2020 WNBA Season Preview - Western Conference (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. Let’s hope that it goes off without a hitch and that everyone stays safe.
In this article, I will look at how I feel the six teams in the Western Conference will finish.
Las Vegas Aces
Odds To Win WNBA Title - +350
2019 Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Aces ranked 3rd in the league in scoring at 82.2 ppg, 5th in shooting at 42.7%, 1st in 3-point shooting at 36.7%, and 10th in free throw shooting at 77.7%. On the defensive end of the court, they were 8th in points allowed (78.8 ppg), 1st in defensive FG percentage (39.9%), and 2nd in three-point defense (32.1%).
The Las Vegas Aces finished 2nd in the Western Conference last year with a 21-13 record. They beat Chicago in the first round of the playoffs, winning the lone game 93-92 but then fell to the Mystics in four games. Las Vegas now has a loaded team and they are one of the favorites to win it all in 2020. Let’s start with the bad news. The Aces will be without Kelsey Plum, who averaged 8.6 ppg a year ago. She suffered an Achilles injury and will miss the season. Plum was a key part of the team but the Aces still have plenty of talent to make up for her loss. A’ja Wilson is the leader of the team after averaging 16.5 ppg a year ago, but she did put up just 11 ppg in her last three games against the Mystics in the postseason.
Liz Cambridge was 2nd on the team in scoring at 15.9 ppg, while Kayla McBride was 3rd at 13.3 ppg. Las Vegas also added Angel McCoughtry, who was the overall number one pick for the Atlanta Dream back in 2009. She has played her entire year for Atlanta, until this year. McCroughty played in just one game last year, due to injury, but she has averaged 19.1 ppg and 5.0 rpg in her career overall. Despite the loss of Plum, this team still has plenty of scoring options to look to. They also have some nice depth with Dearica Hamby (11.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Jackie Young (6.6 ppg, 4.5 apg). The West is a very tough conference but the Aces have more than enough talent to win it and I feel they will do just that.
Odds To Win WNBA Title - +600
2019 Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Storm ranked 10th in the league in scoring at 74.8 ppg, 9th in shooting at 42.0%, 6th in 3-point shooting at 33.6%, and 7th in free throw shooting at 79.2%. On the defensive end of the court, they were 1st in points allowed (75.1 ppg), 12th in defensive FG percentage (43.9%), and 10th in three-point defense (35.5%).
Breanna Stewart missed all of last year after notching 21.8 ppg back in 2018. She has now averaged 20.0 ppg in her three years in the league. Sue Bird also missed all of last year after averaging 10.1 ppg in 2018. Bird has been a huge part of the success for the Storm, averaging 12.4 ppg and 5.6 apg in his 16 years with the team. Despite the fact that both were out last year, the storm still made it to the playoffs with an 18-16 record. Both are back for this year and that means we will see the Storm battle the Aces for the top spot in the Western Conference. Also back is Natasha Howard, who led the team in scoring last year at 18.1 ppg and Jewell Loyd, who was 2nd with 12.3 ppg.
Seattle has a very strong starting lineup and they also have some solid depth with Alysha Clark (9.8 ppg) and Mercedes Russell (7.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg), plus they added Morgan Tuck (3.7 ppg) in a trade with the Connecticut Sun. Back in 2018, Seattle went 26-8 and this team has a chance at being better than that one. They also added 1st round pick Kitija Laksa from Latvia. Laska played for the South Florida Bulls in College. She missed most of 2018/19 with an injury and then went to play for the Latvia national team last year. In her final full season at USF (2017/18) she averaged 21.1 ppg and also set an NCAA record with 11 three-pointers in a row in one game. Having back Stewart and Bird, along with three other starters and Latska, plus their solid depth makes them a contender for the WNBA title this year.
Los Angeles Sparks
Odds To Win WNBA Title - +450
2019 Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Sparks ranked 5th in the league in scoring at 80.1 ppg, 4th in shooting at 43.2%, 5th in 3-point shooting at 34.1%, and 3rd in free throw shooting at 83.8%. On the defensive end of the court, they were 3rd in points allowed (77.2 ppg), 2nd in defensive FG percentage (40.5%), and 9th in three-point defense (34.4%).
The Los Angeles Sparks are what we call a “mission team” this year. Yes, the Sparks won the Western Conference and then topped Seattle in the one-game quarterfinals but they were then swept by the surprising Connecticut Sun in the semifinals. LA will be looking to make amends for the horrible showing in that series but it will not be all that easy as they will be without two starters for this year. Kristi Toliver was brought back to the Sparks this offseason, after playing her last three years with Washington, but she has taken the option to sit out this season. In 11 years in the league. She has averaged a solid 12.4 ppg. Toliver played seven years for the Sparks, prior to her time in Washington.
Losing Sparks is a big blow but not as big as losing Nneka Ogwumike, who led the team in scoring last year, putting up 16.1 ppg. She has also opted to sit out this season. That leaves two huge holes in the starting lineup. They did add Brittney Sykes, who averaged 10.2 ppg for Atlanta last year and she is expected to be in the starting lineup this year. Riquna Williams (12.3 ppg) and Maria Vadeeva (7.8 ppg) are expected to start in place of Toliver and Ogwumike, respectively. The starting lineup still has a shot at being very good, but just not as good as it would have been with Toliver and Ogwumike in there, plus the Sparks are now lacking some depth. I feel that they will slide from 1st to 3rd in the Western Conference.
