WNBA season preview 2023: Who to root for if you like trash talk, underdogs, luxury and more

Here's what WNBA team to root for in 2023, if you like ... (Illustration by Moe Haidar/Yahoo Sports)
Here's what WNBA team to root for in 2023, if you like ... (Illustration by Moe Haidar/Yahoo Sports)

WNBA fandom continues to grow, which means a lot of people are on the hunt for their perfect match. With only 12 teams and fewer than 144 regularly rostered players, it’s less likely new fans have a natural local rooting interest. That’s why Yahoo Sports is here to play matchmaker.

If you like trash talk, we’ve got a team for you to take on as your own. Same for surprises, luxury, even … high-yield savings accounts? Here’s which team to root for based on those and similar characteristics, plus the basics to know so you can best argue your fandom case. Teams are in alphabetical order.

If you like ~ v i b e s ~ … Atlanta Dream

Renee Montgomery knows what she’s doing. Most of the chatter around Atlanta last summer was the vibes and if anything has changed since, it’s that the vibes are better and stronger. From player introductions, to halftime entertainment, to the number in the win column ticking higher than any season since 2018, the culture is an incredible one to experience. And it’s very Atlanta.

2022 record: 14-22 (10th), one game out of final playoff spot

Key players: Olympic 3x3 gold medalist Allisha Gray, who the Dream acquired in a trade with Dallas, and reigning Rookie of the Year Rhyne Howard, the 2022 No. 1 overall pick, lead a group that is poised for an ascension up the standings in the coming years. The Dream added another young star talent last month by drafting Stanford’s Haley Jones at No. 6. Aari McDonald (No. 3, 2021), Naz Hillmon (No. 15, 2022) and Laeticia Amihere (No. 8, 2023) round out the young talent the Dream have drafted.

Circle these games: The Dream kick off the ABC schedule on Saturday against the Wings, a contest of the bottom four that could determine playoff seeding. It’s also Gray’s first game back in Dallas.

If you like trash talk … Chicago Sky

Kahleah Copper, Marina Mabrey and Courtney Williams on the same team? Mic ’em up immediately. Copper standing over Sophie Cunningham during the 2021 Sky championship run is the enduring photo of that Finals. In the following postseason, Copper and Williams, the Sky’s free agency signing and notable talker, memorably refused to let go of the ball in the final minutes of the semifinals between Chicago and Connecticut. And there may be no bigger trash talker than Mabrey, who the Sky acquired in a trade with the Dallas Wings. Even former Coach of the Year James Wade might be sliding toward trash talk territory.

The Chicago Sky's Kahleah Copper confronts the Phoenix Mercury's Sophie Cunningham during the the 2021 WNBA Finals. (Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

2022 record: 26-10 (second), defeated by Sun in deciding Game 5 of semifinals

Key players: The Sky are in a revamp mode after their entire championship core sans Copper, a seventh-year veteran wing, exited in the offseason. That’s going to mean a potentially bumpy ride, particularly early as the veteran additions, which include Elizabeth Williams and Isabelle Harrison, jell early. Reserve guard Rebekah Gardner and Dana Evans return.

Circle these games: The only season since their high school careers that Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale have been on opposite benches is 2019. The Notre Dame stars will see each other in Chicago on May 28 and in a two-game set in Dallas on Aug. 6 and 8. The Sky will meet Candace Parker’s Aces on the road on June 11 and Courtney Vandersloot’s Liberty on June 2 and 4.

If you like perennial underdogs … Connecticut Sun

Maybe it’s that their arena is in the middle of rural Connecticut. Maybe it’s their recent growth from the basement to the standings attic. Or that they’re tied with the New York Liberty for most Finals appearances without a title (four). The Sun are always riding the underdog role (long live #disrespeCT) and this year it truly applies after free agency moves in Connecticut raised questions in-house and moves elsewhere rose tides.

2022 season: 25-11 (third), lost to Aces in Game 4 of WNBA Finals

Key players: Jonquel Jones, the 2021 MVP the team drafted in 2016, exited in a trade to New York and Jasmine Thomas joined head coach Curt Miller, who left to take the Sparks job. Brionna Jones, the Sixth Player of the Year who will move into Jones’ role full time, re-signed to stay alongside DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas.

Circle these games: Connecticut will make its cross-country trip in June, facing Miller in Los Angeles on June 18. He’ll bring his Sparks to Connecticut on Aug. 27. The Sun will play a two-game home series against the Aces on June 6 and 8 in a Finals rematch.

