Courtney Williams joins The Shift
The WNBA is just around the corner with the regular season set to kick off on Friday. A lot has happened since the Chicago Sky were crowned WNBA champions in October with big-name players switching addresses, coaching changes and rebuilding teams being overhauled.
From the Sky looking to repeat, the Connecticut Sun looking to capitalize on their potential to Elena Delle Donne returning for the Washington Mystics, here is a preview of the Eastern Conference.
2021 record: 26-6 (regular season champion)
The Sun were the best team in the regular season with a 26-6 record in 2021 but a lack of offence in the playoffs was their downfall as the Sky eliminated them in the semifinals in four games.
Connecticut is led by reigning MVP Jonquel Jones, who had a career season in 2021 averaging 19.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists. A key ingredient for the Sun this season is a healthy Alyssa Thomas, who missed the first 30 games of the season last year recovering from Achilles surgery.
The team also returns key players in Brionna Jones (2021 WNBA Most Improved Player Award winner), DeWanna Bonner, Jasmine Thomas and Natisha Hiedeman.
Looking to address their offence, the Sun signed point guard Courtney Williams in free agency. The 27-year-old previously spent three seasons in Connecticut (2016-19) before being dealt to the Atlanta Dream in February 2020. Williams had two strong seasons in Atlanta and was a WNBA All-Star in 2021 with a career season averaging 16.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
2021 record: 16-16 (WNBA champions)
A .500 team in the regular season, the Sky put it all together in the playoffs and won the franchise’s first-ever WNBA title.
Kahleah Copper had a monster 2021 season, being named an All-Star for the first time and took home Finals MVP after averaging 17.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists in the postseason. Acquired by the Sky in 2017 in the deal that sent Delle Donne to Washington, Copper’s breakout season came in the bubble in 2020 and she has not slowed down since.
Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley return for another season as the Sky look for a repeat. While the impact of Parker on the Sky is well documented, the championship was a long time coming for Quigley, one of the sharpest shooters in the league and Vandersloot, who has led the WNBA in assists six times, as they have spent nine and 11 years with Chicago, respectively.
In terms of roster moves, centre Stefanie Dolson departed in free agency but the team signed former Finals MVP Emma Meesseman, who didn’t play in the WNBA last season due to her commitments with the Belgian national team. In 2020 with Washington, she averaged 13 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
New York Liberty
2021 record: 12-20 (playoffs)
The Liberty started 2021 hot but faltered post-Olympics, going 2-8 in their last 10 games. They got into the playoffs and nearly upset the Phoenix Mercury in the first round.
Betnijah Laney was their best player last season, averaging 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists en route to her first career WNBA All-Star selection.
Behind the bench, New York brought in Sandy Brondello as head coach, who spent eight seasons with Phoenix and won a WNBA title in 2014.
New York’s big add in the off-season was Dolson, who is fresh off winning a ring with the Sky. The 6-foot-5 centre averaged 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds last season.
Much of the attention will fall on Sabrina Ionescu. After playing in only three games as a rookie due to injury, Ionescu played in her first full WNBA season in 2021. The 2020 No. 1 pick averaged 11.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. Her assist rate was third in the league behind only Vandersloot (8.6) and Washington’s Natasha Cloud (6.4).
2021 season: 12-20 (missed playoffs)
For every team, health is key. However, for the Mystics, that sentiment rings even more true.
Back issues robbed Delle Donne of all but three games last year. When healthy, she is a game-changer and a healthy Delle Donne will determine how far Washington goes. In preseason, she notched 21 points in 18 minutes on 9-for-13 shooting against the Lynx.
Elena Delle Donne said she felt great today, so good she played more mins than expected. There was some awkwardness during that 1st 5on5 yesterday, but there were no lingering effects. Today was able to slow down and let the game come to her. Wasn't thinking about the back. #WNBA— Kareem Copeland (@kareemcopeland) April 27, 2022
Alysha Clark, who signed with the Mystics in 2021, missed all of last season due to a foot injury and continues to rehab her way back.
On the personnel front, 2021 WNBA leading scorer Tina Charles (23.4 PPG) departed in free agency for Phoenix but Cloud, Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen all return after good seasons. Forward Tianna Hawkins, a member of the Mystics’ championship-winning team in 2019, also returns for a second stint after spending last season in Atlanta.
At the draft, the Mystics addressed their need for size, selecting 6-foot-5 centre Shakira Austin third overall out of Mississippi. A first-team All-SEC the last two years, she averaged 15.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists in her senior season.
2021 season: 8-24 (missed playoffs)
The Dream have had a tumultuous couple of years but the future is now for this team.
In the front office, Dan Padover was hired as the new general manager while Tanisha Wright was brought in as head coach after two seasons as an assistant with the Las Vegas Aces.
At the draft, Atlanta traded up for the first overall pick to ensure they got shooting guard Rhyne Howard out of Kentucky. The Chattanooga, Tenn., product averaged 20.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game as a senior.
Howard and 2021 No. 3 pick Aari McDonald are the building blocks for the Dream as they continue to rebuild. They moved on from Williams (free agency), dealt Chennedy Carter to the Los Angeles Sparks, and got Erica Wheeler, who averaged a career-high 13.6 points last season as well as two picks in the trade.
2021 season: 6-26 (missed playoffs)
The Fever finished last season as the worst team in the league but like the Dream, they’ve undergone a lot of changes since the end of last year. In February, GM Tamika Catchings stepped down from her post and was replaced by Lin Dunn, who guided the team to a WNBA title in 2012, as interim general manager.
Indiana made a big trade in the off-season, dealing young centre Teaira McCowan and two first-round picks to Dallas in exchange for three first-rounders.
The Fever, who had four picks in the first round of the 2022 draft, took PF NaLyssa Smith at No. 2, PF Emily Engstler at No. 4, SG Lexie Hull at No. 6 and C Queen Egbo at No. 10 and nabbed South Carolina star PG Destanni Henderson in the second round.
The Fever still boast having Kelsey Mitchell and Tiffany Mitchell and have vets in place such as Bria Hartley and Danielle Robinson to insulate the influx of rookies.