The WNBA is a league driven by the stars. A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage for Las Vegas, Breanna Stewart for Seattle, Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles for Washington, and Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner for Phoenix, all top the odds of winning the MVP, and their teams are some of the first favorites. to win it all. But it takes a full team to get through the season and make the playoffs. This group of players is less advertised, but it could be the key to taking their teams to the next level. Here’s a look at the must-have players for every team heading into the 2021 WNBA season.
Las Vegas Aces – Jackie Young
2020 statistics: 11.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists in 26 minutes per game
The top pick in the 2019 draft shot 32% as a starter in his rookie season. Last season, he shot 49.2% off the bench and nearly doubled his scoring production as well, from 6.6 to 11 points per game. The Aces signed All-Star point guard Chelsea Gray in free agency, and his No. 1 colleague Kelsey Plum is returning from injury, so Young could find a similar role as a key bench player. With Angel McCoughtry out of season, Young could give the Aces crucial depth if he continues to improve his efficiency.
Atlanta Dream – Cheyenne Parker
2020 stats: 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals in 25 minutes per game
The dream Paid a lot to bring Parker Chicago, and they’ll need her to find their way back to the playoffs for the first time since 2018. The versatile power forward was extremely efficient last season when he took on a starting role, scoring 13.4 points per game on 55.4% shooting. But what the Dream really needs is their inside defense and shot blocking. The team gave up the second-most points per game and allowed opponents to shoot 51% of two, the worst in the league. Parker has been in the top 12 in blocked shots each of the past three seasons, and he should match well with Elizabeth Williams’ high-caliber defense.
Chicago Sky – Kahleah Copper
2020 stats: 14.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steal in 31 minutes per game
Copper took a big leap in his first season as a regular starter, playing twice as many minutes and scoring more than double the points per game than in 2019. Copper went from shooting six times a game to 12, and his field goal percentage improved. from 38.7% to 49.6%. Turnovers were a concern, but Copper will be asked to do less with Diamond DeShields returning to the team. If you can maintain efficiency by getting off the bank, it will give the reconfigured Sky dangerous depth.
Indiana Fever – Teaira McCowan
2020 season: 10.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.0 block in 21 minutes per game
McCowan has been one of the best shot blockers and rebounds in the league for his first two seasons, but the 2019 No. 3 pick has yet to establish himself as a regular starter with the Fever. Indiana’s frontcourt options are McCowan, second-year forward Lauren Cox and newcomer veterans Jessica Breland and Jantel Lavender. Breland and Lavender have contributed solidly throughout their careers, but neither played last season and neither is McCowan’s 6’7 ”size. It’s hard to imagine head coach Marianne Stanley not giving McCowan a bigger role, better suited for someone who bills herself as one of the faces of the franchise, but the Mississippi State alumnus has yet to live up to it. of its potential in defense. His rebounding average and block rate declined from his freshman to sophomore year, and he equaled his total loss count despite playing 12 fewer games in 2020. His third season will be crucial in anticipating whether success is on the horizon for a hopeful. Indiana team.
New York Freedom – Jazmine Jones
2020 season stats: 10.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals in 21 minutes per game
Jones, one of New York’s less-heralded rookies last season, ended up being one of the bright spots of a 2-20 season. Jones wasn’t an efficient shooter, but she scored 10.8 points per game off the bench as she constantly found her way to the free throw line, where she took four attempts per game, the 14th most in the league. She provided the most value on defense, averaging 1.4 steals per game. Like many at Liberty, Jones was prone to turnovers, averaging 2.9 per game, so she’ll have to take better care of the ball to make a big impact.
Minnesota Lynx – Natalie Achonwa
2020 season stats: 7.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists in 20 minutes per game
The Lynx may have signed bigger names in the offseason, but Achonwa might have the bigger job: keeping Sylvia Fowles healthy. Lynx’s championship hopes live and die with Fowles. Achonwa’s role is to play well enough to give her more time on the bench and keep her healthy throughout the season. In her six seasons at Indiana, Achonwa established herself as a solid great who could score on the inside, rebound and defend the paint. To make an impact on Lynx, she will have to do the same.
