The 2021 WNBA season is now just days away, with opening night set for Friday, May 14. Later this week, CBS Sports will release its first annual Top 25 list to break down the best players in the league. However, the stars aren't the only ones worth celebrating. So before that happens, here's a look at five under-the-radar players that you should keep an eye on this summer.
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1. Kahleah Copper -- G/F, Chicago Sky
Last season was sort of a mess for the Sky as they dealt with injuries and eventually crashed out of the playoffs in the first round. But if there was one positive to take away from everything, it was the improved play of Kahleah Copper, who nearly led the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game and put up career highs across the board.
Copper won't get quite the same opportunities this season with the arrival of Candace Parker and the return of Diamond DeShields, but that shouldn't diminish her impact too much. She loves to get out in transition and has improved as a spot-up threat so she doesn't need the ball in her hands all the time to score. Defensively, her size and length allows her to guard multiple positions on the wing, which is something the Sky really need given their roster construction.
Once an afterthought in the Elena Delle Donne trade back in 2017, Copper is blossoming into an important part of this Sky team as they attempt to compete for a title this season. She's not going to get many headlines, but if they do win it all she'll play a big role.
2. Allisha Gray -- G, Dallas Wings
Gray was the Rookie of the Year just four years ago, but as the Wings have gone full rebuild mode and added a number of high-profile young talents, including Arike Ogunbowale, Satou Sabally, Charli Collier and Awak Kuier, she's sort of faded into the background -- at least in terms of the attention she receives.
On the court, it's a different story as Gray is really starting to figure some things out. She can put the ball on the deck to create for herself, and showed off some much improved finishing around the basket last season, making 71.4 percent of her attempts within five feet. In addition, she's becoming a reliable 3-point threat, and has been above 35 percent in each of the past two seasons. On the other end of the floor, her size and athleticism makes her a versatile perimeter defender.
Gray is probably never going to be the focal point of this Wings team, but she's turning into the perfect type of complementary role player, and shouldn't stay under the radar for too much longer.
3. Brionna Jones -- F/C, Connecticut Sun
In her first three seasons combined, Brionna Jones played just 616 minutes. Last season, after stepping into the starting lineup in Jonquel Jones' absence, Brionna played 549 minutes. She took that opportunity and ran with it, proving that despite a slow start to her career, she belongs in the league.
Jones put up career-high numbers across the board, though that wasn't much of a surprise given her huge increase in playing time. What was more surprising is just how effective she was at scoring the ball around the basket. Jones had the highest shooting percentage in the league at 60.5 percent, and finished as the most efficient post scorer in the league, generating 1.304 points per possession on those touches, per Synergy Sports. As the game becomes more and more perimeter oriented, Jones showed that there's still an art to scoring on the block.
After how she played last season, there was little chance Jones was going to return to a bit role off the bench, but that's especially true now that Alyssa Thomas is out for the season with a torn Achilles. And though she's a completely different type of player, Jones should be able to replace some of Thomas' production.
4. Cheyenne Parker -- F, Atlanta Dream
With all of the activity this offseason, most casual observers probably didn't pay too much attention to the Dream signing Cheyenne Parker away from the Sky on a three-year deal in free agency. But if she keeps playing like she did last season, it will be hard for anyone to keep ignoring her.
Slowly but surely, Parker has improved all facets of her game, and is now one of the most underrated bigs in the league. Her energy and athleticism make her a difficult cover on the offensive end, where she's an efficient finisher around the rim and debuted a much-improved 3-point shot in the bubble. Defensively she has the size and toughness to battle in the paint and very nearly averaged a steal and a block per game last season.
The Dream made Parker their top priority in free agency, and it shouldn't take long for us to see why they were eager to add her. If they end up making the playoffs for the first time since 2018, Parker's arrival is going to have a lot to do with that.
5. Brianna Turner -- F, Phoenix Mercury
The No. 11 overall pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft, Turner didn't play all that much as a rookie. But after Brittney Griner left the bubble for personal reasons last season, Turner was thrown into a much bigger role and thrived. Now, it's going to be hard to keep her off the court.
Turner isn't going to do much offensively besides finishing putbacks and scoring on drop-offs from guards, but the Mercury have plenty of scoring with Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Griner leading the way. And besides, Turner's at her best on the other side of the ball, where she tied for the league lead in blocks per game, made All-Defensive First Team and finished fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season. Turner has plenty of positive traits defensively, but her timing and instincts when protecting the rim are really impressive.
Young bigs who make their living on the defensive end aren't going to get much attention in general, and especially not when they play alongside three All-Stars. But make no mistake about it, Turner will be a crucial part of this Mercury team moving forward.