The 2018 WNBA season launches on May 18, and it is shaping up to be a dynamite five months of basketball.
Exciting players like Angel McCoughtry and DeWanna Bonner have returned from a sabbatical and pregnancy, respectively; superstars such as Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner, Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Candace Parker look ready to build on their legendary careers; while up-and-comers such as Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart look to truly come into their own.
Honestly, it's shaping up to be one of the most exciting WNBA seasons yet.
Here are 10 of the biggest storylines to watch this summer.
1. Can the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks continue their dominance?
The past two years, the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks have been by far the best two teams in the league and proved that by splitting two thrilling 3-2 WNBA Finals series. All eyes will be on these two teams to see if they can continue their dominance over the league and keep one of the best current rivalries in sports going.
With a pair of MVPs on both teams — Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker for the Sparks, Sylvia Fowles and Maya Moore for the Lynx — I wouldn’t bet against them.
2. Is Jonquel Jones ready to become elite?
Last season, Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun was one of the most impressive players in the WNBA. She led the league in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, passed Tina Charles for the single-season rebounding record, averaged 15.4 points per game, and won the Most Improved Player Award. The 6-6 center from the Bahamas is the type of player who can take on the bigs like Brittney Griner and Sylvia Fowles, while still handling the ball with skill, weaving in and out of traffic, and shooting effectively outside the perimeter. This could be the year that Jones becomes a household name.
3. Are the young Dallas Wings the real deal?
The Dallas Wings were one of the surprises of the 2017 season, with Skylar Diggins-Smith at point guard having an All-Star comeback season, Glory Johnson dominating the boards and Allisha Gray emerging as the Rookie of the Year. The biggest things missing were depth and a starting center. Now the team has Liz Cambage back from Australia, a 6-8 superstar who has been out of the WNBA for five years, but who should automatically make the Wings one of the most dangerous frontcourt teams.
The team also has rookie Azura Stevens, a more experienced Kaela Davis, sharpshooting Karima Christmas-Kelly, dynamo Aerial Powers and the always-dangerous Theresa Plaisance.
Coach Fred Williams had this team overachieving last year; now, with a huge talent upgrade, it will be interesting to see if the Wings can become a true contender.
4. Will Las Vegas embrace the WNBA?
This offseason, the San Antonio Stars relocated to Las Vegas, rebranded as the Las Vegas Aces, fired head coach Vickie Johnson after just one rough season and hired Bill Laimbeer away from the New York Liberty. Things were not boring. Last year’s No. 1 pick, Kelsey Plum, is back and healthy, and this year’s top pick A’ja Wilson is ready for her debut, as are other recent high-round draft picks such as Kayla McBride and Moriah Jefferson. It’s going to be very interesting to see how Las Vegas embraces the WNBA and how Laimbeer is able to harness the talent of such a young team.
5. What will Angel McCoughtry's return mean for the Atlanta Dream?
Angel McCoughtry took the 2017 WNBA season off because women’s basketball players are expected to play year-round, and that takes a toll. However, the 2009 No. 1 draft pick has returned to Atlanta, and we get to see her join a revamped Dream team. Layshia Clarendon has transformed into one of the best point guards in the league, Elizabeth Williams is an All-Star center, Tiffany Hayes was a revelation in her rookie campaign and the addition of Renee Montgomery should provide a real spark. The Dream had great chemistry last year without McCoughtry, so the biggest question is going to be whether the team can keep that going with her in the mix.
6. How will Lindsay Whalen do it all?
Most WNBA players work multiple jobs as they balance their WNBA seasons with playing opportunities overseas. This year, Lindsay Whalen is taking multitasking to the next level. Last month, the Lynx point guard became the head coach of the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team. It’s going to be fun to see how Whalen, the winningest player in WNBA history, balances the two gigs and paves the way for women on the court and on the sidelines.
7. Can the Seattle Storm harness its talent?
In theory, a team with Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd should contend for a championship every year, but that hasn’t been the case for the Storm recently. Two years ago, the Storm were 16-18, last year they were 15-19 and both years they lost in the first round of the playoffs.
This season, they have a new head coach in Dan Hughes and exciting additions in Courtney Paris, Jordin Canada and Natasha Howard. That’s not a huge talent upgrade from where they were last year, but it should help. The key this year is going to be Stewart — she’s been good in her first two years, but this year she needs to fully take over leadership duties and take her team to the next level.
8. What team can challenge the Lynx and Sparks?
As previously mentioned, the Lynx and the Sparks have been by far the best two teams in the league the past few season and should be good again this year. The teams that have the best shot to challenge them are the Phoenix Mercury, Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun. The Mercury have the best shot — with Griner and Diana Taurasi there, they have the superstar talent to match up, and the addition of Bonner gives their frontcourt a much-needed boost and helps them spread the floor.
The Mystics have a much deeper team than they had last year, but with Emma Meesseman sitting out this WNBA season and Tayler Hill still recovering from her ACL surgery and out for the first month of the season, they’re still missing a reliable second scorer. The Sun have Jonquel Jones, the return of Chiney Ogwumike, All-Stars Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas, and one of the most exciting guards in the league, Courtney Williams. But they’re still so young — Jones will need to take a huge leap forward, and Ogwumike will need to have her best season yet in order to challenge for the WNBA mantle.
In other words, a true challenger is still to be determined, but it will certainly be fun to watch.
9. What does the future hold for the New York Liberty?
James Dolan put the New York Liberty up for sale over this offseason, and while he hasn’t found a buyer and the team is still in New York, it is facing a major downgrade when it comes to arenas — Dolan has moved the team from Madison Square Garden to the Westchester County Center, a 2,000-seat arena that usually hosts high school games and is a trek from Manhattan.
The Liberty are one of the league’s marquee franchises, and it would be awful if they had to leave New York City. Considering the team averaged around 10,000 fans per game last year, this doesn’t seem like a viable long-term solution, either.
10. How will the WNBA players keep pushing athlete activism forward?
The past two years, WNBA players have led the way when it comes to athlete activism: wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts during pregame warm-ups, holding media blackouts, partnering with Planned Parenthood, honoring victims of the Charleston white supremacy rally during the national anthem, and speaking out against President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration and anti-LGBTQ policies. Keep an eye on WNBA players to continue to lead the way this year as the social conscious of the sports world.