After a long and interesting winter, the 2021 WNBA season is now just around the corner. Opening night is set for Friday, with four games on the docket highlighted by a showdown between old Western Conference rivals, the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx, and the debut of the No. 1 overall pick, Charli Collier.
Seeing as this is the 25th season of WNBA basketball, we here at CBS Sports wanted to do something special, and decided to rank the 25 best players in the league today. It certainly wasn't an easy process, but we hope it gives a clear picture of where the league is at heading into this historic season.
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As expected, Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart earned the top spot, just ahead of reigning MVP A'ja Wilson and Elena Delle Donne. Those three set the tone for what would be a bigs-dominated list. Among the top-10 players, there's only one guard: Courtney Vandersloot at No. 7.
This list also trends older, as no rookies or second-year players made the cut. The youngest players to make the list are both entering their third season in the league: Napheesa Collier, who checks in at No. 10, and reigning scoring champion Arike Ogunbowale at No. 16.
In terms of the team breakdown, the Aces had the most players on the list with five: A'ja Wilson (No. 2), Liz Cambage (No. 6), Chelsea Gray (No. 13), Dearica Hamby (No. 19) and Angel McCoughtry (No. 21). The only team without a player on the list was the Indiana Fever.
Note: Alyssa Thomas (out for the season with torn Achilles tendon) and Emma Meesseman (still unsigned, plans for season to be determined) were not included. Both would have made the list under normal circumstances.
1. Breanna Stewart -- F, Seattle Storm
No surprise here. Stewart didn't miss a beat last season in her return from a torn Achilles tendon, as she finished second in the MVP race, led the Storm to their second title in three years and won Finals MVP. There's just no one else who can do the things she does offensively at her size, where she combines the inside and outside scoring with more than enough playmaking skills to keep opponents off-balance. And if that wasn't enough she's an All-WNBA defensive player as well. It will probably be a while before someone else is considered the best player in the league. -- Jack Maloney
2. A'ja Wilson -- F, Las Vegas Aces
The reigning league MVP checks in second on this list. Wilson's offensive ability allows her to completely take over games, and on the defensive end she's a brick wall inside the paint. Last season, with Liz Cambage sitting out, she was given much more responsibility and stepped up to the plate. Wilson matched her career high in points per game (20.5), while putting up career numbers in rebounds (8.5), blocks (2.0) and steals (1.2). She'll have to readjust again with the return of Cambage to the lineup, but there's no doubt the Aces will be looking to her down the stretch in games. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
3. Elena Delle Donne -- F, Washington Mystics
The last time we saw Delle Donne was in 2019, when she won the MVP and led the Mystics to their first title in franchise history. But that was nearly two years and two back surgeries ago, and it's still unclear when she'll be ready to play this season. There's no question about her talent or impact, it's just a matter of health. If she's anything close to 100 percent she's easily one of the best players in the league. -- Maloney
4. Candace Parker -- F, Chicago Sky
A hamstring injury hampered Candace Parker in 2019, but the all-time great bounced back last season to put up 14.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. Whether she was operating as a point forward out of the post or pushing the ball up court to deliver a no-look pass, she showed off her court vision time and again. And if that wasn't enough, she ended up winning Defensive Player of the Year, proving she could still get it done on both ends of the floor. She'll be joining her hometown Sky this season after leaving the Sparks in free agency, and could be the missing piece Chicago needs to win a championship. -- Wimbish
5. Jonquel Jones -- F/C, Connecticut Sun
Jones sat out of the 2020 season due to concerns about COVID-19, but she's back now and should quickly re-assert herself as one of the best players in the league. In addition to being a versatile offensive threat, Jones is a genuine Defensive Player of the Year candidate and finished third in MVP voting in 2019. The Sun will need her at that level again, especially with Alyssa Thomas set to miss the entire season because of a torn Achilles tendon. -- Maloney
6. Liz Cambage -- C, Las Vegas Aces
Liz Cambage chose to sit out last season, but she didn't lose her place in the league's hierarchy. The last time we saw her in the WNBA, she had her worst statistical season since she was a rookie and still put up 15.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assist per game while figuring out how to play with A'ja Wilson. If that's what her "worst" is going to look like while Las Vegas is winning games then that's not a bad tradeoff. Besides, just because she isn't regularly putting up 20-plus points a night doesn't mean she isn't still capable of popping off for a performance like that. Just look at the 2019 playoffs. Cambage averaged 23.6 points throughout the postseason, and was a big reason why the Aces managed to take a game off the eventual champion Mystics. -- Wimbish
