The 2019 WNBA season is here. On Friday night, the Dallas Wings and Atlanta Dream will get the season started when they meet at State Farm Arena. Later on, the Indiana Fever and New York Liberty will square off in the second opening night game.
Over the course of the weekend, the rest of the league will open the season, with three games on Saturday -- including a matchup between the Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx, which will be the first ever game on CBS Sports Network -- and a big showdown between two title contenders, the Los Angeles Sparks and Las Vegas Aces, on Sunday night.
Ahead of the season, there's been plenty of discussion about the unfortunate amount of injuries and absences the league is facing this season. Two former MVPs, Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart, will miss the entire season, while Sue Bird and Angel McCoughtry may not play at all either. In addition, Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith are all facing long absences.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about this season. Here's a closer look at 19 thing to look forward to in the WNBA in 2019.
- A wide open title race
One of the few silver linings from all of the injuries is that they upended the league's power structure. Heading into opening night, half of the league can make a legitimate claim that they have what it takes to win it all this season, which hasn't been the case for years.
Of course there are a few teams with better chances than others. The Aces (5/2) enter the season as betting favorites following their offseason move to acquire MVP candidate Liz Cambage. Not far behind are the Sparks (3/1) -- reloaded after a bit of a disappointing season -- and the Mystics (3/1), who are looking for redemption after being swept last season by Seattle in the WNBA Finals.
Then there's the second-tier of contenders, at least going by the Vegas odds. All three of the Mercury, Sun and Dream have identical odds (7/1) to win it all in 2019. If the Mercury can stay healthy, they have the deepest team in the league, the Sun are looking to make a big leap after back-to-back excellent regular seasons and the Dream were one game away from the Finals last season and may have the best defense in the league.
So many legitimate contenders will help make up for the fact that the league is going to be missing some marquee players. With the WNBA's unique playoff format rewarding regular season success, this could be a thrilling campaign.
2. The Liz Vegas experiment
With less than two weeks left in the offseason, it appeared Liz Cambage may join the ranks of injured and absent stars. Her trade request had gone unanswered by the Dallas Wings, and her preferred team, the Los Angeles Sparks, had swung a separate trade to acquire another All-Star big in Chiney Ogwumike.
Last week, though, the Las Vegas Aces swooped in and got a deal done to bring Cambage out West. They're still quite young, but acquiring one of the best players in the league vaults them into title contention in a wide-open season.
Cambage led the league in scoring last season and finished top-five in rebounding and blocks as well. It will be fascinating to see how she meshes in Las Vegas with a much more talented team around her.
The Aces will have plenty of shooting with Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum, plus, another elite big in A'ja Wilson, which will force opposing defenses into some tough decisions.
3. A sister act in Los Angeles
All offseason, the entire WNBA world was waiting for news to break about the Sparks acquiring Liz Cambage. That move never happened, but the Sparks swung a separate blockbuster to add Chiney Ogwumike from the Sun for a 2020 first-round pick. It's rare for moves to truly come out of nowhere these days, but this deal was a shock -- at least for those outside of Connecticut.
It turned out that according to reports, Ogwumike had been threatening to sit out the season to focus on her broadcasting career with ESPN. With the trade to the Sparks, she can now continue that work while also playing on a team with championship aspirations. And if that wasn't enough, she's reunited with her MVP sister, Nneka Ogwumike.
The duo starred together for two seasons in college at Stanford, and were then drafted No. 1 overall in 2012 (Nneka) and 2014 (Chiney). Now they'll be back together to form the most talented frontcourt trio in the league with Candace Parker. The veteran Parker will be out for the first few weeks with a hamstring injury, but once they're all healthy, the Sparks will be a legit title contender.
4. Jonquel Jones' return to the starting lineup
The Sun's 6-6 center burst onto the scene in 2017 with a fantastic second season, but was relegated to a bench role for much of last season due to Chiney Ogwumike's return from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Jones still played well and won Sixth Woman of the Year, but the Sun struggled at times with the new frontcourt fit. Now, with Ogwumike off to the Sparks in an offseason trade, Jones will return to the starting lineup.
