The season is young and the rust is still there for some, but first impressions were made. Whether it was rookies making their WNBA debut, stars returning to the court after missing 2020 due to injuries over coronavirus concerns, or the rise of young talents hoping to carry their team to new heights, we’re here to break down what went right for each team, what looked good (or even great) and what we think needs work.
One thing we can all agree on: We’re excited that the WNBA is back and not in a bubble, like last season.
Note: Throughout the regular season, Kelly Cohen will rank all 12 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball and which teams are looking most like title contenders.
Previous rankings: Preseason
1. Seattle Storm
Previous ranking: 2
The defending champs are back. Breanna Stewart, the reigning WNBA Finals MVP, is already producing at a top level two games in. And with guards Jewell Loyd and Jordin Canada upping their defensive presence, the Storm looked unstoppable in their season-opening win over the Aces.
But on Tuesday, Las Vegas exposed Seattle’s weakness: defense. Las Vegas shot 53.6% from the field and outrebounded Seattle 39-34 (after the Storm had dominated the boards 44-33 on Saturday).
Sue Bird and Candice Dupree will both have to continue to work to make up for the offseason losses of Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark.
This week: @MINN, @DAL
2. Chicago Sky
Previous ranking: 3
The addition of two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker looks to already be putting the Sky in the race for a WNBA title. The franchise has advanced past the second round just once since 2016, and is looking for its first WNBA Finals appearance since 2014.
With Parker’s lockdown defense — she also chipped in 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists — leading the way, Chicago held the Washington Mystics to 56 points in its season-opening win on Saturday. Diamond DeShields, in her first game following an injury-riddled 2020 season, complemented Parker well.
Once more chemistry is built between Parker and Courtney Vandersloot — the WNBA assist leader and one of the league’s best point guards — the Sky might be the team to beat. That’s assuming DeShields continues to stay healthy, and Chicago gets back Azurá Stevens, who was limited to 13 games in 2020 due to injury and has yet to play this season (foot).
This week: @ATL, NY
3. Connecticut Sun
Previous ranking: 8
It feels risky ranking Connecticut so high without Alyssa Thomas (ruptured Achilles) this season. But the Sun had perhaps the most impressive start of any team thanks to the play of Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner, and they get Jasmine Thomas (COVID-19 protocols) back for their Wednesday game against the winless Indiana Fever.
Jones, making her return to the WNBA after forgoing the 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns, dropped 26 points and eight rebounds in Friday’s season opener and followed it up with a 14-point, 13-rebound double-double on Sunday. Bonner was equally impressive with back-to-back games of at least 20 points. Both Jones and Bonner are also rebounding the ball well.
Though they were the only two players to score in double-digits on Friday, Natisha Hiedeman (17 points, 3-for-5 on 3-pointers) and Briann January (15 points, 4-for-7 from the field) stepped up to help the team in Sunday’s gritty win against the Phoenix Mercury.
This week: IND, @PHO, @LV
4. New York Liberty
Previous ranking: 11
The Liberty are undefeated and have already won more games this season (three) than in all of 2020 (two). Limited to three games as a rookie, Sabrina Ionescu has had an immediate impact, hitting a buzzer-beating deep 3 to help New York win its season opener against the Indiana Fever. On Tuesday, she reminded everyone she’s the NCAA career leader in triple-doubles, tallying 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds to become the youngest and fastest player in league history to record a triple-double.
We love to see the passion for a team that looks ready to erase what happened in 2020, and things should only get better. Natasha Howard has yet to join the team from overseas. And Betnijah Laney, the WNBA’s 2020 most improved player, is picking up from last season, dropping 30 points in the season opener and averaging a team-high 23.3 PPG.
The Liberty rank fourth right now with 83.0 PPG, and could be on the verge of becoming an offensive power.
This week: @WAS, @CHI
5. Las Vegas Aces
Previous ranking: 1
A rough 14-point loss Saturday against Seattle in a WNBA Finals rematch caused Las Vegas to tumble from its previous perch atop the preseason Power Rankings. But after that disappointing season-opening stumble, you could tell the Aces had a chat before meeting the Storm twice in four days.
Las Vegas rolled in Tuesday’s 16-point win, with a complete top-to-bottom 96-80 victory. From Chelsea Gray’s dazzling assists to reigning MVP A’ja Wilson’s 18 points and 11 rebounds, the Aces brought energy in their second game and looked like a team that could make it back to the WNBA Finals.
This week: LAS, CON
6. Phoenix Mercury
Previous ranking: 5
No surprise: The Big Three of Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith have kept the Mercury in the top half.
While they looked like they still had some chemistry to work through in their first two games, they turned it on Tuesday, getting great energy up and down the roster as Phoenix scored 91 points against the struggling Washington Mystics.
