WNBA Season Preview: Roster and Depth Chart Predictions

On Friday night, Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press reported that the league is working on several scenarios to start the season as soon as possible. While that is seemingly great news for WNBA fans, the league still has no concrete plans to start the season and numerous questions to answer such as where the season will be played and how to keep league participants safe. Just like every other professional sport, the WNBA is dealing with unprecedented problems with no clear solutions. I don’t envy the league’s decision-makers right now. 

That feeling extends to front offices. By Tuesday (May 26th), teams have to cut down their rosters to get below the salary cap and/or down to 12 players. It’s seemingly necessary but also devastating, especially for rookies drafted in the later rounds of the 2020 draft

The WNBA will have to figure out how to mitigate the collateral damage. The league could potentially allow teams to maintain rights on players they cut. But that is all for later. Right now, we have to focus on the league-wide cutdown. Here are my roster and depth chart predictions for the 2020 season. 

Atlanta Dream  

Atlanta Dream Projected Depth Chart
PG Renee Montgomery Maite Cazorla  Blake Dietrick
SG Courtney Williams  Chennedy Carter
SF Tiffany Hayes Shekinna Stricklen  
PF Glory Johnson Monique Billings  
C Elizabeth Williams  Kalani Brown Alaina Coates 
Cuts: Brittany Brewer, Mikayla Pivec, Kobi Thornton, Alexis Jones

2020 Projected Salary: $1,243,700

2020 Projected Room: $56,300

The Dream’s first 9 roster spots are essentially taken. Everyone in the two-deep, except Cazorla, has gravitas in the organization and seems like part of Atlanta’s future. It’s difficult to predict where each of them slot in positionally. Chennedy Carter may be the best pure point guard on the roster. But it would be hard to get her, Courtney Williams, and Tiffany Hayes enough touches at the same time. Renee Montgomery has an experience and fit advantage. Also Johnson and Stricklen could both start at the 4 depending on the matchup. 

Hardest cut: Tie, Brittany Brewer and Alexis Jones

Atlanta has seven players to sort through for the last three roster spots: Maite Cazorla, Blake Dietrick, Alexis Jones, Mikayla Pivec, Alaina Coates, Brittany Brewer, and Kobi Thornton. Unfortunately, I don’t think Pivec or Thornton can make the team without a training camp to prove themselves because the win-now Dream has veterans at their positions.

The guards were tough to pick. Nicki Collen has familiarity with Dietrick and Cazorla, but they play very similar styles. Jones gives the team a more dynamic on-ball threat and perhaps more upside. But this team needs pass-first point guards to mesh with their ball-dominant scorers. Deciding between Brittany Brewer and Alaina Coates was also extremely difficult. Brewer may have more potential at this point in addition to a 4-year rookie scale contract. But Coates has an experience edge and has dealt with being a 12th woman before. In this situation, I think Coach Collen will favor experience and familiarity over upside. But Brewer provides something different than the other two centers on roster so it’s a toss-up.

Chicago Sky 

Chicago Sky Projected Depth Chart

PG Courtney Vandersloot  Sydney Colson   
SG Allie Quigley  Kahleah Copper  
SF Diamond DeShields  Gabby Williams  
PF Jantel Lavender Azurá Stevens   
C Stefanie Dolson  Cheyenne Parker Ruthy Hebard 
Cuts: Japreece Dean, Kiah Gillespie, Alexis Prince

2020 Projected Salary: $1,288,456

2020 Projected Room: $11,544

Chicago’s roster is pretty cut-and-dry. The Sky can only field 11 players to start the season as they have just $11,544 left in cap room after the draft. Ruthy Hebard, the 8th overall pick, was the final piece of the puzzle. The big rotation needs some sorting. Azurá Stevens may be the 4 of the future, but Lavender played great with the starters last season before getting hurt. Regardless, the roster is essentially set.

Hardest cut: Tie, Japreece Dean and Kiah Gillespie 

Both of these players never had a great chance to make the Sky’s roster. With only 11 spots and a win-now roster, Head Coach/GM James Wade would have likely favored veterans like Sydney Colson. Without an opportunity to beat out a veteran, neither rookie has much of a case to make the team.

We’ll see how teams are able to sign players during the season. Once teams get below 10 available players, they can use the emergency hardship exception to sign a replacement player. The Sky are two sprained ankles away from needing to employ that exception. However, employing a replacement could be very difficult if all players are sequestered in a “bubble.” For now, I’d still say the best chance for either Dean or Gillespie to play in the WNBA is as a hardship replacement. 

Connecticut Sun 

Connecticut Sun Projected Depth Chart
PG Jasmine Thomas Natasha Hiedeman   
SG Briann January  Bria Holmes  Juicy Landrum 
SF DeWanna Bonner  Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis  
PF Alyssa Thomas  Brionna Jones  
C Jonquel Jones  Theresa Plaisance   
Cuts: Kaila Charles, Jazmon Gwathmey, Megan Huff, Jacki Gemelos 

2020 Projected Salary: $1,243,400

2020 Projected Room: $56,600

The Sun will need to go with 11 players after signing DeWanna Bonner and Jonquel Jones to max deals. They also have 10 players with a clear path to making the roster. Theresa Plaisance is the most debatable player in the two-deep. But she has a protected contract so she makes it. 

Hardest cut: Kaila Charles 

The 11th spot is completely up for grabs. Draft picks Kaila Charles and Juicy Landrum would have had an uphill battle in camp against signings Jazmon Gwathmey, Megan Huff, and Jacki Gemelos. All three players in the latter group could have contributed to this team. But at this point, I would want to keep one of the rookies to hold on to a 4-year rookie scale contract rather than a veteran who may be available at some other point. I picked Juicy Landrum over Kaila Charles. Charles may have a higher ceiling. But I know Landrum definitely brings one reliable, translatable skill to the table: 3-point shooting. 

Dallas Wings 

Dallas Wings Projected Depth Chart

PG Moriah Jefferson  Tyasha Harris   
SG Arike Ogunbowale  Allisha Gray  Marina Mabrey 
SF Kayla Thornton  Satou Sabally  Katie Lou Samuelson
PF Isabelle Harrison  Bella Alarie   
C Astou Ndour Megan Gustafson   
Cuts: Kristine Anigwe, Karlie Samuelson, Morgan Bertsch 

2020 Projected Salary: $1,092,200

2020 Projected Room: $207,800

The Wings did most of their sorting already. After Imani McGee-Stafford left to go to law school, Dallas traded Tayler Hill along with the 9th overall pick and waived Kaela Davis. My depth chart favors the team’s veterans to start the season. Sabally and/or Alarie could start ahead of Thornton and/or Harrison.  

Hardest cut: Kristine Anigwe

The Wings have 6 players for 3 spots at the end of the roster: Katie Lou Samuelson, Marina Mabrey, Megan Gustafson, Kristine Anigwe, Karlie Samuelson, and Morgan Bertsch. Karlie and Bertsch were unlikely to make the team to start with, no shade to them. I think Marina Mabrey is a safe pick to make the team. Dallas needs guard depth with MoJeff’s injury history. Katie Lou has the most upside of this group and brings much needed 3-point shooting (along with some off-court star power). The Wings just gave Gustafson a 3-year above minimum contract so I think they have more invested in her than Kristin Anigwe. 

Indiana Fever 

Indiana Fever Projected Depth Chart
PG Erica Wheeler  Victoria Vivians  Kathleen Doyle 
SG Kelsey Mitchell  Tiffany Mitchell  Kennedy Burke 
SF Candice Dupree  Betnijah Laney   
PF Lauren Cox  Natalie Achonwa   
C Teaira McCowan Stephanie Mavunga   
Cuts: Julie Allemand, Bernadett Határ, Jessica January, Kamiah Smalls  

2020 Projected Salary: $952,828   

2020 Projected Room: $347,172

Pretty simple for Indiana in terms of the depth chart. Achonwa may be ahead of Cox due to her experience with this team. But I really like the idea of her getting a lot of usage in the backup unit. Plus the Cox-McCowan tandem needs as much time as possible to grow since Indy is building its franchise on those two. 

Hardest cut: Julie Allemand 

Unfortunately, the end of the roster will be very tough to sort out. They already waived Jessica January, Paris Kea, Erica McCall and 2020 3rd round pick Kamiah Smalls. Stephanie Mavunga and Bernadett Határ would have fought over the fourth big spot while Julie Allemand, Kathleen Doyle, and Kennedy Burke battled for backcourt spots. With the uncertainty facing European players right now, I think the Fever will have to cut Határ and Allemand. Both are intriguing and I had already talked myself into Allemand becoming a key piece for Indy. But they can’t risk cutting players in favor of ones who can’t play this season. It’s a shame that decisions may come down to considerations off the court. Hopefully, teams have more clarity than us right now.

Las Vegas Aces 

Las Vegas Aces Projected Depth Chart
PG Kelsey Plum  Danielle Robinson  Lindsay Allen 
SG Kayla McBride  Jackie Young   
SF Angel McCoughtry  Sugar Rodgers  
PF A’ja Wilson  Dearica Hamby   
C Liz Cambage  Carolyn Swords   
Cuts: Avery Warley-Talbert, Lauren Manis, Raisa Musina 

2020 Projected Salary: $1,152,979

2020 Projected Room: $147,022

Vegas did most of their work already. The Aces cut Avery Warley-Talbert and 2020 3rd-rounder Lauren Manis earlier this week. Ji-Su Park decided not to come to the United States this summer. They brought back Carolyn Swords after a retirement that spanned about two months and 800 lifetimes. The Aces have one roster spot remaining for a player of their choosing down the road. I would try to find a shooting big to help the spacing issues, which may be available in this very weird market. 

Hardest cut: N/A 

Los Angeles Sparks 

Los Angeles Sparks Projected Depth Chart
PG Chelsea Gray  Sydney Wiese   
SG Kristi Toliver  Riquna Williams   
SF Brittney Sykes  Tierra Ruffin-Pratt  Seimone Augustus 
PF Candace Parker  Chiney Ogwumike   
C Nneka Ogwumike  Maria Vadeeva  Marie Gülich
Cuts: Beatrice Mompremier, Tynice Martin

2020 Projected Salary: $1,298,000

2020 Projected Room: $2,000

LA’s roster is pretty much set after the team gave Sydney Wiese a two-year, $162,400 extension. Some pundits and fans viewed Wiese as a potential cut for Beatrice Mompremier and/or Tynice Martin. The Sparks shut that noise down with the extension. We already know how much talent is on this team. But seeing all of these players in a depth chart makes it come to life. 

Hardest cut: Beatrice Mompremier 

I probably made too big of a deal out of Beatrice Mompremier’s situation. As I’ve talked about, LA is $750 short of being able to keep her over Gülich or Vadeeva outright. The Sparks could take more complicated routes to keeping the University of Miami product. But, the Sparks are selling out to win a title this season. 2nd and 3rd rounders, especially ones that don’t get to try out, typically don’t make teams with those aspirations. Mompremier (and Tynice Martin) just don’t fit the team’s timetable. They may have a chance to get on the roster if Gülich and/or Vadeeva are unable to play in the US this season.

Minnesota Lynx 

Minnesota Lynx Projected Depth Chart
PG Odyssey Sims Lexie Brown  Crystal Dangerfield
SG Cecilia Zandalasini Rachel Banham   
SF Naphessa Collier  Karima Christmas-Kelly Jessica Shepard
PF Damiris Dantas  Mikiah Herbert Harrigan  
C Sylvia Fowles  Kayla Alexander   
Cuts: Shenise Johnson, Erica Ogwumike, Linnae Harper, Bridget Carleton 

2020 Projected Salary: $1,050,627

2020 Projected Room: $249,373 

Minnesota faces a dilemma in this cutdown. Odyssey Sims gave birth to a son in early April. She will likely need more time before getting on the court. Normally, the Lynx could suspend Sims for the start of the season and keep 12 players on the roster. I am assuming they cannot do that at this point, but the league has yet to clarify the issue. With that in mind, the starters along with Brown, KCK, and Kiki are all locks to make the roster. The starting five also seems set to me.

Hardest cut: Shenise Johnson 

In my view, the Lynx have four spots for five players: Rachel Banham, Crystal Dangerfield, Kayla Alexander, Shenise Johnson, and Jessica Shepard. They just traded for Banham, gave her a two-year deal, and her Minnesota roots make her impossible to cut from an optics perspective. Dangerfield and Shepard fit into the team’s timetable and needs. 

So it came down to Johnson and Alexander. Minnesota did trade for Johnson in this offseason. But she has an expiring contract and a long injury history including missing most of last season. Despite Johnson’s protected contract, keeping Alexander gives Minnesota a much needed backup center and a younger player. There are a bunch of considerations that we can’t account for including ownership’s appetite to pay a player six-figures to stay at home (literally). But I would lean toward Johnson being left out despite her talent and experience. 

