Last month, CBS Sports and the WNBA announced a brand new partnership that will see 40 of the league's games broadcasted on CBS Sports Network each season. The multi-year agreement will begin on May 25, with a matchup between the Minnesota Lynx and Chicago Sky.
Ahead of the 23rd season in league history, here's a look at everything you need to know about the teams, players and storylines. The following viewer's guide will serve as an entry point for new fans, as well as a refresher for those coming back for another summer of exciting action.
When does the 2019 WNBA season begin?
This season begins on Friday, May 24, with a doubleheader featuring the Dallas Wings vs. the Atlanta Dream and the New York Liberty vs. the Indiana Fever.
How can you watch the games?
There are multiple options for watching WNBA games. First and foremost is League Pass, which streams all games that are not on national TV. At just $16.99 for the entire season, it's a tremendous deal.
As for televised games, there will be 40 games shown on CBS Sports Network, 16 games shown on the ESPN family of networks and a select number of games on NBA TV -- though games on NBA TV can also be streamed on League Pass.
In addition, there will be 20 games streamed on Twitter. Those games can also still be viewed on League Pass.
How long does the season last?
The typical WNBA season runs from May until late September or early October, though the exact time frame varies from year to year depending on international competitions such as the Olympics and FIBA World Cup. Each team plays 34 regular season games.
How many teams are there?
There are 12 teams in the WNBA, which has been the case since 2010, and they're split into two, six-team conferences. The league began with eight teams in 1997, and reached a peak of 16 squads from 2000-02. There are three original teams remaining, the New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury.
The schedule is structured such that each team plays one team from their own conference four times and every other team three teams.
What is the playoff format?
Though the league is still structured by conferences, those are irrelevant for playoff purposes. The top eight teams in the regular season make the postseason, regardless of conference affiliation. The first two rounds of the playoffs are single-elimination games, while the semifinals and WNBA Finals are best-of-five series.
The top two teams in the regular season earn byes to the semifinal round, while the Nos. 3 and 4 teams in the regular season earn byes to the second round. The remaining teams begin the playoffs in the first round, with the No. 5 team facing the No. 8 team and the No. 6 team taking on the No. 7. The winners of the first round advance to the second round, and the winners of that round move on to the semis. Teams are reseeded after each round.
Thus, the regular season is extremely important, as finishing fifth through eighth requires a team to win consecutive single-elimination contests just to make it to an actual series. Meanwhile, finishing first or second in the league guarantees a team a spot in the semifinals.
This is the fourth season of this playoff format, which was introduced in 2016. Though there have been some benefits to the new format, including thrilling back-to-back Finals matchups between the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks -- something which could not have happened previously due to them both being from the West -- the format has faced criticism, as well. In particular, there are those who believe the second single-elimination round is too much, as a team who finishes the regular season with the third-best record could be out of the playoffs in one game.
What are some key storylines?
Injuries and absences
Unfortunately, one of the biggest storylines this season is about what players won't be playing. Minnesota Lynx star and 2014 MVP Maya Moore is taking the entire season off for personal reasons, which will put an end to the Lynx's odd-year title streak. They've won it all in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017, but without Moore, there's little chance of that happening.
In addition, last season's regular season and Finals MVP, Breanna Stewart, will miss the entire campaign due to a torn Achilles tendon she suffered while playing overseas for Dynamo Kursk. Her absence will also have an impact on the title race, as the Seattle Storm won't be repeating without her.
Veteran forward Angel McCoughtry may end up missing the entire 2019 season as well. She tore multiple ligaments in her left knee last August and missed the remainder of the regular season and all of the playoffs. She was expected to be back for this season, but Atlanta Dream head coach Nicki Collen admitted that the team is preparing for the possibility that McCoughtry misses out on the entire season.
Likewise, there are other stars facing extended absences.
Dallas Wings guard Skylar Diggins-Smith gave birth just a few weeks ago, and it's unclear when she'll be able to return to action. She's been back at practice participating in some drills, but it will be a while before she's game-ready again.
WNBA all-time leading scorer Diana Taurasi will also be sidelined to start the season. She underwent back surgery during training camp to alleviate pain related to a disc protrusion, and was expected to be out for 10-12 weeks. The surgery was just about a month ago, meaning even if she returns right at the beginning of that timeline, the Mercury will be without her until July.
Candace Parker isn't facing quite as long of an absence as even Taurasi, but the Los Angeles Sparks legend will also be out for the first few weeks of the season. She suffered a hamstring strain during a preseason game that is expected to keep her sidelined for three-to-five weeks.
