- M.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
The Las Vegas Aces, who won the WNBA title under first-year coach Becky Hammon last September, are once again a championship favorite as ESPN’s Power Rankings debut for 2023.
But the Aces aren’t alone.
“Superteams” has been the biggest buzzword in the WNBA thus far in 2023, as expectations are high for Las Vegas and the New York Liberty. Future Hall of Famer Candace Parker signed as a free agent with the Aces. Some years, it would have been the biggest move of the WNBA offseason, as was the case in 2021 when Parker joined the Chicago Sky. But the Liberty stole the offseason show this year, obtaining superstars Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot through free agency and Jonquel Jones via trade.
The other 10 teams in the preseason Power Rankings are all tied for third. Just joking (sort of). But for the most part, it’s easier to be optimistic in training camp. It’s too soon for much gloom or doom; there’s plenty of time for that later.
However, the preseason ranking of two of the past three WNBA champions — Chicago and the Seattle Storm — will seem gloomy to those fans.
But not much early on will deter the high hopes of the Phoenix Mercury with the return of center Brittney Griner, who missed the 2022 season when she was imprisoned in Russia. She is back as a key piece of the Mercury and the WNBA.
Will the Minnesota Lynx, who missed the postseason last year for the first time since 2010, return to the playoffs? What will be the impact of new coaches in charge for the Dallas Wings, Connecticut Sun, Indiana Fever, Los Angeles Sparks and Washington Mystics?
Can the Fever, who lost their last 18 games in 2022, be a playoff team for the first time since 2016, sparked by No. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston of the South Carolina Gamecocks?
Here’s how the teams stack up heading into the season, which begins May 19.
1. Las Vegas Aces
2022 record: 26-10
Result: WNBA champion
Final 2022 regular-season Power Ranking: 2
The Aces’ offseason wasn’t all sunshine, as former player Dearica Hamby alleged she had been treated unprofessionally and unethically by the Aces when she was traded to the Sparks in January, while still pregnant. She has since had a son.
Hamby’s departure cleared the roster space for Parker, and Las Vegas also signed Alysha Clark. With season MVP A’ja Wilson, WNBA Finals MVP Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young back, Las Vegas could be just as good as — or dare we say better than? — last season. No WNBA team has won back-to-back titles since Los Angeles in 2001-2002, but some team will do it eventually, right? Maybe it’s the Aces.
2. New York Liberty
2022 record: 16-20
Result: Lost to Chicago in first round
Final 2022 regular-season Power Ranking: 10
The Liberty’s moves won the offseason. Will that translate to the organization’s first WNBA title? New York is one of the league’s original franchises, but the Liberty haven’t been in the WNBA Finals since 2002. As recently as 2020, they finished last. But with a stronger commitment from ownership, a veteran coach in Sandy Brondello and the help of free agency, the Liberty bear no resemblance to where they were a few years ago. They should jell pretty quickly despite the new faces. In the past the Liberty sometimes lacked real star power, but it’s not the case anymore. With two former MVPs in Stewart and Jones, and two former No. 1 picks in Stewart and Sabrina Ionescu, New York should be a lot of fun to watch.
3. Washington Mystics
2022 record: 22-14
Result: Lost to Seattle in first round
Final 2022 regular-season Power Ranking: 5
The Mystics say they don’t mind talk of superteams because they feel they will be pretty good themselves. Elena Delle Donne’s optimism stands out. Having dealt with debilitating back issues, she took a cautious approach last season by not traveling to all away games and getting strategic rest. It worked, as she was effective in the 27 games (regular season and playoffs) she played. Delle Donne said recently she feels healthy enough that she hopes not to miss games this season.
She’s one of four starters returning, three of whom — Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins — were on the Mystics’ 2019 title team. Eric Thibault moves up from assistant to head coach, so that won’t be a huge transition for him or the team.
4. Connecticut Sun
2022 record: 25-11
Result: Lost to Las Vegas in WNBA Finals
Final 2022 regular-season Power Ranking: 3
There are big changes with the Sun. Gone are Jones to New York, and guard Jasmine Thomas and coach Curt Miller to Los Angeles. Stephanie White returns to the WNBA as Sun head coach after a rough stint with the Vanderbilt Commodores. She will still have great vets to work with in returning players Alyssa Thomas, DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones, plus former UConn star Tiffany Hayes, who spent the first 10 seasons of her career in Atlanta.
The Sun have been to the WNBA Finals four times in franchise history, including last year, and some might feel the championship window has closed for the core that Connecticut has left. But if we’ve learned anything from this franchise, it’s to not sell it short.
5. Dallas Wings
2022 record: 18-18
Result: Lost to Connecticut in first round
Final 2022 regular-season Power Ranking: 6
Last year, for just the second time since the franchise moved from Detroit after the 2009 season, the team finished the regular season at .500 or better. The Wings also won a playoff game for the first time since the team moved to Dallas in 2016. It wasn’t enough for coach Vickie Johnson to keep her job, as Dallas tapped Sparks assistant Latricia Trammell to take over.
Guard Arike Ogunbowale, who appeared only briefly with no success in the playoffs due to injury, is back as the Wings’ superstar. Center Teaira McCowan is in her second season in Dallas. Diamond DeShields and Natasha Howard are former WNBA champions joining the Wings. Dallas would love a fully healthy season from Satou Sabally. If Crystal Dangerfield can fill in well at point guard, this version of the Wings just might be the best.