When the Mercury are in sync, they are hard to stop. On Tuesday, all five starters scored in double digits, which included double-doubles from Griner and Brianna Turner, who looks to be trying to give Phoenix a “Big Four.” Phoenix also clamped down on defense, holding the Mystics to 30.7% shooting.
This week: CON
7. Los Angeles Sparks
Previous ranking: 7
It feels weird to have the Sparks outside of the top five, but being ranked sixth isn’t bad for a winless team.
Nneka Ogwumike (18 points) and Chiney Ogwumike (12 points) had impressive 2021 debuts in a 94-71 loss to the Dallas Wings, but there weren’t many other positives from a team that saw a handful of key offseason departures in Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray and Riquna Williams.
Te’a Cooper shot 1-for-10 and Erica Wheeler had just four points in 19 minutes in her Sparks debut. Jasmine Walker, this year’s No. 7 overall draft pick, missed all four of her shots and went scoreless in more than 17 minutes of action.
But the Sparks’ defense was perhaps the most disappointing. The Wings — who won eight games and averaged 83.4 PPG in 2020 — shot 34-of-64 from the floor (53.1%).
Does this ranking feel too high? Maybe. But it’s unlikely Cooper, Wheeler and Walker will continue to struggle on offense, and the Sparks will be getting veteran Amanda Zahui B back soon, too, to make her Los Angeles debut. Tighten up on defense and Los Angeles will earn this sixth spot.
This week: @LVA
8. Minnesota Lynx
Previous ranking: 6
The Lynx are winless despite good offensive showings; it’s the defense that needs work, as well as being able to hold onto leads. Minnesota led New York by two points at halftime Tuesday before being outscored 19-10 in the third quarter and falling 86-75.
Some bright spots for the Lynx include Sylvia Fowles recording a double-double and showing her versatility on both ends of the floor, and Kayla McBride seems to be getting back into stride.
But with Napheesa Collier (overseas) yet to join the Lynx, we’re not sure they deserve to be any higher yet.
This week: SEA
9. Washington Mystics
Previous ranking: 4
The season opener was an offensive disaster as the Mystics shot 25% from the field, 13.3% from 3-point range and scored just 56 points in a loss against Chicago. Tina Charles, making her debut with Washington after sitting out 2020, was the lone bright spot as the only player in double digits (14 points).
Charles added a double-double (22 points, 12 rebounds) and Nia Cloud scored 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting in Tuesday’s loss to Phoenix, but the offense continued to slide, shooting 30.7% from the field and making just 5-of-28 3-point attempts.
Charles can’t carry the team forever, and the team needs better defense as well as a more balanced offensive attack. Rebounds and assists are lacking, and Elena Delle Donne, who hasn’t played yet after an offseason back injury, is sorely missed.
This week: NYL, @IND
10. Dallas Wings
Previous ranking: 9
How can you not like the Wings starting their season under new coach Vickie Johnson with a win against the Sparks? Five players scored in double digits as Dallas scored the second-most points in the league (behind Seattle’s 97) during the season’s first two days.
Charli Collier — the first overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft — had a strong debut, and Awak Kuier, who was drafted right after her, has yet to take the floor.
Satou Sabally, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, is finishing up overseas commitments but is expected to make a big leap in 2021 after a successful 2020 season (13.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.5 APG) in which she earned all-rookie honors.
So while we like a fun, young team, we’re hesitant to put them too high until we consistently see this level of performance.
This week: SEA
11. Atlanta Dream
Previous ranking: 10
Nicki Collen left to take over the Baylor women’s college basketball team right before the season started, and losing your head coach that close to tip-off can be a recipe for a little bit of chaos.
The Dream’s season-opening loss to Connecticut wasn’t all bad; four players scored in double-digits, and that was with rookie Aari McDonald going 0-for-4 from the field off the bench in her WNBA debut. Plus, Atlanta is still without Cheyenne Parker (COVID-19 protocols) and Tiffany Hays (overseas).
Veteran Elizabeth Williams is leading the way and should be instrumental as the Dream work to improve their chemistry. Yes, it’s just one game, but Atlanta scored just 67 points. The defense needs to step up.
This week: CHI, @IND
12. Indiana Fever
Previous ranking: 12
When you start the season 0-2, you stay at the bottom of the rankings.
Both losses were by single digits, but the Fever committed 33 turnovers and 45 fouls. They’re also shooting 37.6% from the floor and 15.4% from beyond the arc. Indiana also has totaled 29 assists across two games.
But Teaira McCowan is a bright spot, averaging 14.0 points and 13.0 rebounds. And while she has played only 23 minutes, Kysre Gondrezick — the fourth overall pick in the 2021 WNBA draft — is expected to get going and make an impact.
This week: @CON, ATL, WAS