7. Courtney Vandersloot -- G, Chicago Sky
Vandersloot has set a new single-season assists per game record in each of the last four seasons, and if she does it again in 2021 it would likely mean becoming the first player in WNBA history to average 10 assists. She's the unquestioned best point guard in the league, and now gets to play alongside Candace Parker which should result in all sorts of highlights. -- Maloney
8. Brittney Griner -- C, Phoenix Mercury
Brittney Griner left the bubble after just 12 games last season due to personal reasons, and perhaps that time off will be the reset both she and the Mercury needed. She certainly looked refreshed overseas with UMMC Ekaterinburg, where she put up 14.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game to lead a stacked team to the EuroLeague Women championship. If she carries that play into her ninth season with the Mercury, maybe this will be the year she finally wins MVP. -- Wimbish
9. Nneka Ogwumike -- F/C, Los Angeles Sparks
Ogwumike's numbers dropped off to career-low levels last season, as she put up 13.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. But she was battling a back injury for at least part of the summer and remained a highly efficient finisher and positive influence on the defensive end. While she may not be an MVP-caliber player at this point in her career, she still has to be counted among the league's top post players. -- Maloney
10. Napheesa Collier -- F, Minnesota Lynx
The No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 draft, Collier has quickly become a star. She was Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in her first season, then followed that up by making the All-WNBA Second Team, the All-Defensive Second Team and finishing fifth in MVP voting last season. An 82.2 percent finisher in the restricted area and a 40.8 percent 3-point shooter, Collier gets it done both inside and outside on the offensive end, and has already established herself as a high-level defender. Led by Collier's outstanding play, the Lynx surprised everyone by making it to the semifinals last season. With her as an established star, and a number of offseason acquisitions, the playoffs should be the minimum expectation now in Minnesota. -- Wimbish
11. Diana Taurasi -- G, Phoenix Mercury
Taurasi was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 WNBA Draft, and not only is she the only player from that class still playing in the league, she remains one of the most feared playmakers around. In fact, last season she was one of only two players to finish in the top 10 in both scoring and assists. Clearly she's well past her prime, but if Taurasi is on your team you always have a chance. -- Maloney
12. Skylar Diggins-Smith -- G, Phoenix Mercury
In her first season with the Mercury, Diggins-Smith proved that she could mesh well with future Hall of Famer Diana Taurasi, and put together the most efficient shooting season of her career in the process. Diggins-Smith's consistent play in the backcourt was one of the few bright spots for a Phoenix team hampered by injuries and absences last season, and she should continue to excel as the Mercury try to make a deep playoff run. -- Wimbish
13. Chelsea Gray -- G, Las Vegas Aces
One of a number of stars who changed locations this offseason, Gray left the Sparks to sign with the Aces in free agency, where she'll team up with the likes of A'ja Wilson and Liz Cambage. Her arrival gives the Aces the true elite point guard they've needed for a few seasons now, and could be what gets them over the hump in their chase for their first title in franchise history. -- Maloney
14. Jewell Loyd -- G, Seattle Storm
If it wasn't obvious already, Jewell Loyd's performance in the postseason last year showed that she's just as worthy of the defense's attention as her teammate Breanna Stewart. She's a killer in the pick-and-roll, and once she gets her defender on her hip it's all over. Off the ball she's a serious threat as well, and last season shot a career-best 39 percent from downtown, which helped her rank in the 97th percentile as a spot-up shooter, per Synergy Sports. All signs point to her having another big year as the Storm try to defend their crown. -- Wimbish
15. Sylvia Fowles -- C, Minnesota Lynx
The 2020 season didn't go to plan for Fowles, who was only able to play eight total games between the regular season and playoffs due to a calf injury. That's the fewest games she's played in a season in her career, and the injury coupled with her age (35) is cause for slight concern. But seeing as she was putting up nearly a double-double and shooting 60 percent before getting hurt last season, it's hard to drop her too far down this list. -- Maloney
16. Arike Ogunbowale -- G, Dallas Wings
