2020 WNBA Season Preview: Eastern Conference (By David Hess)
The 2020 WNBA season was expected to begin in May, but due to COVID-19, they have been forced to postpone the beginning of the season. Recently the league came up with a plan to finally get the season started. It will include a 22-game season with a traditional playoff schedule. The full season will start on July 24th and all games will take place at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Hey, It’s live sports. Who am I to complain?
How about we take a look at how the teams stack up for the upcoming season. In this article, I will look at how I feel the six teams in the Eastern Conference will finish.
Odds To Win WNBA Title - +350
2019 Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Mystics were 1st in the league in scoring at 89.3 ppg, 1st in shooting at 46.9%, 2nd in 3-point shooting at 36.6% and 1st in free throw shooting at 87.5%. On the defensive end of the court, they were 4th in points allowed (77.3 ppg), 8th in defensive FG percentage (43.0%) and 7th in three-point defense (34.0%).
The Washington Mystics won the WNBA Title a year ago. They went an impressive 26-8 during the regular season and then went on to take down the Connecticut Sun in a thrilling five games series to win the Title. They also knocked off Las Vegas in four games in the playoffs as well. What can they do for an encore? Well, let’s take a look. The Mystics were expected tho have the majority of their team back this year but a couple of starters have opted out of playing this year. The WNBA has a provision for this year, which states that a player can sit out if they are high-risk to contracting COVID-19 and they will still be paid for the season. Players who decide to sit out for any other reason will not get paid but they also will not face disciplinary actions. Natasha Cloud averaged 9.0 ppg and 5.6 assists per game a year ago and she will be sitting out this season to focus on social justice matter. Also, sitting out will be LaToya Sanders, who averaged 6.1 ppg and 5.5 rebounds per game last year. She has had health issues in the past.
Losing those two will make it a bit hard for the Mystics to repeat as champs and we note that a team has not done so in the league since the 2001/2002 season (LA Sparks). Still, Washington has some solid depth and they did add Tina Charles, who was the 1st overall pick of the 2010 Draft (Connecticut Sun) and wh won the 2012 league MVP. She averaged 16.9 ppg for the New York Liberty last year and has averaged 18.1 ppg in her career. Elena Delle Donne (19.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg) is back after winning league MVP a year ago and she is the only player to win league MVP for two teams. She also did it with the Chicago Sky back in 2015. The Mystics also have back Emma Meesseman, who was the MVP of the Finals and averaged 13.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 3.2 apg last year. They did lose Kristi Toliver (13.0 ppg, 6.0 apg) but overall, this team has a tone of talent and that should lead to them walking away with the Eastern Conference title again. I also feel that they will be in the finals again as well.
Odds To Win WNBA Title - +800
2019 Regular Season Stats & Rankings: Connecticut was 4th in the league in scoring at 80.8 ppg, 7th in shooting at 42.3%, 3rd in 3-point shooting at 35.6%, and 12th in free throw shooting at 70.4%. On the defensive end of the court, they were 7th in points allowed (77.9 ppg), 11th in defensive FG percentage (43.9%), and 1st in three-point defense (30.8%).
The Connecticut Sun surprised many people last year by making it all the way to the WNBA finals. They had a solid season overall at 23-11 but still many did not expect them to do much in the postseason. The Sun swept the LA Sparks in three games before losing to the Washington Mystics in a thrilling five games series. Now they will look to get back to the finals, but the prospect of doing so has been made harder by the fact that leading scorer, Jonquel Jones, has opted to sit out this season, due to coronavirus concerns. She averaged 14.6 ppg, 9.7 rpg, and 2.0 blocks per game a year ago. Here could be the real kicker. Connecticut was last in the league in free-throw shooting, despite the fact that Jonquel hit 81.8% of her attempts. They will miss her in a number of ways, but still, the Sun should finish 2nd in the weak Eastern Conference.
The Sun did bring in DeWanna Bonner, who spent the first 10 years of her career at Phoenix. In the last two years, she has averaged a solid 17.2 ppg and has an average of 14.4 ppg in her career overall. She is also a solid rebounder, averaging 7.6 and 7.2 rpg the last two seasons. She played a big part in knocking the Sun out of the 2018 playoffs, so Connecticut is happy to have her, especially with Jones sitting out. Brian January, also came over from Phoenix after averaging 6.5 ppg and 3.2 apg, while also hitting 83.7% of her free throws. Courtney Williams (13.2 ppg last year) is off to Atlanta, but Connecticut still has Alyssa Thomas (11.6 ppg) and Jasmine Thomas (11.1 ppg) back in the starting lineup. The depth is decent but will not be enough to overtake the Mystics in the East. Still, Connecticut will be in the postseason this year.
Odds To Win WNBA Title - +2000
2019 Regular Season Stats & Rankings: Chicago was 2nd in the league in scoring at 84.6 ppg, 3rd in shooting at 44.8%, 7th in 3-point shooting at 33.6%, and 4th in free throw shooting at 81.9%. On the defensive end of the court, they were 11th in points allowed (83.3 ppg), 4th in defensive FG percentage (41.8%), and 4th in three-point defense (33.1%).
In the Eastern Conference, it is the Washington Mystics and the Connecticut sun and then everyone else. There is a big talent gap between the top two teams in the conference and the other four teams. Still, the Chicago Sky has the best chance of the rest of the teams to make it to the postseason. Chicago has one of the best backcourt trios in the league in Courtney Vandersloot (11.2 ppg (9.1 apg, 4.3 rpg), Allie Quigley (13.8 ppg, 44.2% from long range), and Diamond DeShields (16.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg). We all remember Quigley from the NBA/WNBA H.O.R.S.E competition. That girl can shoot but we do note that offense was not a problem for this team.