New York Liberty 

New York Liberty Projected Depth Chart
PG Sabrina Ionescu  Layshia Clarendon  Jazmine Jones
SG Asia Durr  Marine Johannès   
SF Kia Nurse  Megan Walker   
PF Amanda Zahui B. Rebecca Allen Jocelyn Willoughby
C Kiah Stokes  Kylee Shook  
Cuts: Leaonna Odom, Han Xu, Reshanda Gray 

2020 Projected Salary: $1,016,850

2020 Projected Room: $283,150

The Liberty have talked about “positionless” basketball so much this offseason that I feel guilty about using  a normal depth chart for them. Don’t get too attached to the positions or slotting of these players. New York has a lot of experimenting and learning to do before they have any set rotation.  

Hardest cut: Han Xu

While Kiah Stokes may not fit into the Liberty’s vision, she is necessary in my opinion as a defensive backbone for a young team that was dead-last in defensive rating in 2019. Reshanda Gray and Leaonna Odom are very good players who get the ax here. There is a case for Jazmine Jones getting cut. But NY just drafted her in the first round and she provides needed guard depth. 

My decision came down to Han Xu and Kylee Shook. I love Han’s potential on the court and as a league ambassador to China. But she didn’t seem ready to contribute at this level in 2019 and Shook is a perfect match for what NYL wants. 

[Note: An earlier version of this story said that Han Xu was reportedly in the US. After review, those reports could not be verified.]

Phoenix Mercury 

Phoenix Mercury Projected Depth Chart
PG Skylar Diggins-Smith  Shatori Walker-Kimbrough  
SG Diana Taurasi  Sophie Cunningham   
SF Bria Hartley  Nia Coffey   
PF Jessica Breland  Alanna Smith   
C Brittney Griner  Kia Vaughn  Brianna Turner 
Cuts: Stella Johnson, Olivia Époupa, Sara Blicavs, Te’a Cooper 

2020 Projected Salary: $1,268,500

2020 Projected Room: $31,500

With Griner, SDS, and Bria Hartley all getting max deals, the Mercury will go with 11 players next season. Trading for Shatori Walker-Kimbrough during the draft was a nice move to provide much-needed guard depth. Still, this team is very thin at every spot except center (assuming Kia Vaughn is in WNBA-shape). Unproven players like Alanna Smith and Nia Coffey need to prove themselves in a hurry.   

Hardest cut: 4-way tie

All four of the players I predict will get cut bring something that could be useful to Phoenix. But, as I have said throughout this preview, familiarity and WNBA experience are paramount concerns for team decision-makers right now. Phoenix needs the safest picks to support their top-heavy roster. Unfortunately, Johnson, Époupa, Blicavs, and Cooper lack familiarity with the team and experience in this league. 

Seattle Storm 

Seattle Storm Projected Depth Chart
PG Sue Bird Jordin Canada   
SG Jewell Loyd  Sami Whitcomb Epiphanny Prince
SF Alysha Clark  Morgan Tuck   
PF Natasha Howard  Crystal Langhorne   
C Breanna Stewart Mercedes Russell  Ezi Magbegor 
Cuts: Joyner Holmes, Haley Gorecki 

2020 Projected Salary: $1,296,300

2020 Projected Room: $3,700

The first 10 spots on this roster are set. Morgan Tuck joins (most of) the 2018 championship roster. Epiphanny Prince may have been on the chopping block for me given her injury history and age. But she got more money than I expected this offseason ($115,000 according to Richard Cohen of Her Hoop Stats) and has experience in big moments, which is necessary on this elite team. Sidenote: This is my favorite starting lineup in the entire league.

Hardest cut: Joyner Holmes

Assuming Prince is on the squad, the final spot comes down to Ezi Magbegor or Joyner Holmes. Both have tremendous upside and cheap contracts, which this aging group desperately needs. Ezi seems to have the more polished game at this point and the team drafted her in the first round last year. I am worried about travel with Magbegor, who is likely still in Australia. But she has enough talent over Holmes that I feel comfortable rolling with Magbegor for this season. Don’t be surprised to see Holmes in the league in the next year or two though.

Washington Mystics

Washington Mystics Projected Depth Chart

PG Natasha Cloud  Kiara Leslie   
SG Ariel Atkins  Leilani Mitchell  
SF Aerial Powers  Tianna Hawkins  
PF Emma Meesseman  Tina Charles Myisha Hines-Allen 
C Elena Delle Donne LaToya Sanders  
Cuts: Lee-Seul Kang, Jaylyn Agnew, Sug Sutton 

2020 Projected Salary: $1,288,400

2020 Projected Room: $11,600

Washington is rolling with 11 players after the Tina Charles trade. The team is really high on Kiara Leslie’s return from injury, so expect her to get a lot of minutes. I have moved players around this depth chart more than I care to admit. If she is amenable to it, Tina Charles can do serious damage from the bench and give EDD some much needed rest. Washington may face uncertainty with Mitchell and Meeseeman coming from overseas, but nothing they can do about that now. 

Hardest cut: Jaylyn Agnew

I probably would not have had a toughest cut but for Ben Dull’s excellent breakdown of Agnew’s game in his newsletter. Agnew can bomb it, which is a skill that the Mystics are always looking for. She may be able to beat out Myisha Hines-Allen in a training camp. Agnew’s contract runs two years longer than Hines-Allen, which would make her very attractive to Washington as the team’s salary balloons. But I think DC likes Hines-Allen a lot, she brings something different to the table (power), and she knows how to act at the end of the bench. In short, I know she can perform the role available to her. 


The best and worst moves of WNBA Free Agency

WNBA Free Agency rolls on into week 2. But most of the big signings or trades have already happened, so it’s time to take stock. I’m picking my best and worst moves based on a few questions. First, does a move push a team into contention for the WNBA title or does it pull them further away from it? Second, did the team properly value the player they acquired? Third, does the move fit into a cohesive vision of the team’s future? Feel free to fight me on Twitter, @gabe_ibrahim, over any of these opinions.

Best Moves

1. Connecticut picks up DeWanna Bonner

Anytime you get a player like DeWanna Bonner, you’ll probably be winning the off-season. Bonner was the best player on the market and fit on every roster in the league. You can read my initial reactions to the trade here and Justin Carter’s breakdown about what she will bring the Sun on the court here.

Bonner was an unrestricted free agent, so she could have just signed with the Sun outright. But the Sun had to trade for her because Bonner rightfully wanted her supermax contract (4 years, $889k) and could only get from her former team or through a sign-and-trade. The Sun gave up three first-round picks up for the three-time All Star. They traded their 2020 first-rounder (10th), Seattle’s 2020 first (7th), and their 2021 first. Connecticut got Seattle’s pick by signing-and-trading Morgan Tuck to the Storm.

It’s a steep price, certainly. But credit to the Sun for engineering the Tuck move and trusting that DeWanna wanted to be in Connecticut. Bonner is 32 years old and her play will likely decline by the end of the deal. But at least for next year, the move could push Connecticut from runners-up to champions so it wins the offseason.

[NOTE: this was written before Connecticut traded Courtney Williams. I still believe Connecticut is a title contender]



Why We Love FCS: Citadel-Furman was ugly and perfect, BLOOD WEEK, and Herky the Hornet

Published on Underdog Dynasty on October 23, 2019

Furman and the Citadel had played each other 98 times before last Saturday’s matchup of Southern Conference rivals. The rivalry exemplifies so much of what we hold dear in College Football, but the vast majority of those matchups lacked one crucial component: BEER. After the Citadel decided to allow beer in Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2017, Furman finally followed suit and opened the Champions Grove Beer Garden on Saturday. Not a moment too soon for Paladian fans, who could use a tall one to wash away a 27-10 upset loss by #8 Furman at the hand of the Bulldogs.

I can’t imagine a more perfect game to start this series. First, Furman and the Citadel are perfect rivals. The South Carolina schools obviously have bad blood on the football field. But they also just dislike each other generally. 

The Citadel looks at Furman as a school for the upper class, who waste time on frivolous thought experiments over more practical pursuits. Furman fans sometimes call the Cadets of the Citadel “bellhops” because of their uniforms and because they view the Cadets as West Point rejects. 

Obviously, neither stereotype is true or even honestly believed in. But the barbs between the schools show just how different they are. The military academy hyper-focused on discipline contrasted with the tiny liberal arts school with strict, academic standards. While Furman is trying to distance itself from its slavery-riddled past, the Citadel has a webpage celebrating its Confederate roots in the “War between the States.” 

The game also had some big stakes beyond the rivalry. Furman came into the game undefeated in the SoCon. The Paladins were also poised to get a top-8 seed in the playoffs after reaching their highest ranking since 2006. Despite beating Georgia Tech earlier this year, the Citadel, with two conference losses, desperately needed a win to stay alive in the conference. 

Then, the game itself was just perfect college football (to me, at least). Misty, consistent rain pelted the players and fans in Greenville. Luckily, the teams wouldn’t have to adjust too much for the rain as they both run the triple option, something that would only happen in FCS. 

It was gloriously gross. Furman and Citadel combined for 532 rushing yards in the mud. There were more rushing attempts (100) than passing yards (76). The rain contributed to the three fumbles as players just couldn’t hold on to the ball. It also contributed to one of the worst passes I’ve ever seen, which was intercepted by Furman.

I question the logic of having a wide receiver on a triple option team throw the ball deep downfield in a driving rainstorm. But the Citadel was probably practicing that play all year and, damnit, they were going to use it against their arch-rival come hell or high water. 

It wasn’t about the win necessarily, it was about the weight of pride at stake in this game. And that’s why this game is perfect FCS football. Two perfect rivals, running ancient offenses, making silly mistakes, and overcoming them to ruin the other’s season.

Read full story here


What makes the Washington Mystics offense so special? It goes beyond basketball

Published on Winsidr on September 6, 2019

All year, the Washington Mystics have generated one of the best offenses in WNBA history. They rank first in offensive rating (112.7 points per 100 possessions) and lead the league by a staggering 11.4 points in that statistic. No team in WNBA history has ever led the league in offensive rating by more than 4 points per 100 possessions or finished with an offensive rating of over 109.

While the stats show the team’s offensive dominance, the Mystics have something special that goes beyond the quantifiable. Something that I was not truly able to pin point until I listened to Taylor Swift’s new album, Lover (which is excellent and you should listen to it right now).

At the end of the last song, Swift tells someone in the studio that “I want to be defined by the things that I love, not the things I hate, not the things I’m afraid of, not the things that haunt me in the middle of night.” That is the ethos of Lover and, unexpectedly, it’s the ethos of the 2019 Washington Mystics.

After getting brutally swept in the Finals last year, Washington could have chosen to be defined by the things they hated and haunted them in the middle of the night. The series against Seattle last year was a nightmare, one that could have made any team look inward and develop a gruff, unfeeling drive to avenge their loss. But the Mystics refused to let that loss define them. Much like Taylor Swift, they chose to be defined by what they love: beautiful basketball and each other.

Read full article here


Why We Love FCS: The Miracle in Cambridge, the worst kicking performance in CFB History, and Monmouth’s dominance

Originally Published on Underdog Dynasty on November 6, 2019

Dartmouth beats Harvard with a miracle 

By now, you probably know why I’m talking about Dartmouth-Harvard. With 6 seconds left, #13 Dartmouth’s perfect season seemed to be coming to an end. Harvard led 6-3 with the Big Green on the Crimson’s 43-yard line. Then, this happened.

Derek Kyler, the second-string junior quarterback who was thrust into action after a first-half injury to Jared Garbino, will live on forever in Dartmouth lore for this pass. Junior wideout Masaki Aerts (pronounced “Arts”) will also go down as a Big Green legend for catching his first-career touchdown on this play. On the flip side, the headline of the article on this game from the official Dartmouth Athletics websiteThe Aerts-ful Dodger: No. 14/15 Dartmouth Wins on Hail Mary—will live on the internet forever. Just be cool for once, Dartmouth. 

Harvard head coach Tim Murphy told The Harvard Crimson that the team got their “guts ripped out.” Which is fair because Harvard really should not have lost this game. The Crimson defense played damn-near perfect as they held the highest scoring team in FCS to just three points, forced six punts, and snagged two interceptions. With 1:31 left in the game and Dartmouth on their own 12-yard line, the defensive line collapsed on Kyler and picked up what should have been the game-sealing fumble. 

At this point, Harvard had a 99.9% chance of winning according to ESPN’s win probability tracker. Yet, the Crimson still managed to lose because of a few miscues. Two missed field goals by Jake McIntyre, RB Devin Darrington going out of bounds with 1:17 left to give Dartmouth enough time for the miracle, and DB Isaiah Wingfield tipping a hail mary pass straight up in the air will keep the team up at night for a while. 

The Miracle at Cambridge (we need a better name) instantly becomes the defining image of this rivalry’s history after 123 meetings between the teams. Harvard crushed the Big Green for two solid decades, going 20-1 from 1997-2017 with 14 straight victories until Dartmouth finally won last year. Dartmouth had not won in Cambridge since 2003 before Saturday. 

