2012 WNBA Season Preview

by May 18, 2012

by Clay Kallam

The biggest prize in women’s basketball is an Olympic Gold medal, not a WNBA title, so the league will simply pause for a few when its star players go medal-hunting this summer in London. Of course, some of the top foreign players won’t even join their WNBA teams until after the Olympics because of national team commitments, so what the league looks like when the season starts in the summer is not really what it will look like when the Playoffs come in the fall.

Aside from that scheduling quirk, it’s fair to say that the caliber of play in the league has never been higher, and if the last time you watched a game was 2007, you definitely want to look again.

Eastern Conference

1. Chicago Sky: Veterans Swin Cash and Ticha Penicheiro give the Sky a new look…and much-needed championship experience. There’s still a vacancy at power forward, but 6-5 pivot Sylvia Fowles erases a lot of the team’s other weaknesses.

2. Atlanta Dream: Like many other teams, the Dream will be missing a key piece until after the Olympics (in this case, center Erika de Souza), but uber-talented Angel McCoughtry and point guard Lindsey Harding will keep defending conference champ Atlanta in the hunt.

3. Indiana Fever: The window of opportunity is rapidly closing for the Fever, as their stars are on the wrong side of 30. Still, Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas are elite players when healthy, and if Briann January and/or Erin Phillips
can make it work at the point, Indiana could push past Atlanta.

4. New York Liberty: The team’s inexplicable pick of
Kelley Cain in the WNBA draft notwithstanding, the Liberty have a solid roster, anchored by the still-improving Kia Vaughn in the post. When Cappie Pondexter plays like only she can, New York is tough to beat.

5. Connecticut Sun: Mike Thibault has a reputation as a good coach, and he’ll need to
be that and more in order for this undermanned team to advance this year. He has three very good players (all from UConn, by the way) in Tina Charles, Asjha Jones and Renee Montgomery. After that, though, there isn’t enough on the roster to compete.

6. Washington Mystics: There isn’t too much to say about the worst-run franchise in the WNBA. Crystal Langhorne is the real deal at power forward, and Monique Currie is a nice small forward, but the real excitement will be battling Tulsa for the most ping-pong balls in the ’13 lottery.

Western Conference

1. Minnesota Lynx: The defending Champs have everyone back, plus the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft in Devereaux Peters, but really, the Lynx don’t need any help. Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore (at left), Rebekkah Brunson and the ageless Taj McWilliams-Franklin are more than enough to repeat.

2. Seattle Storm: Lauren Jackson is not in the mix until after she suits up for Australia in the Olympics, but the addition of Belgian center Ann Wauters—back in the league after a two-year hiatus—will help offset that loss. And of course Sue Bird is still running the show, so Seattle won’t drop off too much.

3. Los Angeles Sparks: Though the addition of top overall pick Nneka Ogwumike will certainly help, healthy seasons from Candace Parker and Alana Beard could be enough to push Seattle and Minnesota. Of course, L.A. also needs to find a point guard, and unless untested Sharnee Zoll is the answer, all that other talent might not matter.

4. San Antonio Silver Stars: The Silver Stars got a gift when Shenise Johnson dropped to No. 5 in the draft, and she’ll be an excellent backup for veteran Becky Hammon at the 2. Shameka Christon also returns to the league, so San Antonio’s biggest question is whether Tangela Smith and Jayne Appel can handle things at the 5.

5. Phoenix Mercury: When Penny Taylor tore her ACL this spring while playing in Turkey, the Mercury quickly dropped into next draft’s Brittney Griner sweepstakes. Candice Dupree, Diana Taurasi and rookie Sammy Prahalis will put on a show, but wins will be hard to come by.

6. Tulsa Shock: With coach Nolan Richardson gone, there’s hope in Oklahoma. Things should be better for the Shock this summer, but that’s not saying much: Tiffany Jackson and Co. won only three times last year.

WNBA Finals:

Lynx over Sky in 4 games

Besides the Olympics, injuries will play a pivotal role in the season’s outcome, but the young and talented Minnesota team have all the pieces in place to repeat. Their likely opponent in the finals will be the Chicago Sky and the steadily progressing Fowles. At day’s end, Minnesota just has too much firepower, so expect the Lynx to make it two in a row.

For in-depth coverage of the WNBA season, and all women’s basketball from Clay and the team at Full Court Press, visit www.fullcourt.com.