The new-look Lynx, a move to Las Vegas and more: 17 reasons to be excited about the 2018 WNBA season
The WNBA season tips off May 18
After a long offseason, the 2018 WNBA season finally gets underway this weekend. The Dallas Wings and Phoenix Mercury will get things started on Friday night, then the Chicago Sky and Indiana Fever will meet Saturday afternoon. And to round things out, the entire league will be in action Sunday. All games this weekend will be broadcast either on NBA TV, ESPN 2 or Twitter.
Ahead of the new campaign, here are 18 reasons to be excited about the 2018 WNBA season.
1. The new-look Lynx
Coming off their record-tying fourth title last season, the Minnesota Lynx had a hectic offseason. Their core is still intact, but the supporting cast has almost entirely been turned over. Jia Perkins and Plenette Pierson retired, Renee Montgomery signed with the Dream and Natasha Howard was traded to the Storm. In their place are three veterans and three youngsters. Tanisha Wright, Danielle Robinson and Lynetta Kizer will pick up most of the minutes off the bench, but some combination of Alexis Jones, Temi Fagbenle and Cecelia Zandalasini -- all of whom played bit roles last season -- will have to step up as well. It will be fascinating to see how quickly the Lynx are able to work their new pieces into the rotation as they attempt to become the first team since the Sparks in 2001 and 2002 to repeat as champions.
2. Danielle Robinson's 3-point quest
Speaking of the Lynx, one subplot for the team this year will be whether their new backup point guard finally hits a 3-pointer. Robinson is 0 of 33 from behind the arc in her career, including 0 of 7 last season. Will this be the season she finally hits a shot from downtown? Cheryl Reeve certainly thinks so, with the Lynx coach saying, "I'd bet my house" on it happening. No pressure, Danielle!
3. Viva Las Vegas
There are so many reasons to be excited about the Aces this season, so let's just lump them all together. First and foremost, it's the franchise's first season in Las Vegas, and it's always fun to watch the honeymoon between a city and its new team. But there's also No. 1 pick A'ja Wilson to follow, and seeing how 2017 No. 1 pick Kelsey Plum bounces back from a tough rookie season. And then there's how the new-look roster, bolstered by Wilson and a number of veterans jell under new coach Bill Laimbeer.
4. Liz Cambage's return
The Australian center is probably the third best big in the world behind Sylvia Fowles and Brittney Griner, but hasn't played in the WNBA since 2013. Now, after a five-season absence, the 6-9 Aussie has put her DJ career on hold to make a return to the WNBA. She'll join the Dallas Wings, who still held her rights. (She played for the franchise when it was still the Tulsa Shock.) Cambage is clearly talented, but save for the Olympics she hasn't played at this level much over the past few years. How quickly she's able to assimilate will go a long way towards determining the Wings' success this season.
5. Rising Sun
The Connecticut Sun burst onto the scene last season, finishing fourth in the league with a 21-13 record to return to the playoffs a year ahead of schedule. And they did it by playing an enjoyable brand of basketball. Their young, energetic squad led by Jasmine Thomas, Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones finished second in pace, third in offensive rating and fifth in 3-pointers attempted last season. Oh, and this season they get double-double machine Chiney Ogumike back from injury. It should be another entertaining season in Uncasville.
6. Sparks on a mission
The Sparks have made the Finals in each of the past two seasons, winning in 2016, but losing in five games to the Lynx last season. Coming off that hearbreaking loss, the Sparks will be on a mission to get back to the Finals and complete the job this season. And they certainly have the squad to do it. Led by Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, the Sparks can go 10-deep, and might just have the most talented roster in the entire league. The GMs picked them to win the title in their annual preseason survey, and it's hard to argue with that prediction.
7. Elena Delle Donne's second season in D.C.
EDD's first season with the Mystics was fine, but the team dealt with injuries and never really put it all together in the regular season with their multitude of new players. And unfortunately the team will be short-handed again this season, as Emma Meesseman, Washington's second-best player, will be sitting out the season to rest. But while that is unfortunate, the good news is that now in her second year with the team, Delle Donne will be able to hit the ground running. That's good news for the Mystics, and should be good news for fans as well.
8. A talented rookie class
Led by No. 1 overall pick A'ja Wilson, who went to the Aces, there was plenty of talent in this year's draft class. As always, it's going to be thrilling to watch the rookie class adjust to the step up in competition. Can Wilson live up to the hype? Will Indiana's new backcourt of Kelsey Mitchell and Victoria Vivians bring hope to their rebuild? Can Chicago's two top five picks, Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams, help the Sky get back to the postseason? This is going to be a fun class to follow.
