The WNBA begins its 27th season on Friday with new rules, new teams and a big comeback. Here’s what to expect.
Brittney Griner is back.
After nearly 10 months of detention in Russia, Brittney Griner play basketball again.
Griner’s detention overshadowed the WNBA season last year. She was arrested at an airport near Moscow on drug trafficking charges in February 2022, then convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison. The league regularly paid tribute to him during the season, and his fellow players spoke in his name.
Griner was released in a prisoner exchange in December and, after spending time recovering privately, she signed a one-year contract to return to the Phoenix Mercury.
Griner did not play basketball during his imprisonment and is still working to get back into shape. “Everyone tells me to give myself grace and that it will take time” she said at a press conference in April“But it’s the hardest thing for a professional athlete to do because we always want to be back at our best.”
Griner and the Mercury open their season Friday in Los Angeles against the Sparks.
Star players join forces.
The offseason was dominated by free agent signings and trades that established what could be two superteams: the Liberty and the Las Vegas Aces.
The Liberty made three key moves: First, they traded with the Connecticut Sun for Jonquel Jonesthe league’s most valuable player in 2021. They then landed one of the top free agents: Breanna Stewart, the 2018 MVP, who won two championships in Seattle. Ultimately, they signed the league’s active assists leader, Courtney Vandersloot. These three join returnees Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu, who each made an All-Star team.
The reigning champion Aces already featured an impressive collection of talent: last year’s MVP, A’ja Wilson (who also won in 2020); Chelsea Gray, 2022 Finals MVP; and fellow All-Stars Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum. And then they went to sign Candace Parker, two-time MVP, two-time champion and seven-time All-Star. They also got the veteran back Alysha Clarkwho won two titles with Seattle.
The rest of the league isn’t shying away from superteams. “In the best films, the underdog ends up on top.” Elena Delle Gives Washington Mystics told reporters this month.
But nonetheless, the Aces and Liberty are by far the favorites to win it all.
Recruits are looking to make their mark.
Some of the WNBA’s newest players are just weeks away from finishing their college careers. How they make this transition will be crucial to the fate of their new teams.
Aliyah Boston was the Indiana Fever’s obvious choice as the No. 1 overall pick in the April draft. Boston, which led South Carolina to a national title in 2022 and back to the Final Four this year, is expected to be a franchise cornerstone for the Fever as they rebuild. Although the competition it will face will be tougher in the WNBA, Boston should be able to score more easily without facing the same double and triple teams it saw in college.
With this year’s second pick, Minnesota drafted Diamond Miller, who led Maryland with nearly 20 points per game in the 2022-23 season. Miller is a versatile and athletic winger who should pair well with Napheesa Collier.
Haley Jonesthe No. 6 pick in the draft, was a leader for four years at Stanford, including the Cardinals’ 2021 title run. She fits well on an Atlanta Dream team looking for more playmakers.
New rules will add new wrinkles.
The league too updated its rules this offseason.
WNBA coaches will now be able to challenge one – and only one – call per game. Coaches can request reviews on three types of calls: a foul called to their team, an off-field call, or a violation for goalie or basket interference. Coaches will be limited to a single challenge even if the challenge is successful and even if the match goes into overtime.
Officials can also now penalize players who commit a foul on a fast break without making a legitimate play with the ball. For this, in the event of a transition foul, the attacking team will be awarded a free throw, which can be taken by any player on the floor, and the attacking team will maintain control of the ball.
The WNBA also has new guidelines governing secondary behavior. In an effort to limit disruptions and distractions, the league tells players who are not in the game that they cannot stand “for an extended period of time.” Players and coaches are also prohibited from “attempting to distract opponents in an unsportsmanlike manner.” Teams could receive a delay of game warning or technical foul for violations.