The recently ended dominance is reminiscent of how the Harvard-Dartmouth rivalry started. The Crimson won the first 18 games the two teams played from 1882-1903. Dartmouth didn’t score until the second century of this rivalry in 1901. 

The Big Green (known as the Indians then) ended that streak by beating Harvard in the first-ever game played at Harvard Stadium in 1903. It is an embarrassing fact of the rivalry for Harvard that comes up every time the teams play in Cambridge. Now the highlight of the Miracle will also come up every time the teams play there.

Read full post here


Why We Love FCS: CFB’s Most Dominant Dynasty, Striped Turf, and a wild Big South finish

Published on Underdog Dynasty on October 31, 2019

With 6 minutes left in the biggest game of the FCS’ regular season, North Dakota State seemingly forgot about the last decade of Bison football. Much like its namesake, NDSU has stampeded over the Football Championship Subdivision for eight years largely by running the dang ball. So it was a bit shocking to see Dimitri Williams, a redshirt senior running back with experience at every position but quarterback, receive a handoff and pull up to throw with the game tied late. Williams heaved the ball up as he got hit. It died about five yards downfield and landed in the arms of a waiting South Dakota State defensive lineman. 

The Jackrabbits had their chance to get a program-defining win in front of a record crowd of SDSU fans. But NDSU is selfish when it comes to glory and wins. Two plays later, the Bison defensive line caused pressure, which caused an errant throw, which landed in the hands of cornerback Josh Hayes

NDSU then ran for nine yards on three plays to set up a fourth-and-one from their own 29-yard line with 2 minutes left. Most teams punt in this situation as a turnover-on-downs basically gives the opponent a free field goal opportunity. Of course, North Dakota State is not “most teams.” 

Their offensive line, the lifeblood of this dynasty, insisted that the offense line up for fourth-and-one. Running back Adam Cofield set up as the dot in the I-formation and watched the sea of defenders part in front of him. He broke an arm tackle and was off to the races. 71 yards later, Cofield stopped running in the endzone, NDSU had a 23-16 lead and the Bison could finish out their 29th consecutive victory. 

At this point, the North Dakota State program is untouchable. They have the most championships in FCS history, winning seven of the last eight. No team in Division 1 has come close to that run of titles since the Ivy League reigned supreme at the turn of the century. NDSU is 31-2 in the FCS playoffs since 2010. The only champions in this decade have been the Bison or a team that beats them in the playoffs (Eastern Washington in 2010, JMU in 2016). 

This 29-game win streak is the second-longest in FCS history, right behind the Bisons’ record 33-game streak from 2012-14. They have beaten 17 (!) ranked teams during this current streak. Frankly, the only thing left for NDSU to accomplish is getting to 47 straight wins, a record set by Oklahoma in 50s. If there is a team who can beat the Sooners’ record, it’s North Dakota State. 

There is more evidence but the conclusion is inescapable: the Bison have become College Football’s most-dominant dynasty ever. They’re also showing no signs of stopping. They should get the top-seed in the Playoffs again and eclipse their own 33-game streak in the first round. 

We could point to so many things to explain the NDSU’s success, but I think this clip of them taking the Dakota Marker after the win is a big part of it.

Many of the guys going crazy over the trophy have never lost a game at NDSU. Most have won a championship, while the redshirt seniors have won three titles. Yet, this win over a rival in the middle of the season elicits a huge celebration from the Bison. They don’t take their success for granted, they don’t skip steps, they don’t forget to celebrate. They just run you down and win games. And NDSU will continue to do so until further notice.

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“Determined for greatness”: The Washington Mystics will their way to the WNBA Championship

With 6 minutes and 28 seconds left in the 3rd quarter of Game 5 of the WNBA Finals, Elena Delle Donne needed to make a big play. She just received the ball from Natasha Cloud and stood on the three-point line. The Mystics desperately needed a basket as the Sun had just opened up a nine-point lead off a 10 to two run. After watching her teammates run an action, the MVP decided to force the issue herself. Delle Donne went right at Alyssa Thomas, spun into the paint, hit the bank shot, and drew the 4th foul on Jonquel Jones. Afterwards, she let out a roar as if to say “I’m not losing tonight.”

The play marked the game’s turning point. Jonquel Jones sat for the rest of the quarter and DC finished the game by outscoring Connecticut 43-25. However, the play was not emblematic of the Mystics’ beautiful and flowing offense that captivated the league. EDD shrugged off the team’s off-ball action to go right at one of the league’s best defenders in isolation. It was a moment of sheer determination. While it may seem out of step with the team’s offensive plan, Delle Donne’s bucket exemplified the will of this team to win a championship this season.

“This team was determined for greatness. It took five games, took four in the semis, it took battling injuries, it took a lot of resilience, fight, heart,” said Kristi Toliver wearing skiing googles with the champagne-drenched trophy next to her. “We had the biggest heart all year, and we were the most focused and determined team all year, and we’re just really proud of what we’ve done.”

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As the Mystics’ offense sets records, Washington’s defense continues to improve

Last Sunday in the Nation’s Capital, Shey Peddy hit a three from the top of the key to put the Washington Mystics up 103-65 on the Indiana Fever late in the fourth quarter. Even though the game was no longer in doubt, the crowd erupted. News had apparently spread that Peddy’s triple, DC’s 18th of the game, broke the WNBA’s single-game record for three pointers made. The record-breaking three capped off an unbelievable offensive performance and an emphatic win, one that keeps Washington atop the WNBA’s standings. It was a beautiful moment and one that we will look back on if the Mystics reach their goal of winning the championship.

However, a more subtle moment from this game will stick out to me if Washington raises the trophy this year. It was Ariel Atkins making Erica McCall eat a shot in the second quarter after a frantic DC defensive possession. Every single Mystic switched assignments during the play; every single Mystic communicated and stayed active; every single Mystic anticipated the Fever’s play. Atkins came up from behind and swatted McCall’s shot at the rim. It was one of the best defensive possessions of the year for the Mystics and, more importantly, it showed that this team is capable of playing championship-level defense. That is a terrifying thought for the rest of the league.

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WNBA Merchandise Tales: The story behind the Jonquel Jones Hug Mug

As we continue in lockdown, I’ve been trying to find little ways to improve my life and put a smile on my face. To that end, I wanted a WNBA coffee mug to brighten up my morning. Despite literally every NBA team having a coffee mug for sale in the NBA store, there are no coffee mugs for sale in the WNBA store and no officially licensed ones available anywhere as far as I could tell. 

This is a tale as old as the WNBA itself: A WNBA fan wants merchandise and finds the options are very limited. While the WNBA has stepped up its supply of jerseys and normal merchandise, the league hardly sells any nicknacks or novelty items. The lack of these products becomes clear when comparing the NBA store to the WNBA store.

For example, I can buy a Miami Heat Gnome from the team’s 2014 playoff run or these hideous Washington Wizards cheetah print flip flops in addition to the rest of the countless random items in the NBA store. Yet, the WNBA store is bereft of anything close to this loveable nonsense. 

Like many of you, I knew that Ebay would be my best hope. Ebay has long been a refuge for WNBA fans looking for merchandise. I searched WNBA and started scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. I do this for hours fairly often and mostly come up empty handed. Not this time. This time, I came away with my new favorite coffee mug and I needed to find out more about it. Here’s the story behind the Jonquel Jones Hug Mug. 

Why does this exist 

The Connecticut Sun created the Hug Mug as a gift for season ticket holders before the 2018 season. The team gives its most loyal fans a gift each season, a common practice for professional teams. In a phone interview, Connecticut Sun VP Amber Cox explained that the organization tries to come up with unique ways to reward season ticket holders. So she’s always scouring the internet to come up with ideas. 

“As is the case with most things, the best ideas are stolen,” said Cox. “I saw a Buster Posey hug mug for the San Francisco Giants and thought it was absolutely adorable just in terms of like waking up and having coffee with your favorite player, giving you a hug on your coffee mug.”

Thus, the Hug Mug idea was born. Cox and the Sun had to figure out who the mug would feature. The team had options with star Chiney Ogwumike coming back from injury and a trio of players coming off breakout All-Star seasons in Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas, and Jonquel Jones. But only one of them fit this particular project: Jonquel Jones. 

“[The mug] fits her personality in so many ways because JJ has one of the best smiles I’ve ever seen and [at least pre-Coronavirus] she’s quick to give a hug to anyone,” Cox said. 

While she liked the idea of the mug, Jones became a little skeptical while doing awkward poses and hugging the air for the photo shoot. After seeing her stylized image on the mug, JJ thought it came out great and represented who she is as a person. 

“I try to be a cheerful person. I try to be happy and try to think optimistically most times,” said the now two-time All-Star center. “So to see myself on the mug, smiling and embracing the cup, it is a great representation of me and my attitude in life in general.”

As someone using it often, I can confirm that the hug mug has a cheerfulness to it. Basketball and hugging are probably the two things I miss the most right now. Getting some of both from a coffee mug puts me in a good mood to start the day. 

Why does it matter

JJ’s Hug Mug or similar items will not push the WNBA to new heights. But the league needs to continue finding ways to foster connections between players/teams and fans. While social media is the best tool for that task, nicknacks like the mug can play a huge role in reminding fans who these players actually are. 

“We spend a lot of time talking about how we can bring [our players’] personalities and their stories to life because every single story that we have is important,” said Cox who has been with the Sun since 2016. “[Stuff like the hug mug] puts the pieces together and helps connect the dots for fans to create a real connection with our players beyond just the basketball.”

“A lot of times, [fans] just see us on the court or they see us in the autograph sessions, but those are very limited experiences,” explained Jonquel Jones. “Anytime you have something that you feel is a good representation of who you are that fans can see everyday, you’re happy about it. Hopefully we can do some more stuff like that in the future because I do think it’s a good thing for the organization and for myself in terms of personal branding.”

To help spark the next great Connecticut Sun nicknack, I asked both Amber and JJ about what mugs for the rest of the team would look like. For Curt Miller, both immediately said his signature stomp would be featured. Amber suggested using a beer stein to fit his whole body, which I am very here for. Jonquel came up with the “Mean Mug” for Alyssa Thomas to capture her aggression. When I said it’s hard to imagine Thomas off the court because of how intense she is on it, JJ joked that “she’s pretty intense off the court too,” despite being a very caring teammate. 

The Hug Mug isn’t going to change the league or the world around it. But it can make people smile and connect that happiness to the WNBA. As a fan community, we focus on the game and the bigger picture so much that it’s easy to miss the importance of a smile to this league’s growth. People want to feel happy when they watch sports and things like this mug can help make that happen. I hope the league and/or teams invest in more novelty items like the Hug Mug going forward. However, as Jonquel explained to me, there is one downside to the Hug Mug: you can’t put it in the dishwasher. 

“I put mine in the dishwasher like the first time I got it and it came out armless,” said Jones. “I’ve got an armless one, a headless one. So next time, we gotta put a little warning on there.” 

Why 2020 will be a “really, really difficult year for second and third round picks”

The 2020 WNBA Draft was one of the best events in league history. Not only did it draw the draft’s biggest audience in 14 years but it also took up the spotlight as the rest of the sports world is on pause. Despite the draft being virtual, the draftees still got to celebrate a potentially life-changing moment and get validation for decades of hard work. It was beautiful and so needed right now.

But for many picks, the draft could be the pinnacle of their time in the league. The WNBA is notoriously one of the hardest leagues to break into. The league’s 12 teams can field a maximum of 144 players (12 per team) during the regular season. WNBA hopefuls are lucky to even get a try-out at training camp because teams can only have 15 players in training camp at one time.

As Eli Horowitz detailed for the New York Times in 2018, getting drafted doesn’t mean that a player will get one of those spots. By my rough count, an average of 16 draft picks in each of the last four draft classes got waived before the next season started. Players picked in the bottom half of the draft (18th and beyond) make up the bulk of the cuts. Again by my rough count, 62 out of the 72 draft picks in the first half of the last four WNBA Drafts made opening-day rosters. Just 18% (13 out of 72) of players picked in the bottom half made opening-day rosters and only 4 of those players remained on the team’s roster for the entirety of the subsequent season.

Those are shocking numbers. Even if my rough count is off a bit, it has been absolutely brutal for these players to find WNBA jobs. For a variety of reasons, the 2020 season could see even more of these later selections cut than ever before as Atlanta Dream Head Coach Nicki Collen said in a pre-draft zoom press conference: “It’s going to be a really, really difficult year for second and third round picks.”

CBA related changes

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement changed everything about the WNBA. The salary bump for player from the new CBA is unequivocally great for the league. But it may also result in fewer roster spots available around the league. As the team salary cap increased by 25%, the supermax player salary jumped by 43% and the minimax (for younger players and players changing teams) went up by 35%. Therefore, max players are taking about 5% more of the salary cap than they were under the old CBA and leave less for teams to use on the rest of the roster.

