As the WNBA heads into its 25th year, there will be a trio of Canadians ready to make an impact. With Kia Nurse joining the Diana Taurasi-led Phoenix Mercury and Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton teaming up in Minnesota on a Lynx squad with legitimate championship aspirations, here’s how the Canadians stack up heading into the season.
Kia Nurse – Phoenix Mercury
2020 Stats: 12.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.3 APG
In an off-season that included injury rehab and a successful stint as a TSN basketball analyst, Nurse also experienced the first trade of her WNBA career.
Nurse was dealt from the New York Liberty, the team that drafted her 10th overall in 2018 and where she spent the first three seasons of her professional career, to the Phoenix Mercury.
In moving from the Liberty to the Mercury, Nurse goes from a team still rebuilding to a playoff team. Led by the likes of Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith, Phoenix also welcomes back Brittney Griner, who departed the WNBA bubble early last year and Bria Hartley, who is still working her way back from major knee surgery in September.
Nurse will be looking to get back to the form that made her a starter at the WNBA All-Star Game in 2019 after a tough third season. Playing on an injured ankle suffered in last year’s season opener against the Storm, Nurse played in 21 of 22 games as the Liberty saw top pick Sabrina Ionescu’s season end on a severe ankle sprain in Game 3.
The Liberty finished dead last with a 2-20 record and Nurse’s numbers took a hit from her sophomore year. Her PPG dipped from 13.7 to 12.2 as she struggled shooting, dipping from 39.3 per cent from the field to 27.3 and going from 35.3 per cent beyond the arc to 23.8.
Despite the addition of Nurse, the Mercury aren’t considered to be in in the same contender realm as the Chicago Sky, Las Vegas Aces, Seattle Storm or the Lynx, but they are a playoff team with elite pieces capable of making noise in the playoffs. For Nurse, she gets a clean slate with a new team as she looks to rebound from a tough season.
Natalie Achonwa – Minnesota Lynx
2020 Stats: 7.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.7 APG
One of the Lynx’s big off-season additions alongside Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers, Achonwa, like Nurse, changes WNBA addresses for the first time in her career as she leaves the Indiana Fever, the team that drafted her ninth overall in 2014 after six years.
Last season, Achonwa started 11 of 18 games for the Fever despite being hampered with a right hamstring injury early on in the season. She ripped off a six-game stretch scoring at least 10 points, including a season-high 15 points against the Chicago Sky on Aug. 22.
However, it was off the court where Achonwa arguably made her biggest impact. As one of the WNBA’s key voices regarding social justice issues, Achonwa was awarded the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award prior to the start of the season, which is given each year by the league to a player who has demonstrated outstanding community and team leadership.
Joining fellow Canadian Carleton, Achonwa could see fewer minutes with the Lynx compared to her time with the Fever.
A deep team headlined by the past two rookies of the year in Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield, Sylvia Fowles, Damiris Dantas and fellow off-season additions McBride and Powers, minutes will be harder to come by.
Minnesota made it the semifinals last season before being swept by the eventual champion Storm.
Bridget Carleton – Minnesota Lynx
2020 Stats: 6.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG
After a 2019 rookie season that saw her play just eight games split between the Connecticut Sun and Minnesota Lynx, Carleton took a big step forward in her second professional season in 2020.
With injuries to prominent players, it allowed Carleton to step up and play a lot more minutes, including starting 15 out of the 22 games she appeared in. While Carleton’s stats don’t pop off the page, her 45.7 shooting percentage from beyond the arc was seventh overall in the WNBA.
Her first WNBA start came on Aug. 5 against the Liberty, where she scored a career-best 25 points and seven rebounds.
Much like Achonwa, minutes will be harder to come by for Carleton this season between the new additions and other players returning to full health. However, Carleton’s progression last season demonstrated that she is capable of providing valuable minutes.