9. Alyssa Thomas' shooting experiment
The Sun forward was one of the breakout stars of last season, and can do it all on the court. Well, everything, that is, besides shoot. She's only ever taken eight 3s in her career, and is just a 64.6 percent career free throw shooter. After an especially bad 56.7 percent performance from the charity stripe last season, Thomas is now switching things up, as High Post Hoops' Ben Dull noted. She's been shooting free throws, and mid-range jumpers with her right hand during preseason play instead of her more dominant left hand. It's a brave move to do something this drastic, especially after already being an All-Star.
10. The playoff race
The league might be as talented as it's ever been. There's usually a couple teams you can count on every season to either be rebuilding or just simply lacking talent, but that isn't the case this time around. Only the Fever really fit that bill this season, while every other team has a chance to at least be in the playoff conversation. But with only eight spots to go around, that's going to leave some good teams on the outsides looking in. So the playoff race down the stretch could get mighty interesting.
11. Angel McCoughtry and the revamped Dream
The Dream have their superstar back, as McCoughtry will be back in the squad after sitting out all last season to rest. And along with her comes a new head coach in Nicki Collen, and some much needed depth in Renee Montgomery and Jessica Breland. Say what you want about the annual GM survey, but there was a reason the Dream were by far the pick for which team had the best offseason. Not only will this squad be really fun, but they have a chance to bring playoff basketball back to Atlanta.
12. Courtney Vandersloot
The Sky point guard has been a good player for a while now, but last season she really came into her own. Not only did she put together a career-year, but also a historic one. Her 8.1 assists per game set a new WNBA record for a single-season assist average. Arguably the league's best point guard, she's extremely fun to watch, and this season will be leading a young Sky team that will debut three different top-five picks.
13. A full squad in Phoenix
In 2014, the Mercury won their third title, as Diana Taurasi led them past the Sky in a three-game sweep. Since then, they've been to the semifinals in three straight seasons but failed to win a single game in that round, twice because they were down a key player. Taurasi sat out the 2015 season to rest, and DeWanna Bonner missed all of last season on maternity leave. Now, Taurasi and Bonner are both back and healthy, Brittney Griner has become a true star on both ends of the floor, with her offensive game finally catching up to her defensive work, and they have a solid group of veterans around their "Big Three." The Mercury just might have what it takes to unseat the Sparks or Lynx from their assumed places in the Finals.
14. Sweet (new) home, Chicago
After spending the past seven seasons stuck in Allstate Arena on the outskirts of Chicago, the Sky finally have a new home. They'll play now at Wintrust Arena, a brand new building that just opened last year and also hosts DePaul University's basketball teams. It's on the South Loop, meaning the Sky's games will now be much more accessible to people who live in the city. That should help improve not only the attendance, but just the general atmosphere around the Sky, who were often an afterthought in the city's sports landscape, even when they were good.
15. Is this finally the year for Seattle?
Ever since they drafted Breanna Stewart, all eyes have been on the Storm. They've managed to sneak into the playoffs each of the past two seasons despite finishing under .500, but were eliminated in the first round each time. Now, they have a new head coach in Dan Hughes, and both Stewart and Jewell Loyd are nearing veteran status in the league. Will Hughes be the coach to take Seattle to another level? They'll certainly be eager to make a run while they still have veteran point guard Sue Bird playing at a high level.
16. Tina Charles' continued dominance
Few players in the league have been as consistently great as Charles. She has been in the top-five in both scoring and rebounding every season since 2011, has made five All-WNBA First Team appearances, five All-Star Games, won the MVP in 2012 and finished runner-up for the honor in each of the past two seasons. She's a double-double machine, and has continued to improve her offensive game, even adding the 3-pointer to her repertoire over the past few years. Her ability to power the Liberty on a nightly basis is one of the most impressive things to watch in the entire league.
17. Increased visibility and coverage for the league
I've been writing about the league, either professionally or semi-professionally, for five seasons now, and it finally seems like we're turning a corner in terms of visibility. There are preseason features on established media platforms, over 100 games between the regular season and playoffs will be broadcast either on national TV or on Twitter and the league has even entered the realm of daily fantasy sites like FanDuel. Coming off two excellent Finals, and with the league as talented as it's ever been, we could finally see it break into the mainstream sports conversation.
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