The Wings struggled to an 8-14 finish last season, but Arike Ogunbowale's play provided a reason to watch this team every night. Often doing it all on offense for a Wings team that is still going through a rebuild, Ogunbowale led the league in scoring at 22.8 points per game a result and had the second-highest usage rate at 31.2. While she's shown she can handle that kind of responsibility, she needs some help to get this team back to the playoffs. The Wings will hope they've found it after adding three top-five picks in the draft this year. -- Wimbish
17. Natasha Howard -- F, New York Liberty
When Breanna Stewart was hurt in 2019, Howard stepped into a bigger role and thrived, earning her first All-Star and All-WNBA appearances along with winning Defensive Player of the Year. She'll have a chance to do so again in New York after the Liberty acquired her from the Storm in a blockbuster sign-and-trade this offseason. An elite defender and versatile offensive threat, Howard will be expected to anchor the Liberty's frontcourt as they continue their rebuild. -- Maloney
18. DeWanna Bonner -- F, Connecticut Sun
The Sun gave up three first-round picks to get Bonner in a sign-and-trade last winter, and in her first season with the team she showed exactly why they were willing to pay that price. With Jonquel Jones out for the season, Bonner took on a bigger offensive role and delivered 19.7 points per game -- her highest scoring average since 2012 -- to help the Sun get within one game of the Finals. Now that Alyssa Thomas is out for the season, the Sun will need Bonner to step up again. -- Wimbish
19. Dearica Hamby -- F, Las Vegas Aces
The reigning back-to-back Sixth Woman of the Year, Hamby is a bench player in name only. After a somewhat slow start to her career, she's blossomed into a terrific versatile frontcourt option for the Aces. She stays within herself on the offensive end, has improved as a 3-point shooter, rebounds and defends multiple positions. Hamby would make every single team in the league better. -- Maloney
20. Tiffany Hayes -- G, Atlanta Dream
Hayes opted out of the bubble last season, and her absence was obvious as the Dream went 7-15 and finished with the second-worst offense in the league. A dynamic dribble-drive threat and a borderline top-10 scorer at her best, Hayes' energy will provide a much-needed boost for a young Atlanta team that just lost its head coach and is looking to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2018. -- Wimbish
21. Angel McCoughtry -- F, Las Vegas Aces
In the days since this list was finalized, McCoughtry unfortunately went down with a torn ACL and meniscus during a preseason game against the Sparks. She will miss the remainder of the season, which is a huge blow for the Aces as they chase their first title in franchise history. Even late in her career, McCoughtry was still one of the best all-around players in the league, and it won't be easy to replace her production. -- Maloney
22. Kayla McBride -- G/F, Minnesota Lynx
McBride wasn't at her best in the bubble, but with a career 3-point percentage of 36.7, she's still one of the best perimeter threats in the league. She believes she can be more than just a spot-up shooter, however, and her desire to "take another step" in her game is one of the main reasons she left the Aces in free agency to join the Lynx. If Minnesota plans on using McBride in more creative ways this season, then she should get back to the All-Star level she's shown in the past. -- Wimbish
23. Allie Quigley -- G, Chicago Sky
Quigley is such an elite shooter that when she only made 34.8 percent of her 3-point attempts last season, she had everyone wondering what was wrong. You shouldn't expect another down season from the league's best pure shooter, however, especially now that Candace Parker has arrived in Chicago and will be drawing plenty of defensive attention. Good luck trying to guard the Sky this summer. -- Maloney
24. Diamond DeShields -- G, Chicago Sky
It's safe to say that 2020 didn't go to plan for DeShields, as she was limited to just 13 games off the bench due to knee and thigh injuries, and eventually left the bubble altogether for what the team deemed personal reasons. But prior to last season, DeShields' star was on the rise after being named an All-Star in 2019 and averaging a team-high 16.2 points that year. Her athleticism on offense, and aggressiveness on defense gives Chicago a spark on both ends of the floor. She's expected to be fully healthy heading into the season, and after last year's frustrations it wouldn't be surprising to see her bounce back in a big way. -- Wimbish
25. Tina Charles -- F/C, Washington Mystics
It's a bit difficult to gauge where Charles stands at this point in her career. On the one hand, we haven't seen her play in almost two years, and she suffered a significant drop-off in efficiency and impact back in 2019. On the other hand, that Liberty team was a mess and Charles has had plenty of time to get fully healthy ahead of her first season with the Mystics. For now, Charles gets the benefit of the doubt and a spot on this list, but it's certainly possible her time among the top 25 is already over. -- Maloney