If you like the youths … the Dallas Wings

In terms of the sheer acquisition of talent, the Wings have arguably won every draft the last few years because of how many first-round draft picks they’ve had. Now, how these picks have been used on the court is a different story, if they’re even making the roster at all.

But! If you like the youths, and enjoy watching young talent grow with each other, Dallas is a good spot. Twelve of their 16 training camp players have three or fewer years of experience. Two (Teaira McCowan and Arike Ogunbowale) have four years and one has five (Diamond DeShields). Natasha Howard is a nine-year veteran with three WNBA titles.

2022 season: 18-18 (sixth), took the Sun to a full, three-game first-round playoff series

Key players: Ogunbowale is the focal point in Dallas and one of five players league-wide on the supermax salary. The Wings drafted Villanova forward Maddy Siegrist at No. 3, traded for the Mystics’ No. 4 pick of Iowa State’s Stephanie Soares and drafted UConn guard Lou Lopez Sénéchal at No. 5. Soares probably will not play this season while recovering from an ACL tear. At No. 11, they added Maryland’s Abby Meyers, who played four years at Princeton.

Circle these games: The Wings start the season against Atlanta on ABC and meet Connecticut on June 4 in a rematch of the playoff series. Meeting Indiana on July 9 will be a recent collegiate star showcase.

If you like high-yield savings accounts … Indiana Fever

There’s a good chance Indiana spends a third consecutive season at the bottom of the standings. Give it time, though, and a rise is in the works after the franchise won the draft lottery for the first time in history and selected South Carolina champion and former player of the year Aliyah Boston.

Boston is a franchise-altering player who can impact both ends of the floor and will have more room to work offensively than in college, where junk defenses could cloud the paint. This is another very young group that’s largely a collection of recent grads. The difference is Boston and the complementary talent around her.

Aliyah Boston poses for a photo with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert after the Indiana Fever selected Boston first overall at the 2023 WNBA Draft on April 10, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Aliyah Boston poses for a photo with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert after the Indiana Fever selected Boston first overall at the 2023 WNBA Draft on April 10, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

2022 season: 5-31 (12th), 21 games back of first-place Aces

Key players: All eyes are on Boston, the early favorite for Rookie of the Year honors who could even be a top-10 scorer in the league her first season. The other alternative for this is “if you’re a fan of the South Carolina Gamecocks,” since she was joined in training camp by Victaria Saxton and second-year Fever guard Destanni Henderson. Fifth-year guard Kelsey Mitchell averaged 18.4 points, ranking fifth in the league.

The Fever will be led by Christie Sides, their third head coach in a calendar year after Marianne Stanley was replaced after nine games by Carlos Knox. Indiana hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016, when Tamika Catchings was playing, and has fared better than .280 only once in that stretch.

Circle these games: For Indiana to begin its rise, it will need to start by defeating those teams outside of the 2022 playoff picture. The Fever play the Dream on May 28 and the Lynx on June 9 in early road tests.

If you like luxury … Las Vegas Aces

Do we really need to say more?

Team owner Mark Davis is pouring into this franchise and it’s already paying off with a championship and another massive free agency signing in two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker. This month, the organization unveiled its 64,000-square-foot practice facility and headquarters, the first dedicated solely to a WNBA team in the league’s 27-year history. Parker has been open about not having her own locker while with Los Angeles and Chicago, and in sharp contrast her former Sky team practices in a rec center far away from their arena.

Much like some luxury cars, fans will have to deal with bubbling issues here and there. The Aces are still under investigation for potential salary-cap violations and a separate discrimination allegation against All-Star Dearica Hamby, who they traded to the Sparks.

2022 season: 26-10 (first), won championship

Key players: Two-time MVP A’ja Wilson, All-Star Game MVP Kelsey Plum, Finals MVP Chelsea Gray and Most Improved Player Jackie Young return to complete Coach of the Year Becky Hammon’s starting lineup. They lose Hamby, the intangible in the critical Finals Game 1 win, but add Parker. Riquna Williams, Alysha Clark and Kiah Stokes will look to improve the bench’s input.

Games to circle: Everyone has eyes on the matchup of super-teams. The Aces host the Liberty on June 29 and Aug. 17. They’ll be in Brooklyn for an ABC Sunday matinee on Aug. 6. The Aces and Hamby’s Sparks line up for two games in the first week of the season (May 25 and 27).