6. Phoenix Mercury
2022 record: 15-21
Result: Lost to Las Vegas in first round
Final 2022 regular-season Power Ranking: 7
The Mercury went through an emotional hurricane last season, with Griner detained in Russia, a new coach in Vanessa Nygaard, Tina Charles’ contract divorce at midseason, and Skylar Diggins-Smith leaving the team for personal reasons in the last week of the regular season. Diggins-Smith announced last October that she was pregnant but has made no further details known publicly. At this point, it would be a surprise if she returned to play for the Mercury, as she and Nygaard didn’t seem to have a good working relationship.
Griner is back, as is Diana Taurasi, who will turn 41 in June. Brianna Turner and Sophie Cunningham, both of whom carried big loads last season, are back, too. Guard Moriah Jefferson, who seemed to regain her footing in Minnesota last year, has a new home in Phoenix. Whatever happens this season, things should be calmer in Phoenix in 2023.
7. Minnesota Lynx
2022 record: 14-22
Result: Missed playoffs
Final 2022 regular-season Power Ranking: 9
The Lynx lost legendary center Sylvia Fowles to retirement. But with star forward Napheesa Collier back after missing most of last season on maternity leave, the Lynx might be ready to assume their more familiar place higher in the standings. Guard Tiffany Mitchell is looking for a fresh start after playing her first seven seasons in Indiana. No. 2 draft pick Diamond Miller could be one of the most exciting rookies in the league, and the kind of dynamic wing the Lynx need.
The Lynx might not be in the tier of potential title teams at this point, but considering all they have had to replace from their dynasty core, they realistically are in pretty good shape.
8. Los Angeles Sparks
2022 record:> 13-23
Result: Missed playoffs
Final 2022 regular-season Power Ranking: 11
Like the Lynx, the Sparks might not be in the race for a championship, but it would be a positive thing for Los Angeles just to return to the playoffs. They missed the postseason the last two years, and 2023 was especially dismal for the Sparks. Offseason moves to acquire center Liz Cambage and guard Chennedy Carter didn’t work out, coach/GM Derek Fisher was fired in June and the team seemed in a downward spiral.
That’s changed a lot with an experienced coach like Curt Miller taking over, and a much clearer sense of front office engagement, led by GM Karen Bryant. The Sparks’ Rock of Gibraltar, forward Nneka Ogwumike, has stayed put, and might be rewarded with a team that looks more like the contender Los Angeles usually is.
9. Atlanta Dream
2022 record: 14-22
Result: Missed playoffs
Final 2022 regular-season Power Ranking: 8
The Dream made some smart offseason moves, including obtaining guard Allisha Gray via trade and adding guard Haley Jones from the Stanford Cardinal in the WNBA draft. With Rhyne Howard, last year’s No. 1 pick and the 2022 Rookie of the Year, returning, the Dream have several building blocks that could be together for a while.
Even if the Dream don’t nab a playoff spot, they are almost certainly going to be in contention for one. A good way to judge Atlanta this year is how things seem to be progressing, because the Dream are building in way that seems like it will work.
10. Chicago Sky
2022 record: 26-10
Result: Lost to Connecticut in semifinals
Final 2022 regular-season Power Ranking: 1
The 2021 season was the best of times for the Sky, when they won the franchise’s first championship. And it looked like Chicago was going back to the WNBA Finals last year, until Game 5 of the semifinals against Connecticut got away. No one knew then, but it was the last Sky game for Vandersloot, who had been with Chicago since 2011, and Parker, who spent two seasons in her hometown. Now, Vandersloot (Liberty) and Parker (Aces) are with the superteams. Also gone are two other starters from last season, guard Allie Quigley and forward Emma Meesseman, and top reserve Azurá Stevens at center.
Nevertheless, coach/GM James Wade has said he isn’t planning on a big fall for the Sky. That might be stubborn optimism, but it’s what Chicago needs. Wing Kahleah Copper, the 2021 WNBA Finals MVP, is back as Chicago’s go-to scorer, with guards Courtney Williams and Marina Mabrey joining the team, along with center Elizabeth Williams and forward Isabelle Harrison.
11. Seattle Storm
2022 record: 21-14
Result: Lost to Las Vegas in semifinals
Final 2022 regular-season Power Ranking: 4
While it seemed like she might play forever, legendary guard Sue Bird retired after last season and four championships. The 2002 No. 1 pick spent her entire career with the Storm, and she’s irreplaceable. If that wasn’t enough of a blow, Stewart left in free agency. Charles, who joined the Storm midseason last year, is currently not with any WNBA team and according to her agent is still determining what she might do this WNBA season.
In many ways, it’s back to the drawing board for the Storm. But that’s the kind of statement that will motivate guard Jewell Loyd, a key part of Seattle’s title teams in 2018 and 2020. This is her team now, and younger players, including rookies, have a chance to make an impact this season. But getting to the playoffs seems like a stretch.
12. Indiana Fever
2022 record: 5-31
Result: Missed playoffs
Final 2022 regular-season Power Ranking: 12
The Fever once again have nowhere to go but up, and they might indeed have some forward movement in 2023. With Boston joining last year’s No. 2 pick, NaLyssa Smith, inside, Indiana could have a top post tandem for the future. Under new coach Christie Sides, the Fever will again emphasize defense, with Boston and Smith leading the way.
Guard Kelsey Mitchell remains one of the league’s top scorers. Now in her sixth season, all with the Fever, maybe she can finally experience the playoffs. Obviously, Indiana will need a big climb to get there, but perhaps this is the season when things start to come together for Indiana. If not, it’s back to the draft lottery, which has had some good and not-so-good outcomes for the Fever.
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