The first full WNBA season played at home arenas in two years will tip off shortly, and in a handful of months, we will have a new (or repeat?) champion. As excited as I’m sure you are for the season, you’d rather just know what’s going to happen ahead of time, right? Right. You’re welcome for these 2021 WNBA predictions.
These are five predictions for the 2021 WNBA season, all of which will be correct, except for the ones the refs screw up. The refs will probably screw up a lot of them for me, but just know that these were all going to be correct before they got involved.
21 Predictions for the 2021 WNBA Season
Tough Times in Atlanta
Last week, Nicki Collen left the Dream to become the head coach of Baylor women’s basketball. That means that with less than a month before the start of the 2021 WNBA season, Atlanta is without a coach.
The team quickly appointed assistant coach Mike Petersen as the interim person in charge, which he said he did not see coming.
“At no point on yesterday’s date was written in ‘become an interim coach of the Atlanta Dream,'” he said last week.
There’s nothing more inspiring to hear than a coach being surprised they’re coaching.
It was always going to be an uphill climb for Atlanta to become a real contender this season, but now? Now it looks like the Dream will have to scramble to avoid finishing in the league’s basement, let alone get one of the eight playoff spots.
Sabrina Ionescu Will Ball Out
We were robbed of Sabrina Ionescu’s rookie WNBA year. She was only able to play in three games in 2020 because of a nasty ankle injury. She looked great in the little she played, averaging 18.3 points, 4.0 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game, including a 33-point performance in her second contest against the Dallas Wings. But the Liberty didn’t get anything else out of her.
New York was quite terrible in 2020, finishing the campaign at 2-20 and in the league’s last place by four games. Ionescu appears ready as ever for the 2021 WNBA season, though, and the rest of the W should be on notice for the Liberty.
Now, are the Liberty serious challengers for the WNBA title? No, that’s a stretch. But with a healthy Ionescu and the additions of Betnijah Laney in free agency and Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb via trade linking up with Layshia Clarendon, this team shouldn’t be the same pushover it was a year ago. A playoff spot and maybe even a win or two is a realistic goal. And at the core of it will be Ionescu, who should have the big debut season that was supposed to happen in 2020.
The Level of Play Will Increase
Don’t get it twisted – I’m not meaning to imply the WNBA wasn’t played at a high level in 2020. Of course it was, and I enjoyed what I saw. But there were some serious talents that didn’t play or only played for a portion of the season because of the complications that came with holding a whole season in a bubble in the midst of a raging pandemic.
Elena Delle Donne, Liz Cambage, Jonquel Jones, Kristi Toliver, Natasha Cloud, Chiney Ogwumike, Tina Charles, Jessica Breland, LaToya Sanders, and others didn’t go to Bradenton, Florida, for the bubble. That is some serious talent that wasn’t in the league in 2020, not to mention Seattle Storm head coach Dan Hughes opted to stay home, too (not that it held the Storm back, but still). Plus, Brittney Griner left the bubble early, so we only got half a season of her work.
All these players should be back and ready to go in 2021, which should unquestionably raise the level of play for this season. Much to the chagrin of many, this is only a 12-team league. If you remove some of the best players on a lot of the teams, the product simply won’t be the same. The Mystics learned that the hard way. But with these athletes back, one of my predictions is that the basketball we witness in the WNBA in 2021 should be that much better than last year.
The Mystics Will Be Back
Remember that Mystics team that won the title in 2019? Well, don’t let last season fool you. A lot of that team is still intact and ready to compete again in 2021.
There are some subtractions: Aerial Powers has moved on, signing a free agent deal with the Minnesota Lynx, Emma Meesseman’s season in D.C. is still unclear with her commitments overseas, Kristi Toliver is with the Los Angeles Sparks via free agency, and LaToya Sanders retired from the WNBA.
But the additions are pretty sweet: Delle Donne, Cloud, and Charles all return after missing last season for pandemic and social justice reasons. The return of Delle Donne in particular to this team cannot be overstated, which should be obvious to anyone who has watched the WNBA the last handful of years, but she is one of the best players in the world, period. Her alone is enough to totally flip that 9-13 record in 2020 to something much more positive.
I’m not convinced this team has enough on it to win the franchise’s second title in three years, but this feels like at least a semifinals team and one of the best regular season teams for the 2021 WNBA season.
Seattle Storm Claim Third Title in Four Years
Look, I realize this is one of my lamer predictions as Seattle is already the favorite heading into the 2021 WNBA season, and picking the Storm is boring.
But come on, look at this team! Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, Jewell Lloyd, and Jordin Canada are all returning pieces that were massive to the championship in 2020, and Candice Dupree has been added, too. Yes, Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark are no longer in Seattle, but it’s still tough to find another team in the league with a better collection of five players, and there’s good talent on the Seattle bench, too.
It’s just not Seattle’s roster, though. Dan Hughes, who won the title with the Storm in 2018 and has been a head coach in the WNBA almost every season since 1999, is back as the team’s head coach. Gary Kloppenburg, who was the head coach last season in Hughes’ stead, returns to his role as an assistant. How many other coaching staffs in the league can rival that? No one else has the last two title-winning coaches in the WNBA on their staff. Only Seattle.
The Aces will be legit. I expect the Mystics to take a big step up from 2020. The Sky are a real threat. But there’s not enough for me to not think that the Storm are still the best team in this league.