Biggest questions for all 12 WNBA teams as training camp opens

Training camps for the 2024 WNBA season opened Sunday, and the biggest news was the retirement of the Las Vegas Aces’ Candace Parker.

While the legend said farewell to the WNBA, new talent is saying hello to the league. No. 1 draft pick Caitlin Clark is getting to know her Indiana Fever teammates, and the excitement level is building for a Fever franchise looking for its first playoff berth since 2016.

Kamilla Cardoso, fresh off an NCAA title with the South Carolina Gamecocks earlier this month, and Angel Reese, part of the LSU Tigers 2023 national championship team, are two rookies to watch for with the Chicago Sky. Meanwhile, veterans such as A’ja Wilson, who will try to lead the Aces to a third consecutive WNBA title, and Breanna Stewart, who hopes to get the New York Liberty their first championship, are both likely to vie for MVP again.

There are new coaches with the Sky (Teresa Weatherspoon) and the Phoenix Mercury (Nate Tibbetts), as the league plays its last season before expanding in the Bay Area in 2025. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, Alexa Philippou and Michael Voepel look at the biggest questions in training camp and for the season for each franchise as the WNBA prepares to tip off the regular season May 14.

How big an impact will veteran center Tina Charles have? Charles, 35, didn’t play in the WNBA last season. Coach Tanisha Wright and general manager Dan Padover said Sunday they believe she’s still one of the elite players in the WNBA. For her career, Charles has averaged 18.2 points and 9.3 rebounds. The Dream were the third-best rebounding team in the WNBA last season (36.1 RPG) and sixth in defensive rating (102.9). Charles should make those strengths even stronger, plus boost Atlanta’s offense.

“She’s been places our young group hasn’t been,” Wright said. “To have somebody with that experience being able to pour into our young kids is going to be really valuable.”

Among Atlanta’s young standouts, guards Rhyne Howard (third season) and Haley Jones (second) helped the Dream make the playoffs last season. — Voepel

Chicago Sky

Can new coach Teresa Weatherspoon and the Sky get the best out of guards Diamond DeShields and Chennedy Carter? The Sky have turned over much of their personnel since winning the 2021 WNBA title. DeShields, who was on that championship team, was traded to Phoenix in 2022, and then after being traded to Dallas didn’t play in 2023 due to injury. Now she is back in Chicago.

Carter has dealt with injuries and disciplinary issues, limiting her to just 51 games since being picked No. 4 by Atlanta in 2020. She also didn’t play in the WNBA last season. But Carter, 25, can still get her WNBA career on track.

The Sky’s high-profile draft picks, Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese, will get a lot of attention as people are eager to see the former rivals play together. Yet longtime WNBA followers are probably just as curious about what DeShields and Carter can accomplish this season. — Voepel

When will Brionna Jones return to the court, and how quickly can she return to her usual, healthy form? Coach Stephanie White told reporters Sunday she expects Jones, who ruptured her Achilles last June, to be available for the team’s May 14 season opener. The Sun fared relatively well without her in 2023, but they’ll be better off with another All-Star to take some of the load off of Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner.

The other question is whether this new combination of backcourt players will be the right one to help Connecticut finally get over the hump? The Sun reshuffled their guard rotation in the offseason, bringing in Moriah Jefferson, Tiffany Mitchell and Rachel Banham to join forces with Tyasha Harris and DiJonai Carrington. Guard play has been the X factor (some would argue the Achilles heel) for the Sun in their quest for the franchise’s first title. And that window might be closing imminently with Thomas, Bonner and Jones all set to be free agents after this season. — Philippou

How will the Wings adjust while forward Satou Sabally misses the first part of the season? Last year’s most improved player in the WNBA is out until around the Olympic break as she rehabs a shoulder injury. Last season, Sabally led the way as the Wings advanced to the playoff semifinals. Without her, Dallas can still rely on superstar guard Arike Ogunbowale, forward Natasha Howard and centers Teaira McCowan and Kalani Brown.

The Wings also might get a chance to see how much center Stephanie Soares and guards Lou Lopez Senechal (who is not yet in camp as she is competing overseas) can contribute. They were selected fourth and fifth in the 2023 draft but didn’t play in the WNBA last season due to injuries. — Voepel

Indiana Fever

How much impact will No. 1 draft pick Caitlin Clark have right away on the Fever’s scoring ability? Last season, Indiana was seventh in the league in scoring average (81.0 PPG) and sixth in offensive rating (103.0). Clark had one of the greatest offensive careers in college basketball history, with 3,951 points and 1,144 assists playing at a fast pace at Iowa. She will have even more accomplished targets to pass to now, led by 2023 WNBA Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston, and no longer needs to be the leading scorer virtually every game.

