If and when the 2020 WNBA season takes place, there will be a lot of new in New York. As league rosters were trimmed down to no more than 12 players Tuesday, the Liberty stand out for keeping all six of their rookies, led by No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon.
“We acquired each player we had targeted on draft night — all in the top 15,” Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb said. “And we owe it to ownership, our fans, and our players to see what our coaching staff can do with these rookies in terms of development.
“With the salary increases achieved in the new CBA, high production via a rookie scale contract can be a major factor in curating a winning roster down the line.”
When the new collective bargaining agreement was finalized in January, no one realized the coming coronavirus pandemic would postpone the season and force teams to make cuts without having training camps. As it is, the top 17 players selected in April’s WNBA draft all made 2020 rosters except guard Katija Laksa, whom Seattle selected at No. 11 knowing that she wouldn’t play in the WNBA this year. The Latvia native hopes to join the league next year.
As for the rest of the second round and all of the third round, Maryland wing Kaila Charles was the only pick from Nos. 18-36 who made a roster. The Connecticut Sun drafted her near the end of the second round at No. 23.
Baylor guard Te’a Cooper (No. 18 pick by Mercury), Texas forward Joyner Holmes (No. 19 by Storm) and Miami forward Beatrice Mompremier (No. 20 by Sparks) were among the second-round draftees who didn’t make rosters Tuesday. Notable names in the third round not on rosters were Oregon State guard Mikayla Pivec (No. 25 by Dream), Rice guard Erica Ogwumike (No. 26 by Liberty, traded to Lynx) and Florida State forward Kiah Gillespie (No. 32 by Sky.) Ogwumike was waived by the Lynx. Pivec and Gillespie announced they would sit out this season, so the teams still retain their rights and they can try to make the roster next year.
With just 12 spots on 12 teams, it’s always a challenge for second- and third-round picks to make rosters as rookies, even in normal times.
In New York, though, rookies rule. First-year coach Walt Hopkins was hired in part because of his specialty in developing talent.
“Our coaching staff and roster can grow together toward the ultimate goal of bringing New York a championship,” Kolb said of something that has eluded the Liberty, one of the WNBA’s original eight teams. “It won’t happen overnight. Few things worthwhile do. But it is our belief that the bonds created during the early stages will bear fruit when it matters most.”
The season was supposed to start May 15, but has been delayed indefinitely. Some players from overseas who were on WNBA rosters last year have opted to sit out this season. But the biggest names, like Belgium’s Emma Meesseman (Mystics) and Australia’s Liz Cambage (Aces), have roster spots and still hope to play in the WNBA in 2020.The rosters had to be cut down so that players could receive their first paycheck on time June 1. We don’t know yet when we might see these teams on the court. But here’s a quick look at what stands out about their rosters.
Another team with a new look, there are just four returning players from 2019: Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery, Elizabeth Williams and Monique Billings. But considering the Dream were last in the WNBA at 8-26, that might be a good thing. With Angel McCoughtry gone to Las Vegas, Hayes — entering her ninth season in Atlanta — is now the veteran face of the Dream.
Atlanta’s rookies are first-round pick Chennedy Carter of Texas A&M and second-round selection Brittany Brewer of Texas Tech. Carter is a high-scoring shooting guard and Brewer a true center. Add in offensive threats at guard like Courtney Williams (trade) and Shekinna Stricklen (free agency), and maybe the Dream will not be last in scoring average, as they were last season (71.2 PPG).
“We have the ability to play fast,” coach Nicki Collen said, “and spread the floor offensively with threats to score the basketball at all five positions, regardless of lineup.”
They had just one pick in the first two rounds and got the player they wanted: Oregon post Ruthy Hebard. She’ll be the lone rookie on a team that came close to making the WNBA semifinals last season. She should enjoy playing with point guard Courtney Vandersloot, the league’s assists leader the past three years who is back for her 10th season with the Sky.
Chicago’s first draft pick in 2019, UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson, didn’t get a lot of playing time last year. She was traded to Dallas for former UConn teammate Azura Stevens, who gets a fresh start with the Sky. She was on the all-rookie team in 2018, but played just nine games with the Wings in 2019 and missed the rest of the season with a foot injury. Stevens adds to a squad that should have a lot of power in the post.
