The 2022 WNBA season will get underway later this week, with opening night set for Friday, May 6. Ahead of all the action, CBS Sports will release its annual list of the top 25 players in the league. Those are the stars that win awards and carry teams to titles, but they aren't the only players that matter.
Here's a look at five under-the-radar players to keep an eye on this season.
1. Natisha Hiedeman - G, Connecticut Sun
A second-round pick in 2019, Hiedeman barely played in her rookie season with the Connecticut Sun, but has slowly gained the trust of head coach Curt Miller. In turn, she's earned more playing time and a bigger role, culminating in the best season of her career in 2021, as she put up 7.6 points and 1.9 assists per game off the bench, while shooting 39.8 percent from 3-point land.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Hiedeman and her future with the Sun is that she played significant minutes in the playoffs last season and increased her production. The Sun brought back Courtney Williams to replace Briann January, so Hiedeman will remain a reserve, but she's established herself as the first guard off the bench for one of the league's leading contenders.
Hiedeman is quick and has made real improvements on the defensive end, but her strongest skill is shooting. A career 39.5 percent 3-point shooter, she's tied with Elena Delle Donne for third place among active players in career 3-point percentage. Hiedeman's ability to space the floor and knock down shots is crucial for a Sun team that finished 10th in 3-pointers attempted last season and can get a bit congested at times on the offensive end.
2. Myisha Hines-Allen - F, Washington Mystics
Hines-Allen's WNBA career got off to a slow start, as she played sparingly in her first two seasons with the Mystics. Then, with the team missing a number of key players in the bubble in 2020, she got a big opportunity and ran with it. She scored more points that season than she had in her first two seasons combined, and was named All-WNBA Second Team.
Unfortunately, she wasn't able to carry that momentum into 2021. She wasn't bad, per say, but a knee injury limited her to just 18 games and she was never able to find a rhythm. Now, after a disappointing season, and the impending returns of Elena Delle Donne and Alysha Clark, Hines-Allen has once again slipped into the background.
That should change once the season begins. The Mystics' hopes to get back into the playoff picture and possibly make some noise depend in part on Hines-Allen rediscovering her bubble form. A big, strong forward who can play multiple positions and handle the ball at times, Hines-Allen gives head coach Mike Thibault all sorts of lineup flexibility, which will be vital as he tries to ease Delle Donne and Clark through a full season.
3. Marina Mabrey - G, Dallas Wings
The Dallas Wings made it back to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2018, and will hope to improve on that success this summer. But with just one notable move in the offseason (trading for Teaira McCowan), they'll need to do so through internal development of their many young players.
Players such as Marina Mabrey. Like many others around the league, Mabrey first earned a real opportunity during the bubble season, and showed that she belongs. Last season, she further established her place by putting up career-highs across the board: 13.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. She also made 63 3-pointers, which was good for seventh in the league.
Though prone to being a bit streaky, Mabrey is an electric scorer when she has it dialed in. She's willing and able to score from all over the court, and has an extreme level of confidence in her abilities. As the team's second-leading scorer last season, Mabrey is already an important part of the team's present. If she can refine her game a bit she'll be an important part of the future as well.
4. Mercedes Russell - C, Seattle Storm
Even on a contender like the Storm, there's only so much room in the spotlight and Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird take up most of it. That will be even more true this season as Bird makes her retirement tour and Stewart deals with free agency rumors. But while those three are often the main story in Seattle, they aren't the only ones who help this team win.
Enter Mercedes Russell. The Storm picked her up off the waiver wire in 2018, and have watched her develop into one of the team's most reliable players. She isn't going to put up huge numbers -- 7.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season -- but she's a super efficient finisher around the basket (second in the league in field goal percentage last season at 61.7) and defends.
Every organization needs a player like Russell who has a good feel for the game, knows where to fit in and does all the little things to help a team win. Last season, Russell had the third-best on-off differential on the Storm at plus-8.5 points per 100 possessions. She'll once again be a big part of the equation as Seattle chases a third title in five seasons.
5. Jackie Young - G, Las Vegas Aces
It seems a bit counterintuitive that a former No. 1 overall pick could fly under the radar, but Jackie Young has done just that. In part because she plays on a star-studded Las Vegas Aces team that includes two other No. 1 picks and in part because her game doesn't lend itself to highlights.
Young, who put up career-highs across the board last season at 12.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, is a prototypical glue player. She can do a little bit of everything on both sides of the ball, and is willing to change her approach from game-to-game depending on what the team needs. Those are terrific qualities to have, but they are not ones that make you a star.
Still, that doesn't mean Young should be overlooked. She's coming off a tremendous season overseas in Australia, where she finished third in the WNBL MVP voting, and should take on a bigger role this summer in new head coach Becky Hammon's more modern system. Young has also shown steady improvement throughout her career, and this could be her best season yet.