Their issues came on the other end of the floor where they were 2nd to last in points allowed a season ago. Part of the reason for that is that they play at a high tempo, which will produce plenty of points for both teams. Chicago was 4th in FG% defense a year ago. The defense will need to play a bit better this year, especially if the offense gets off to a slow start. Remember that many of the players have not shot a basketball on an indoor court in a few months due to the strict quarantine guidelines that the team has implemented. Despite those strict guidelines, we do note that backup guard Sydney Colson, who came over from Las Vegas, has recently tested positive for COVID-19. It is unclear whether she will be able to start the season with the team. Chicago has a decent team overall and in a 22-game season they could surprise but still I see them finishing 3rd in the East.
Odds To Win WNBA Title - +5000
2019 Regular Season Stats & Rankings: Indiana was 7th in the league in scoring at 77.6 ppg, 8th in shooting at 42.2%, 4th in 3-point shooting at 34.6%, and 6th in free throw shooting at 79.4%. On the defensive end of the court, they were 10th in points allowed (80.3 ppg), 5th in defensive FG percentage (42.2%), and 11th in three-point defense (35.8%).
It really gets bad in the Eastern Conference after the first three teams as the bottom three in conference combined to go 31-71 a year ago. Compare that to the 43-59 record that the bottom three in the West combined for. Back in 2018, the Indiana Fever had the worst record in the league at 6-28 but they took a step forward last year by going 13-21. I expect them to take another small step forward this year but it will not be enough to land them in the postseason. Indiana did go 4-2 SU & 6-0 ATS in their final six games last year, which included a 28 point win over a Connecticut team that was in the NBA Finals. The Fever will hope to ride the momentum to this year.
Teaira McCowan was the 3rd overall pick for the Fever in last year’s draft and while she averaged just 10.0 ppg for the season, she finished strong, averaging 18.3 ppg over her final six games. McGowan could have a huge 2020 if she picks up where she left off. Kelsey Mitchell is back after leading the team in scoring at 13.6 ppg a season ago, while Candice Dupree (11.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg) is also back. The Fever scored big in the draft by selecting Lauren Cox (#3 overall), who averaged 12.0 ppg and 7.5 boards per game in four years at Baylor. Cox and McGowan give the Fever two solid building blocks, which will serve them well for years to come. This is a team that is on the right track but they are not ready for the postseason just yet.
New York Liberty
Odds To Win WNBA Title - +4000
2019 Regular Season Stats & Rankings: New York was 8th in the league in scoring at 77.4 ppg, 10th in shooting at 41.4%, 8th in 3-point shooting at 33.4%, and 8th in free throw shooting at 78.8%. On the defensive end of the court, they were 12th in points allowed (84.7 ppg), 10th in defensive FG percentage (43.8%), and 12th in three-point defense (35.8%).
The New York Liberty had a miserable 2019 as they finished 5th in the conference with a 10-24 record. Due to the bad 2019, New York has an entirely new coaching staff, led by first-year head coach, Walt Hopkins, who is the 8th coach in their history. A big reason for optimism this year is that New York had a banner draft. With the first overall pick, they selected Sabrina Ionescu, who averaged 16.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, and 9.1 apg for the Oregon Ducks a season ago. She will bring both offense and defense to the team. New York continued to build their team by selecting Megan walker with the 9th overall pick and then took Jocelyn Willoughby with the 10th overall pick. New York had a banner draft but remember, that these players are all young and they will not have the normal training camp to grow.
New York did lose leading scorer Tina Charles (16.9 ppg) in a trade with the Washington Mystics but still, this is a team that is building for the future and sacrifices had to be made. Kia Nurse is back after averaging 13.7 ppg a year ago and she is the only returning player to average more than 9.8 ppg last year. New York is a young team with six tookies on it and despite how good Ionescu is, they are still a couple of years away from competing for a playoff spot.
Odds To Win WNBA Title - +10000
2019 Regular Season Stats & Rankings: Atlanta was 12th in the league in scoring at 71.2 ppg, 12th in shooting at 37.1%, 12th in 3-point shooting at 29.0%, and 11th in free throw shooting at 75.2%. On the defensive end of the court, they were 9th in points allowed (78.9 ppg), 3rd in defensive FG percentage (41.6%), and 3rd in three-point defense (32.6%).
The Atlanta Dream has the worst record in the league last year and this season doesn’t look like it will be any better for them. Atlanta did have a very solid offseason but it will not be enough to let them escape the basement of the Eastern Conference. The Dream brought in Courtney Williams, who averaged 13.2 ppg and 5.6 rpg for the Sun a year ago and, Shekinna Stricklen, who put up 9.0 ppg for Connecticut last year. Atlanta also scored big in the draft by adding Chennedy Carter with the 4th overall pick. She is a dynamic guard who averaged 22.5 ppg in three years at Baylor. They also added Glory Johnson (7.3 ppg for Dallas Last year) and Kalani Brown (5.1 ppg for the LA Sparks last year).
Now for some bad news. Atlanta has announced that Tiffany Hayes and Renee Montgomery will both sit out this year. Hayes led the team in scoring last year at 14.7 ppg, while Montgomery was 3rd on the team at 9.5 ppg. Both were starters and both will be missed this year. Losing two of your top three scorers from a team that was last in the league in scoring last year is not a good thing at all. Atlanta did bring in some talent, but this is not the year that it will all show and this is not the year that Atlanta will be in the mix for a playoff spot.