CloseMechelle 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.
Entering her 19th WNBA season, Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird has seen every kind of championship race. And as ESPN’s WNBA Power Rankings make their debut for the 2022 season, we know how different the order could be when it’s all said and done in September.
“You always need just a little bit of luck,” said Bird, who has won four WNBA titles. “You just need some things to go your way, because of the parity, how close all the teams are. Last year, I think Chicago and Phoenix making the Finals proved how important it was to peak at the right time.”
Some WNBA seasons, Bird points out, there has been an obvious favorite. Or perhaps two or three teams that seemed to be clearly ahead of the pack.
“This year, I don’t feel like that at all,” Bird said. “I feel like there’s going to be a bunch of super teams.”
The other side is that while there will be teams with bad records, there probably won’t be any bad teams. There’s talent everywhere. And while some franchises are clearly in rebuilding mode, they might still do some damage.
We will update our Power Rankings each week throughout the regular season, which begins Friday.
1. Connecticut Sun
2021 record: 26-6
How last season ended: The top-seeded Sun were upset 3-1 in the semifinals by eventual champion Chicago
2022 outlook: Is there really such a thing as a franchise being “due”? If so, that would describe the Sun, who lost in the WNBA Finals in 2019 and the semifinals the past two seasons. With the league’s best record and the season MVP (forward Jonquel Jones) in 2021, it seemed like it was finally going to be the Sun’s turn. But the Sky became last season’s team of destiny. Forward Alyssa Thomas seems back strong for the Sun after missing most of last season because of an Achilles’ injury. Forward Brionna Jones had a career year last season; forward/guard DeWanna Bonner and guard Jasmine Thomas were their usual reliable selves. They all return. And guard Courtney Williams, a big part of the 2019 team that took Washington the distance in the WNBA Finals, is back with the Sun after two seasons in Atlanta. All the pieces are there to get that elusive championship.
2. Chicago Sky
2021 record: 16-16
How last season ended: The No. 6 seed Sky beat Phoenix 3-1 in the WNBA Finals to win the franchise’s first title
2022 outlook: Even though the Sky finished the regular season at .500, they seemed “due” and looked like a championship team throughout the playoffs. The Sky were able to play their best at the most important time, winning single-elimination games over Dallas and Minnesota and then getting 3-1 series wins against Connecticut and Phoenix. Center/forward Candace Parker bet on herself in leaving Los Angeles to come to Chicago as a free agent, guard/forward Kahleah Copper followed her breakout 2020 season with a strong 2021 that got her the WNBA Finals MVP honor, and the longest-tenured Sky player, guard Courtney Vandersloot, at last won her title. They all return. Guard Diamond DeShields (22 starts) and center Stefanie Dolson (15) are gone, but forward Emma Meesseman, the 2019 WNBA Finals MVP with Washington, has joined the Sky. No team since Los Angeles in 2001-02 has repeated, but the Sky have the talent for it.
3. Seattle Storm
2021 record: 21-11
How last season ended: The No. 4 seed Storm lost 85-80 in overtime to No. 5 seed Phoenix in the second round of the playoffs
2022 outlook: Since 2018, it has come down to this: When the Storm have had forward Breanna Stewart for the playoffs, they have won the title. When they haven’t had her, they have fallen short. That has meant championships in 2018 and 2020. She didn’t play at all in 2019 (Achilles injury), and missed the end of the regular season and the playoffs last year with a left foot injury. If Stewart is healthy throughout 2022, she can lead the Storm to title contention with her familiar sidekicks, guards Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd. Center Ezi Magbegor is still just 22 years old, and her third WNBA season might be her best yet. There are also veteran faces new to Seattle, such as guard Briann January. This might be the last go-round for the 41-year-old Bird, although she hasn’t completely closed any doors yet.
4. Phoenix Mercury
2021 record: 19-13
How last season ended: The No. 5 seed Mercury lost 3-1 to Chicago in the WNBA Finals
2022 outlook: Admittedly, the Mercury don’t know when or if center Brittney Griner, who is being detained in Russia, will return this season. But adding last season’s top scorer in the WNBA, center Tina Charles, and guard Diamond DeShields, who won the title with Chicago last year, should help a lot. Guard Diana Taurasi is back seeking her fourth WNBA championship, while Skylar Diggins-Smith and Charles are both looking for their first. After eight seasons with Sandy Brondello as head coach, the Mercury now have Vanessa Nygaard calling the shots on the sidelines. The Mercury haven’t had a season without Griner in a decade, and it’s going to be very odd for her to be absent. But even if they don’t get Griner back for 2022, they can still be in the championship mix.
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5. Las Vegas Aces
2021 record: 24-8
How last season ended: The No. 2 seed Aces lost 3-2 to Phoenix in the semifinals
2022 outlook: While much of the team is the same on court, the coaching and infrastructure of the franchise has changed, including new head coach Becky Hammon and new general manager Natalie Williams. The biggest changes personnel-wise are that center Liz Cambage and guard/forward Angel McCoughtry have moved on. But everything still starts with forward A’ja Wilson, who is eager to make up for the disappointment of the Aces losing in the semifinals last season. Even with Cambage gone, the Aces bring back six players who averaged double figures scoring last season, which includes assists leader Chelsea Gray. This is a group that is hungry to give the franchise its first title.
