With the WNBA Playoffs beginning Thursday, it’s time to look at who might win the 2021 crown. Considering the eight teams that are in this year’s field, I compiled a ranking of the WNBA title contenders.
Since the WNBA changed to its current playoff format in 2016, every champion has come from the top-two seeds. So should history hold, the Connecticut Sun or Las Vegas Aces will be the 2021 champion, which would be a first for either franchise.
While history says the Sun or Aces will claim the title, the Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm look to have a say in the matter. The No. 3 and 4 seeds, respectively, have won seven of the last 11 championships dating back to 2010.
For the purposes of these rankings, all teams with sub-.500 record will not be considered serious contenders for the WNBA title. While it’s possible the Dallas Wings or New York Liberty manage to take a game or two via the single-elimination format, the best-of-five semifinals are sure to sort out any irregularities.
Then there are the Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky, two teams that have been a step behind the top-four seeds this season. Each hold enough talent to make the title but have been inconsistent, either when facing top teams (Phoenix) or in general (Chicago).
This all makes for a top heavy but exciting playoff race. Here is the ranking of the WNBA title contenders, from least to most likely.
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WNBA Title Contenders Ranked
7. Dallas Wings & New York Liberty (tie)
This isn’t an indictment on the talent either of these two teams have, it’s more a matter of the way the teams ahead of them have been playing. Additionally, both teams finished below-.500, putting them out of serious contender range. If a team can’t win more than half of its games, it cannot be considered a serious contender for the title. If either makes a deep run, expect Arike Ogunbowale or Betnijah Laney to have an incredible postseason.
6. Chicago Sky
The Sky’s win in the regular-season finale just barely save the team from being grouped with Dallas and New York for this exercise.
Chicago started the season strong, then lost its new arrival, Candace Parker, for a stretch. The team went on a seven-game winning streak to regain form but finished 5-5 in the last 10 games to finish exactly at .500 (16-16).
The Sky have a fun matchup with the Wings to open the WNBA Playoffs but would be in for closely-contested matchups if they were to advance to the next round. The Sky finished 7-7 against the five teams ranked above them.
5. Phoenix Mercury
Phoenix’s biggest issue is not its own team but playing above its level of competition. The Mercury finished the season 15-5 against teams .500 or below but just 4-8 versus the four teams that ended above it in the WNBA standings.
Diana Taurasi has been out since Sept. 6, so while Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith will likely be able to hold down the fort in the first round, the Mercury will really need Taurasi to go much further than that.
Griner has been reasserting her dominance all season, including during a gold-medal run in the Olympics, so she likely holds the keys to her path to a second title.
4. Seattle Storm
The Seattle Storm enter the playoffs as the defending champions and winners of the first-ever Commissioner’s Cup. What is unclear as the Storm enters the playoffs is if the team will have Breanna Stewart available – she missed the team’s final two games of the regular season with a foot injury.
The Storm bring the league’s most-efficient three-point attack into the playoffs, hitting on 37.9 percent of their 22.7 attempts per game. If Stewart is unavailable, Seattle will turn primarily to Jewell Lloyd and Sue Bird. Behind those two, the team has seven other players averaging between five and 10 points per outing, so how much of a contender for the WNBA title Seattle is will rely heavily on Stewart’s health. Still, the Storm’s path to a back-to-back championship might be as matchup dependent as anything else.
3. Minnesota Lynx
The Lynx are the hottest team not named the Sun, finishing 9-1 over the season’s final 10 games. Minnesota played the spoiler, knocking the Washington Mystics out of the playoffs on the season’s final day and have a four-headed attack of Sylvia Fowles, Napheesa Collier, Kayla McBride, and Aerial Powers leading the way.
To close the postseason with a league-record fifth title, it will have to start on the defensive end. Fowles has led the league’s third-most stringent defense, with Minnesota allowing just 78.7 points per game to its opponents. Offensively, Collier has spearheaded the Lynx’s attack, averaging 16.2 points per contest.
Whether the Lynx can truly contender for the WNBA title is a coin flip. They’re 7-7 against teams .500 or below, so a second-round upset could be a possibility here. But Minnesota has a better shot than most at raising the trophy at the end of the line and claiming its first title in four years.
2. Las Vegas Aces
The Aces have been the runners-up each of the past two seasons and would surely love to excise their demons and raise the title this time around, and they have a good chance at doing it. The Aces have the WNBA’s highest-scoring offense (89.3 ppg) and the luxury of bringing Kelsey Plum, their second-highest scorer and one of the best players in the world, off the bench.
Any team with A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage will be a hard out, but the whole of this team is no joke. Seven different players average at least 10 points and get the work done in the paint. The team averages the fewest three-point attempts of any team in the W but makes the most of its attempts, connecting on 37.5 percent of its 13.5 hoists from deep, a sign of the team’s efficiency. The Aces’ focus on the inside has had a positive effect on their overall field-goal percent as well, and they boast the most efficient scoring offense in the league.
Only time will tell if the Aces can pass the rest of the competition and win their first title in their history or if they’ll spend a third-consecutive year on the outside looking in.
1. Connecticut Sun
This team terrorized the league all season, finishing with the WNBA’s best record. Jonquel Jones has looked like the league’s MVP, and Brionna Jones has continued to step up and improve her game. That was all before you add Alyssa Thomas back into the mix. The Sun will be a very tough out as they pursue the first title in franchise history.
This team is home to the league’s best defense and could end up with the MVP (Jonquel Jones), Coach of the Year (Curt Miller), Most Improved Player (Brionna Jones). Jonquel Jones completed the campaign as the W’s leading rebounder and September Player of the Month, while Miller won back-to-back Coach of the Month awards.
The last game the Sun lost didn’t even count toward the standings (see: the Commissioner’s Cup). Connecticut is riding a 14-game win streak into the postseason, and when you add in that this team gets to rest during the first two rounds, it has to be viewed as the frontrunner for the title.