Is a perfect storm brewing in Dan Hughes' first season at the helm? Expect an improved Storm team, but also for Los Angeles and Minnesota to continue their reign atop the league for another season. With its season opener Sunday, here's everything you need to get up to speed with the Storm.
1. Los Angeles (26-8)
2017 record/finish: 26-8, 2nd
The Sparks, the 2016 WNBA champions, have finished 26-8 in the past two seasons while making two straight trips to the WNBA Finals and looks like they’ll return to face Minnesota. Los Angeles also has two former MVPs (Nneka Ogwumike – 2016 and Candace Parker – ’08), but the catalyst to a fourth title may be fourth-year point guard Chelsea Gray and fifth-year shooting guard Odyssey Sims.
2. Minnesota (25-9)
2017 record/finish: 27-7, 1st
The defending WNBA champions have won four titles in the past seven years. If Minnesota repeats, it would be the only franchise with five WNBA championships. The Lynx return their starting five, including 2017 MVP Sylvia Fowles and 2014 MVP Maya Moore. However, Minnesota needed to retool the bench.
3. Connecticut (21-13)
2017 record/finish: 21-13, 4th
Despite a 1-5 start, the Sun made a seven-game improvement and snapped a four-year playoff drought behind an All-Star performance from third-year forward Jonquel Jones. Chiney Ogwumike, the No. 1 overall in the 2014 WNBA draft, returns after missing 2017 with an Achilles injury.
4. New York (18-16)
2017 record/finish: 22-12, 3rd
MSG tried unsuccessfully to sell the Liberty and moved the team to Westchester County. First-year coach Katie Smith takes over a squad that returns most of the roster, including 2012 MVP Tina Charles. New York has won at least 21 games in each of the past three seasons, but is 1-4 in the playoffs during that span with one postseason series win.
5. Seattle (18-16)
2017 record/finish: 15-19, 8th
If the preseason is any indication, then maybe first-year coach Dan Hughes improved a leaky Storm defense that allowed 82.8 points last season. After two exhibition wins over Phoenix, Seattle surrendered 65.0 points on defense, which is the second fewest in the league.
6. Phoenix (17-17)
2017 record/finish: 18-16, 5th
Since winning the WNBA title in 2014, the Mercury has taken a step back while Minnesota and Los Angeles have dominated the past three years. Phoenix still has WNBA all-time scoring leader Diana Taurasi, 35, who averaged 17.9 points last season and 2017 scoring champion Brittany Griner, who averaged 21.9. Plus, veteran forward DeWanna Bonner returns after taking off last year.
7. Washington (17-17)
2017 record/finish: 18-16, 6th
During its first season with 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne, the Mystics advanced to the WNBA semifinals last year for the first time since 2002 despite several injuries. Washington loses forward Emma Meesseman, who is sitting out, while guard Tayler Hill returns after missing 16 games in 2017 due to injury.
8. Atlanta (15-19)
2017 record/finish: 12-22, 10th
The Dream had three All-Stars in Tiffany Hayes, Layshia Clarendon and Elizabeth Williams and missed the playoffs, which might explain why coach Michael Cooper was fired and replaced by Nikki Colen. The return of four-time All-Star forward Angel McCoughtry, who sat out 2017 citing a need to rest, immediately makes Atlanta a playoff contender.
9. Dallas (15-19)
2017 record/finish: 16-18, 7th
Six-foot-8 center Liz Cambage, the No. 2 overall pick in 2011, makes a much-awaited WNBA return since leaving the league to play the past five years in Australia. Still, the Wings’ playoffs hopes rely on All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith who is poised to take over the mantle of best point guard in the league. Dallas has had the worst scoring defense the past two seasons.
10. Las Vegas (12-22)
2017 record/finish: 8-26, 12th
After five years with the New York Liberty, Bill Laimbeer left to become the coach and general manager of the former San Antonio Stars, which relocated to Sin City. Laimbeer takes over a team that ranked last in scoring (74.4 points) and used the No. 1 overall draft pick on A’ja Wilson who joins former Washington Huskies star Kelsey Plum, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2017.
11. Indiana (10-20)
2017 record/finish: 9-25, 11th
Following the retirement of WNBA legend Tamika Catchings, the Fever underwent a rebuilding project last season that resulted in the team missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. Indiana hopes veteran Candice Dupree, who led the Fever in scoring, can provide enough stability until first-round draft picks Kelsey Mitchell and Victoria Vivians are ready to take over.
12. Chicago (10-20)
2017 record/finish: 12-22, 9th
Had streak of four straight playoffs appearances snapped last year while accumulating the most defeats since 2008. Veteran backcourt Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot and All-Star center Stefanie Dolson will need to mesh quickly with draftees Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams and Alaina Coates, the No. 2 overall pick last year who sat out 2017 due to an ankle injury.
All-WNBA first team: Sylvia Fowles, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Elena Delle Donne and Breanna Stewart.
Player of the Year: Maya Moore.
Rookie of the Year: A’ja Wilson.
WNBA champion: Los Angeles over Minnesota 3-2 (best of five series).
Five things to know
Hughes to the rescue
Following first-round playoff exits the past two years, the Storm coaxed veteran coach Dan Hughes, 63, out of a retirement. He’s the most experienced coach in league history (524 games) with the third most wins (237). He’s also Seattle’s fourth coach in the past five years.
Stewart and Loyd on the cusp of greatness
Breanna Stewart, 23, and Jewell Loyd, 24, highlighted a list of the WNBA’s top 25-and-under players compiled by ESPN. Last season Stewart finished second in the league in scoring (19.9 points per game), sixth in rebounding (8.7) and sixth in blocks (1.6). Meanwhile, Loyd averaged 17.7 points – second among WNBA shooting guards and ninth overall.
Splitting time at PG
Entering her 16th season, Sue Bird, 37, shows no sign of slowing down. But Jordin Canada, 22, isn’t slowing down either and the speedy rookie was impressive during the preseason while scoring a team-leading 16 points per game. Bird has never averaged fewer than 28.6 minutes, but Hughes will need to find time for Canada.
Getting big and physical
Seattle brought in center Courtney Paris and forward Natasha Howard to shore up what had been an undersized front line and help a team that ranked next to last in rebounds (31.0) last season.
Familiar faces and early wins
The Storm will likely have the same starters for the third straight seasons, which is essential in a league that has an abbreviated training camp and preseason. Seattle plays nine of its first 13 games at home, including a five-game homestand in June. The Storm needs a fast start if it’s going to finish with its first winning season since 2011.