FRESH FACES, STARS ON THE MOVE, A NEW TV DEAL: THE WNBA SEASON OPENS WITH A DIFFERENT LOOK
THE WNBA TIPS OFF on May 24, and this season should be the most-watched in the league's 23-year history. Under a new deal signed on April 22, CBS will broadcast 40 games in 2019—and that's in addition to the 35 that will be shown on ESPN and the 20 that will be streamed on Twitter. Here are three story lines you should be paying attention to.
Several of the league's top stars will be missing when the season begins, including Mercury guard Diana Taurasi (who had back surgery in April), Dream forward Angel McCoughtry (who tore her right ACL last August) and Wings guard Skylar Diggins-Smith (who gave birth in April). Storm forward Breanna Stewart, the 2018 league and finals MVP, ruptured her right Achilles tendon while playing for Dynamo Kursk in the EuroLeague championship on April 14. Stewart's injury reignited the debate about WNBA players' having to supplement their salaries by competing overseas during the offseason—a discussion that will continue as a new collective bargaining agreement is negotiated throughout the summer.
Free-agency drama has largely been missing from the WNBA, mainly because a player who is given a core franchise tag can be stuck with the team that drafted her for up to seven years. Forward Chiney Ogwumike, who was the Sun's top draft pick in 2014, informed the team in February that she wanted to be traded or she would become a full-time broadcaster. On April 27, Connecticut gave in, shipping her to Los Angeles in return for a first-round draft pick in 2020.
Ogwumike joins her sister, Nneka, in a packed L.A. frontcourt that should make them a title contender under first-year coach Derek Fisher. Veteran forward (and two-time MVP) Candace Parker (above) suffered a preseason hamstring injury, which may give an opportunity to 6'7" rookie center Kalani Brown and 6'1" forward Ashley Walker. Either way, the Sparks are stacked, with Chiney Ogwumike coming off the bench. Wings star Liz Cambage, who led the WNBA in scoring in 2018 (23.0 points per game), has been trying to force a trade that would send her to L.A.—and tip the balance of power in the league.
BY THE NUMBERS
Height of 19-year-old Liberty rookie Han Xu. Han is the second-tallest player in WNBA history and the first draftee from China since Zheng Haixia in 1997.
Points scored by A'ja Wilson in 33 games in her rookie season. The Aces forward has a chance to become the fastest player to reach 1,000 points. (Cynthia Cooper holds the record of 45 games.)
Double doubles needed by Minnesota's Sylvia Fowles to break the career record of 157 held by Lisa Leslie.