Aces acquire Cambage, jump into title contention
Thankfully, Liz Cambage will not be among the superstars missing all or part of the season. The Australian returned to the WNBA after five years last season, but requested a trade from the Dallas Wings in the offseason.
Her requested destination was the Los Angeles Sparks, but due to a number of factors, it seemed a deal wouldn't get done. For one, the Sparks had salary cap issues that made a trade difficult, and then later swung a trade for an All-Star big of their own when they acquired Chiney Ogwumike from the Suns. Plus, Cambage has an expiring contract and has talked openly about not staying in the WNBA long-term, which made teams wary of giving up too many assets to trade for her.
But then, with the regular season just over a week away, the Las Vegas Aces swooped in and made a trade happen. They got Cambage for Moriah Jefferson, Isabelle Harrison and their first and second-round picks in 202. It was a tremendous deal for them, and in a wide open season puts them right up there among the title contenders.
Title race wide open
Speaking of title contenders, this is the most open race in many seasons. The Lynx's reign among the elite teams has ended, at least for now, with Lindsay Whalen's retirement and Maya Moore's absence this season. And the Storm were knocked off their spot at the top of the league with Breanna Stewart's season-ending Achilles injury. With all sorts of other injuries impacting the league, and no team establishing themselves as the best of the bunch, this figures to be an unpredictable season.
The Aces jumped into title contention by acquiring Cambage, last season's runner-up for MVP and one of the best bigs in the league, but are also quite young and lacking in playoff experience.
Then there's the Sparks, who restocked after a bit of a down season in 2018, and have one of the most talented rosters. However, Candace Parker is already out with a hamstring problem, and injuries could be a problem for them once again with an aging core. Plus, three of their four best players are power forwards, and it's unclear how their roster imbalance will affect them.
And then, of course, there's the Washington Mystics. Coming off the first Finals appearance in franchise history last season, they've brought back almost all of their key pieces from that team while also adding Emma Meesseman, who sat out last season to focus on national team commitments in Belgium. With Elena Delle Donne leading the way, they'll be one of the teams to beat.
Also in the mix are the Phoenix Mercury, who fell one game short of making the Finals last season. They have the deepest roster in the league without a doubt, but they're already facing a big injury problem with Diana Taurasi recovering from back surgery.
The Connecticut Sun, too, will have hopes that they can finally break through in the playoffs. After the offseason trade of Chiney Ogwumike, they'll be back to their optimal starting lineup, which features one of the best frontcourt tandems in the league in Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones.
Who are some players to watch?
While there are a number of stars missing either the entire season or a large portion of it, there are still plenty of talented players to keep an eye on. Here's a quick breakdown of some of the best and most interesting players.
Liz Cambage, Aces: The Australian center finished second in MVP voting last season and is one of the most dominant interior players in the history of the league. In her first season in Las Vegas she'll be eager to put on a show.
Elena Delle Donne, Mystics: EDD is an elite offensive player and a true threat for the 50-40-90 club. Last season she led the Mystics to their first Finals appearance ever, but wasn't 100 percent after a knee injury in the semis. She'll be out for redemption this season.
Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Sparks: The All-Star sibling duo is reunited this season after Los Angeles acquired Chiney in a trade a few weeks ago. This is the first time they've played together since their collegiate days at Stanford.
Under the radar talents:
Jonquel Jones, Sun: Last season's Sixth Woman of the Year will be back in the starting lineup after the Chiney Ogwumike trade and that's good news for both the Sun and WNBA fans, as she's one of the most entertaining players in the league.
Allie Quigley, Sky: Always a solid threat from behind the 3-point line, Quigley has taken her shooting to another level the past few seasons. It culminated in a 29-point performance in last season's 3-point contest, the highest mark ever recorded in the WNBA or NBA.
Natasha Howard, Storm: The lanky forward finally found playing time in Seattle last season and became an instrumental part of their championship run. With Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird out, the Storm will rely on her even more this season.
A'ja Wilson, Aces: Entering her second season in the league, Wilson could already fit into the "stars" category. Last season's Rookie of the Year, she burst onto the scene and established herself as one of the league's best bigs with a versatile offensive game.
Diamond DeShields, Sky: Another second-year player, DeShields has the size, athleticism and offensive skills to make a big leap this season. If she does, the Sky could get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Jackie Young, Aces: The No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, Young will be thrown right into the fire by head coach Bill Laimbeer. He wants her running the point on an Aces team that expects to contend now that they have Liz Cambage.