6. Minnesota Lynx
2021 record: 22-10
How last season ended: The No. 3 seed Lynx lost to Chicago in the second round
2022 outlook: Center Sylvia Fowles will be going out on top; she has said this is her last season, but she is still one of the best players in the league. Can the Lynx send the future Hall of Famer out with a championship? We will see if forward Napheesa Collier returns after pregnancy leave, because that will boost the Lynx. But in her absence, they still have standouts such as guard Kayla McBride back, and they added guard/forward Angel McCoughtry in free agency. She missed last season because of a torn ACL, but she is one of those players who has done everything except win a WNBA title, and at 35 that is what she is striving to get.
7. Washington Mystics
2021 record: 12-20
How last season ended: Record-wise, the Mystics finished in a three-way tie with New York and Los Angeles for eighth place, but the Liberty got the tiebreaker and the final playoff spot; the Mystics missed the postseason for the first time since 2016
2022 outlook: At this point, there seems no reason not to be bullish on the return of forward/guard Elena Delle Donne. She missed all of the 2020 season and most of 2021 because of back issues but has said for months now that she’s feeling very good. While it’s uncertain what level she will get to this season, Delle Donne’s presence on court makes the Mystics a different team. Ariel Atkins has become one of the league’s best guards, and forward Myisha Hines-Allen can build off her past two seasons. A fully healthy Alysha Clark (she missed last season because a foot injury) plus the addition of center/forward Elizabeth Williams should elevate the Mystics’ defense. If everything clicks, this team will be ranked higher than it is now.
8. Los Angeles Sparks
2021 record: 12-20
How last season ended: Record-wise, the Sparks finished in a three-way tie with New York and Washington for eighth place, but the Liberty got the tiebreaker and the final playoff spot; the Sparks missed the postseason for the first time since 2011
2022 outlook: Speaking of teams that might move up a lot … we might be underestimating the Sparks, but they do have a lot chemistry-wise to figure out. Adding center Liz Cambage and guards Jordin Canada and Chennedy Carter upgrades the talent, but how will they all integrate with the team? Injuries impacted the Sparks a lot last year, as did the loss of Candace Parker to free agency. Even so, they still nearly kept their playoff streak going. Brittney Sykes is one of the league’s best defenders, and defense might be an overall stronger part of the Sparks this season. One thing is for sure: They should be one of the more interesting teams regarding how they develop.
9. Dallas Wings
2021 record: 14-18
How last season ended: The No. 7 seed Wings lost to Chicago in the first round
2022 outlook: The Wings have one of the league’s most dynamic and fun-to-watch players in guard Arike Ogunbowale. But do they have enough talent around her to not just get a playoff spot, but stick around in the postseason? The Wings have been building for a few years, but are they close to the point where they are ready to contend for a championship? Trading to get Teaira McCowan added a top-notch rim protector, and Dallas now has a lot of youthful size, plus speed on the perimeter. What that adds up to depends on how consistent the Wings can be and what kind of leadership they have.
10. New York Liberty
2021 record: 12-20
How last season ended: The No. 8 seed Liberty lost to Phoenix in the first round
2022 outlook: The right dominoes fell last season for the Liberty to get into the playoffs despite losing 11 of their last 13 games. And then they nearly pulled off a first-round upset, falling to the Mercury 83-82. But that’s as far as the magic went; coach Walt Hopkins and the team parted ways after the season. Now Sandy Brondello brings in a lot of experience as a head coach. New York is another work in progress, but with forward Natasha Howard and guard/forward Betnijah Laney, they have two high-quality scorers. Adding a veteran like center Stefanie Dolson, who won a title with Chicago last year, was a good move. And young players like forward Michaela Onyenwere, the 2021 rookie of the year and guard Sabrina Ionescu have a chance to be big parts of the Liberty’s future.
11. Indiana Fever
2021 record: 6-26
How last season ended: The Fever missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season
2022 outlook: Indiana might not be able to climb back into the postseason this year, but a key will be if the Fever look like they are doing more than just spinning their wheels. Lin Dunn, coach of the 2012 Fever championship team, is back as general manager. She has been very specific about what she is trying to do: Rebuild the team with hungry, young players who will defend like their roster spot depends on it. Because it pretty much will. Dunn wants a defensive-minded team and drafted players who can provide that. The Fever have a chance to be intriguing to watch grow. And even though she was not the No. 1 pick, you can be sure forward NaLyssa Smith, who was drafted No. 2, has her mind on winning the rookie of the year award.
12. Atlanta Dream
2021 record: 8-24
How last season ended: The Dream missed the postseason for the third year in a row
2022 outlook: Rhyne Howard, who was the No. 1 draft pick, also will be going after that top rookie honor, of course, and looking to help the Dream establish a new era under first-year head coach Tanisha Wright. The Dream aren’t starting from scratch, exactly, but it might seem that way. Little went right last season, so a fresh start is exactly what the franchise needs. As with Indiana, it’s hard to envision right now that the Dream can elevate to the playoffs this year. But if they make progress under Wright, that will a good sign for heading into 2023.