The rub is that some teams are going with the minimum of 11 players, rather than the maximum of 12, to fit multiple max contracts under the $1.3 million salary cap. Based on my salary cap spreadsheets, Chicago, Connecticut, Phoenix, and Washington will likely all have 11 players on their rosters next season. Having 140 spots instead of 144 will naturally hit late-round picks hardest as they are usually fighting for the 12th spot on a roster.

2020 draft picks now face even longer odds of making a team. Although, New York Liberty GM Jonathan Kolb pointed out that higher salaries could potentially have the opposite effect at some point.

“An unintended consequence of the CBA is going to be more teams that have high salaries on their books are not gonna be able to carry that 12 player,” said Kolb during a phone interview. “So it is possible that goes later picks with a lesser salary will fill a spot by virtue of number crunching.”

The other CBA change that may affect late round draft picks is the rookie scale pay bump. The majority of the 2018 and 2019 draft class got their salaries bumped to $57,000, which is great. But the new CBA’s Rookie Scale dictates that the starting salary for a second round pick is $59,750 and $57,000 for third rounders. To illustrate the potential problem, Naphessa Collier (the 6th pick in 2019 and Rookie of the Year) will make less than Crystal Dangerfield, who the Lynx drafted 16th in 2020, and the same as 3rd round pick Erika Ogwumike.

While this has been less of an issue than I anticipated, the Los Angeles Sparks are feeling the rookie scale crunch. As Richard Cohen explained for Her Hoop Stats and I did in my draft reaction article, they will have a tough time keeping second round pick Beatrice Mompremier because she makes $2,750 more than veterans Marie Gulich and Maria Vadeeva. Through pretty much no fault of their own, LA may not be able to keep a player they just drafted and like.

COVID related changes

Of course, the projections and pretty much everything else I talked about in the section above apply to a somewhat normal WNBA season. The next season (whenever it takes place) will not be normal due to the Coronavirus. In THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES, the timing of the season may also negatively effect the later round draft picks.

“You’re going to see teams have to waive players before camp that they have just signed to make room for draft picks or they are going to be waiving draft picks before camp starts,” said Nicki Collen.

The attrition has already started. The Connecticut Sun waived Valeriane Ayayi after signing her in late February. Usually, the Sun would have space for a player like Ayayi in camp because some of their other players would miss camp to complete offseason obligations. Due to Coronavirus cancelling overseas basketball seasons and at least delaying the WNBA season, teams can be fairly certain that all their players in the country will be in camp when it starts. With the rest of their options available, the Fever can’t give Ayayi the opportunity to prove herself.

“The really interesting thing about [this year] is that everyone will be ready for camp probably,” said Atlanta GM Chris Sienko. “So those extra, periphery players aren’t going to camp at all.”

Later draft picks face a similar situation to veteran free agents like Ayayi, as Kolb explained. “Those later round picks are ‘training camp players.’ In short, maybe they come out to camp and they play really well and they make the roster in lieu of somebody that you had previously penciled in,” said the Liberty’s GM. “In this instance, most players that you would probably have had the need to fill in for will be in ‘camp.’ So we may not need the training camp player spots like we do usually due to the circumstances.”

If we as a WNBA community get good news that training camp is starting soon-ish, it will likely be bad news for the bottom of the draft players. We may see a lot more waived before they even have the opportunity to try out than usual.

For those that get to camp, the battle to make the team may be tougher than a normal season. Nicki Collen detailed how difficult it is for a later round pick even a power 5 All-Conference player to beat out WNBA veterans with similar resumes like Blake Dietrick or Alexis Jones (both on training camp deals with Atlanta). Collen went on to explain why the timing of the season could make it even harder.

“When you think about a shortened training camp and the opportunity to really compete, I think it’s tougher. I think coaches tend to value experience more in that situation,” the Dream’s coach said. “It’s a little different than the investment in a first-round pick where you say this is a player I want and a player I see in the future.”

Notably, the Dream’s 23rd overall pick last season and former All-Pac 12 guard Maite Cazorla nabbed a roster spot over Dietrick in 2019. Mikayla Pivec, Atlanta’s 25th pick in 2020 and a former All-Pac 12 guard, is seemingly in a similar situation. She has a tough fight to get a roster spot but can do it if she has a a great camp.

However, Pivec will likely have less time in camp than Cazorla did. She will also have to battle the need for experience in the upcoming season. It’s certainly possible for Pivec to make the team, but the odds are stacked against her more than they were for Cazorla.

Still, we don’t know what is going to happen with this WNBA season. It could be that this article is rendered moot by teams being forced to take on more late draft picks because, for example, European players not being able to get to the United States.

Yet, later round draft picks have had the deck stacked against them for years. The circumstances of this season are merely exacerbating the existing problem of the draft not giving players a leg up on getting into the WNBA. In some situations (such as Beatrice Mompremier’s), it may actually be detrimental to their chances of making a team.

The league needs to address the issue with reform to the draft, roster size and/or training camp limitations. But as we wait for that to happen, a bunch of excellent basketball players will be waived by WNBA teams that may want to keep them. Some will not even get the chance to prove themselves.

WNBA Draft: New York’s busy night, Dallas’s new phase, and Phoenix capitalizing

The WNBA Draft felt remarkably normal. Yes, it was virtual and saw its fair share of technical difficulties. But from the drafting of Gigi Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli, and Payton Chester as honorary picks to actual draftees celebrating with family, we got to feel pretty normal for a few hours. Hell even ESPN skating by the last two rounds of the draft to stick an extra Kobe Bryant tribute at the end of draft felt typical! Obviously, this season (whenever it is) will be anything but normal. But at least for one night, we got to celebrate the league and just have fun. I’m going to breakdown some of the more interesting things to happen.

New York wheeling and dealing

The New York Liberty dominated the headlines of WNBA Draft week. Here’s a list of the stuff they did:

  • Changed its logo for the first time since the league’s inception
  • Traded Tina Charles to Washington for draft capital in a blockbuster deal
  • Drafted Sabrina Ionescu first overall
  • Drafted Megan Walker (9), Jazmine Jones (12), Kylee Shook (13), Leaonna Odom (15), and Erica Ogwumike (26)
  • Trade Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (acquired from DC) to Phoenix for the 10th overall pick (Jocelyn Willoughby)
  • Traded Erica Ogwumike to Minnesota for Stephanie Talbot

After that whirlwind, the Liberty have clearly started a new era. Trading Tina Charles was certainly a difficult decision given how much she has meant to the franchise. But New York’s focus on the future required it. Drafting Sabrina Ionescu will make up for that move and a lot else. She is a franchise cornerstone and the Liberty can hopefully now build around her for a long time.

But as Jonathan Kolb said on the Winsidr Post-Draft show, the fresh start just means that the Liberty “need to get to work.” They have 17 players (after cutting Brittany Boyd this week) lined up to come to training camp, exceeding the maximum of 15. Kolb and company will need to continue dealing just to get to camp. Then, they will have to make more moves after it. Many critics have been concerned about the Liberty extracting value from all these moves. I agree, but I also think this roster will look very different by the start of the season.

Even if it doesn’t, getting Sabrina Ionescu to Brooklyn was the major objective for the Liberty during the draft. So, Mission accomplished.

Dallas’s reset

Just like New York, the Wings had three first round picks and needed to jump start a new era for the franchise. Satou Sabally, the team’s second overall selection, should do just that. While she doesn’t come with quite the fanfare that her Oregon teammate does, Satou may have just as high of a ceiling. She’s the ideal player for the modern era of position-less basketball and has superstar potential.

The Wings also snagged Bella Alarie at 5. Alarie is another very high ceiling player, but she has a bit further to go than Satou in terms of contributing on a winning team. Dallas got Ty Harris with the 7th pick and she could slot in as their backup point guard next season behind Moriah Jefferson. All three players should fit around Arike Ogunbowale very well and instantly boost Dallas’s offense.

The draft caps off phase 1 of the Wings’ rebuild in my mind. The team has moved on from their two disgruntled stars (Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith), the worst contract on their books (Tayler Hill), and a former face of the franchise (Glory Johnson). It was a painful process and one that was much maligned (rightly so). Now, the team can move from collecting assets to sorting through the assets they’ve collected.

They have a glut of intriguing players that are 25 or under in Ogunbowale, Sabally, Alarie, Harris, Astou Ndour, Katie Lou Samuelson, and Allisha Gray. Will all of them turn into stars for Dallas? Of course not. But they could all be contributors or be packaged for a star player down the road. Also, the team has another three first rounders for next year’s draft to toy around with.

Basically, Dallas is slowly climbing out of the hole they’ve been in for almost two years since Liz’s trade demand. It’s a hole they somewhat dug themselves, but they deserve credit for getting into decent position now.

Note: I turned 27 on Sunday and I was extremely disheartened to find out that only two players on Dallas are older than me (Isabelle Harrison and Kayla Thornton).

Phoenix gets immediate help

A little move that I loved was Phoenix picking up Shatori Walker-Kimbrough from New York. They gave up the 10th overall pick, which turned out to be Jocelyn Willoughby. In a vacuum, Shatori on an expiring contract may not be worth that pick. But Phoenix needed a short-term bench solution to help them win a title next season. As good as Willoughby could be, she probably won’t be ready to contribute to a championship team as a rookie.

Shatori has already contributed to a championship team. She was a bench cog for the Mystics last season and I’m sure DC preferred to keep SWK for next season (just not more so than they wanted Tina Charles). She can provide solid defense, good enough shooting and leadership for a very young Phoenix bench. She could also help a team with so many new faces gel quickly.

I’m not trying to say that Shatori will be the difference for Phoenix next year. But when you are trying to win a title, having people who have done it is important. While I still have my doubts about the Mercury’s long-term plan, getting Shatori moves them just a bit closer to winning a title.

Free Beatrice

I am a Miami Hurricane. It’s been one of my defining traits since I was 5 years old. So I was super pumped about watching a fellow Cane, Beatrice Mompremier, get drafted in the first round of the WNBA Draft. Well, mock drafts lie and Mompremier fell to the second round. Not a big deal, I thought, she’ll get picked in the second round and show off her talent in camp to make a team. Then, she fell to 20 and got snagged by the Sparks.

Ugh. Obviously, congrats to Beatrice and the Miami program. The Canes had not seen a player drafted into the WNBA since 2017 and Mompremier is just the 7th player drafted from the U. Of course, making any roster would have been very difficult as the 20th pick. But making this LA roster presents a monumental challenge.

LA has perhaps the most star studded team in the league and is trying to win a title, which mean they will likely favor vets for their end of the bench spots. Entering the draft, they already had 12 players on roster with everyone having at least two years of experience. Beating one of them out would have been tough enough.

Unfortunately, Mompremier will also face a cap crunch as Richard Cohen of Her Hoop Stats pointed out. The most logical scenario for her making the roster is either beating out Marie Gulich or Maria Vadeeva getting held up in Europe due to COVID-19. But Mompremier is slated to make $59,750 in the first year of her rookie scale deal whereas the centers I mentioned make $57,000. Therefore, LA cannot merely waive one of them for Mompremier because that would leave them $2,750 over the salary cap.

Hypothetically, she could beat out Sydney Wiese (who makes $68k). But that would make LA pretty thin at guard and with too many bigs. At this point, Mompremier’s clearest path to making the team is beating out Gulich and hoping 3rd round pick Tynice Martin (who makes $57k) takes Weise’s spot. In this scenario, LA would have enough cap space for both of them.

It’s not impossible, but seemingly unlikely. I’m very biased, but I think Mompremier will be a solid WNBA player. But we likely won’t get to see her play next season because of LA’s salary cap situation.



Euroleague Women Quarterfinals: The Last Normal Games

With 1:20 left in the thrilling Nadezhda Orenburg-Lyon Euroleague quarterfinals on March 11th, there was a timeout on the floor and I noted something that I never had before then. As Orenburg discussed switching on pick-and-rolls, the camera caught a player coughing into a tissue on the sidelines. I don’t have any reason to believe that the player has anything wrong with her. But, I usually don’t even notice anyone more than a foot away from me coughing let alone note a player coughing during the final minute of a great basketball game. 

That was the moment I realized that the coronavirus would change everything about our lives for a while. I couldn’t put it out of my mind during the biggest moment of one of the most fun basketball games in 2020. Then, Utah Jazz Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, the NBA suspended play, and the sports world came to a screeching halt. Euroleague Women is cancelled. The NCAA basketball tournaments are cancelled. The WNBA has yet to be officially affected, but the CDC’s recommendation to postpone mass gatherings of 50 or more for 8 weeks (until May 10) may force the W to change plans. However, THIS IS NOT A STORY ABOUT CORONAVIRUS. Huw Hopkins of The Basketball Writers wrote a good one and here’s some good guidance on social distancing from The Atlantic.