They took Washington the distance in the WNBA Finals last season, losing in the decisive fifth game. Three key players from that playoff run — forwards Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas and point guard Jasmine Thomas — are back. But the Sun didn’t stand pat.
They got one of the most coveted free agents in forward DeWanna Bonner, who brings championship experience from Phoenix. Could she be that missing piece the Sun need to get their first title? They also traded for point guard Briann January and forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
Connecticut didn’t have a first-round pick; Kaila Charles is their lone rookie. She joins two other former Terps in Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones.
This is one more franchise trying the youth movement to formulate a new culture. The Wings kept all three first-round picks: No. 2 Satou Sabally (Oregon), No. 5 Bella Alarie (Princeton) and No. 7 Tyasha Harris (South Carolina). And they obtained 2019’s No. 4 pick, UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson, via trade. That’s two versatile 6-foot-4 players, a true point guard and a 6-3 shooting guard, all of whom should help a Wings offense that was carried last year primarily by rookie guard Arike Ogunbowale (19.1 PPG).
She is one of five players back from 2019’s Wings, when coach Brian Agler was in his first year in Dallas. The 2020 Wings are super young; just two players — posts Kayla Thornton and Astou Ndour — have as much as four years of experience in the WNBA. But like New York, Dallas is trying to build with young players who, ideally, will grow well together.
New coach Marianne Stanley has a long history on the sideline and was an assistant for the champion Mystics last year. The Fever are trying to reclaim their status as a perennial playoff contender, which they were during most of Tamika Catchings’ 15 seasons as a player. Now she’s trying to rebuild the team as the general manager.
Indiana will have three rookies, although just two were taken in the draft: Baylor forward Lauren Cox in the first round and Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle in the second. The other first-year player is guard Julie Allemand of Belgium. It should be fun to watch Cox and second-year center Teaira McCowan team together inside.
Candice Dupree, who turns 36 in August, is back for her 15th season, while fellow forward Natalie Achonwa and guard Erica Wheeler are each entering their sixth year. The Fever have a mix of older and young talent; we’ll see how Indiana plays under Stanley.
Las Vegas Aces
After three consecutive years of this organization picking first in the draft — Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young — the Aces had just a third-round selection in 2020 who had no realistic shot at making the team. The big offseason moves were signing free agents Angel McCoughtry and Danielle Robinson.
McCoughtry missed all of last season after a knee injury in 2018, and she’ll turn 34 in September. But it will be interesting to see her in a new setting where she isn’t expected to be the dominant scorer, which was her role in Atlanta. That load is carried mostly by Wilson, center Liz Cambage and guard Kayla McBride.
The Aces made the semifinals last season, losing to Washington, and players like Dearica Hamby made big strides forward. Las Vegas was an interesting team to watch develop in 2019, and the same could be true in 2020.
Los Angeles Sparks
Like the Aces, the Sparks will have no rookies. In a different year, someone like Miami forward Beatrice Mompremier (No. 20 pick in the second round) might have made the team, but there wasn’t room for her this year as the Sparks have strong inside talent with sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, along with Candace Parker. Plus, they added second-year forward Kristine Anigwe. This will be her third team; she was drafted by Connecticut last year and then traded to Dallas during the season. She’ll have a great group of veterans to learn from.
The Sparks also brought in guards via free agency/trade: Kristi Toliver, Seimone Augustus and Brittney Sykes, while Chelsea Gray returns as their backcourt rock. Things ended badly in the playoffs last year for Los Angeles, but this could be — and should be — a very strong team with a chance at going a long way.
Elena Delle Donne gives Holly Rowe details about her new baking series ‘BakEDD’ she created to provide activities for children during social distancing.
It still seems very strange to think Augustus — after 14 years with the Lynx — is no longer in Minnesota. Center Sylvia Fowles remains the link to the Lynx dynasty, and Minnesota will try to build around her and last season’s rookie of the year, forward Napheesa Collier.