Odds To Win WNBA Title - +600
2019 Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Mercury ranked 9th in the league in scoring at 76.5 ppg, 6th in shooting at 42.4%, 11th in 3-point shooting at 32.5%, and 2nd in free throw shooting at 84.6%. On the defensive end of the court, they were 6th in points allowed (77.6 ppg), 6th in defensive FG percentage (42.2%), and 6th in three-point defense (34.0%).
The Western Conference is loaded this year, especially at the top and that means that the Phoenix Mercury are looking at a 4th place finish this year. They have a solid team and would contend for the Eastern Conference title, but they will come up short out here in the West. Phoenix made one of the biggest splashes in the offseason by trading for Skylar Diggins-Smith, who missed all of last year but averaged a solid 17.9 ppg for Dallas back in 2018. She also put up 18.5 ppg in 2017. Brittney Griner is back after leading the team in scoring (20.7 ppg) while also grabbing 7.2 rpg and blocking 2.0 shots per game.
The loss of DeWanna Bonner (17.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who has been traded to the Sun is big, but Phoenix did bring in Bria Hartley, who averaged 9.8 ppg for the Liberty a year ago. Diana Taurasi was the first overall pick for the Mercury back in 20045 and she has played her entire career here in Phoenix. last, year she played in just six games due to injury, but Taurasi did average 20.7 ppg back in 2018 and she has averaged 19.6 ppg over her 15-year career thus far. Having her for the full season will be huge. Phoenix added Jessica Breland (7.6 ppg) and Nia Coffey (5.0 ppg) from Atlanta. Breland is expected to start while Coffey adds some solid depth to the bench. This is a very solid team that will improve on last year’s 15-19 record while making the postseason in the process, but the teams above them are just too tough for Phoenix to finish higher in the West.
Odds To Win WNBA Title - +4000
2019 Regular Season Stats & Rankings: Minnesota ranked 6th in the league in scoring at 78.4 ppg, 2nd in shooting at 45.1%, 9th in 3-point shooting at 33.2%, and 9th in free throw shooting at 78.1%. On the defensive end of the court, they were 2nd in points allowed (75.9 ppg), 9th in defensive FG percentage (43.4%), and 5th in three-point defense (33.2%).
Back in 2017, The Minnesota Lynx won the NBA Title, but they have been able to recapture that magic, going just 18-16 in each of the last two years. That has still been good enough to get them in the playoffs but it will be a different story this year as the Lynx are now in rebuilding mode. Last year, Maya Moore stepped away from the WNBA to concentrate of justice reform in the country. It is unlikely that she will return this year and that means that Sylvia Fowles (13.6 ppg last year) is the only remaining player from the 2017 team that won it all. Much of the focus this year will be on Napheesa Collier, who won the Rookie Of The Year award last year. She averaged 13.6 ppg and 6.6 rpg a season ago.
Odyssey Sims is back after hanging up 14.5 ppg and 5.4 apg last year while they brought in Rachel Banham, who averaged 3.6 ppg for the Sun last year and Shenise Johnson, who averaged 4.9 ppg for Indiana last year. Those two will add some depth, but still, the starting lineup is lacking some punch and that will cost the Lynx a chance at a playoff spot this year.
Odds To Win WNBA Title - +10000
2019 Regular Season Stats & Rankings: Dallas ranked 11th in the league in scoring at 71.6 ppg, 11th in shooting at 38.9%, 10th in 3-point shooting at 32.6%, and 5th in free throw shooting at 81.1%. On the defensive end of the court, they were 5th in points allowed (77.4 ppg), 7th in defensive FG percentage (43.0%), and 8th in three-point defense (34.3%).
The Dallas Wings were far-and-away the worst team in the Western Conference and while they will be better this year, it will not be enough to get them out of the basement. Dallas Was missing Skylar Diggins -Smith last year and she is now playing for the Phoenix Mercury. Arike Ogunbowale led the team in scoring last year, putting up 19.1 ppg while Allisha Gray was 2nd at 10.6 ppg and Kayla Thornton was 3rd at 10.4 ppg. All three do return this year, giving them a solid core to work around.
The Wings had three first-round picks in the draft this year and they used those three picks on Satou Sabally (2nd), Bella Alarie (5th), and Tyasha Harris (7th). Sabally averaged 16.2 ppg in her final season at Oregon while also averaging 20.7 ppg and 10.0 rpg steals during the FIBA U20 European Championship in 2018. Bella Alarie averaged 17.5 ppg and 8.6 ppg in her final season at Princeton while Tyasha Harris put up 12.0 ppg for South Carolina a season ago. Dallas is rebuilding and they have added some nice pieces this year but the west is just too tough for them to move up in the standings. Dallas is heading in the right direction but they are still a couple of years away from challenging for a playoff spot.