This is a story of the two relatively normal basketball games that took place before all that. The Euroleague Quaterfinals were, for the most part, just basketball games (despite two of the quaterfinals match-ups getting cancelled: UMMC-BLMA and USK Praha-Familia Schio). As they are the last games we will get for a while, I’m going to analyze TF out of them to celebrate this sport and get through this scary time. Let’s get to it.

Nadezhda Orenburg 80, Lyon 77 

This game had an absolutely wild ending and I want to go through the last five minutes in depth.

The end of the game starts with Lyon’s (and Seattle’s) Alysha Clark missing a mid-ranger from the top of the key with 4:37 left. First, shouts to Helena Ciak for a pancake screen. Clark finished with a team-high 18 points and 8 rebounds while providing great defense. She also struggled from outside the paint (1-5) and only had one made basket in the fourth quarter.

After Marième Badiane got a strip, Julie Allemand (who recently signed with the Indiana Fever) got the ball and took off. She made it from her own foul line all the way to the rim for an easy layup in about 3 seconds. Allemand showed off her speed and vision all game with 10 points. She has to refine her skills to get WNBA minutes, but fans should be excited about Allemand’s potential.

Lyon is now trailing by just 5 after being down by double digits earlier in the quarter. The crowd (restricted to 1,000 fans) was going wild at this point. The PA announcer, who really left it all on the mic during this game, was yelling “TURBO, TURBO, TURBO” and got the fans to do a Viking clap. I don’t know entirely what he meant by “turbo,” but I was also screaming turbo at my laptop screen.

Orenburg quickly shut them up with a three from Anastasiia Shilova off a wonderful mid-air assist from Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe. Nayo and Shilova poured 18 points each to lead the team in scoring. Nayo was extremely impressive. She was able to bully smaller defenders or run past slower bigs. She showed a lot of the tools you want from a modern 4 (facing-up for dribble drives, post moves, vision), but it’s still very hard to evaluate bigs in European competition because of the lack of adequate competition.

After Lyon stalled on the next offensive possession and two Erica Wheeler free throws, the real fireworks started to fly around the 3 minute mark. With a 10-point lead, Orenburg for some reason decides to switch to a 2-3 zone as Lyon marches out a lineup with four sharpshooters (Ingrid Tanqueray, Clark, Allemand, and Johannes). Of course, Lyon makes them pay immediately with a Tanqueray three to pull within 7. Tanqueray provided a huge spark off the bench with 12 points on 4/6 shooting from three. Orenburg scrapped the zone after this.

Unfortunately, Tanqueray couldn’t handle Erica Wheeler. The Fever’s All-Star had a rough shooting night (2/6 for 10 points). But she got pretty much anywhere she wanted and made great decisions to finish with 7 assists. After toying with and blowing by Tanqueray, Wheeler found Shilova for her second-straight three from the left corner.

On the other end, NO ONE could handle Marine Johannes. She drove right across the lane and sealed off her defender for a tough righty layup. Johannes was brilliant all night. She put up 24 points and 3 assists. She was the most athletic and most creative player in this game.

Then, Wheeler comes down, dances past Johannes swiping at the ball, and finds Shilova for her third three pointer in the last four possession. Shilova finished the night 6 of 7 from deep and pretty much ended the game here. According to inpredictable’s win probability calculator, Orenburg has a 100% chance of winning (and they do).

HOWEVA, Lyon went down fighting. First, Allemand and Badiane run a perfect pick-and-roll for an easy layup to pull within 9. Wheeler missed a wide-open layup after slicing up the Lyon defense almost as if she was surprised at how easily she got to the rim. Then, Allemand pushes the ball up court and finds Marine darting to the rim for an acrobatic layup. 7-point game. Orenburg timeout (which I talked about in the intro).

Somehow (we don’t know how because the feed didn’t show the actual inbound pass), Alysha Clark knocked the inbound pass away and Allemand saves it to give Lyon another possession. Tanqueray misses a three, but Clark gets a grown woman rebound in traffic. Johannes finally gets the ball, spins off a screen and gets fouled as her layup attempt rolls off the rim. She makes one of two, but the play encapsulated Lyon’s late-game effort and how talented this group is.

Lyon turned up the pressure and forced a turnover on the other end. In transition, Marine threw a wild pass to Julie Allemand, who found a WIDE OPEN Tanqueray on the three point line. Bang, three-point game. Erica Wheeler missed a free throw on the other end, so Lyon stayed alive.

Alysha Clark bullied Wheeler off a switch to get right under the basket. She drew a foul and hit the layup for a three-point play. One-point game. Lyon’s stars all played very smart basketball down the stretch. It’s a shame that they couldn’t get going earlier.

Then, Anastasia Shilova hit another dagger three pointer. Orenburg whipped the ball around as Lyon doubled (and seemingly intentionally fouled to no call). I don’t know much about Shilova to be honest. But based on this game, she is a cold-blooded assassin with a quick trigger. While Lyon probably should have gotten a foul call here, Shilova was ready and ended the game (again) with 9 seconds left.

BUT MARINE DON’T QUIT. She flew down court and pulled up from Curry range for a three. Just unbelievable grit from Marine and Lyon to make this a game every time it was over. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Lyon, with no timeouts left, got a foul with 2 seconds left and Shilova makes one of two at the line to make it 80-78. Marine missed the half-court heave. As soon as the game ended, I knew it would be a personal classic. Lyon’s late-game effort in the face of almost sure defeat was exciting and inspiring even though it fell short.

Then, basketball went dark. If you read all that, thank you for indulging me. I know it may have been long and/or too detailed. But honestly, I didn’t want to look too far ahead. I wanted to remain in the heat of this game to feel the normalcy of it and remember that we’ll have games like this again soon enough.

Fenerbahce 84, Bourges 75  

I promise this game recap will be shorter. Fenerbachce jumped on Bourges early and didn’t let them get up.

We gotta start with Elizabeth Williams’s huge night. The Atlanta Dream’s starting center bullied her way to 30 points on 14/16 shooting and 14 rebounds. She didn’t take a shot from outside the paint because she didn’t have to. Williams is 6’4″ and 198 pounds of solid muscle. With Natalie Achonwa departing before the game, Bourges really had no one that could even slow down Williams. She just moved people in her way, skied over them for rebounds or passes, and left a trail of bodies behind her. It’s encouraging to see Williams get what would be her WNBA career-high in points. But the predictive value of this game is unclear since she’ll face much bigger and better competition in the W. 

Chelsea Gray also suited up for Fenerbache. But the WNBA Champion and 3-time All-Star came off the bench as the 3rd guard. Gray has only been played four games with Fener and the pairing of Cecilia Zandalasini and Alina Iagupova is just too good to break up. The duo combined for 30 points and each had dazzling plays.

Iagupova, 28 years old, is more advanced as a ball handler and passer (she finished with 8 assists) than Zandalasini, 24. But Ceci has really pushed the limits of her game in Europe. She has a very quick step back and can finish in traffic. They really compliment each other well and I’d love to see them play together in the league. Zandi is returning to the Minnesota Lynx, which is great news. But Iagupova seems unlikely to join play in the WNBA in 2020 as LA has her rights and very full roster (although I haven’t heard anything about her).

On Bourges’s end, Marissa Coleman and Ana Dabovic stood out. Coleman, a 9-year WNBA vet, last played in the W in 2018 for the New York Liberty. At 33, She’s probably close to the end of her career, but she balled out in this one with a double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds). Coleman was the only Bourges player consistently getting penetration and hit some tough shots in traffic. Dabovic lead the team in scoring with 20 points. It was a quiet 20 points, but she scored from all over and cut very well. She hasn’t played in the US since winning the 2016 title with LA and since they still have her rights, it’s unlikely we will see her in the W in 2020.

That’s all I got on these two games. Stay safe, be cautious, and keep checking in with us. We’ll get through this together.


WNBA Free Agency Grades [Part 2]

The most exciting WNBA Free Agency period in league history is crawling to a close. Most free agents have found home and most teams have complete rosters. You know what that means? It’s time to jump to conclusions and judge each team’s moves without seeing the teams!

I graded teams based only what they did in this free agency period. C is the average grade and teams who didn’t actively make detrimental decisions but didn’t get any closer to their goals. Teams who got better (or got closer to accomplishing whatever they want to do) graded above a C and teams who got worse got below a C.


  • Team salary and cap space figures are my own based on salaries reported by Winsidr and High Post Hoops. You can check out my complete cap sheets on Winsidr’s patreon for just $3 a month.
  • I also will be expanding on these grades for Patreon after the draft in April and after training camp.

Los Angeles Sparks: A

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Chelsea Gray (re-signed 1-year max); Kristi Toliver (signed 3-year max); Seimone Augustus (signed 1-year, $110k); Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (re-signed by 2-year, $180k); Brittney Sykes, Marie Gulich (acquired from Atlanta for Kalani Brown)
  • Departures: Alana Beard (retired); Alexis Jones (released); Marina Mabrey (traded to Dallas for 2021 second round pick); Kalani Brown (traded to Atlanta)
  • Remaining free agents: Marianna Tolo (reserved)
  • Training Camp Contracts: None

The Sparks had the best free agency period of any team after having the worst end to the 2019 in the WNBA. First, they traded for Brittney Sykes and Marie Gulich from Atlanta. Sykes will help take pressure off Candace Parker on defense as she ranked in the 74th percentile of defensive efficiency per Synergy Sports. Gulich can play as well and it just cost them Kalani Brown, who has more potential than production right now.

Then, the Sparks produced fireworks. (Somebody stop me.) Kristi Toliver unexpectedly left Washington and returned to LA on a three-year max deal. Toliver is already 33, but she had her best season ever in 2019 and her leadership will help the team almost as much her play will.

The only move more surprising than signing Toliver was bringing in Seimone Augustus. The face of the Minnesota Lynx and a living legend seemingly signed with the Sparks out of nowhere. I’m not sure what Seimone has left on the court (Mone, please read this and go wild). But she can make a big shot and help the team from the bench.

They also retained Chelsea Gray, the best point guard in the league (*ducks projectiles coming from Chicago and Seattle*), and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who will likely be more efficient coming off the bench. The Sparks did lose Alana Beard to retirement, but she couldn’t contribute that much in 2019. Losing the potential of Brown, Marina Mabrey, and Alexis Jones hurts their future plans a bit.

But when you have a chance to win a title, you have to go all in. That is exactly what the Sparks did. I love the aggressiveness and the fit of the players they signed. After last season, Head Coach Derek Fisher said that the whole franchise had to look at themselves in the mirror and find a way to improve. They did that in this free agency period. Now we’ll have to see if they improved enough to win the title.

Minnesota Lynx: D

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Rachel Banham (acquired from Connecticut for 2021 second round pick, signed 2-year, $203k)
  • Departures: Danielle Robinson (signed with Vegas); Seimone Augustus (signed with LA); Maya Moore (sitting out 2020)
  • Remaining free agents: Bridget Carleton (reserved); Temi Fagbenle (reserved); Anna Cruz (reserved)
  • Training Camp Contracts: Cecilia Zandalasini (likely TC, will make team); Kayla Alexander; Linnae Harper

The Minnesota Lynx had the worst offseason of any team in the league. First, they struck out on big free agents Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kristi Toliver, and Dewanna Bonner. Then, as mentioned above, they lost the best player in franchise history in Seimone Augustus.

In an instagram video, Augustus explained that she didn’t want to leave the Lynx and the team hurt her feelings in some way, so she left. Basketball is a business. But it’s a business built on relationships and how you treat people matters. Letting Augustus go may not hurt the Lynx’s goals in 2020. But it will hurt their credibility with players, agents, and fans.

Forgive the NBA comparison, but the situation is reminiscent of Dwyane Wade’s departure from Miami in 2016. It shook the franchise to its core and put a black eye on its successes. Heat GM Pat Riley was wrong to diminish Wade’s contributions to the Heat to what he was worth in 2016. Similarly, Lynx head coach and GM Cheryl Reeve was wrong for not making Seimone clearly feel like the most important player in the franchise’s history.

Furthermore, the Lynx did NOTHING with the cap space saved from Augustus’s departure. They let Danielle Robinson go. Then, Minnesota traded a second round pick for Rachel Banham and paid her $203k over two years. Banham ranked in the 19th and 14th percentile of offensive and defensive efficiency respectively, per Synergy. She certainly won’t lift the Lynx into the 2020 title conversation.

They avoid getting an F by bringing back Cecilia Zandalasini (even though she couldn’t negotiate with other teams) and saving cap space for next year. Zandalasini has really grown her game in Europe and will get big minutes in 2020. Saving cap space is prudent but let’s not pretend Cheryl Reeve is playing 3-D chess or anything. Historically, It’s been hard to attract star free agents to Minnesota and 6 teams (Connecticut, Indiana, Vegas, LA, New York, Washington) have more cap space than the Lynx next year. It may all work for Reeve, but this free agency was a largely unmitigated failure.