The Fever were eighth in 3-pointers per game last season (8.5), and that number should go up with Clark, who had a record 548 3s in college. Clark was the primary ball handler all the time with the Hawkeyes, but she doesn’t have to carry that load the same way with Indiana. — Voepel

Who will join Alysha Clark on the Aces’ second unit? The two-time defending champs won in 2023 with limited contributions from their bench, at least after Candace Parker – who announced her retirement Sunday – was lost to a season-ending injury. Per WNBA Advanced Stats, Las Vegas reserves averaged a league-low 13.5 PPG.

Because Becky Hammon can keep multiple All-Stars on the court at all times, the Aces don’t really need scoring, but they’re hoping Bria Hartley can be a reliable backup playmaker and fellow newcomer Megan Gustafson will be a physical presence in the paint. — Pelton

How ready are rookies Cameron Brink and Rickea Jackson to contribute? The Sparks made their long-term focus clear this offseason, which saw them lose franchise stalwart Nneka Ogwumike but add two of the top four picks in the WNBA draft.

There’s still veteran talent on hand in Los Angeles, but given the Sparks will also start the season without newcomer Julie Allemand (ankle) and incumbent starter Azura Stevens (arm) due to injuries, they’ll likely be counting on Brink and Jackson to play key roles on opening night. — Pelton

How much can the Lynx improve defensively? Long stout at the defensive end of the court, Minnesota has finished 10th in the WNBA in points allowed per 100 possessions each of the past two seasons.

“We will work on defense from Day 1 of camp, contrary to the last couple years,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve told the Star Tribune. The addition of post player Alanna Smith in free agency should also help. Smith’s 1.3 BPG last season with the Sky would have led Minnesota. — Pelton

New York Liberty

Have the Liberty addressed their perimeter defense? The Aces exposed that Achilles heel in the 2023 WNBA Finals, and it emerged as a glaring need for the Liberty to bring home the franchise’s first title.

With Betnijah Laney-Hamilton, Courtney Vandersloot, Kayla Thorton and Sabrina Ionescu all already under contract, the biggest free agency questions for New York actually came in the frontcourt. They re-signed Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, locking in their newly formed core.

But the Liberty’s bench pieces have changed since last year: They signed Kennedy Burke to a protected contract, are bringing over Ivana Dojkic and Leonie Fiebich, and drafted Marquesha Davis. They also acquired the rights to Rebekah Gardner, who would have been a perfect addition but is coming off an Achilles injury she suffered overseas. One thing that should help: Having a year of chemistry together under their belt plus some invaluable playoff experience, even if it didn’t end the way they hoped. — Philippou

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Phoenix Mercury

After upgrading their roster in the offseason, will the Mercury truly emerge as contenders this season? They’ll have to chase the likes of the back-to-back champion Aces and 2023 runner-up Liberty, not to mention the resurgent Storm. Phoenix brought in big names in the offseason in Natasha Cloud, Kahleah Copper and Rebecca Allen to complement Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Sophie Cunningham, but as we’ve seen, having talent on paper isn’t a magic bullet for a championship.

This also could be the last shot for Taurasi, who will turn 42 in June, to win her fourth championship, should she opt to retire after one final Olympic run in Paris. Training camp will be an early opportunity for all those pieces to mesh together and identify which players round out the bench and rest of the rotation (11 players are essentially competing for five open spots).

All eyes will also be on the on-court style of play and culture coach Nate Tibbetts looks to establish in his first year. A smooth summer with stability is much-needed in Phoenix after a tumultuous past few seasons. — Philippou

How do newcomers Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith fit in? A year after losing Breanna Stewart in free agency, the Storm added perhaps the two biggest names to change teams in Diggins-Smith and Ogwumike.

Positionally, they’re natural fits alongside holdover All-Stars Jewell Loyd and Ezi Magbegor, but Seattle coach Noelle Quinn will need to integrate players with very different skill sets than the Hall of Famers (Stewart and Sue Bird) the Storm had at point guard and power forward when they reached the 2022 semifinals. Seattle must also sort out a second unit among young players and newcomers. — Pelton

Who will step up for this new-look Mystics squad? Gone are Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud, ushering in a new era for the franchise. Coach Eric Thibault said Monday he’s looking forward to seeing which players snag the opportunity for larger roles, and that leadership will fall on several people. Ariel Atkins and Brittney Sykes will be counted on for much of that, as will returner Myisha Hines-Allen and promising 2022 lottery pick Shakira Austin, who’s coming off hip surgery.

As the Mystics look to revamp their offensive identity, Sykes will step into the primary point guard role with the departure of Cloud. Free agency acquisitions Stefanie Dolson and Karlie Samuelson, in particular, could also carve out larger roles.

The franchise views this year as a reset, both on the court and even in terms of culture, and will look to build off this season’s positives moving forward, especially considering the Mystics have two first-round draft picks in 2025. — Philippou

This post was originally published on ESPN

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