Few WNBA debuts have been as anticipated as those of Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne.
With many expecting them to help turn around their respective franchises, they'll begin their careers against each other Monday as Griner and the Phoenix Mercury host Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky.
Coming off the worst season in franchise history, the Mercury and their full-of-stars roster were expected to be back among the WNBA's elite teams this year.
The addition of Griner ratchets up expectations even more.
Throw the 6-foot-8 swatting and dunking center into the mix of what was already one of the league's most talented rosters and the Mercury aren't just a favorite to win their third WNBA title, they are THE favorite.
"Those are lofty expectations," Diana Taurasi said. "But you look around the locker room and we have some of the best players in the world, whether you've been in the league 10 years or whether it's your first week of training camp."
Last season was a forgettable one for the Mercury.
Penny Taylor, a three-time All-Star, missed the entire season after tearing her left ACL. Taurasi, the 2009 league and finals MVP, missed half of Phoenix's games due to injuries and the Olympic break. Candice Dupree, a three-time All-Star, missed 21 games with a knee injury.
DeWanna Bonner set career highs in almost every category, including with 20.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, but the Mercury labored without their other stars and finished 7-27.
But with the disappointing season came a bit of luck: Despite having the league's second-worst record behind Washington, Phoenix won the WNBA lottery for the top pick in this year's draft.
The Mercury, after playing coy heading into the draft, made the selection everyone expected and took Griner, one of the most highly touted players to ever enter the WNBA.
The two-time AP player of the year was a game-changing force in four years at Baylor, dunking with ease, swatting and altering shots, piling up points and rebounds.
In Phoenix, Griner joins a veteran team that's been successful, meaning she won't have to come in and have to do everything like she might have on a young, down-and-out team.
"I can limit her to rebound and block shots, learn as much as you can and play free without any pressure," Mercury coach and general manager Corey Gaines said. "That's better than everything being on her."
In seven disappointing seasons, the Sky have never reached the WNBA playoffs or even posted a winning record. Chicago is coming off a second straight 14-20 season. After winning seven of its first eight games, the team dropped 15 of the next 17 and slipped out of playoff contention.
But the addition of Delle Donne, the No. 2 pick in the draft, could be a game changer that helps the Sky finally turn the tide. A 6-foot, 5-inch All-American from Delaware, Delle Donne brings a scoring touch and versatility for a Sky team that has talent but has lacked consistency.
She averaged 26 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, leading Delaware to its first NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. A two-time All-American, she finished with 3,039 career points, fifth highest in NCAA women's basketball history.
"I think she's definitely key when you think about her talent, her skill set and her size," said Pokey Chatman, the team's third-year coach and general manager. "Then you talk about the deficiencies we had and she definitely addresses that. And (she's) a player who can swing to multiple positions."
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