New York Liberty: C+

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Layshia Clarendon (signed 2-year, $240k); Marine Johannes (signed 2-year, $138,040)
  • Departures: Bria Hartley (signed with Phoenix)
  • Remaining free agents: Tina Charles (core); Reshanda Gray (reserved); Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe (reserved)
  • Training Camp Contracts: None

The Liberty’s grade is still incomplete because the Tina Charles situation and two important reserved free agents remain unresolved. Also, a lot of their offseason will be defined by the draft in April. But I’ll grade what they’ve done so far.

I love the Marine Johannes signing. She electrified in her limited time with New York last season. She scored 0.971 points per possession on 136 possession and ranked in the 93rd percentile for offensive efficiency, according to Synergy. Johannes (albeit on a tiny sample size) was the best spot up shooter in the league as a rookie! She held up on defense as well. The Libs locked her in for two years and have a chance to extend her next offseason if things go well.

I’m less excited about signing Layshia Clarendon. She is coming off a freak ankle injury and hasn’t been able to replicate her 2017 All-Star season over the past two seasons. At first, I felt her contract was a bit rich. I’m okay with it after seeing other player valuations because she’ll be a great mentor to the young Libs and won’t preclude future moves.

Bria Hartley left for a max deal in Phoenix. Hartley is a solid player, but she doesn’t make sense for the rebuilding Liberty and certainly not on a max deal. Again, this grade is incomplete and might change. But I think a C+ is appropriate because they made smart decisions but didn’t necessarily improve their team.

Phoenix Mercury: B-

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Skylar Diggins-Smith (sign-and-trade from Dallas, signed 4-year supermax); Brittney Griner (re-signed 3-year supermax); Bria Hartley (signed 3-year max); Jessica Breland, Nia Coffey (acquired from Atlanta)
  • Departures: DeWanna Bonner (signed-and-traded to Connecticut); Briann January (traded to Connecticut); Leilani Mitchell (signed with Washington); Camille Little (retired)
  • Remaining free agents: Essence Carson (UFA); Angel Robinson (reserved); Sonja Petrovic (reserved); Marta Xargay (reserved)
  • Training Camp Contracts: Yvonne Turner (hurt), Kia Vaughn

I have talked so much about Phoenix’s offseason already. You can find my thoughts on DeWanna Bonner’s exit, the Skylar Diggins-Smith trade, and Bria Hartley’s contract on the front page of the site. To sum up all of that: Bonner leaving=bad, Trading for SDS=great, Hartley’s max contract=yikes. So please check that those pieces for deeper analysis of those moves. Here I want to talk about their other actions and if this team is closer to a title now then they were at the beginning of February.

Signing Brittney Griner is a no-brainer, but Phoenix gets extra credit for locking BG in for three years. They acquired Jessica Breland and Nia Coffey in the Courtney Williams deal. Breland has not produced well over the last two season. But she is a veteran and has played in the playoffs, which makes her by far the best option for Phoenix in the starting lineup. Coffey is an interesting project who will need to grow up quickly to be the team’s sixth woman.

Losing the backcourt of Leilani Mitchell and Briann January hurts, but was necessary once they signed Hartley. Would I rather have one of those two and about $60k in cap space rather than Hartley? Yes. But they did get assets for January at least (she was traded in the Courtney Williams deal as well).

So how much closer is Phoenix to a title? I’d say not much. Skylar Diggins-Smith is certainly great, but Bonner probably fits better with Diana Taurasi. They lack depth in a major way, are relying on very young players, and left themselves very little room to acquire some more help now or going forward. They may have one more signing left (perhaps Essence Carson or Tamera Young). However, no team will want to face the trio of SDS, Taurasi, and Griner in the playoffs. It’s just a matter of getting good enough seeding to make a run at the title, which I am dubious of right now.

Seattle Storm: B-

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Breanna Stewart (re-signed 2-year max); Sue Bird (re-signed 1-year supermax); Morgan Tuck (signed 2-year, $230k)
  • Departures: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (traded to CT for 2021 second rounder)
  • Remaining free agents: Courtney Paris (UFA); Shavonte Zellous (UFA)
  • Training Camp Contracts: Epiphanny Prince

The Storm didn’t do anything wrong. They just didn’t do much, so don’t look too closely at their grade. Re-signing Breanna Stewart is nice, especially to a two-year contract. She needed to sign for two years to be eligible for a supermax in 2022 after her 5th year of service. Similarly, re-signing Sue Bird is great. But I don’t think they deserve a ton of credit in this free agency period for drafting two transcendent players and creating a great culture around them. Seattle has gotten plenty of credit for that over the last 18 years in the form of three championships.

They traded four slots in April’s draft for Morgan Tuck and gave her a 2-year deal with the first year protected. Tuck won four NCAA championship with Breanna Stewart at UConn and Seattle wants to recapture some of that magic. She underwhelmed with the Sun, but showed flashes of her spot up ability and defensive prowess. She can play the 3 in theory, even though she’s best at power forward.

Either way, she can fill Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis’s role more efficiently than KML did in 2019. Mosqueda-Lewis was traded to Connecticut for a second rounder in 2021. Both players probably needed a change of scenery to refresh their careers. I (and Seattle) would rather have Tuck though.

Factoring in the 10th draft pick, they have room for one more free agent signing around $110k. That might be reserved for Shavonte Zellous, but at this point it’s a guessing game. Regardless, Seattle is betting that they can replicate their 2018 championship magic. With Stewie, Sue Bird, sudden MVP candidate Natasha Howard, and a group of smart, talented veterans, I’d say it’s a pretty smart bet.

Washington Mystics: C-

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Elena Delle Donne (re-signed 4-year supermax contract); Emma Meesseman (re-signed 1-year supermax contract); Leilani Mitchell (signed 2-year, $250,500 contract)
  • Departures: Kristi Toliver (signed with LA)
  • Remaining free agents: Kim Mestdagh (UFA)
  • Training Camp Contracts: Lee-Seul Kang

The reigning WNBA Champs had a more eventful off-season than I expected. Washington came into free agency with the most star studded group of free agents in the league: Elena Delle Donne, Emma Meesseman, and Kristi Toliver. But they were expected to keep all three of them. 

Unfortunately, Kristi Toliver bolted for LA as I discussed above. Losing Toliver is a huge blow to the Mystics but it’s not necessarily a bad move. The Mystics needed to keep their cap space open over the next two years for Latoya Sanders, Natasha Cloud, Aerial Powers (expiring after this season), and Ariel Atkins (expiring after 2021). Toliver’s max deal would have made keeping all of those player impossible.

DC signed Leilani Mitchell from Phoenix to ameliorate the loss of Toliver. Mitchell became the first WNBA player to win the Most Improved Player Award twice last season. She can replicate a lot of Toliver did on the court as a shooter and defender. She’s not quite the creator that Toliver is, but she’s faster and better in transition. Getting her on a declining two-year contract is the best that DC could have done, in my opinion. 

EDD signed a four-year supermax deal, which is great and expected. However, Emma Meesseman re-signed for just 1 season and wants to “take stock of everything” after 2020. This is concerning not just for the Mystics but for the WNBA. Meesseman could leave the WNBA to play in Europe full-time or just retire from basketball. If she does play in the WNBA in 2021, it will most likely be with DC since they can core designate her.

The Mystics get a C- because the team got slightly worse and Meesseman didn’t sign long-term (even though that’s not necessarily their fault). Regardless, Washington is still a title contender as long as Elena Delle Donne is in the picture and healthy.

WNBA Free Agency Grades [Part 1]

The most exciting WNBA Free Agency period in league history is crawling to a close. Most free agents have found home and most teams have complete rosters. You know what that means? It’s time to jump to conclusions and judge each team’s moves without seeing the teams!

I graded teams based only what they did in this free agency period. C is the average grade and teams who didn’t actively make detrimental decisions but didn’t get any closer to their goals. Teams who got better (or got closer to accomplishing whatever they want to do) graded above a C and teams who got worse got below a C.


  • Team salary and cap space figures are my own based on salaries reported by Winsidr and High Post Hoops. You can check out my complete cap sheets on Winsidr’s patreon for just $3 a month.
  • I also will be expanding on these grades for Patreon after the draft in April and after training camp.

Atlanta Dream: A-

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Courtney Williams (acquired from CT); Kalani Brown (acquired from LA); Glory Johnson (signed one-year, $165k contract); Shekinna Stricklen (signed two-year, $350,500 contract); Alexis Jones (picked up off of waivers)
  • Departures: Angel McCoughtry (signed with Las Vegas); Brittney Sykes, Marie Gulich (traded to LA for Kalani Brown); Jessica Breland, Nia Coffey (traded to PHX in Courtney Williams deal)
  • Remaining free agents: Alex Bentley (not returning), Alaina Coates (reserved)
  • Training Camp contracts: Blake Dietrick, Elina Babkina

Atlanta had a dream of an offseason. (I’m so sorry.) The Dream acquired Courtney Williams from Connecticut in a three-team deal that sent Jessica Breland and Nia Coffey to Phoenix. Williams, a native of nearby Folkston, Georgia, was a sensation both on and off the court during Connecticut’s 2019 Finals run. Simply put, she’s a bucket and a star for a team desperate for both.

Williams will see a familiar face as former Sun sharpshooter Shekina Stricklen (say that five times fast) signed a two-year with Atlanta. Stricklen won the three-point contest last year and can really help the Dream’s abysmal outside shooting. They also signed Glory Johnson to a reasonable contract for one year. Johnson’s numbers have declined over the past few years. But she could be in for a career revitalization if she keeps shooting threes instead of mid-rangers.

The franchise’s relationship clearly soured with Angel McCoughtry in 2019 and they let her go to Vegas after not using the core designation on it. On one hand, they lost their franchise player for nothing. On the other, they accurately saw cap space, time, and change as assets and made a tough decision for the betterment of the franchise. That’s a plus for me and whatever missteps they made with McCoughtry happened before this free agency period.

That’s how the Dream earned an A. They got a minus for a couple small things. Getting Kalani Brown is a nice move, especially with her defensive upside. But I think they gave up too much to get her by sending Marie Gulich in addition to Brittney Sykes to LA. Losing Breland and Coffey hurts as well. Although, they likely had to give them up for Courtney Williams and that’s an easy decision.

Finally, this team still doesn’t quite fit yet. They lack depth, a true starting point guard, and have a lot of mouths to feed on offense for a true title contender. But still Atlanta improved much more than anyone predicted and they have the 4th overall pick in the draft.

Chicago Sky: B+

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Courtney Vandersloot (re-signed two-year, $406k); Allie Quigley (re-signed two-year, $394k); Stefanie Dolson (re-signed two-year, $355,255); Kahleah Copper (signed two-year, $330k); Azura Stevens (acquired from Dallas)
  • Departures: Astou Ndour (signed-and-traded to Dallas); Jamierra Faulkner (injured, will miss 2020); Katie Lou Samuelson (traded to Dallas)
  • Remaining free agents: None
  • Training Camp Contracts: Sydney Colson, Alexis Prince

The Chicago Sky are running it back for the next two seasons. They re-signed the core of Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, and Stefanie Dolson to two year declining deals at less than their max salaries. That is nothing short of a massive win and sign of a great culture in Chicago. Vandersloot played at an MVP-level in 2019, Allie Quigley is the best shooter in the league, and Stef Dolson fits around them perfectly.

However, the two-year terms are a bit scary as the Sky have no one under contract after 2021. They may have to make tough decisions in the 2022 offseason when those three, Diamond DeShields, Gabby Williams, and newly acquired Azura Stevens will need new deals. But for now, it’s all good.

Astou Ndour became a cap casualty after signing a max offer sheet and getting traded to Dallas. Losing Ndour is tough, but she was not worth a three-year max deal to Chicago and they did well to get a 2021 first rounder for her. Sydney Colson brings a solid backup point guard and locker room presence.

Those are “A” moves, in my opinion. The Sky lost points because of the Kahleah Copper and Azura Stevens deals. Copper is a good player with potential. But she got a very large deal for a player likely coming off the bench. The deal also hinders their ability to re-sign Jantel Lavender and Cheyenne Parker. But Copper has upside and they probably could not replace her directly so it’s only a slight negative.

The Azura Stevens trade is a bit of a head-scratcher. Not because Azura isn’t talented (she is very talented), but because the Sky had to give up Katie Lou Samuelson and a first rounder for a big coming off a foot injury. Samuelson didn’t fit in Chicago, but she also never got a chance to play. The team essentially devalued Samuelson and then traded her at her lowest point. The trade will look fine if Stevens is healthy and fits as well as the Sky imagine. But it looks like an overpay right now.

