, what can you do but tip your cap? If you lose due to a clear, foreseeable, and specific roster deficiency, there are lots of things to do beyond tipping your cap.

It's not clear that the Liberty totally fixed that deficiency in their subdued offseason. As expected, they re-signed Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones. They also set about rebuilding the team’s bench: Stefanie Dolson left for the Mystics, and microwave scorer Marine Johannès will miss the WNBA season to train with the French national team for the Olympics. In his end-of-season interview, Liberty GM Jonathan Kolb said defense would be a priority when making his bench acquisitions, and he’s assembled an intriguing group of two-way EuroLeague vets. In her cup of coffee with the Storm last year, Ivana Dojkić took tough defensive assignments and shot 41 percent from three. The bench pickups may not move the needle much, and first-round pick Marquesha Davis might not see a ton of playing time on such a stacked roster, but both moves suggest the Liberty understand what went wrong last year: Sabrina Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot were picked on by Vegas’s guards in the Finals.

When she retires, the 35-year-old Vandersloot will go down as one of the best point guards in league history, but even with the caveat that Preseason Doesn't Count, it didn’t feel great for the Liberty that she once again looked slow in New York’s blowout preseason loss to Chicago last week. To be fair, a Liberty team exactly as good as it was last year—or even slightly worse—is still one of the best teams in the league. Before her shooting efficiency fell off at the tail end of the season, Stewart set all kinds of franchise records, including the single-game scoring record in literally her first week on the team. Ionescu moved off-ball and became one of the best three-point shooters in basketball.

I shouldn’t be so down on a group that could be better simply by dint of Jones’s improved health and developing chemistry. Still, I was disappointed by how often the Liberty needed to “escape” with their wins last year. Ownership's effort in constructing this team suggests that “one of the best” is not the goal here, and right now, the Liberty have no plausible claim to “the best.” Except in the mascot department:

Ellie the Elephant of the New York Liberty during the game against the Washington Mystics during the 2023 WNBA Playoffs on September 15, 2023 in Brooklyn, New York.
Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images

LAS VEGAS ACES (34-6)
Jackie Young #0 of the Las Vegas Aces celebrates during the 2023 WNBA championship victory parade and rally on the Las Vegas Strip on October 23, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Jackie! Jackie!!!Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images

Last year, Becky Hammon outed Jackie Young as the teacher’s pet—“I just can’t be mad at the girl”—and while back-to-back championships usually suggest mere continued excellence, Young’s 2023 transformation into the best wing in the league gave the Aces an even higher ceiling as they looked to repeat. Young kept her much-improved three-point numbers high for a second straight year, hitting outside shots at a 44.9 percent clip. She stepped up big during the postseason, especially at the start of the Finals, which I tried to blog with the headline “A Jackie Of All Trades Was The Master Of Game 1” before my cruel and tyrannical editors changed it.

Elsewhere on the roster, the excellence continued: Chelsea Gray entered beast mode in the 2022 playoffs and just never exited it. A’ja Wilson followed up her 2022 MVP year with an equally (if not more!) MVP-worthy campaign. Kelsey Plum weathered early-season shooting struggles to feast in the playoffs. The Aces capped a historic season with a gutsy Finals performance, winning their second championship shorthanded and on the road. The blog economy may run on shiny new teams and players to write about, but watching the Aces never gets old. 

The gang’s back together for another year. Candace Parker retired after her brief stint in Las Vegas, but the Aces played the second half of the season and all postseason without her, so that shouldn’t be much of an issue. This offseason, the Aces committed to their core, signing Gray and Young to extensions that keep them on the team through 2025. With salaries expected to rise significantly in the next collective bargaining agreement, no players are signing contracts beyond that, so a free-agent bonanza may await us in the 2026 offseason. But the Aces front office has invested so much in this group that it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving. With the Houston Comets defunct, no active WNBA franchise has won back-to-back-to-back championships. The Aces are a good bet to change that. 

What’s that? More Jackie? Because you asked politely, OK. 😄

Jackie Young #0 of the Las Vegas Aces poses for a portrait during the team's media day at Vu Studios on May 03, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Jackie!!!!!!Candice Ward/Getty Images

FAQ

Where can I watch WNBA games, and which games should I watch? The WNBA has national broadcast deals with ESPN, CBS Sports, Amazon Prime, and ION, the biggest channel you didn’t realize you already have. Last year, ION just carried the local broadcasts of games on Friday nights, but this year they’ve put together an actual studio show for that Friday night slot, which is nice. The best matchups tend to be on ESPN or ABC on Sunday afternoons. Though the league jacked up the annual price this year, to 35 damn dollars, WNBA League Pass remains pretty good value. Just check your team’s broadcast schedule to see which games might be blacked out: Games on ESPN/ABC, CBS and Amazon Prime will not be streaming on League Pass, but the ION games will be. If you’re looking for a “League Pass team,” I like the Mystics, Sky, Liberty, and Sun broadcast crews best. 

What’s the deal with the schedule? The 40-game regular season begins a little early and ends a little late. Because it’s an Olympic year, the league will stop play for a month after the All-Star Game on July 20. The All-Star Game also looks different in Olympic years: It’s played as a Team USA vs. Team Other All-Stars game. But never fear: The schedule wonkiness has spared the Commissioner’s Cup, the in-season tournament we all deeply understand and respect. It’ll return in a slightly different format this year, with every team playing five Commissioner’s Cup games in a two-week period in June.

Will the WNBA ever bring a team to my city? For the first time in Defector WNBA preview history, I can say YES—assuming you live in the Bay Area or Toronto. If you want a team to root for, pick one of those. The only team that cannot hurt you is the one that doesn't exist. (Or the Aces.)

Which WNBA assistant coach is most likely to go Hensley Meulens mode in the cockpit of their team plane? Ah, you are referencing recent developments in WNBA air travel. While the greatest moment of my childhood was seeing Swin Cash and the Detroit Shock at the airport, I concede it’s probably not in the best interest of WNBA players to take commercial flights to road games, as they have until now. Last week, finally shaken awake to the risks players incur while traveling, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league would cover full-time charter travel for players this season, “as soon as practical,” whatever that means. In the meantime, some teams will take charters to their opening road games, but others won't. No one knows what's going on—a recurring WNBA theme. It does feel significant that the league has moved to resolve this before the players association renegotiates the collective bargaining agreement, which they’re expected to do next year. Anyway, to answer the question: Natalie Nakase.

First assistant coach Natalie Nakase helps players warm up before a game against the Indiana Fever at Michelob ULTRA Arena on June 24, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Aces defeated the Fever 101-88.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Look at her. She wants to fly a plane so bad.  

Have you been frustrated by the renewed women’s basketball “GOAT” debates, which can’t account for the vastly different opportunities available to women’s basketball players even 30 years ago and now, but also seem needlessly hostile to the young women who, because they enjoy these new opportunities, help push the game forward? I have no idea what you’re talking about. The GOAT is Deanna Nolan. 

Enjoy the hoops.

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