Top 20 players to watch heading into the 2018 WNBA season
Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Top 20 players to watch heading into the 2018 WNBA season

The 2018 WNBA season gets underway on May 18, and this year, there is more talent in the league than ever. With only 144 WNBA roster spots available, it truly is a league made up of the elite of the elite.

That being said, spotlighting just 20 of these players is not an easy task. Between all the new draft picks, former MVPs, rising stars, and comeback players currently in the league, it's a formidable group of athletes that are guaranteed to impress this summer. Whether they're sure-fire Hall of Famers, legends-in-the-making, or college stars still looking to establish themselves as pros, this list is full of players who can make a huge impact on their teams, and the league as a whole, in 2018. 

 
Brittney Griner, C, Phoenix Mercury
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Last year, Brittney Griner was having an MVP-like campaign, averaging 21.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, before an injury derailed her journey. However, after another winning season in Russia, the 27-year-old has returned to Phoenix ready to finally unleash her full greatness. The Mercury plan on running their offense fully through Griner this year; good luck to the rest of the league trying to come up with a plan to stop her.

 
Sylvia Fowles, C, Minnesota Lynx
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Last year, Sylvia Fowles had the best year of her career, averaging 18.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. She was rightly rewarded with the first MVP of her career.  She’s going to be targeted more than ever by defenses this year, but if you want to watch one of the best post players in basketball pummel her way out of double teams time and time again, tune into the Lynx games and keep your eyes on the basket.

 
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Elena Delle Donne, F/G, Washington Mystics

Elena Delle Donne, F/G, Washington Mystics
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In her second year with the Washington Mystics, Elena Delle Donne is poised to have her best season yet — and yes, that includes her 2015 MVP campaign. With Emma Meesseman skipping this WNBA season due to Belgian team commitments, Delle Donne will be playing in the four slot all year long, which is the place she’s most comfortable. And, unlike last season when she was battling injuries and adjusting to a new team, this year she’s healthy, confident and already thriving off of the chemistry she has with her teammates.

 
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Maya Moore, F, Minnesota Lynx

Maya Moore, F, Minnesota Lynx
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Maya Moore is only 28 years old, and she has already won four WNBA championships, one WNBA MVP award, five All-Star nods, two EuroLeague Women championships, three World China Basketball Association championships and two gold medals in her professional career. Last year, she got off to a slow start for the Lynx, but she won’t let that happen again. Expect to see Moore in aggressive mode from the start of the season, and averaging more than 20 points per game for the first time since 2015.

 
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Jonquel Jones, F/C, Connecticut Sun

Jonquel Jones, F/C, Connecticut Sun
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Jonquel Jones was a breakout performer in her sophomore season in the year, nabbing the most rebounds in one season in WNBA history, dunking in the All-Star game, and winning the Most Improved Player award. But look for this to be the season to cement the Bahamas native as a superstar. Jones is the future of the league; she can hang with Fowles and Griner in the post, but is also completely comfortable stretching the floor — last year, she shot 44.6 percent from three on 56 shot attempts.

 
Candace Parker, F/C, Los Angeles Sparks
Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports

Honestly, it’s not even fair that the Sparks have both Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker in their frontcourt. In her 10th season in the league, Parker is showing no signs of slowing down — she’s expanding her range, becoming a much more assertive passer and absolutely crushing the defensive boards. Keep an eye on her ability to single-handedly take over a game in the fourth quarter.

 
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Nneka Ogwumike, F, Los Angeles Sparks

Nneka Ogwumike, F, Los Angeles Sparks
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Nneka Ogwumike might be the most underrated former No. 1 draft pick, former MVP in the league. She is one of the most efficient shooters in basketball history, and has the ability to dominate offensively and defensively, from the post and increasingly from beyond the arch — last year she attempted 53 three-point shots, more than double her previous career high. Look for her to improve her accuracy from that position this season, which will make her even more of a threat to stretch the floor.

 
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A’ja Wilson, F, Las Vegas Aces

A’ja Wilson, F, Las Vegas Aces
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The Aces are bringing the WNBA to Las Vegas, and along with it, they’re bringing the player many see as a legend-in-the-making, 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick, A’ja Wilson. The 6’5” former South Carolina Gamecocks star looked phenomenal in the preseason, and with her size and physicality, look for Wilson’s adjustment to the league to be as seamless as her drive to the basket.

 
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Liz Cambage, C, Dallas Wings

Liz Cambage, C, Dallas Wings
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Welcome back to the WNBA, Liz Cambage. The 6’8” Australian center has returned to the league after five years away, and the team she’s joining as a mature 26-year-old is much more promising than the squad she left at 21. She took some time off from all basketball activities recently to get healthy mentally and physically, which is bad news for post players across the league.

 
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Breanna Stewart, F, Seattle Storm

Breanna Stewart, F, Seattle Storm
Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images

This could be the year Breanna Stewart shoots her way into the MVP conversation. In two seasons with the Storm, Stewart has averaged 19.1 points, nine rebounds and three assists per game, and established herself as one of the best defenders in the game. To take it to the next level, she needs to start taking control of games and putting her team on her back when things get tough.