Connecticut Sun: B+

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: DeWanna Bonner (signed-and traded from Phoenix); Jonquel Jones (re-signed 2-year max); Briann January (acquired from Phoenix); Bria Holmes (re-signed 1-year, $130k); Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (acquired from Seattle for 2021 second)
  • Departures: Courtney Williams (traded to Atlanta); Rachel Banham (traded to Minnesota for 2021 second round pick); Layshia Clarendon (signed with NYL); Shekinna Stricklen (signed with ATL); Morgan Tuck (signed-and-traded to Seattle)
  • Remaining free agents: None
  • Training Camp Contracts: Natisha Hiedeman, Jazmon Gwathmey, Valeriane Ayayi

Connecticut had the hardest free agency to grade. They did some great stuff. Acquiring DeWanna Bonner from Phoenix stunned the league. Her arrival puts Connecticut right back in the Title discussion for 2020 and beyond. Although, Bonner’s four-year supermax contract could get grisly at the end as she is already 32. They also had to send Morgan Tuck to Seattle to get a better first round pick to trade for Bonner. But that is the price of a superstar and Bonner is certainly that.

The Sun also re-signed Jonquel Jones to a two-year max deal. The term surprised me and others who expected Jones to sign for one year then get a supermax next offseason. So it’s a win for Connecticut to have Jones for an extra year. Bria Holmes also re-signed. The contract is a bit rich for a player who lacked consistency, but it’s for just one year.

If the offseason ended there, they would get an A on the spot. However, Connecticut also lost several contributors. Layshia Clarendon became dispensable with the rise of Natisha Heideman in 2019 (who re-signed a camp deal but will make the team). Trading Rachel Banham, who struggled mightily in 2019, for anything is a win. But losing Stricklen, one of the league’s best three point shooters, hurts a lot. The logic was that the Sun needed to let her go to re-sign Courtney Williams…

About that. Williams decided that she wanted to leave for her hometown team in Atlanta. The Sun recovered well by getting Briann January, who will help their outside shooting, from Phoenix in the trade. But Williams’s departure is a huge blow both on and off the court after her supernova performance in the 2019 playoffs.

So what do we do with this? The team obviously didn’t get worse or make any clearly bad decisions. However, the Sun acquired the best free agent and didn’t clearly improve. Like teachers have done since the dawn of time, I’m just going to give them a B+ and hope Connecticut’s parents don’t request a conference.

Dallas Wings: B-

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Isabelle Harrison (re-signed 3-year, $463,365); Megan Gustafson (re-signed 3-year, $195,000); Moriah Jefferson (re-signed 3-year, $525,200); Astou Ndour (sign-and-trade from Chicago, 3-year max); Katie Lou Samuelson (acquired from Chicago); Marina Mabrey (acquired from LA for 2021 second round pick)
  • Departures: Skylar Diggins-Smith (signed-and-traded to Phoenix for 3 first round picks); Glory Johnson (signed with Atlanta); Azura Stevens (traded to Chicago)
  • Remaining free agents: None
  • Training Camp Contracts: Karlie Samuelson, Morgan Bertsch, Imani McGee-Stafford

The Wings gets their largest demerit for losing Skylar Diggins-Smith. But much like Atlanta, the missteps with Skylar happened long ago and I took that into consideration. They also did well to get three first rounders for Skylar, including the 5th pick in 2020. Glory Johnson left Dallas after 7 years with the franchise. Johnson’s numbers had slipped over the previous three years. But she’s still talented and useful. Over the past two seasons, the team has lost three franchise faces including Liz Cambage.

However, the Wings made it clear that Arike Ogunbowale is the new face of the franchise. They made moves to surround her with complimentary talent on three-year deals to match her own rookie deal. The biggest acquisitions came from Chicago. The Wings traded one of the firsts they acquired for Skylar to sign RFA Astou Ndour to a 3-year max deal. That is a huge price to pay for a player who played sparingly outside of 13 games at the end of 2019. However, those games were dope, Ndour should fit well with Arike, and her deal will end before Dallas has to pay Arike (and others).

Also, the Wings replaced that 2021 first-rounder and received Katie Lou Samuelson in exchange for Azura Stevens. As I mentioned above, Stevens is coming off an injury and became dispensable when Ndour signed. Samuelson should be a great fit as a shooter around Arike and they got assets to take her on. Moriah Jefferson’s contract seems like a slight overpay considering they don’t know how she fits with Arike. But Jefferson is a very good young player when healthy. They also acquired Marina Mabrey, Ogunbowale’s college teammate, from LA to provide even more shooting.

However, they left themselves a lot to sort out in training camp. They have 12 players under regular contracts, 3 training camp players, and 6 draft picks with 4 picks in the first round. Only 15 players can come to camp and only 12 can make the team. I’m docking them points for two reasons: Figuring out who will make the team in camp means sacrificing precious preparation time for the core and they will lose assets they recently acquired for nothing. Still a positive offseason, but somewhat incomplete.

Indiana Fever: C

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Benijah Laney (re-signed 2-year, $182,700); Tiffany Mitchell (re-signed 3-year, $432K)
  • Departures: None
  • Remaining free agents: None (yet)
  • Training Camp Contracts: Bernadett Hatar

The Fever were the only team that didn’t bring sign any other team’s free agents or lose any of their players from 2019. A true bastion of stability in a world of variability. A pint of plain vanilla ice cream among a freezer full of Ben and Jerry’s. A shade of beige in the rainbow.

Okay you get it. Indy didn’t do much. They matched Tiffany Mitchell’s offer sheet from Atlanta. Mitchell has steadily improved over her first four years in the league. She can handle the ball well and scores somewhat efficiently. Mitchell needs to improve defensively to be worth the contract. But the deal is unprotected so the Fever can get out of it if need be.

Betnijah Laney has the opposite issue. She is a solid defender on the wing, which every team needs. But Laney hurt the Fever’s offense in 2019. Her contract is a bargain and is unprotected, but she has to show offensive improvement to secure a role on the team. The Fever also brought in Hungarian giant Bernadett Hatar on a training camp deal. She’s a 6’10” modern center who can seemingly play inside and out. I don’t know much about Hatar and she may not make the team, but her size is tantalizing.

The Fever still have the 3rd overall pick in the draft and more moves to make. They have 14 players (including Hatar) under contract and three draft picks, so they’ll need to cut 5 players before the season. They get a C for not damaging their team, but not getting better.

Las Vegas Aces: C+

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Angel McCoughtry (signed 2-year max); Sugar Rodgers (signed 1-year, $80k); Danielle Robinson (signed 1-year, $130K)
  • Departures: Sydney Colson (signed with Chicago); Epiphanny Prince (signed with Seattle); Carolyn Swords (retired)
  • Remaining free agents: Liz Cambage (RFA-will re-sign); Tamera Young (unlikely to return)
  • Training Camp Contracts: Raisa Musina, Lindsey Allen

While the Las Vegas Aces are busy dunking all over SBNation’s Matt Ellentuck, I think I’ll be able to slip this grade past them. The Aces’ biggest move was acquiring Angel McCoughtry, one of the league’s most recognizable faces. McCoughtry was one of the best players in WNBA from 2010-2016 when she averaged 20 points and 5 rebounds per game, made the WNBA All-Defensive team 7 straight years, won the scoring title twice, and led the Dream to the Final three times.

That’s a hell of a resume, so why did the Aces grade out so low? First, Angel has missed two of the previous three years and is coming off of a major knee injury at age 33. She seems healthy again, but we have yet to see the athleticism from her younger years. Second, McCoughtry could clog up the team’s spacing which I discussed here. Lastly, she needs the ball to be effective as a non-shooting scorer. It will be hard to get her enough touches with A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage, Kelsey Plum, and maybe Kayla McBride ahead of her in the pecking order.

It’s a move that any team would make. But right now, it’s hard to see how Angel raises the team’s ceiling that much. Also her two-year max contract may make it difficult to re-sign both Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum next year.

The Aces essentially swapped Sydney Colson for Danielle Robinson. Robinson is more talented, but she also can’t shoot from outside the paint and Colson played a huge role in the locker room. They are also allegedly letting Tamera Young go, which I think is a mistake as there are no clear ways to replace her.

The last complication here is that Liz Cambage has yet to officially re-sign. She is coming back, but likely on a one-year deal to get a supermax in 2021. The Aces made a big splash, but I’m just not sure that the team got much better yet. Of course, I may be eating these words come September.



Biggest questions for each WNBA team in 2020 [Part 2]

We’re in the endgame now. After two insane weeks of WNBA Free Agency, the dust is settling. Most teams are done making moves outside of filling out their training camp rosters. A bombshell or two could be on the way (*stares at Tina Charles*). But we largely know what most rosters will look like in 2020. Now we can begin ranking teams and asking the big questions for each roster.

My criteria for the team’s biggest question is what issue will most impact the team’s ability to win the 2020 WNBA Championship or complete whatever other goals they may have. These questions don’t necessarily relate to long-term team-building issues, like cap room, contracts, or further free agency signings. It’s all about how teams complete their 2020 goals and the biggest impediments to those goals.

NOTE: I had to break this up into two parts because of length. I did by using last year’s standings. Part two is the bottom 6 teams and you can check out Part 1 of the top 6 teams here.

Minnesota Lynx: How does Reeve rebuild?

After news broke that Odyssey Sims would miss time and Danielle Robinson signed with Vegas, the real bombshell rocked the Lynx organization. Seimone Augustus left Minnesota after 13 years, 4 championships, and 8 All-Star game appearances for their archrival in Los Angeles. Her departure could signal a Lynx rebuild.

They reportedly went after some big names. But Head Coach and GM Cheryl Reeve was unwilling to mortgage the future because this team’s best days are likely ahead of them. Rookie of the Year Naphessa Collier, Stephanie Talbot, Jessica Shepard, Lexie Brown and (potentially) Cecilia Zandalasini make up a tantilizing under-25 core. But they still need time to develop.

So how does Minnesota go from potential to powerhouse? Reeve could try to rebuild on the fly while competing for a playoff spot. They did so in 2019. This path would be best if she thinks the youngsters will be ready to challenge for a title in 2021.

She could also blow it up, better their 2021 draft pick, and collect assets/cap space for the resplendent 2021 free agency class. Odyssey Sims, Damiris Dantas, and newly acquired Rachel Banham could be a part of the next great Lynx team. Of that group, Dantas is most likely to be moved since she’s an expiring deal. The biggest decision point is whether to trade Sylvia Fowles. She’s 34, but still very productive and could get the Lynx a hefty return.

It’ll be a tough decision for Reeve. But as she knows, winning a championship in the WNBA requires tough decisions.

Phoenix Mercury: Can the bench keep them afloat?

The most discussed question mark for Phoenix has been Bria Hartley’s max contract, which I broke down here. But Hartley’s contract really becomes an issue going forward rather than this season. She will be likely fine as their starting two-guard. But her max salary does effect their ability to address their most pressing concern: the bench.

Currently, the Mercury’s bench is made of Nia Coffey, Alanna Smith, Sophie Cunningham, and Brianna Turner. They have the 10th pick in the draft and (probably) enough cap space for one bench contributor.

Coffey is somehow the most accomplished of the group at 24 years old. The three-year vet is on her third team in as many season. She is a solid defender who held opponents 0.791 points per possession last season. But Coffey is a work in progress on the other end. She has never posted more than 5.3 points per game or better than 44.3% true shooting percentage. Coffey has also never played in the playoffs.

The trio of sophomores all showed flashes of their potential, particularly Brianna Turner. Turner put up 0.959 points per possession on offense in a limited sample size and rebounded well. Cunningham was already a good defender in her rookie year.

But still, Phoenix lacks even one proven bench player. They still can find one in free agency, perhaps re-signing Essence Carson. However, they will need major growth from the young players and a great game plan to keep them above water when the starters rest.

Indiana Fever: Is Teaira McCowan a star?

The Fever are bringing the band back together in 2020. They re-signed restricted free agents Tiffany Mitchell and Betnijah Laney to reasonable deals. Victoria Vivians returns from a knee injury that sidelined her for all of 2019.

New Head Coach Marianne Stanley will have a lot of continuity from last season. But this team didn’t make the playoffs in 2019. To make real noise in 2020, Teaira McCowan needs to develop into a star in her second season.

McCowan, the 3rd pick in the 2019 draft, came into the league as a big’s big. At Mississippi State, she used her 6’7″ frame to tower over opponents for rebounds and blocks. But when she got to Indiana, it became clear that she needed to work on her footwork on both ends to unlock her potential.

She came off the bench at the beginning of the season and went through some growing pains. But by the end of 2019, McCowan looked like the beast that she can be. Over the last 10 games of the season, she averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds per game while leading the team with an 8.6 net rating. She finished the year leading the league in rebounding rate and in the 87th percentile of offensive efficiency, per Synergy.

The Fever need a whole season like the end of 2019 from McCowan. Actually, they need more. She’ll need to develop into a better rim runner and improve her defense on faster bigs and switches. McCowan needs to be a star to take Indiana to the next level and she has all the tools to do so in 2020.

Dallas Wings: How can they maximize Arike Ogunbowale?