That's great news for the Sun, because Jones and Alyssa Thomas, a bulldozing point forward, form one of the best frontcourt partnerships in the league. When they did play together last season, they posted an absurd plus-17.3 net rating. Jones' ability to space the floor and hit the 3 -- she shot 46.7 percent last season, and 50 percent during this pre-season -- creates plenty of room for Thomas' driving and playmaking.
5. What sort of assists records will Courtney Vandersloot break this season?
The Chicago Sky point guard is no longer flying under the radar after setting all sorts of assist records in the past few seasons. She led the league in assists in 2017, setting a new record for assists per game in the process with 8.1, then turned around and led the league in that category again last season, while breaking her previous record for assists per game with 8.6, and also setting a new single-season record for total assists with 258.
What could she have in store for 2019? If she stays healthy then re-setting the total assists record is well within her grasp considering she set her historic mark in just 30 games last season. In addition, she could have the single-game assist record in sight. Vandersloot recorded 15 assists on multiple occasions last season, twice falling just one assist shy of Ticha Penicheiro's record of 16.
With the addition of the best shooter in this year's draft class, Katie Lou Samuelson, Vandersloot will have even more offensive threats surrounding her. Watching her work her magic yet again is going to be even more fun.
6. Lights, camera, action
There are more outlets covering the league than ever, and even more games will be on national TV thanks to the new broadcast deal with CBS Sports Network.
7. Shine bright like a Diamond
GMs voted Diamond DeShields as the most athletic player in the league, and most likely to have a breakout season. The Sky's second-year guard has all the tools to make a leap this season.
8. Foe to friend in Minnesota
Odyssey Sims was a nemesis for the Lynx the last few seasons with the Sparks, but now she's one of their own after an offseason trade. They'll hope a stellar preseason from her is a sign of things to come.
9. Growing new Wings
Arike Ogunbowale was electric at Notre Dame. It will be fun to see if she can translate that scoring ability to the pros under the tutelage of another former Irish star in Skylar Diggins-Smith.
10. 3-point revolution
In 2017, only two teams took 20 three-point attempts per game. Last season, half the league did. Offenses are evolving and should only continue to do so this season.
11. Jewell's time to shine
While the circumstances are unfortunate with Sue Bird out 'indefinitely' with a knee injury, Jewell Loyd getting to run the show in Seattle will be fascinating. Her elite offensive skillset will be put to the test.
12. Mystical backcourt trio
There are plenty of reasons why the Mystics are one of the main title contenders, but their backcourt is a main one. the Natasha Cloud-Kristi Toliver-Ariel Atkins trio is dynamite.
13. A new scoring champ?
Liz Cambage beat out Breanna Stewart for the scoring title last season, but Cambage is on a much deeper Aces team, which could limit her shots and Stewart is out for the season.
14. Chinese rookie sensation
New York Liberty second-round pick Han Xu playing in the WNBA already was a bit of a surprise, but the 19-year-old, 6-9 center from China has already made her mark during preseason action.
15. Kelsey Plum's continued growth
The No. 1 pick in 2017 struggled in her rookie season, but was solid last season and is coming off a strong campaign overseas in Turkey. She can be an elite offensive player.
16. Fever's youth movement heating up
The Fever are in the midst of a long rebuild, but they have some exciting young pieces to build around in Kelsey Mitchell and Teaira McCowan.
17. A magical new home
The Mystics will move into a brand new arena this season, and with a capacity of 4,200, the intimate environment should make for a thrilling atmosphere.
18. BG's continued brilliance
Brittney Griner has a defensive force from the second she stepped onto the court, what new tricks will she have up her sleeve this season?
19. Dreaming of defense
The Dream are just plain nasty on the defensive end. They pressure you on the perimeter, have plenty of rim protection and can completely shut down what you're trying to do on offense.