 
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Diana Taurasi, G, Phoenix Mercury

Diana Taurasi, G, Phoenix Mercury
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Yeah, the Mercury might be officially Brittney Griner’s team right now, but that doesn’t mean Diana Taurasi isn’t still one to watch. The new mother — her wife, recently retired WNBA star Penny Taylor, gave birth in March — is still fiery on the court. She’ll turn 36 in June, but she’s still as physical and commanding as ever, and her jump shots can change the course of any game.

 
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Skylar Diggins-Smith, G, Dallas Wings

Skylar Diggins-Smith, G, Dallas Wings
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Skylar Diggins-Smith was injured for good parts of the 2015 and 2016 WNBA seasons, so last year was her first full season since 2014, and she made the most of it, averaging 18.4 points, 5.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. Diggins-Smith came into the league as one of the “Three to See” with Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne, and last year was a reminder that the 5’9” guard can be just as impactful as the two players drafted in front of her. She has the ball-handling skills and shooting ability to get out of trouble time and time again, and it’s a pure joy to watch.

 
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Tina Charles, C, New York Liberty

Tina Charles, C, New York Liberty
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Tina Charles has been so consistently great throughout her eight-year career, that it’s easy to take for granted, but don’t you dare. She’s averaging a double-double for her career, with 10 rebounds and 18.1 points per game, and that’s exactly what you can expect on a night in, night out basis from the center. In person, she’s one of the most arresting figures in the game.

 
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Courtney Williams, G, Connecticut Sun

Courtney Williams, G, Connecticut Sun
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If you’re looking for a frontrunner for the 2018 Most Improved Player of the Year, look no further than Courtney Williams. The diminutive guard has flourished since she was traded from the Phoenix Mercury to the Connecticut Sun midway through the 2016 season, and the shifty and electric guard came out firing in the preseason, going 9-of-10 from the field for 18 points in the team’s win over the Dallas Wings.

 
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Kelsey Mitchell, G, Indiana Fever

Kelsey Mitchell, G, Indiana Fever
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Kelsey Mitchell is one of the best players in college basketball history, and the Ohio State alum is ready to take her talents to the next level in the league. She will get plenty of opportunities to shine with head coach Pokey Chatman and the rebuilding Fever. Keep an eye on her passing ability — she was known as a selfish shooter in college, by necessity, but expect her to set her teammates up for success, too.


 
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Sue Bird, G, Seattle Storm

Sue Bird, G, Seattle Storm
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This is Sue Bird’s 16th season in the league, and goodness are we lucky to get to witness her greatness. Last year, she became the WNBA’s all-time assists leader, and this year, with rookie point guard Jordin Canada from UCLA as her back-up, she’s going to be showing off her veteran moves daily. Bird’s court vision is still the best in the business.

 
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Diamond DeShields, G, Chicago Sky

Diamond DeShields, G, Chicago Sky
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Diamond DeShields did not have a typical path to the WNBA, to put it mildly. After skipping the 2017 WNBA draft in order to play one more season at Tennessee, DeShields changed her mind last summer and went pro in Turkey. The dynamic guard, who was picked third in this year’s draft, claims she’s more aggressive, focused, and savvy on court after her successful season abroad, which is good news for the Sky, and bad news for the rest of the league.

 
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Angel McCoughtry, F/G, Atlanta Dream

Angel McCoughtry, F/G, Atlanta Dream
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Two-time Olympic champion Angel McCoughtry is back after a one-year WNBA hiatus, and no longer has the weight of a franchise on her shoulders — she can now share that burden with the Dream’s trio of 2017 All-Stars, point guard Layshia Clarendon, center Elizabeth Williams and guard Tiffany Hayes. But McCoughtry is the superstar of the team, and having her back, energized mentally and physically, with a deserving supporting cast, will be a sight to behold.

 
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DeWanna Bonner, F, Phoenix Mercury

DeWanna Bonner, F, Phoenix Mercury
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DeWanna Bonner took the 2017 season off for the best reason possible — to give birth to twins and start a family with her wife, fellow WNBA star Candice DuPree, who plays for the Indiana Fever. But now, one of the best perimeter shooters in the game is back, and has been looking fantastic in overseas and preseason play. She will spread the floor and provide a defensive spark for the Mercury.

 
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Kelsey Plum, G, Las Vegas Aces

Kelsey Plum, G, Las Vegas Aces
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Kelsey Plum did not have the rookie season that was expected from her — the former Washington star only had 8.5 points and 3.4 assists per game on an awful San Antonio team, as she battled injuries and inexperience. However, after starting on a winning team in the Turkish League during the offseason, and with the addition of a new head coach, new city, and new highly touted teammates in Las Vegas, Plum should get a chance to start over and show what the hype was all about.

Lindsay Gibbs is the Sports Reporter at ThinkProgress, contributing writer at High Post Sports, and co-host of the sports and feminism podcast, Burn It All Down. You can follow her on Twitter @linzsports.

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