With Skylar Diggins-Smith gone, the Wings have anointed Arike Ogunbowale as their franchise player. They have signed several players to three-year contracts that time up with Ogunbowale’s rookie deal and collected draft picks to add young players. But Dallas still has a lot to figure out in terms of what system works best and which players fit around Arike.

Ogunbowale averaged 19.1 points per game, became the first rookie to put up multiple 35-point games, and set the rookie record for most 20-point games in a row. However, she scored inefficiently and finished in 65th percentile in points per possession, per Synergy. She also initiated the offense often last year, despite scoring most efficiently off ball and not creating shots for others enough.

Arike will refine her skills, but the Wings need to adjust their offense to unlock her full potential. She had 309 more possessions than any other Wings player, which made it hard for Arike to be efficient. She needs another ball handler on the court and shooters or players with driving ability to outlet to when she gets in traffic.

Moriah Jefferson will help with ease the ball handling load as she returns from injury. Allisha Gray and Kayla Thornton should play more complimentary roles after a year with Arike. The Wings also acquired shooters Astou Ndour, Marina Mabrey, and Katie Lou Samuelson to fit around their star. With four first round picks, the Wings should be able to find at least one more player to maximize Arike (If they don’t take Satou Sabally, I’m going to freak out).

All of this should work. But Dallas is anxious to figure out exactly what is best for Arike Ogunbowale after losing Skylar Diggins-Smith and Liz Cambage in consecutive seasons.

New York Liberty: Who is part of the future?

Like Dallas, the Liberty have to plan for the future rather than the present. That future will become much more clear when they make the first overall pick in the April’s draft (Hello, Sabrina Ionescu!). But for now, they can sort through their current roster for which players are part of their future.

Asia Durr, last year’s first round pick, and Kia Nurse, the team’s most efficient scorer, are clearly building blocks. Marine Johannes is as well with her a new contract after an eye-opening first year. 

Han Xu, because of her lack of playing time, and Amanda Zahui B, because she’s an expiring contract, are debatable as future pieces. But Zahui B played great in 2019 and Han Xu’s potential is tantalizing (both on and off the court)

The rest of the roster is up for discussion. Layshia Clarendon, Brittney Boyd, and Rebecca Allen will all be back in 2020. Clarendon’s leadership and Allen’s shooting ability makes them great bets to find a long-term role if healthy. Kiah Stokes and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe will battle it out for a roster spot in training camp.

This brings us to Tina Charles. The superstar has played for her hometown Liberty since 2014. She is core designated at the moment and rumors have swirled about a potential trade. For New York to start a new era, they may have to move on from Charles. It doesn’t necessarily need to happen this year but New York could fetch a big return by trading her now. This won’t be an easy decision for either party so I expect we may have to wait for a resolution.

Atlanta Dream: Who is the alpha dog?

After finishing dead last in 2019, the Atlanta Dream had one of the best off-seasons in the WNBA. They completely shook up their roster by acquiring Courtney Williams, Sheekina Stricklen, Glory Johnson, and Kalani Brown. They lost Angel McCoughtry, Brittney Sykes, Marie Gulich, Jessica Breland, and Nia Coffey. Atlanta has a chance for a fresh start after a season marked by missed shots and reported locker room turmoil.

Now the issue becomes making these players fit together. They’ll have to figure out a lot (who starts, how to create a good enough defense, who is the point guard). In my opinion, the biggest issue is finding a balance between Tiffany Hayes and Courtney Williams.

Tiffany Hayes played at an All-Star level from 2016-2018 and made All-WNBA first team in 2017. Courtney Williams dominated the 2019 playoffs on and off the court after a breakout season in Connecticut. Like most stars, they likely expect to be the team’s leader. Both of them led their teams in usage percentage and field goal attempts last season. A battle between alpha dogs could lead to chemistry issues, which Atlanta is desperate to avoid after last season.

In fairness, both players have played with other stars–Hayes played with McCoughty while Williams teamed with Jonquel Jones (among others)–without problems. But Williams is ascending to stardom and likely wants to be a primary option, a position that Hayes likely thinks is filled. Winning will help. But head coach Nicki Collen needs to make sure they can coexist on the court and off of it to help this group reach their potential. I think they can and will, but the relationship could go sideways and torpedo the season.

Biggest question for each WNBA team in 2020 [Part 1]

We’re in the endgame now. After two insane weeks of WNBA Free Agency, the dust is settling. Most teams are done making moves outside of filling out their training camp rosters. A bombshell or two could be on the way (*stares at Tina Charles*). But we largely know what most rosters will look like in 2020. Now we can begin ranking teams and asking the big questions for each roster.

My criteria for the team’s biggest question is what issue will most impact the team’s ability to win the 2020 WNBA Championship (or complete whatever other goals they may have). These questions don’t necessarily relate to team-building issues, like cap room, contracts, or further free agency signings. It’s all about how teams complete their 2020 goals and the biggest impediments to those goals.

NOTE: I had to break this up into two parts because of length. I did by using last year’s standings and started with the top 6 teams. The bottom 6 teams will be featured in part 2, dropping very soon.

Washington Mystics: How do they replace Kristi Toliver?

After one of her best season ever, Kristi Toliver left the Nation’s Capital for Los Angeles. As great of a move as it is for the Sparks, Toliver’s departure leaves a big void for DC. They have to replace not only Toliver’s 13 points and 6 assists per game, but also Toliver’s off-court leadership.

Head Coach Mike Thibault’s direct solution was signing Leilani Mitchell. Mitchell brings a lot of the same skills as Toliver. She’s an excellent shooter and pick-and-roll ballhandler. She isn’t quite the creator that Toliver is, but played better on defense and in transition last season.

Coach T will also need to rely on his young players to make up for Toliver’s absence. Ariel Atkins and Aerial Powers need to step up even more after breakout years in 2019. The duo may start together and create a very scary defensive lineup with Natasha Cloud, EDD, and Latoya Sanders. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough will need to step up with increased opportunity. After missing all of last season, Kiara Leslie will get a chance to prove herself. Personally, I believe these players will step up and make up for Toliver’s production.

However, replicating her off-court impact will be difficult. The team had near perfect chemistry last season. Mitchell is a vet and the rest of last year’s team grew immensely in the championship run. Still, it’s very hard to predict how Toliver’s departure will affect the locker room.

Connecticut Sun: How do they get over the hump?

The Sun had a rollercoaster of an offseason. They acquired DeWanna Bonner and Briann January from Phoenix (in separate deals). But Connecticut lost Courtney Williams, Shekinna Stricklen, Layshia Clarendon, Rachel Banham, and Morgan Tuck.

The Sun got more talented with Bonner but they also lost key cogs from 2019. They need to improve from last year’s stellar season to win a title because of the moves made by other contenders. So where does that improvement come from?

They ranked 5th in defensive rating in 2019 by giving up 96.8 points per 100 possessions. Subbing Bonner and January for Williams and Stricklen should make the defense stronger. But the points per possession stats suggest it won’t be a giant leap forward. Bonner is an excellent offensive player and should keep the offense humming. But she (and January) probably can’t make up for losing Williams in terms of shot creation. Obviously the fit and chemistry of this team could push them to new heights. But at least on paper, they aren’t SO much better than last season.

If all their moves make them only slightly better than 2019, the Sun will need growth from their young players. Bria Holmes got a nice payday (1-year, $130k) after a pretty average offensive year in 2019. But Holmes could improve with greater opportunity (as she showed in Atlanta) and she adds a lot defensively. Natisha Heideman and Brionna Jones showed flashes last season. They need to be consistently good to push Connecticut over the top.

Las Vegas Aces: Where’s the spacing?

Every offensive statistic: “Three-pointers are good and necessary for a top-level offense.” Las Vegas Aces:


That’s an exaggeration, but not by much. In 2019, the Aces finished last in the league in three point attempts by a wide margin. They brought in Angel McCoughtry, who is one of the best players in league history and a career 28.6% three-point shooter. McCoughtry does almost all of her work in the paint and in the mid-range. That’s great, but it’s also true for Liz Cambage, A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young, Danielle Robinson, and Dearica Hamby. Bill Laimbeer will have to figure out a way to get these players space to operate.

Giving Kelsey Plum the keys to the offense as a point guard will help. In the playoffs, Plum played great in that role and opened up the team’s spacing. Kayla McBride and Sugar Rodgers returning will also help. But there will be increased pressure on all three to play from the outside and potentially hurt their ability to drive to the basket.

Laimbeer figured it out last year with similar challenges, but finding spacing will be even more difficult in 2020.

Los Angeles Sparks: How will Derek Fisher manage this star-studded roster?

The Sparks will come into the 2020 season with one of the most talented rosters in league history. LA added Kristi Toliver and Seimone Augustus to the group of Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, Chelsea Gray (who is expected to re-sign soon), and Chiney Ogwumike. They also brought in Brittney Sykes and Marie Gulich. In short, WOW.

The challenge for head coach Derek Fisher will be to ensure that the team has chemistry on and off the court. The starting lineup will likely feature Gray, Toliver, Sykes, Parker, and Nneka with Chiney coming off the bench first. Gray and Parker will orchestrate the offense with the rest cutting and moving off of them. This should work well.

But Fisher has a lot of mouths to feed. Players will have to sacrifice numbers to make it work. Fisher will have to figure out how to handle end of game situations both in terms of who’s playing and who’s taking the last shot.

All of this bleeds over into the locker room. When players feel they aren’t getting enough minutes or shots, they tend to become disgruntled (like any of us would). It’ll be precarious situation for Fisher. He had well-documented issues in the playoffs last year. But he and the team have seemingly moved on. In 2020, Fisher will have to be perfect to make sure the team gels.

Chicago Sky: Does Diamond DeShields make the leap in 2020?

The Sky are essentially running it back in 2020. Chicago acquired Azura Stevens from Dallas in exchange for Katie Lou Samuelson and a 2021 first-rounder. They also lost Astou Ndour to the Wings and replaced the injured Jamierra Faulker with free agent Sydney Colson. Stevens has a lot of potential and could raise the team’s ceiling, especially considering that Samuelson didn’t contribute much in 2019. But she’s coming off a foot injury so I don’t want to overestimate her impact yet.

Even with a healthy productive Stevens, the Sky are largely the same group from last year. But like I mentioned with Connecticut above, every other contending team in the league got better for 2020 or was already better than Chicago in 2019. So where does Chicago get better from last year to keep up with their competition? To me, the answer is Diamond DeShields.

Diamond had a breakout second-season where she made the All-Star Game. Earlier this offseason, she proclaimed herself the “best guard in the league.” Chicago will need that to be true.

She lead the league in total defensive possessions and ranked 4th in total offensive possession, so she doesn’t need more opportunities. DeShields just needs to be more efficient. She ranked in the 64th percentile on offense and 47th percentile on defense in terms of points per possession, per Synergy. To be the superstar that Chicago needs, DeShields needs to take better shots, turn the ball over less, and stick with her assignments off-ball. At just 24 years old, DeShields not only could make those improvements but is expected to.

Courtney Vandersloot played at an MVP-level last season. Allie Quigley is an All-Star. Stefanie Dolson, Gabby Williams, and Jantel Lavender help make up a very good supporting cast. But the Sky will go as far as DeShields take them.

Seattle Storm: Can they be better than they were in 2018?

They’re back! Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird are returning to the Storm after missing all of 2019. Stewart is coming off a torn achilles suffered right before last season.  While a torn achilles is possibly the scariest injury for a basketball player, we can reasonably expect the 2018 MVP to get back to 100% at just 25 years old (BY GOD). Bird is on the other end of the aging curve at 39 and has knee issues.  But she’s Sue fricking Bird.

The superstar duo comes back to a team full of familiar faces. The Storm essentially swapped Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis for Morgan Tuck from Connecticut (in separate trades). The two fill different roles, but largely replace each other. Courtney Paris is probably on the way out and Shavonte Zellous may be too. Other than those three players, most of the 2018 core including Jewell Loyd, Alysha Clark, and Natasha Howard, is still in Seattle.

But the dynamics of the team have changed since that championship run. Natasha Howard had a breakout season where she averaged 18 points and 8 rebounds and finished 5th in MVP voting. Jordin Canada proved to be a defensive monster by leading the league in steals per game. Alysha Clark (48.1% on 106 three point attempts) and Sami Whitcomb (34.2% on 184 threes) showed their value as knock down shooters. Mercedes Russell was one of the most improved players in the league.

All of this sounds great. Just add the best (*Mystics fans scream* “second-best!”) player in the world and the greatest point guard in league history to this group and they will roll to the title, right? The Storm might just do that. But it will also be a huge challenge for Dan Hughes. It isn’t so much of a locker room issue (as I talked about with LA) because these players have all played together and won a title as a unit.

The challenge is maximizing all of these players and putting together lineups where each can shine. Last season, the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. In 2020, Seattle will need to make adjustments to avoid the opposite issue.