Phoenix Mercury – Kia Nurse
2020 statistics: 12.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists in 27.5 minutes per game
After a surprising All-Star season in 2019, Nurse was arguably the league’s worst shooter in 2020 as the number one choice on a surpassed Liberty team. He made 6.2 3-pointers per game, the fourth-most in the league, and converted just 23.8%. His two-point percentage was in the bottom 2% of the entire league, according to Her Hoop Stats. Now, with Mercury, Nurse will be the fourth or fifth choice and you should find more open looks than ever in New York. Mercury will expect her to be more efficient in that regard, and she could be pushed into a bigger role at some point if Phoenix falls short of staff due to injury.
Washington Mystics – Ariel Atkins
2020 season: 14.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.8 steals in 31.0 minutes per game
Atkins has been the Mystics’ secret weapon since arriving in Washington in 2018, and it has only gotten better. Atkins has won Second Team All-Defense honors in the three years she has been in the league, and took on a significant role as the team’s key player in 2020 after losing much of her 2019 championship roster to the free agency, opt-out and injuries. . She improved her 3-point shooting volume and efficiency last year, and she was fourth in the league with 1.8 steals per game. With Alysha Clark out for the season and Elena Delle Donne expected to miss at least the first few games, Atkins should play a huge role on the perimeter in a Mike Thibault offense that consistently ranks top of the league by percentage. of points scored from behind the arc.
Los Angeles Sparks – Brittney Sykes
2020 season: 10.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.5 steals in 24 minutes per game
The Sparks will need Sykes after losing crucial pieces on both sides of the ball in free agency. Candace Parker, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, led the team in rebounding and blocking, and Chelsea Gray led in total steals. Along with Riquna Williams, the team lost three of its top five scorers of 2020, but Sykes is a promising contributor on offense and defense. She has become a top defender in recent years and earned a spot on the All-Defense second team last season. He didn’t attempt as many shots last year compared to his first three seasons in the league, but he took a big step in his shooting efficiency, making 48.7% of his attempts year-round compared to 36.5%. in 2019. Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver will star in the new Sparks team, but if Sykes can take another leap in development, Los Angeles could go further than people think.
Seattle Storm – Ezi Magbegor
2020 season stats: 6.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.7 blocks in 13 minutes per game
The Storm has a star trio of Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird keeping them in contention for another championship, but Magbegor could be in that mix before the season is out. The Storm are heading to 2021 without Natasha Howard and Crystal Langhorne, but they added 15-year veteran Candice Dupree in free agency to help shore up the front court. The longest amount of time Magbegor saw on the court in a rookie game last year was just 20 minutes, but the 21-year-old Australian star has already taken on a much bigger role on training ground and can be trusted. him since the players arrive. late from abroad. Magbegor will have to improve her rebounding and shot blocking to help Stewart, but she is destined to build on the potential she showed in a short time last year as the season progresses.
Connecticut Sun – Brionna Jones
2020 season stats: 11.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 steals in 26 minutes per game
After averaging no more than 9.0 minutes per game in his first three seasons, Jones had an outstanding year in 2020 replacing Jonquel Jones, who was left out of the season due to health concerns. Jonquel Jones will return to the starting lineup, but head coach Curt Miller still has high expectations for Bri Jones and expects her to have a “monster year.” Even though the Sun is projected to land in the middle of the standings based on most preseason power rankings, DeWanna Bonner and Jonquel Jones will likely remain a dominant pair even though they never played together prior to this season. But Bri Jones will be the important thread that could lead this team to the top. She was the third-best offensive rebounder in the league last season, but she couldn’t always turn second-chance opportunities into key moments. His offensive consistency and his help on defense will be crucial in helping the Sun compete for another appearance in the Finals.
Dallas Wings – Allisha Gray
2020 season stats: 13.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists in 26 minutes per game
Heading into her fifth season, Allisha Gray is one of the most experienced players on a Dallas team made up largely of freshmen and sophomores. It’s easy to get overshadowed by last year’s leading scorer Arike Ogunbowale on offense, but Gray led the team in points per play and points per scoring team each of the past two seasons. The Wings are loaded with young talent, but if they’re going to make the leap from a lottery team to a playoff team, Gray and Ogunbowale’s “veteran” back zone will have to get them there.
All stats are from HerHoopStats.com
Jacqueline LeBlanc is a contributor to GoodSport, a media platform dedicated to increasing the visibility of women and girls in sports.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.