Los Angeles Sparks forwards Chiney Ogwumike (13) and Nneka Ogwumike (30) during media day on May 4, 2023. (Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

If you like “Double Teamed” an absurd amount … Los Angeles Sparks

Double Teamed,” the 2002 Disney Channel classic, is based on the true story of twin sisters Heather and Heidi Burge. Spoiler alert, the two went on to play in the WNBA. Heather played 13 games for the defunct Sacramento Monarchs in 1999. Heidi played in the league’s inaugural season with the Sparks and in 1998 for the Washington Mystics. (To the diehards: Yes, the producers took artistic liberty with that ending.)

The 2023 Sparks do not have twins, but they do have two sets of sisters. Nneka Ogwumike, the 2012 No. 1 overall pick, has been in Los Angeles her entire career and younger sister, Chiney Ogwumike, the 2014 No. 1 overall pick, re-signed in the offseason to reunite with head coach Curt Miller. Katie Lou Samuelson landed in Los Angeles in 2022 and her older sister, Karlie Samuelson, bounced around teams before landing there for training camp. Katie Lou will not play this season while on maternity leave.

2022 season: 13-23 (11th), two games out of final playoff spot

Key players: Nneka Ogwumike remains the focal point for this franchise rebuilding under Miller’s tutelage. Chiney called the energy in training camp the best environment she’s seen. Hamby, who gave birth to her second child in March, said she planned to take time off, but the week before training camp she decided to come for Day 1.

Games to circle: It won’t take long for Hamby to see her championship-winning friends. The Aces are in town on May 25 and they’ll meet again on May 27 in Las Vegas. Miller’s first meeting with his former Finals teams is June 18 in Los Angeles and he returns to his former home on Aug. 27.

If you like the dawning of new eras … Minnesota Lynx

The post-dynasty era has officially dawned in Minnesota after Sylvia Fowles played her final game and Maya Moore formally announced her retirement. The team is now in the hands of forward Napheesa Collier, a former Rookie of the Year who will take over leadership duties, and No. 2 overall pick Diamond Miller, another player the Lynx front office banks on becoming a franchise star.

The draft, plus a free agency add here or there, is how the Lynx built their run of championship teams that won four titles in seven years. Given the state of the league now, a run like that seems unlikely. But the rebuild of a championship contender in Minnesota appears highly probable.

2022 season: 14-22 (ninth), one game out of the final playoff spot.

Key players: Collier played four games in August after coming back from maternity leave, so this will be her first full season back in action. Natalie Achonwa will miss time on maternity leave this season. Guards Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers and Rachel Banham all return.

The New York Liberty's Breanna Stewart brings the ball up the court against the Las Vegas Aces during preseason game at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas on May 13, 2023. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

If you like super-teams and athlete movement … New York Liberty

The Liberty are the first super-team created in the truest sense of the modern word. Two-time WNBA champion Breanna Stewart, two-time finalist Jonquel Jones and champion Courtney Vandersloot all decided to sign with the Liberty this offseason. Jones asked for a trade from the Sun, and Stewart and Vandersloot signed in free agency. The trio have played together overseas.

They’ll join triple-double queen Sabrina Ionescu and sharpshooter Betnijah Laney in the starting lineup. Marine Johannès is an incredible passer off the bench and Stefanie Dolson won NCAA titles with Stewart at UConn and a WNBA title with Vandersloot in Chicago. And Han Xu reportedly grew an inch to 6-foot-11, making her the tallest in the league.

It’s unlikely this is a Civil War-era Marvel movie. Instead, it’s an End Game where everyone comes together to try and win the original franchise its first WNBA championship.

Super-team, unite.

2022 season: 16-20 (seventh), lost in deciding Game 3 of first round to Chicago

Key players: See above. Stewart (21.8 ppg, first), Ionescu (17.4 ppg, eighth) and Jones (14.6 ppg, 19th) all ranked top 20 in scoring last season. Jones (8.6 rpg, fourth) and Stewart (7.6 rpg, seventh) were tops in rebounding. And Vandersloot (6.5 apg) and Ionescu (6.3 apg) ranked second and third, respectively, in assists.

Circle these games: The Liberty-Aces games have been on everyone’s radars since each side built their respective super-teams. They meet June 29 in Las Vegas, Aug. 6 in Brooklyn, Aug. 17 in Las Vegas and Aug. 28 in Brooklyn. The Mystics are currently the other most formidable opponent standing in their way with two of their four matchups to start the season (May 19, Washington) and end it (Sept. 10, Brooklyn).