The Lynx will have two 2020 rookies in forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan of South Carolina, their first-round pick, and point guard Crystal Dangerfield of UConn, their second-round selection. Dangerfield reunites with Collier, her Huskies teammate of three years. And there are also new faces joining the Lynx in center Kayla Alexander and guard Shenise Johnson, who both have seven years of WNBA experience, and guard Rachel Banham, back in Minneapolis where she starred in college for Minnesota. She’s entering her fifth WNBA season.
Forwards Maya Moore and Jessica Shepard are on the full season suspended list, while guard Odyssey Sims is on the inactive list but could return.
New York Liberty
As noted, rookies make up half of the Liberty’s roster, with Ionescu, forward Megan Walker (UConn), wing Jocelyn Willoughby (Virginia), guard Jazmine Jones and forward Kylee Shook (Louisville) and forward Leaonna Odom (Duke). There’s also Kia Nurse, with two years of experience, and fellow guard Asia Durr, with one year.
What passes for “old” on this Liberty roster is guard Layshia Clarendon, 29, but she’s just as new as the rookies to New York. She has seven years’ experience with Indiana, Atlanta and Connecticut, although injury limited her to nine games last season with the Sun.
A lot of attention comes with Ionescu after all her success at Oregon, but the outside expectations for this team aren’t high because it is so young. Ionescu might see the challenge with the Liberty being similar to what it was when she got to Oregon, a program she helped transform quickly.
“Some may see the age of our roster and be concerned about inexperience in a veteran league,” Kolb said. “We see a roster packed with potential that we can mold to fit our vision and system as closely as possible from the outset.”
They are the third team, along with the Aces and Sparks, who finalized their roster with no rookies. They had three last year, and they all return for 2020: forwards Breanna Turner and Alanna Smith and guard Sophie Cunningham.
Through trades and free agency, Phoenix has added center Kia Vaughn, forwards Jessica Breland and Nia Coffey, and guards Skylar Diggins-Smith, Bria Hartley and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.
Diggins-Smith, who missed last season with Dallas on pregnancy leave, wanted to move on from the Wings. Now she has a chance to play with Diana Taurasi, provided she’s healthy after missing most of last season with injuries.
Mercury fans will miss Bonner, who left in free agency for Connecticut. Taurasi and center Brittney Griner are the last players remaining in Phoenix from the Mercury’s 2014 championship team.
They went from the high of the 2018 WNBA title to a kind of frustrating 2019 in which they didn’t have forward Breanna Stewart (Achilles) or point guard Sue Bird (knee surgery). The Storm still made the playoffs, led by Natasha Howard and Jewell Loyd, who return. Stewart and Bird are expected back in 2020.
Speaking of UConn duos, the Storm also will have one that actually played together at the same time for the Huskies: Stewart and fellow forward Morgan Tuck, who came to Seattle via trade from Connecticut. Stewart was drafted No. 1 and Tuck No. 3 in 2016.
Seattle has one rookie on the roster, but she’s not from the 2020 draft class. Australian center Ezi Magbegor was the No. 12 pick in 2019, but didn’t play last year. She turns 21 in August and wants to compete in the WNBA for the first time this year.
The Storm could look pretty similar to 2018, and they’d like to have that same kind of finish.
There was no time for a celebration parade last October, as many of the players had to leave for overseas. And the pandemic prevented a parade this year. But maybe the Mystics can successfully defend their title. All the key players save Kristi Toliver, who left for Los Angeles, are on the roster again. That includes forwards Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman, forward/center LaToya Saunders, and guards Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins.
Delle Donne had back surgery over the winter, so we’ll see what her status is if the season takes place. But the Mystics also added another former league MVP in Tina Charles, whom they got via trade from New York. Charles brings 10 years of WNBA experience, plus the hunger to win her first league championship.
The Mystics had no 2020 first-round pick; their selections at the end of the second and third rounds didn’t make the roster. But they’ll still have one rookie: their 2019 first-round pick, guard Kiara Leslie of NC State. She didn’t play last season because of a knee injury.
There hasn’t been a repeat champion in the WNBA since Los Angeles in 2001-02. If this season takes place, one of the big stories will be whether the Mystics can make it two in a row.