Bridget Carleton on 4th WNBA season, fellow Canadians, competing for championship
The WNBA’s regular season is set to kick off on Friday with the focus now turning to the Western Conference. Teams in the west made some big moves this off-season, including the hiring of Becky Hammon in Las Vegas to the Phoenix Mercury making a big splash in free agency.
The Western Conference also boasts the three Canadians in the WNBA in the Mercury’s Kia Nurse and Bridget Carleton and Natalie Achonwa of the Minnesota Lynx.
A stacked conference where all but one team made the playoffs, at least four teams in the west are considered legitimate contenders this season.
Las Vegas Aces
2021 season: 24-8 (playoffs)
Las Vegas has a roster as talented as any in the league but have struggled to get over the hump and fulfill their potential as a championship-winning team, losing in the finals in 2020 and the semifinals last season.
The biggest move the Aces made this off-season to try to take them to that next level was the hiring of new head coach and WNBA legend Becky Hammon, as she departs the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs after eight seasons as an assistant coach.
On the court, centre Liz Cambage departed as a free agent to the Los Angeles Sparks but the Aces’ core remains intact with 2020 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, 2021 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year award winner Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Dearica Hamby and Chelsea Gray.
Wilson averaged 18.3 points last season with career-highs in rebounds (9.3) and assists (3.1). Plum’s scoring also took a massive jump in 2021, going from 8.6 to 14.8 points per game after she missed the 2020 season recovering from Achilles surgery.
2021 season: 22-10 (playoffs)
Centre Sylvia Fowles announced in the off-season that 2022 would be her final season before retiring. A sure-fire Hall of Famer, she is the WNBA’s all-time leader in total rebounds (3,712) and fourth all time in blocks (685). Much like with the Seattle Storm and Sue Bird, the Lynx will be motivated to send Fowles out with a championship.
It is uncertain if star forward Napheesa Collier (pregnancy) will play this season but she hasn't completely ruled out a return. In free agency, the team added five-time WNBA All-Star Angel McCoughtry who is coming off a knee injury but is still chasing her first ring.
The Lynx also boast two of the three Canadians in the league in Bridget Carleton and Natalie Achonwa. Carleton has emerged as a valuable piece in the rotation with her defensive play and three-point shooting (36.5 per cent).
Just days out from the regular season opener, Layshia Clarendon and Crystal Dangerfield were among the notable names waived by Minnesota. Head coach Cheryl Reeve noted that Clarendon has been struggling with an injury while with Dangerfield, who was rookie of the year in 2020, it came down to numbers.
2021 season: 21-11 (playoffs)
The Storm’s Big Three of Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird all return as Bird also announced it will be the final season of her WNBA career.
Seattle lost in the second round to the Mercury but were without Stewart, who was dealing with a foot injury.
Before the injury, Stewart averaged 20.3 points last season, a career-high 9.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Loyd also turned in a career season in 2021 with career highs in points (17.9), rebounds (4.0) and assists (3.8).
In the off-season, Seattle continued to tinker with the rest of the roster. They dealt their first-round pick and Katie Lou Samuelson to the Sparks for Gabby Williams, whose contract was suspended due to her commitments with the French national team. She recently won the EuroLeague title with Briann January, who signed with the Storm as a free agent.
2021 season: 19-13 (WNBA Finals)
The WNBA Finals runner-ups, the situation looming over the Mercury right now is Brittney Griner’s situation where she is currently being detained in Russia. The MVP runner-up last season, Griner is integral to the Mercury’s success and she is being honoured by the WNBA to start the season.
In free agency, the Mercury made two big splashes adding 2021 WNBA leading scorer Tina Charles (23.4 PPG) and Diamond DeShields, who was traded to Phoenix from Chicago in a sign and trade deal.
Diana Taurasi returns for the final season of her current deal and, so far, she has not publicly made clear of her plans to continue beyond this season. She dealt with injuries at times last season (fractured sternum and sprained ankle), but Taurasi, who will turn 40 in June, averaged 15.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists in the regular season and 17.6 points in the playoffs.
Hamilton, Ont., native Kia Nurse played her first season in Phoenix after being acquired from the New York Liberty and was a staple in the lineup, starting all 32 games in the regular season and six games in the playoffs until a knee surgery in the semifinals against the Aces ended her year early. She is currently continuing to rehab the injury and won’t start the regular season.
2021 season: 14-18 (playoffs)
The Wings were one of the youngest teams in the league last season led by one of the league’s best scorers in Arike Ogunbowale (18.7 PPG) while Marina Mabrey (13.3 PPG) was one of the WNBA’s best threats off the bench.
Satou Sabally, who was the No. 2 pick at the 2020 draft, was hobbled by injury last season but is a key piece of Dallas’ core. She will look to improve on last year’s numbers, where she averaged 11.9 points and 5.9 rebounds.
Dallas made a big trade in the off-season, acquiring centre Teaira McCowan from the Indiana Fever. McCowan, who was the No. 3 pick at the 2019 draft, has blossomed into one of the best young centres in the game, averaging 11.3 PPG and 9.6 rebounds last season (third in WNBA).
The Wings are a young team on the upswing and will once again be fighting for a playoff spot this season.
Los Angeles Sparks
2021 season: 12-20 (missed playoffs)
The only team in the Western Conference to miss the playoffs in 2021, the Sparks revamped their roster this off-season, landing Cambage and point guard Jordin Canada in free agency and trading for Chennedy Carter and Samuelson.
Cambage, a four-time WNBA All-Star, has made it clear on numerous occasions throughout the years that Los Angeles was her preferred destination. Last season with the Aces, she averaged 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds.
Carter, the No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft, played only 11 games last season due to an elbow injury and being suspended by the Atlanta Dream in July for “conduct detrimental to the team.” Now in Los Angeles, she has a clean slate to demonstrate why she was once projected to be a star.
Adding several new players to the existing core led by 2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike will be a balancing act for head coach Derek Fisher as the Sparks look to get back to the postseason after a rare miss last season.