Top 15 WNBA players to watch during 2023 season

15 WNBA players to watch during 2023 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

After a whirlwind offseason, the WNBA is ready to get the ball rolling on the court.

The Las Vegas Aces enter the 2023 campaign as the defending champions after losing just two games in the postseason. Reigning MVP A’ja Wilson and her star supporting cast added a WNBA legend to the fold, as well, with their sights set on repeating.

Along with Sin City, another superteam can be found in the Big Apple. The New York Liberty acquired two former MVPs, putting them right there with the Aces as favorites to win it all this year.

Elsewhere across the W, some star veterans could lead dark-horse contenders, while a handful of recent top picks are looking to make a name for themselves in the pros.

With the WNBA season tipping off on Friday, here are 15 players to watch in 2023: 

A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces

Is it possible to have a more dominant and successful season than Wilson did in 2022?

She added a second MVP honor, her first WNBA Defensive Player of the Year award and her first WNBA title to her resume last season. With averages of 19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 1.4 steals per game, she was in total control in all phases of the game.

Entering her sixth WNBA season, she could still be getting better, which is scary news for the rest of the league.

Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas Aces

Kelsey Plum firmly established herself as one of the WNBA’s premier players last season, finishing third in MVP voting.

Even with Wilson drawing much of the spotlight, Plum was the league’s second-leading scorer (20.2 points per game) and was particularly lethal from deep at 42% on 7.5 3-point attempts per game.

Candace Parker, Las Vegas Aces

The Aces were already bringing back Wilson, Plum, Chelsea Gray, Jackie Young and head coach Becky Hammon. Now, they have an all-time great joining the fold.

Candace Parker was one of several stars that left the Chicago Sky this offseason, and now the two-time WNBA MVP is in a prime position to chase a third championship.

Breanna Stewart, New York Liberty

Breanna Stewart made the move from Seattle to the City That Never Sleeps and could ascend to the face of the WNBA in its biggest market.

The two-time WNBA champion was the league’s leading scorer last season (21.8 points per game) and finished behind only Wilson in the MVP race. 

Stewart will be sporting a new shoe in a new city, but the goal remains the same since her days at UConn: winning titles.

Jonquel Jones, New York Liberty

Another WNBA MVP will suit up alongside Stewart in NYC.

Jonquel Jones is with the Liberty after the Connecticut Sun fulfilled her trade request. The 6-foot-6 center has been named an All-Star in four of the last five seasons and was named MVP two years ago.

Sabrina Ionescu, New York Liberty

The third member of the Liberty’s new big three is a triple-double machine.

On top of being an elite scorer, Sabrina Ionescu is one of the WNBA’s top facilitators. With Stewart and Jones by her side, Ionescu will have an abundance of options every trip up the floor to score or play-make for someone else.

Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun

The Sun may have lost Jones, but they still have their Engine.

Alyssa Thomas somehow battled her way back to the court in 2021 just nine months after tearing her Achilles. She got a full 2022 under her belt and showed why she’s one of the most impactful, all-around players in the W.

Thomas and the Sun have reached the WNBA Finals twice in the last four seasons but have not yet earned the franchise a championship. If they want to make a run in 2023, expect Thomas to set the tone.

Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics

Like Thomas, Elena Delle Donne has fought back from injury to get back on a WNBA court. 

After winning MVP honors and the WNBA title in 2019, Delle Donne played just three total games over the next two years. Back issues hampered her throughout 2022, too, but she said she does not plan to miss any games with that ailment in 2023, giving the Mystics reason to believe they can make a real run.

Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks

Los Angeles has been looking for a spark over the last two years, and they finally shook things up by bringing in former Sun head coach Curt Miller to take over for Derek Fisher. With some new pieces around her, Ogwumike can focus on returning to the championship highs she reached in 2016.

Ogwumike hasn’t slowed down during the Sparks’ struggles. She averaged 18.1 points (seventh in the WNBA) to go along with 6.6 rebounds per game in 2022.

Napheesa Collier, Minnesota Lynx

Napheesa Collier is a proven star, and she will have even more responsibility in Minnesota now that she doesn’t share a frontcourt with recently retired Sylvia Fowles.

The Lynx missed the playoffs in 2022 and Collier played just four games after giving birth last May. With a full offseason under her belt, she is poised to become the new face of the franchise.

Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm

The Storm lost Stewart to free agency and franchise icon Sue Bird to retirement, but they still have one of the league’s best guards.

Jewell Loyd earned her fourth All-Star selection in 2022 and averaged 16.3 points per game while starting all 36 regular season games. As a two-time scoring champ with fewer proven pieces around her, expect Loyd to put up big numbers this year.

Arike Ogunbowale, Dallas Wings

Like Loyd, Arike Ogunbowale’s scoring should rise in 2023 after losing fellow starters. She may need to exceed the career-high 22.8 points per game she averaged in 2020 to keep the Dallas Wings in the playoff mix, and there’s no question she has the ability to get buckets on just about anybody.

Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever

Aliyah Boston was named the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft following an outstanding career at South Carolina.

It may take a while for Boston to experience the level of winning she did with Dawn Staley’s squad now that she is on a WNBA team that went a league-worst 5-31 last season. Still, she is well-positioned to become a franchise cornerstone.

Rhyne Howard, Atlanta Dream

If Boston is looking for a WNBA blueprint, Rhyne Howard isn’t a bad place to start.

Howard was the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft and excelled with the Atlanta Dream. The former Kentucky forward averaged 16.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, was named WNBA Rookie of the Year and was the only rookie to earn a 2022 All-Star selection.

Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury

One of the WNBA’s most dominant players is back in the U.S. and ready for her next chapter.

Brittney Griner is set to play her first WNBA game in well over a year when she and the Phoenix Mercury open the season on Friday. The seven-time WNBA All-Star missed all of last season as she was detained in Russia for nearly 10 months. 

Regardless of her numbers, Griner’s return will remain one of the most significant WNBA storylines for 2023.