With the 2018 season set to start on Friday with Dallas visiting Phoenix before a full slate of six games on Sunday what better time to catch up on everything you missed in the offseason. With the Minnesota Lynx getting revenge over the Los Angeles Sparks in a memorable five game series to win the championship it could be time for new teams to rise to the top. While the Lynx and Sparks have met in consecutive finals there are 10 other teams ready to climb the mountain. After a breakout season leading the league in points per game with 21.9 Brittney Griner will be looking to challenge for MVP as she helps lead the Phoenix Mercury. With lots of other stories to follow, such as top pick A’ja Wilson, on the undercard we should be in store for another terrific season.
Five main stories to follow.
1) Lynx-Sparks three peat?
Let me start by saying this rivalry has been amazing to watch and follow over the last two years. That said everything must eventually come to an end and that’s especially true in sports. The Minnesota Lynx may be the defending champions but with four starters over the age of 32, and two are 36, their run of injury luck could run out at any time. A depleted bench due to trades, free agency and retirement (which could come for their starting lineup soon) could slow down this juggernaut. With reigning MVP Sylvia Fowles and Maya Moore still on the team they will contend, the question is: can they remain elite?
For Los Angeles Sparks the road back to the finals is a little clearer due to the reinforcements they added in the offseason to their bench. In free agency the Sparks signed Cappie Pondexter to improve their bench. The 35-year-old legend is fourth all time in league scoring and sixth in assist, adding a player with those numbers never hurts even after consecutive finals appearances. The new additions should keep LA near the top of the league.
2) Who can surprise and win?
If you’re looking for a team that could win this year outside of the top two, and let’s be honest that’s where all the fun lies, the Phoenix Mercury are for you. As far as top end talent you can’t do much better than Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi. Wanting to improve on consecutive years of losing in the semi-finals the Mercury have added some new players around their stars.
In free agency Sancho Lyttle signed to come over from Atlanta, while Phoenix also traded with Indiana to acquire Briann January. Both Lyttle and January should increase an already strong defence anchored by Grinner as both are six-time All-Defensive Team selections. With another addition of sorts from DeWanna Bonner who return after giving birth to twins last year. Bonner’s all-around game is exactly what’s needed from a third option.
3) 10 different MVP winners in 10 years?
Rather than one athlete dominating the league over the last decade, control has been shared by a collective of players. The streak of nine different players winning MVP in as many years very likely could continue this year. The favourite for MVP this year is Griner who was a top candidate last year before getting hurt late in the year. Griner has been one of the top defensive players since her days in college but has recently improved on offence. Last year she set career highs with 20.2 points and 1.9 assists per game.
Some other candidates to look out for to continue the streak include Breanna Stewart in her third year for Seattle and Skylar Diggins-Smith in her fifth season. A surprise contender is Jonquel Jones who emerged in her sophomore season for Connecticut as someone who could be a star for years to come.
4) Can Wilson and a change of scenery improve Las Vegas?
Las Vegas should be able to provide a nice change of scenery for a franchise that has struggles in recent seasons. After finishing with the worst record three straight seasons with a combined 23 wins maybe some off the court distractions are needed.
The one positive to the struggles has been the accumulation of top prospects including the top pick in the draft, A’ja Wilson. The former South Carolina University power forward comes into the league after a stellar college career that saw her collect multiple awards. Wilson is the prototypical power forward for the modern game that can bang down low while staying nimble enough to play outside the three-point arc.
Wilson is joined by Kelsey Plum the top pick in 2017 who had some struggles in her rookie season but should improve. Other top picks on the roster from recent years include Moriah Jefferson, picked second in 2016 and the third pick in the 2014 draft Kayla McBride. The groups overall talent is there, now they just need to learn to play together.
5) Busy Sunday
The first Sunday of the season will feature all 12 teams. With so much basketball it may require some tough choices but the one game you must watch is another Sparks-Lynx clash at 5 p.m. Eastern. A matchup between Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart’s Seattle Storm versus Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner along with the rest of the Phoenix Mercury presents a look at the past and future of the league at 9 p.m.
Other interesting stories to follow throughout the season.
6) What teams will rise? The Sky added two top four picks in the last draft and could surprise some teams.
7) What teams will collapse? New York could struggle with a new coach after finishing third last season, expect the Liberty to face some struggles.
8) Breakout candidates? Breanna Stewart enters her third season having finished second in scoring last year and still has room to improve as she leads the Seattle Storm.
9) New carer leading scorer? Diana Taurasi needs only 18 more points to become the new career scoring leader passing Katie Smith.
10) New Career games played record holder? Sue Bird is already the career assist leader and with 22 more games this season would reach game number 500 to pass DeLisha Milton-Jones.
11) New arena for Chicago turns team around? The sky are moving into a downtown arena which will hopefully help the team grow in popularity within the city.
12) Games start this weekend! No real news here I’m just excited to watch some basketball.