If you like feel-good stories … Phoenix Mercury

Brittney Griner’s safe return to the United States was no guarantee after she was wrongfully detained in Russia last year. And those players who have played in Russia, such as teammate Diana Taurasi, understood the stark reality of the situation.

Shortly after she returned in a prisoner swap in December, Griner said she intended to play and her return to the court will be the feel-good story of the WNBA season. Last season, the league dedicated its season to bringing her home. Now, they’re a whole 144 again. Simply seeing Griner as one of them is a win and her work to now advocate for families of those wrongfully detained is a cause that will carry the season.

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner shoots a free throw against the Los Angeles Sparks during a preseason game on May 12, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner shoots a free throw against the Los Angeles Sparks during a preseason game on May 12, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

2022 season: 15-21 (eighth), lost to Aces in first round of playoffs

Key players: Taurasi will lace it up for her 19th WNBA season. Skylar Diggins-Smith, whose addition in 2020 launched the Mercury into “Big Three” team status and title contention, is currently out on maternity leave after the birth of her second child. The Mercury will turn to scoring from guard Sophie Cunningham and forward Michaela Onyenwere, the 2021 Rookie of the Year they acquired in a three-team trade.

Circle these games: Griner will make her season debut in Los Angeles on Friday, and her “Welcome Home Opener” on Sunday in Phoenix. All future road trips will be an interesting watch for the fan reaction, and her on-court interactions with the WNBA peers who kept her name centered during her detainment are sure to create special moments. The Mercury play the Liberty on the road for the first time on June 18. Stewart tweeted about Griner every day she was detained, and the two have spent years playing overseas together.

If you like surprises … Seattle Storm

The Storm are a huge question mark after Sue Bird, their point guard for all but two seasons in the franchise’s history, retired and Breanna Stewart, who won their two most recent championships, left in free agency. The main carryover is Jewell Loyd and this collection of talent around her could be solid. Or it could sink back to the bottom of the standings the way it did during the late middle of Bird’s career when it led to the drafting of Stewart at No. 1.

It’s the dawning of a new era, but it remains unclear if that’s a good era or a middling one. Unlike the Lynx, the Storm were not in the lottery and drafted Tennessee guard Jordan Horston with the No. 9 overall pick.

2022 season: 22-14 (fourth), lost to Aces in epic, four-game semifinals

Key players: Loyd will need to step into the lead role and take over games in ways she hasn’t often done before. Ezi Magbegor, a 6-foot-4 fourth-year center from Australia, might be the most intriguing player on the roster to take a leap in output. Sami Whitcomb, who played last season for New York, and Mercedes Russell are back in lighting bolts.

Circle these games: Stewart returns to Seattle on May 30 in a game televised on ESPN2. It’s the team’s third game of the season, and second home game after drawing the Aces in the opener.

If you like comeback stories … Washington Mystics

Elena Delle Donne is all the way back. The two-time WNBA MVP said she’s had the greatest offseason of her career and is fully healthy after back issues kept her away from the court for the majority of the past three seasons. After leading the Mystics to the franchise’s first championship in 2019, during which she dealt with dislocated discs in her back, Delle Donne skipped the 2020 bubble season and underwent two back surgeries that kept her out of 2021 as well. She played in 25 games last year, often sitting out long road trips or back-to-backs.

Delle Donne said during training camp she doesn’t intend to miss games due to rest. It will be the first legitimate chance the Mystics have of earning a second title, and they’ll look to do it under first-year head coach Eric Thibault. Mike Thibault is now full-time general manager.

Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne of the drives toward the basket against Los Angeles Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike during a WNBA game at in Los Angeles on July 12, 2022. (Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne of the drives toward the basket against Los Angeles Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike during a WNBA game at in Los Angeles on July 12, 2022. (Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

2022 season: 22-14 (fifth), lost to Storm in first round of playoffs

Key players: Much of that 2019 title team is back, including Kristi Toliver. The veteran point guard left to return to the Sparks, where she won her first title in 2016, and re-joined the Mystics in free agency this past winter. Natasha Cloud, Myisha Hines-Allen, Ariel Atkins and Tianna Hawkins are back. Shakira Austin was a strong contender for 2022 Rookie of the Year and returned after overseas play even stronger.

Circle these games: The season opener will be a good one with the stacked Liberty in town on Friday. They meet again on June 25, July 21 and for the season finale on Sept. 10. They play Las Vegas for the first time in August.