After spending the 2020 season in a bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., WNBA teams return to their home markets in 2021 for the league’s 25th season. With players returning from injuries and time away or finding themselves on a new team, there are plenty of storylines to follow as the year unfolds. Here are five notable players to watch this season.
Sabrina Ionescu – New York Liberty
2020 Stats: 18.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.7 APG
A severe ankle injury in just her third WNBA game ended Ionescu’s rookie season early. She had a procedure to remove scar tissue from around the ankle in November and her rehab process prevented her from playing overseas during the off-season.
In her debut against the eventual champion Seattle Storm, the 2020 first-overall pick struggled, going 4-for-17 from the field and missing all eight three-point attempts in a 12-point performance. Ionescu rebounded nicely in her second game, finishing with 33 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Coming off a year where they went 2-20, the Liberty made some big moves this off-season. They dealt Canadian Kia Nurse and Megan Walker to the Phoenix Mercury and acquired Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb from the Storm in separate deals. The team also signed Betnijah Laney, the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award winner, away from the Atlanta Dream.
In what proved to be a very small sample size, Ionescu did manage to flash the potential that had her pegged as a future superstar after a stellar four-year career at Oregon. However if the rebuilding Liberty are going to take a step forward in 2021, they need Ionescu to stay healthy.
Candace Parker – Chicago Sky
2020 Stats: 14.7 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 4.6 APG
After 13 seasons with the team that drafted her first overall in 2008, Parker left the Los Angeles Sparks to go home, signing with her hometown team Chicago Sky during the off-season.
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, the 35-year-old Parker led the league in defensive rebounds and total rebounds last season to go along with 10 double-doubles. She is a two-time WNBA MVP winner (2008, 2013) and won Finals MVP in 2016 when the Sparks won the league title. Parker started all 22 games last season for the Sparks and finished third in MVP voting.
The Sky already employ one of the best point guards in the game in assists leader Courtney Vandersloot. There's also three-time all-star Allie Quigley, the much-improved Kahleah Copper with Diamond DeShields (personal reasons) and Azurá Stevens (injury) also returning after leaving the bubble last season. In adding a player of Parker’s calibre, she is expected to be the key piece in helping the Sky elevate from playoff team to legitimate contender.
Elena Delle Donne – Washington Mystics
2019 Stats: 19.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.2 APG
Delle Donne has not played much basketball since helping the Mystics to their first WNBA title in 2019.
The two-time WNBA MVP winner (2015, 2019) sat out the 2020 season due to health concerns and had two back surgeries in 2020. After a strong season in 2019, Delle Donne continues to work her way back to full health and Mystics coach Mike Thibault doesn’t expect her back in the lineup until the third to sixth game of the season.
The Mystics have talent but there are a lot of questions about how this team will fit together. Tina Charles and Natasha Cloud will both play after sitting out the 2020 season, while free-agent signing Alysha Clark will miss the 2021 season after foot surgery. It is also unknown if/when 2019 WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman will rejoin the team due to commitments overseas.
Delle Donne is one of the best players in the game and is just one of two active players (alongside Parker) who have won multiple WNBA MVP awards. Her health will continue to be a storyline for the Mystics this season.
Brittney Griner – Phoenix Mercury
2020 Stats: 17.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.8 BPG
Brittney Griner began the 2020 season well leading the Mercury in scoring and rebounding. However, she departed the bubble after 12 games and didn’t return for the rest of the season for personal reasons.
Without the six-time all-star centre for the second half of the season, the Mercury finished fifth and made it to the second round of the playoffs before losing 80-79 to the Minnesota Lynx.
Griner went overseas in the off-season to play in Russia for UMMC Ekaterinburg, where she recently won her fourth career EuroLeague women's basketball title.
The Mercury are a playoff team with elite pieces and got better by adding Nurse in the off-season. Alongside Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith, Griner is a big part of the Mercury’s success. The first-overall pick in 2013, she was a part of the Mercury team that last won the league championship in 2014.
Liz Cambage – Las Vegas Aces
2019 Stats: 15.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.1 APG
The Las Vegas Aces are a stacked team and one of the leading favourites to win it all in 2021. Led by reigning MVP winner A’ja Wilson, the Aces also have Dearica Hamby, Chelsea Grey, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young. Angel McCoughtry is out for the season after tearing her ACL and meniscus during the preseason.
But the Aces player to watch in 2021 is 6-foot-8 centre Cambage.
Drafted second overall in 2011 by the then-Tulsa Shock, Cambage has played in just four WNBA seasons. But when she has played, Cambage has been a star. A three-time all-star, the Australian was the runner-up in MVP voting in 2018 and is a two-time All-WNBA performer.
Sitting out the 2020 season with a medical exemption, she did play in her native Australia during the off-season, leading the Southside Flyers to the WNBL championship, while averaging a league-high 23.5 points per game.
When she last played for the Aces in 2019, they had reached the conference finals before losing to eventual champion Washington Mystics. Now, Cambage returns to an Aces squad that got swept in the finals by the Seattle Storm in 2020 and face even higher expectations this season.